Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Space Jockey (Ridley Scott's Prometheus)

Ridley Scott's Prometheus hits the screens June 8th--a prequel-of-sorts to the Alien movies. Lobster & Canary loves the fact that Scott is finding out for himself-- and sharing with the rest of us-- what the back-story is to the giant downed spacecraft that houses the eggs that contain the Alien in the very first movie. In that movie--Alien (1979)--when the Nostromo responds to the beacon, the diverted crew's reaction upon their discovery of the derelict vessel is muted. Their exclamations of amazement (a stray "I've never seen anything like it," and "are you seeing this, Ash?") feel perfunctory. They voice no excitement over it being a clearly alien ship, i.e., the movie implies that the humans either already have encountered or expect to encounter other sapient species. The extraterrestrial ship serves more as a MacGuffin to propel the plot than a subject in its own right. And yet one can sense Scott's own curiosity aroused over one detail on the ship: the giant, petrified corpse (its chest shattered, ribs protruding) reclining in what appears to be a pilot's chair, beneath some kind of massive navigation device. The camera goes in close and then lingers over the corpse's face, whose frozen expression, limned by the shadows the lanterns cast, might seem to be one of warning or sorrow. Who was this pilot, dubbed "the space jockey" in fan circles? What civilization did he/she/it and the ship belong to? Why was the ship carrying a load of Alien eggs? The questions are not asked, let alone answered, in Alien (and are not even referred to in any of the three sequels)-- all attention moves immediately to the (admittedly pressing) issue of face-huggers and chest-bursters, and so on. Scott says in a recent interview: "I always figured it's a weapon, and I always figured that [the ship in the first Alien] was a carrier of weapons. Therefore, who is that, inside that [Space Jockey] suit? That wasn't a skeleton, that was a suit. And if you open up the suit, what do you get inside it? And why were they going, where were they going?" [Click here for a good summary in io9 of "what we know about the Space Jockey."] Another wonderful instance of how a story lurks in the back of an auteur's mind, has "a life of its own," opens out on mysteries, pinnacles and pitfalls. Here's the trailer for Prometheus. Looks like we will get answers about the Space Jockey--be careful what we ask for.

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