Why Prometheus Isn’t A Sequel – And What It Might Be, Instead

What makes a prequel a prequel? Damon Lindelof, in explaining why he doesn’t consider Prometheus a prequel to the original Alien, comes up with a pretty good definition of the term… and one that may convince you that no-one ever needs to make another prequel ever again.

Talking on the Nerdist Writers Podcast, Lindelof said

The thing about a prequel is, as fascinating as it may be to watch Anakin Skywalker turn to the dark side of the Force, there’s an inevitability to it, so you know when you go in that the prequel can only cover A to Y, and that Z is going to be the pre-existing material, and so you can’t really end it in an exciting or surprising way, you can only end it in the inevitable way. So it’s really just about starting a movie with Hercule Poirot saying “It is you, the butler, who did it!” and then, for the next two hours, I’m just going to watch a series of events of how Hercule Poirot came to the revelation that the butler did it. Who wants to see that movie? That’s not interesting.

Specifically addressing Prometheus, he defined that movie as

By my definition of prequel, by the “A to Y” definition, I hope it’s not, because I hope that this movie can be surprising, I hope that – most importantly, the ending of this movie… the sequel to Prometheus is not Alien. The sequel to Prometheus, if it does well and people like it, would be another movie that goes off in its own direction and runs tangentially to Alien.

It’s a compelling idea, that “prequels” are merely “story so far”s, as opposed to stories in and of themselves. I’ve written before about my dislike of this inevitability of the prequel genre, the fact that you know the ending of the story before you even begin; it feels “anti-story,” if that makes sense, a push against the basic force of storytelling and audience interest to find out more. No matter how inventive the prequel, no matter how many twists, turns and “You only thought you knew the story!” reveals there are, the ultimate destination is still the same one as everyone expected when they signed up for the journey. As Lindelof says, who wants to see that movie, really? The only alternative outcome is to risk destroying the original movie by revealing something that significantly changes the intent or meaning of the original movie at some point which is… risky, to say the least.

There’s also something particularly interesting about Lindelof’s notion that Prometheus is a parallel movie to Alien; it’s the idea that another story altogether can fill in some of the gaps from your source story, but without retreading narrative. It’s universe building, I guess; the kind of thing that we’ve seen before in spin-off and ancillary material, but it feels somewhat revolutionary in movies, for some reason – The idea of “separate but equal” stories being told in the same universe without there necessarily being an explicit connection or relationship feels counterintuitive even in this day and age of the Marvel Universe franchise being built so carefully by Marvel and Disney. It’s something that – if Prometheus is enough of a hit that it spawns wannabes – I can see easily spreading to other movies, and other franchises (Star Wars, I think, could benefit from this kind of treatment, especially if the other movies were made by younger directors).

The Prometheus and Marvel model is one that I hope takes root in Hollywood, so much so that it eventually supplants “prequels” as we know them. Being inspired by a story to create another one in the same setting is, after all, a completely different – and far superior – way of paying tribute to that story than just telling people “this is what you missed, even though the original creators didn’t think it was important enough to show you in the first place.”

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Comments

  • David

    It’s a prequel. The events of “Prometheus” set the stage for the events of “Alien”. By Lindelof’s own definition, which isn’t accurate but w.e, this is a prequel

  • Coryjameson

    I hope Prometheus is a well-made movie (and story) enough that it justifies a sequel by RIDLEY SCOTT. There’s so little genuinely good science fiction out there. 

    No, Star Trek by JJ Abrams doesn’t count. Neither do, Avatar, Hunger Games, Batman or Avengers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Wells/13805208 Patrick Wells

    By Damon Lindelof’s logic, any story that begins with a shocking image and the “How did I get to this point?” plot device, is a bad movie. That would include the likes of Fight Club and many other great movies. The fun in those movies is seeing how we get to that point, and how the characters progress.
    If the character development is compelling, and if its emotionally touching and heart breaking, then it doesn’t matter if we can guess an ending. That’s what those LOST writers never got.

  • http://theballisflat.info Mando

    Please. Lindelof couldn´t end his own show satisfactorily and now he has to complain about other people? If the events in Prometheus are sufficiently out of sight, in the past, even a few generations in the past, then the stories they share are related really tangentially. It´s like saying you can´t tell stories in Rome and Greece because we know the outcome and their interconnected.

  • Yoda

    Is the headline saying what you mean? Maybe “…Isn’t a Prequel”?

  • Natasha Kingston

    I think Columbo did pretty well, and every episode showed who the killer was from the start and then you just watched Columbo solve it. And it was awesome. 

  • ShaggaLikesAxes

    So you’ve seen the movie already? That’s amazing, you must know someone special.

  • momw

    A lot of the best movies are about the journey, not the destination.  I disagree completely with the hypothesis here.

    Knowing the ending can add a lot more drama if handled correctly. 

  • Statham

    I think it doesn’t necessarily need to be a prequel to Alien; We’re seeing a lot of familiar elements – a working version of Alien’s derelict ship, and the Space Jockey. But that doesn’t mean that said ship and said SJ are going to be the exact same versions that feature in Alien, that end up on what eventually becomes LV426. It stands to reason that there’d be more than one ship. More than one Space Jockey. And Ridley Scott has always been a fan of the idea that the facehugger/alien was used as some manner of biological warfare; as in the SJ’s would bomb planets with the eggs.

    So that suggests more than one ship, more than one Jockey. I think Scott is going to provide us with some answers about the origin of the Alien, but it won’t link up with the first Alien movie directly. I mean, Weyland-Yutani has to learn about the creature somewhere, and I’d like to imagine Scott is going to give us the chance to blatantly ignore the two AvP movies.

  • Statham

    Yeah, but part of the fun of Columbo was the formula and characters. They had great guest stars, like Patrick McGoohan, and it was just fun to see them work off of Peter Falk, who was a great actor in his own right. There’s a reason numerous episodes of Columbo worked better than, say, Star Wars Episodes 1-3..

  • Tarlouce

    That would be really awesome if he could change something that’s so unique that it became mythic into something so trivial that we don’t care : ie the Space Jockey in your option. Really, Space Jockey as B52 ? please…
    I don’t say it’s a bad idea. I say it’s a terrible idea. One of the power of the original Alien is that all the components were unique. One Alien, One Space Jockey and so on…

  • http://www.facebook.com/alexjholt Alex Holt

    I see what he is trying to get at, at least in regard to “immediate” and “direct” prequels. By this I mean specifically ones that follow the same narrative threads and/or characters in a way that directly leads into the events of the latter, with the Star Wars prequels being a direct example of that.

    Conversely though, I think in some ways, if you distance a film which is technically a prequel enough from the frame of the predecessor, it becomes freestanding enough to justify its own existance.  For a recent comics example, DCs Demon Knights series is arguably a prequel to the entire New 52 in setting, but, as its narratively detatched and following its own threads which aren’t definitly resolved by the “current” comics, it can exist completly happily alongside them without feeling like the “anti-story” he mentions above.

  • Anonymous

    All I read is semantics.  Does anyone getting the feeling that the producers are not allowed to say it’s an Alien prequel?  

  • Anonymous

    The Magician’s Nephew took place before the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe but was written after.  While it’s technically a prequel, both stories can stand on their own, and really just fall into that realm of a shared universe.  Like you said above (great example), comics regularly deal with the concept of a shared universe.  I would not say that Batman Year One is a prequel to all previous Batman stories, just the telling of Batman’s first adventure.  But with that said, nobody at DC as ever tried to dissuade people from putting a label on Year One as the Prometheus production team has.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_GR5RVTKEY5GXDH4HUJ5I5L4SCQ John

    Nowhere in any promotional material, any interview, or any press release, has it ever been said that this ‘sets the stage’ for Alien. The only thing ever mentioned was a comment by Ridley Scott where he stated that the last few minutes of the film develop into a ‘pretty good DNA of the “Alien” one’ but that doesn’t mean he was talking about the plot. It would be smarter and safer to infer that he is talking about the basic structure of the situations in this film and the thematic elements therein. The planet in Prometheus is NOT the same planet as in “Alien” (see Harry Knowles’ review of Lindelof’s script, posted just this morning on AICN). Thus the alien ‘horseshoe’ ship seen being destroyed (or at least incapacitated) in the Prometheus trailers is NOT the same one Ripley and Co. found on LV-426. So while obviously this movie takes place in the time period before “Alien” and in the same universe as “Alien,” this does not appear to be a prequel in the same sense that “Revenge of the Sith” was a prequel to the original “Star Wars.”

  • Mythos

     Just out of curiosity, do you mean they don’t count as good, or just not as the science fiction you mean?

  • Big_H

    Why wouldn’t Star Trek or Avatar count as good sci fi?

  • Jack O’Higgins

    Thought this piece was absolutely ridiculous. The phrase “it’s about the journey, not the destination” comes to mind. If I see a character developing and change over the course of a brilliantly written and entertaining story, I don’t really care if I know how it’s gonna end (as long as the ending is good). You must not like action, comedy or animated movies since we can argue that 99% of the time we’re positive the good guy wins. 

  • MC

    “Why Prometheus Isn’t a Sequel”

    Because it occurs BEFORE and not after the events of a related movie?

  • MC

    Harry Knowles had a fake script