Ridley Scott's Alien franchise prequel Prometheus should probably be a film I take great objection to. The first reason I ever loved the series (beyond Lt. Ellen Ripley, queen of all action heroines) was how it doubled as an ever evolving adventurous launch pad for young auteurs. It's got the same premise virtually every time so you sit back and immediately see the director's vision in sharp relief against each previous or subsequent film. Even the lesser entries in the series have this to recommend them and in the 90s, even after Alien Ressurection I wanted them to keep making Alien films so we could see it through the different set of rising auteur eyes each time. I didn't really want Ridley Scott to go back for this reason. I especially didn't want him to go back back. Backstory and prequels -- conceptually, they are like safety nets for the imagination. Don't be afraid of wondering... we'll catch you!
Where is the mystery? Or rather, why don't people want more of it. Why do you they want so many answers?
Thankfully, Prometheus doesn't rob the Alien franchise of all of its mystery and magic. It's not midi-chlorian level obnoxious. And given the screenplay and execution, for better and worse, the new film creates its own mysteries. Some or these are intentional and some surely not, some internal some external. What did David⁸ say to The Engineer in the penultimate scene? Is the MPAA's request that Ridley Scott remove the entire abortion sequence -- not so coincidentally the strongest sequence in the film -- the dumbest thing they've done since Blue Valentine's NC17? Or is it just the thousandth priceless example of how aesthetically stupid they remain and or the millionth piece of case evidence that they should never be allowed anywhere near art!
This week since I know I desperately need to update the Oscar predictions I've been thinking of another Prometheus-specific mystery. Will it have an awards future? [Aliens & Oscars after the jump]
Surely the disappointment many moviegoers and critics felt for it could put a damper on its awards potential. But then again, how many blockbusters vying for the craft awards are as ambitious. Let's look at the Alien franchise's past Oscar pull to size it up.
"In space no one can hear you scream" went the instant-classic tagline but in movie theaters people could definitely hear you. Alien was a smash hit -- according to box office mojo's "adjusted for inflation" math, it would have earned roughly $250 million in today's dollars (the best in the series) -- and made stars out of its lead Sigourney Weaver and its guiding hand Ridley Scott. Oscar noticed, at least in the most obvious ways it could.
1 Oscar Win: Best Visual Effects
1 Additional Nomination: Best Art Direction (a tough category that year with two genius films in the mix: All That Jazz (winner) and Apocalypse Now.)
James Cameron's follow up was also a huge hit finishing in the top ten box office hits of its year and establishing Cameron as the action director of the late 20th century (He had already made the hugely profitable low-budget Terminator but this one was twice as big at the box office). Aliens ended its year of success with the most Oscar nominations of any film that wasn't a Best Picture nominee (only Platoon and A Room With a View won more nominations); it's acid blood nearly disintegrated Oscar's Heavily Armored Anti-Genre Defense (Best Actress & Editing!). In a year with a flexible number of Best Picture nominees as we have now, it definitely would have scored. The other high profile contenders with multiple nominations that year either weren't greeted with euphoria (The Color of Money, Peggy Sue Got Married) or weren't taken all that seriously (Top Gun, Little Shop of Horrors) or were too daring for AMPAS to embrace en masse (Blue Velvet).
2 Oscar Wins: Sound Editing, Visual Effects
5 Additional Nominations: Best Actress, Art Direction, Editing, Score, and Sound
David Fincher was the third future A list auteur in three films (perfect score!) to use the franchise as launching pad. Of course at the time Alien³ was not at all well received by critics or audiences (who were furious within the first frames -- how dare he kill off Newt!). Fincher's bright future was doubted by many. Oscar still peeked in.
1 Oscar Nomination: Visual Effects
ALIEN RESURRECTION (1996)
Jean Pierre Jeunet's weird watery fourth installment had Sigourney's eery Ripley clone (It was Ripley⁸ if I recall correctly making David⁸ a wonderful symmetry in the new film) to recommend it but the rest of it was largely regarded as a misfire flopping in the US.
Oscar Attention: None
Which brings us to...
It can't rightly be called a flop but given its gargantuan budget it's not a true blockbuster either. It can't rightly be called beloved but it has its passionate defenders leaving it somewhere smack dab in the middle of the Alien franchise in terms of critical and audience reception. So where are we with its Oscar potential. It could all come down to the strength and commitment of whatever campaign emerges. If they bother.
What does this mean for Oscar?
BEST BET: Visual Effects is its best bet since 3 of the 4 films have scored there and if Prometheus is anything at all its visually impressive.
MAYBE: Sound Mixing and Editing Oscar's sound branch has only notice this franchise once but given the technically complex work and the freshness of the franchise again after such a long slumber, their ears might prick up.
TOUGH CALL: Arthur Max (Art Direction) Ridley Scott famously because his career as an art director and it always shows Prometheus is hugely ambitious in this particular field but will Oscar care? Only the first Alien film scored in this arena though the Alien films gain much power from those cramped, gooey, foreboding dark sets. It could happen again but the visual categories often err on the side of handsome appointings in Prestige Period Pieces so we'll see. It could be helpful that Max has been twice nominated while working with Scott (American Gangster & Gladiator)
LONG SHOTS: Darius Wolski (Cinematography) has yet to be nominated but he's a "name" DP and also an AMPAS member; Pietro Scalia (Editing) is a two time winner / four time nominee and half of his Oscar successes come from the Ridley Scott filmography.
EXTREME LONG SHOTS: Everything else but especially Supporting Actor, Michael Fassbender. Genre performances almost never factor for the Academy's acting branch but he brings an absurd amount of nuance and menace and curiousity to the role while never making David⁸ feel inauthentically authentic, if you know what I mean. Advanced Articial Intelligence. Authentically Evolved Actor [Serious Film considers him the *only* contender thus far in 2012]
We haven't discussed this film much given that I didn't review it. It's one of those films where I understand virtually every criticism but I was (mostly) enthralled despite the hard-to-miss missteps. Its best sequences and images linger so points for that.
What did you make of it and do you see any Oscar potential?