What To Know About The Alien Universe Before Seeing Prometheus
The moment that Ridley Scott's Prometheus was announced, all involved immediately, and curiously, started to distance the new flick from Alien. “It's not a prequel.” “It's only tangentially 'related' to Alien.” “There will be NO xenomorphs.” Then we saw the first full trailer and the internet collectively called bullshit. Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelof can call Prometheus whatever they please but once they started showing Space Jockeys and Derelict Spacecrafts, well, it's time to call a spade a spade.
Like most of you, I haven't seen the new film. Prometheus remains as much a mystery to me as it does to you. Well, as much of a mystery as those detailed (spoilery) trailers allow. What I have seen, however, are the six Alien films that came before this latest return to deep space. Prometheus may not be directly linked to Alien(s), but there is little doubt it returns Ridley to the world he created over thirty years ago-- and though it’s not strictly necessary to know a lot about the Alien movies before seeing Prometheus, you might like to have a little context if you haven't caught the earlier films.
So for those of you who don't know a xenomorph from Ripley, or simply need a refresher on the basics of the franchise, here are 8 things about the Alien universe you may want to know before seeing Prometheus.
SPOILERS for Alien through Alien: Resurrection
Like most science-fiction, the Alien universe is set in the future and explaining the timeline is probably the easiest way to begin introducing the universe's mythology. In 1990, a brilliant man named Peter Weyland was born in England and by the time he was 25 he had already cured cancer and made his first billion. Fast forward to 2093 and hi company, Weyland Industries, funds a mysterious mission into deep space on a ship called the, you guess it, 'Prometheus’ (Prometheus). In another 30 years, 2122, the 'Nostromo,' a commercial towing vehicle on its way back to Earth, intercepts what they think is a distress call and they go off-course to system LV-426 to investigate (Alien). Only one survives. In 2179, the sole survivor frozen for 57 years, Ellen Ripley, warns of the 'perfect organism' they encountered and is soon recruited for a doomed Colonial Marine mission back to system LV-426 (Aliens).
First of all, it's important to know that in space, no one can hear you scream. In the Alien franchise, the various regions of the universe are called 'systems.' Earth is still home base but the films are largely spent out in deep space. The most important planetary system for the story is in system LV 426. This is the celestial body where the 'SOS' beacon originates from and where the Nostromo discovers the ruins of a mysterious starship complete with a shitload of Alien eggs (Alien). 60 years later, the planet is called Acheron and a small colony of terraformers have settled in a place called Hadley's Hope, trying to make the planet in LV 426 habitable (Aliens).
The primary locations for the series are the starships themselves. Alien opens aboard the USCSS Nostromo, a retrofitted into a commercial towing vehicle. It, and the sequel's initial starship, the USS Sulaco, are both references to Joseph Conrad's 'Nostromo,' a 1904 novel about a chaotic and failed colonization. Most of the starships in the series have similarly ill-fated monikers, and Prometheus is no different. Foreboding much? Each ship also contains some version of an escape pod, which often come in handy, like the Shuttlecraft Narcissus, the cool Dropships or even a cryo chamber pod that seats up to five desperate souls. Finally, there’s the Derelict Spacecraft (Alien, Aliens and Prometheus). Belonging to an unknown race, the 'horseshoe' shaped ship is the one sending out the beacon and also contains the famous Space Jockey fossil in Alien.
Often referred to as xenomorphs (which translates to literally 'strange shape'), the original Alien was based on designs by Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger. There are many stages and/or versions of the 'perfect organism' throughout the series. The crew of the Nostromo finds a field of giant eggs that birth what have become known as the Facehuggers. Face-fuckers might be more apt since the flesh colored, arachnid-like parasites give you Chestbursters through some strangle-ly oral sex. Chestbursters are baby Aliens that, well, burst through the host’s chest before growing into the iconic monster with the retractable 'tongue' and acidic blood (Alien). The xenomorph is a eusocial species, meaning that a Queen breeds the entire colony of warriors (Aliens); however, the eggs are merely the first stage since the Facehuggers must also find a host. Lastly, there’s the mysterious alien fossil found in the Derelict starship often called the 'Space Jockey' (Alien). It’s a very large humanoid alien found with its chest showing signs of, well, burst, suggesting their species also had an encounter the xenomorphs of LV 426.
Synthetics, or androids if you will, are almost as essential to the Alien universe as the creatures themselves and are also a key piece of the eventual merger of Weyland and Yutani. The first android was made possible and patented by, you guess it, Peter Weyland and he named his creation David. Yutani Corp sued Weyland over the patent for David with the latter eventually winning the case and continuing development. David 8 is the Synthetic aboard the titular craft in Prometheus and he's played by Michael Fassbender. You can meet him here. The Synthetics were initially created not just to do chores - or become science officers - but also because of their ability to carry out tasks that humans may find unethical or immoral. Ash, like the Alien, is a major antagonist and represents a fear of the other (Alien), but the technophobic stance is flipped on its head when another Synthetic, Bishop, soon becomes pivotal to Ripley's survival (Aliens). They are capable of villainy and heroics, so we can't be sure what we're getting with David 8 in Prometheus.
On top of the starships and Synthetics, there are also a host of other science-fiction toys central to the Alien universe. Cryo chambers house the crew as they hypersleep their way through space. The MU-TH-ER 6000 is the artificial intelligence mainframe that more or less operates the Nostromo and, along with Ash, prioritizes the company's orders over those of the crew (Alien). What a bitch! The series spacesuits are called the MK50 Compression Suit and Scott uses a similar design for the ‘Advanced SE Suit’ featured in Prometheus. I'm not sure why an excursion 80 years earlier has 'advanced' suits but perhaps the Nostromo is only equipped with a bunch of old junk. Most of the other toys are weapons like the M41A Pulse Rifle and, of course, there’s also the P-5000 Powered Work Loader (both in Aliens).
Peter Weyland may have founded Weyland Industries but 'the company' referred to in Alien and its sequels is the Weyland-Yutani Corp. As previously mentioned, Sir Peter Weyland was born in 1990 and by the time he delivers this 2023 Ted Talk, he has already started developing Davids. Weyland Industries soon invents 'hypersleep,' a necessary first step in human travel into deep space that allowed the crew to avoid aging during the extremely long journeys. The only catch? You have to wear really tiny underwear. Sometime between the mysterious voyage of Starship Prometheus and the events aboard the Nostromo (Alien), Weyland and Yutani merge to form, well, Weyland-Yutani. Simply called 'the company' by the expendable blue collars and grunts, W-Y claims to be "Building Better Worlds" but their interest in the Alien seems to keep destroying them. Don't worry, by the time Alien:Resurrection rolls around they have been bought out by Wal-Mart. Seriously.
There are a few dozen characters (corpses) littered throughout the series but the franchise is Ellen Ripley (featured in all four films). Born in 2092, Ripley works her way through several ships and positions to become Warrant Officer aboard the Nostromo. At the beginning of the series, she was simply a strong, working woman but by the end of Aliens, Ripley’s graduated to complete badass. Probably the most significant female action hero ever put on film, she's not just a survivor (or 'final girl') but a warrior who actively kills the creatures and looks pretty phenomenal doing it in those mandatory tiny space undies. After battling the beasts for three films, she finally dies to spare the world the chestburster growing inside her, only to then be Resurrected as Ripley 8 and kill the franchise. Or, apparently not. Prometheus opens Friday, June 8.
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