Director Ridley Scott returns to his cinematic roots this year with his new film Prometheus, the latest in the science fiction/horror Alien franchise. Rumours concerning the fifth Alien film have been flying around the industry for years, but soon the wait will be over as Scott’s Prometheus, which is a prequel rather than a sequel, is set for a UK release in June of 2012.

The Alien films make up one of the most famous and long running film serials of all time. Spanning from 1979 to 1997, the films all have different directors: Ridley Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet respectively. Dealing with the fight against a vicious alien which lays its eggs inside humans, the first film (Alien, 1979) became an instant horror classic; cinema-goers were witness for the first time to the hideous birth of the creature as it burst through the chest of an unsuspecting John Hurt. At the end of the film, recurring main character Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) appears to have escaped, but at the start of the second film (Aliens, 1986) the nightmare begins all over again.

She wakes up after having been lost in space for half a century, only to discover a colony of humans is now living on the planet where the alien was first discovered. After saving the day, Ripley and her new found friends jet off into the night again – and again Ripley awakes to find her friends dead and the Aliens still stalking her in David Fincher’s Alien 3 (1992). Considered ill-advised by some, including James Cameron (who directed the second film) Alien 3 has Ripley commit suicide at the finale, taking the last living specimen of the Alien with her, supposedly finishing it and the series forever – but, once again, it was not to be. Alien: Resurrection was to follow in 1997, thought by many to be a completely ridiculous and pointless addition to the franchise, with Ripley cloned and brought back to life by an evil army corporation, who are keen to get their hands on the alien for use as a biological weapon.

Considering that the third and fourth films in the series are thought by some to be awful and even unnecessary is a fifth addition to the franchise likely to be any better? There is much scepticism among critics and fans alike concerning whether Prometheus will drag the series out of the slump it fell into during the 1990’s or finish it off forever. However, following the recent release of a promising trailer, the film certainly seems to possess the potential to be good, and to remove itself from the stigma of films three and four. While the absence of erstwhile star Sigourney Weaver was a surprise for some, it makes sense considering that the film is a prequel, and takes place before the start of Alien.

The fact that Prometheus is a prequel is one of its main strengths; yet another rambling sequel would probably not have anything new to add to the franchise, while a prequel has the opportunity to look back, to explore unanswered questions, and to give more depth to the cinematic world in which the Alien films take place. Another of the film’s strengths is that it has been directed by Scott who, having directed the first and arguably best film in the series, was the perfect choice to direct a prequel; his previous experience of the franchise should enhance the quality of Prometheus.

Even with the release of a fifth film, it seems unlikely that the Alien series will trundle on forever, becoming larger and ever more unwieldy as further films are tacked onto it. However, the prevailing feeling is that Prometheus will still not be the last we see of the series; like the alien itself, this franchise is impossible to kill.

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