Between Ridley Scott’s breakout film Alien, his question mark-riddled prequel, Prometheus, and his science fiction masterstroke, Blade Runner, the acclaimed director created rich worlds with marked similarities – many of them likely not by accident.
So strong, in fact, that many believe Alien and Blade Runner worlds are different ends of the same universe. Far from whispers in shadowy Internet corridors, there is some viable “evidence” to support a shared universe. The main connections, however, are an inc-reddit-ably tenuous blurb from the U.K. steelbook home release of Prometheus – where Weyland Corporation CEO Peter Wayland alludes to Blade Runner corporate head Dr. Eldon Tyrell (never by name, though) – and a few offhand comments made by Scott.
The timelines don’t quite mesh, but both franchises were Scott’s babies initially. And, although the major settings for both film sagas differentiate wildly – with exotic worlds the key to Alien’s, well, alien landscape and Earth as Blade Runner’s prime locale – there are still numerous other connective tissues. Whether Scott ever officially connects the dots to create a shared universe or the hints remain nothing more than fanservice and Easter eggs, both films contain a number of strikingly similar themes, color schemes, and motifs.
Embodying a futuristic, corporate-dominated aesthetics, Alien and Blade Runner are washed in muted, sterile blues and shadowy, if garish greens and oranges, which set the mood for technocracies in which human life is cheap and our natural habitats are bleak and depleted. Speaking of depleted, both films also revolve our need to gather resources from extraterrestrial sources and seed our life in less-barren places.
As hinted at in the Alien franchise, the free-market has run amok, and the merger between the Weyland and Yutani Corporations has created a near-total technocracy, where money and power rest in a handful of people and corporations hold more sway than whatever middling governing bodies still exist. Even the Colonial Marines, ostensibly created by the “United Americas Alliance,” often operate under the auspices of Weyland-Yutani.
Scott’s “sibling” film, Blade Runner, also echoes those “too big to fail much less control” sentiments common in science fiction – especially if the impending sequel reflects a world where greed burst its own balloon, leaving the landscape barren and humans seeking refuge in the cosmos.
Once again, despite their place in the respective films, the replicants of Blade Runner and the xenomorphs of Alien aren’t the true villains. Sure, they may run Deckard (Harrison Ford) and Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) ragged, but the true monsters aren’t the machines revolting against their makers or the aliens just doing their super-murder-mouth thing. It’s Peter Weyland in Prometheus who seeks our creators (the Engineers) to prolong his already long-ass life; it’s Weyland-Yutani Corp that scours the outer territories for those acid-blooded extraterrestrials to turn them into weapons (Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) still gives me the creeps); it’s Dr. Eldon Tyrell who essentially enslaves his bio-mechanical replicants and gives them four short years to live; it’s our capacity to put ourselves before the needs of our world and our culture.
There’s definitely a pattern to Scott’s sci-fi offerings.
The world of humans and their likenesses – filled with milky fluid or otherwise – is rife with metaphorical import. Both franchises examine a future where humans create mechanicals, whether genetic or mechanical, to do their bidding (which doesn’t usually go so well). Replicants may have superior strength and abilities, at least the Nexus-6 class, but they are born into servitude, implanted with false memories, and live truncated lives, more-than enough to create a blowback.
By the time of Alien (shared universe or otherwise), android civil rights have improved a slightly. Of course, that might have something to do with the fact that a well-crafted droid is nearly indistinguishable from their human counterpart. If we’re lucky, we get a nice mechanical like Bishop (Lance Henrickson in Aliens) who has our best interests in mind. If not, we wind up with a light-on-empathy spy willing to implant us with black ooze (like David (Michael Fassbender) in Prometheus) or using us as xenomorph bait (Ash (Ian Holm) in Alien\).
Good, bad, or somewhere in-between, our mechanical likenesses tap into that god-complex in every one of us. Whether creator or the creation, our curiosity is infectious – literally, in some cases. The classic parable in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein figures heavily into Prometheus and Scott’s neo-noir, Blade Runner, where the creation seeks answers from its creator – ones which it won’t necessarily like or appreciate.
Both franchises also explore favorite 70’s topic, body horror, and the ever-prevalent fear of death, albeit in very different ways.
The Alien saga is permeated by issues of invasion, masculinity, sexuality and penetration (hard to escape the phallic aliens) – what scripter Dan O’Bannon once called the male “fear of penetration.” Earlier chronologically but not cinematically, Peter Weyland’s deteriorating body and fears of death veer near those themes when his search for a cure for death leads him to the Engineers, becoming the catalyst for the Prometheus’ fateful voyage to remote planetoid LV-223.
Earth 2019 also had its share of body issues troubles, as Roy Batty and his Nexus-6 replicants violently escape their enforced colonial mining gigs and head planetside in search of answers to their own aging problems. No matter how powerful their bodies, how vibrant their implanted memories, and how enforced their circuitry, being chained to a limited life cycle still stung (we can identify).
Then, we come to the uncertainties: Scott has promised some connectivity, at least between Alien and Prometheus, as well as some answers from Alien: Covenant in 2017. In addition, his production of the Denis Villeneuve-helmed Blade Runner 2049 also arrives this year, potentially swimming deeper into the shared universe of its own franchise (and perhaps beyond?).
Naturally, the conspiratorial geek inside me dreams of a link between the two remarkably similar if at times disparate universes. Sure, there are an awful lot of expansive cinematic experiences these days, but even an Easter egg here and there would be enough to satisfy many, as well as cinematically profound.
If Ridley Scott’s parallel movie universes do converge at any one point, there would be a certain satisfying sigh (as well as plenty of groans). Duplicitous droids, environmentally thrashed planets, evil corporations seeking wealth, power, and influence, humans raging against a desolate future: Blade Runner and Alien fit handily into a visceral and inspired cautionary tales. Motifs of frailty, creation, and act run deeply throughout both franchises, warning us about the dangers of burying ourselves within a sea of smarter and smarter tech, as well as trying impose our will upon our progenitors, creations, and the universe around us.
Worst-case scenario, we have two amazing movies surrounded by candy fluff. Best case, Scott’s vision reminds us who we are and gives future filmmakers a gorgeous dystopian vision to play with.