- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 5, 2012

LOS ANGELES — Since hatching “Alien” 33 years ago, Ridley Scott has hoped no other filmmakers would try to answer this question: Where did the space eggs containing those terrifying beasts come from?

Mr. Scott has hints of an answer himself with “Prometheus,” a cousin to “Alien” that opens Friday and marks the filmmaker’s return to science fiction after a 30-year break.

His origin story doesn’t offer easy solutions, though, and raises as many questions as it answers about the derelict spaceship where humans discovered the eggs that unleashed such horror in the 1979 film and its three direct sequels, along with two hybrid “Alien vs. Predator” flicks.

Other directors — James Cameron on 1986’s “Aliens,” David Fincher on 1992’s “Alien 3” and Jean-Pierre Jeunet on 1997’s “Alien Resurrection” — had carried on with Mr. Scott’s creation. And while Mr. Scott veered away from science fiction after 1982’s “Blade Runner,” he always wondered if there might be a fresh way back into that “Alien” universe.

“At the end of the ‘Alien’ franchise, when all was said and done with the fourth film, it seemed to me you can’t use that creature one more time. It was too familiar and no longer frightening. Therefore, is it over?” Mr. Scott said.

Charlize Theron and Idris Elba star as space explorers in "Prometheus," a mysterious thriller that provides some loose back story to the 1979 science-fiction classic "Alien." (20th Century Fox via Associated Press)
Charlize Theron and Idris Elba star as space explorers in “Prometheus,” a ... more >

Yet fans have wondered for decades about that fossilized “space jockey” depicted in “Alien,” the apparent pilot of the extraterrestrial wreck that franchise hero Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and her crew stumbled across. Who was he, what was he, where did his cargo of alien eggs come from, and where were they bound?

“I remember from the very first ‘Alien,’ there was one overriding question no one had addressed in any of the four,” Mr. Scott said. “I kind of sat on it, hoping it wouldn’t come up.”

Some of the secrets are revealed in “Prometheus,” which stars Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce and Charlize Theron as explorers who set out to find the “engineers” that created humanity but discover that those makers have terror in store for their offspring.

The “P” word — prequel — has been tossed about to describe the new film. But “Prometheus” is more a precursor than a straightforward prequel to “Alien.”

“To call it a prequel is limiting, but it does have a connection,” Mr. Pearce said. “It basically plants the seed for that original ‘Alien’ film, but it’s a really clever way to go about it, looking at this mission we’re actually on and how it does connect with that alien creature that Ripley does find.”

Set in the late 21st century, a few decades before the action of the original film, “Prometheus” exists in a world familiar to that of the “Alien” franchise — with a monolithic corporation, space explorers in hibernation chambers for their long journey and an enigma of an android whose motivations keep the crew — and the audience — guessing.

And, of course, loads of nasty creatures, in far greater variation than in any of the “Alien” movies.

“There are elements of a world he created that are definitely similar. But that doesn’t make it a prequel,” Miss Theron said. “I felt like this was a stand-alone film. This film asks really big questions that were never asked in ‘Alien.’ Age-old questions of who our creators are, what would they look like, what would they want from us? What would we want from them?”

Miss Theron plays the ice-queen overseer of the company backing the voyage, Mr. Pearce is the corporation’s patriarch, Mr. Fassbender is the inscrutable android with agendas all his own, and Miss Rapace is something of an update of Miss Weaver’s Ripley, an idealistic scientist forced to become an action hero.

Like “Alien,” “Prometheus” has ghastly, gory moments as creatures infiltrate human hosts. Miss Rapace is the focus of the film’s most-memorable instance, one to rival the shock of the infant alien bursting from John Hurt’s chest in the 1979 original.

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