Is expanding a classic a lose-lose proposition?

'Prometheus'

'Prometheus' (June 6, 2012)

Once the court of public opinion stamps a movie as a classic, watch out. It becomes precious cargo, and attempts to deride or change that valuable commodity may endure the wrath of 1,000 suns. Or just emails from die-hard fans who say you don’t know what you’re talking about.

That’s the long way of saying that “Prometheus,” director Ridley Scott’s highly anticipated “Alien” prequel opening Friday (which I liked very much), already has received handfuls of negative-to-partly-negative reviews complaining that the new movie’s either too much like its predecessor (the original “Alien”) or not like it enough. Naturally, a movie that works to fit into the universe of a beloved sci-fi/horror franchise—well, the entire franchise and its many sequels and spinoffs isn’t so beloved, but the first movie and James Cameron’s sequel, “Aliens,” sure are—will and should hearken back to the source material, without becoming redundant.

“Prometheus” is not redundant. Without giving anything away, I can say that much of “Prometheus” takes place off of the space ship, replacing the claustrophobic tension of “Alien” with a looser sense of exploration that, of course, transitions into fear. Many have noted that “Prometheus” isn’t as scary, and it’s not. It’s also not trying to be. The thriller’s far more interested in steadily building an examination of our natural curiosities and desire to meet our maker—leaving viewers with more to think about than Scott’s “Blade Runner,” I say—than infiltrating our nightmares.

There are plenty of chilling moments regardless, and Scott’s 3-D visuals are nothing short of spectacular. The shots intended to elevate your eyebrows will do just that. Yet it would have been foolish for “Prometheus” to attempt the same streamlined horror of “Alien,” a movie that terrified people in 1979 and but, of course, influenced countless other copycats that now strive and fail to scare. When’s the last time a horror/sci-fi movie came along that truly felt fresh and freaked you out? It’s hard to do. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it 100 times: “The Orphanage” is the scariest movie I’ve seen in the last 5-to-10 years.

I don’t know how fans who passionately love “Alien” will feel about “Prometheus,” which similarly features an android and a crew that doesn’t know what it’s about to encounter. What I do know is that the perception of perfection can be both satisfying and troubling. Many movies we love we would never want to see changed, remade or insulted. I love “Rushmore.” I don’t think I’d want to see it tweaked at all. Becoming defensive about the projects we hold close to our hearts speaks to how much we connect with them while preventing the possibility for discussion, if not additions, to their world. I absolutely don’t think there should be a sequel or prequel to “Rushmore,” but if Wes Anderson thinks he has something to add, I’d be happy to see what he has in mind.

Look at “Blade Runner,” a movie also regarded as a classic that has been adjusted and re-released several times since its 1982 opening. Someone watching Scott’s director’s cut now wouldn’t even know that the original version featured a much-scorned voiceover from Deckard (Harrison Ford). People probably wouldn’t go for a prequel to that either—some might argue we’re living it—but they may have been happy that the filmmaker chose to return to his previous work to account for what he perceived as loose ends.

Do we have to know what efforts led to Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and Co. winding up in a situation that lent newfound vulnerability to their chest cavities? No. But it’s natural and justified to wonder, which is exactly the point of “Prometheus.”

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