Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Ship Piercing the Atmosphere

Alien (1979)
dir. Ridley Scott

Aliens (1986)
dir. James Cameron

Avatar (2009)
dir. James Cameron

Prometheus (2012) (trailer)
dir. Ridley Scott

Okay this one is a little convoluted so bear with me:

In 1979, Ridley Scott films the landing sequence in Alien as a visceral bumpy, wind-whipped roller-coaster ride. It's the first time I've ever seen that in a film - a conscious rejection of the scientifically-smooth landings of prior science fiction. The ship seems to pierce through the atmosphere with physical exertion, punching through layers of shrieking clouds.

In 1986, James Cameron helms the sequel, Aliens, and embellishes that same visceral whip-whipped ride with an extended sequence of a small dropship piercing the atmosphere. The scene's central image is an all-too-brief eerily beautiful shot of the dropship suspended in the white plains of the clouds.

In 2007, Ridley Scott declares "science fiction is dead."

In 2009, James Cameron pushes the tech barrier and drops Avatar, a central image of which is a small dropship piercing the atmosphere. This time, Cameron lingers on the eerie beauty of it, emphasizing the majestic contrails and pulling back far enough that the bumpiness of the ride levels out.

Suddenly, in early 2010, Ridley Scott decides to return to science fiction, shooting a film on the same rig James Cameron invented for Avatar. Scott's project is Prometheus - a prequel to Alien and Aliens. The trailer, which was released today, includes a powerful image of a small ship piercing the atmosphere, pulled back even farther than Cameron's Avatar, cutting a line though the majesty of the cloud layer, but also framed between inhospitable rock faces which bring the image back to its rugged origins on the uninhabitable wasteland of Alien. To top it off, it's underneath title text which uses the same iconic reveal as Alien's does.

This central image of a lone ship in the clouds is at the heart of Ridley Scott's first major success, James Cameron's first big budget success, and James Cameron's record-breaking grand-slam which certainly inspired the latest film - Ridley Scott's return to the genre that made him, and to the film series which made them both.

It's a dizzy little ouroboros, isn't it?


  1. I love how similiar the trailer for Prometheus ( is to the original Alien trailer (

  2. Yeah, I love that. Scott's been hit or miss lately, and the idea of expanding on the Alien story even more makes me nervous, but it seems like he's might be able to pull this crazy idea off.