It's now only a matter of days until PROMETHEUS arrives in UK cinemas. This is clearly a big deal - director Ridley Scott returning to the SF genre with - what? a prequel? - to his influential 1979 hit ALIEN. The various trailers, viral videos, publicity photos- all have played their part in making PROMETHEUS this summer's arguably most anticipated movie event.
Even though it's now a sobering 33 years ago, I have vivid memories of ALIEN's original release. My first exposure to it was in the THINGS TO COME column of Starburst magazine. In it's May '78 issue, it made brief mention of a recently greenlighted "thriller-horror set in space". It was being financed by Twentieth Century-Fox, newly flush with STAR WARS dollars. The story was the brainchild of Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett. Directorial reins were being handed over to Ridley Scott, then hot off the critically acclaimed DUELLISTS.
Over time, more information began to emerge. The high-calibre cast - Ian Holm, John Hurt, Yaphet Kotto - as well as the then-unknown Sigourney Weaver. The involvement of top conceptual artists such as Moebius, Ron Cobb...and H R Giger, whose nightmarish visions ensured a truly alien ALIEN. Then there was that trailer.
The film was finally released in May 1979 to tremendous critical acclaim and US box-office success. However - as was often the case back then - we had to wait another six months before ALIEN terrified UK cinema audiences..
With an 'X' certificate.
The 'X' certificate was the predecessor to today's '18' classification - nobody under that age to be admitted. As I was 14, this was devastating, heartstopping news. I had read Alan Dean Foster's novelisation repeatedly during the summer, so much so that the spine of the book had broken. I had pored over every illustrated frame of the striking graphic novel. I knew that I had to see this film...by any means necessary. I didn't rate my chances in running the gauntlet of eagle-eyed cinema staff alone, so I roped in an accomplice to get me into a screening...my dad.
Cut to a wet Saturday night, November '79 - father and son patiently queuing in the long, dark alley that ran alongside the Gaumont cinema. This was before the modern luxury of pre-booking your seats online - back then, it was first come, first served. Queuing for cinematic blockbusters was a regrettable, uncomfortable part of the process and you had to factor in an hour's waiting in line to ensure you got a seat. Fortunately, we had arrived in good time, were pretty close to the front of the queue...and I was sick with worry.
Then the doors opened and the orderly crowd surged forward. Dad went to the box-office, whilst I hung back, trying to look four years older. The foyer was packed. With tickets in hand, we went up the short flight of stairs to Gaumont 2 to gain admission. This was the last barrier - the only thing standing between me and Mr Scott's magnum opus...
As it turned out, there was really nothing to worry about. The elderly usher barely gave me a glance, quickly tearing my ticket in half and moving onto the next patron. We stepped inside. The old Gaumont 2 auditorium was huge, easily able to accomodate a thousand-strong audience. The massive screen was hidden behind thick, velvet curtains. These drapes would part to show a short film, adverts and trailers - then sweep back into place for a split-second, before opening once more, as a BBFC certificate heralded the start of the movie. For the first time in my life, I saw the scarlet-coded certificate, announcing that this particular film had been passed as 'X'.
Finally, after months of anticipation, I was going to see ALIEN.
The film didn't disappoint. The audience - largely unaware of what would unfold onscreen- held their collective breath - and screamed - in all the right places. Dad loved the film. And although I was acutely familiar with every character, every scene, every line of dialogue before I had sat down in my seat, I was carried along by the movie like everyone else.
It remains one of my most memorable filmgoing experiences. Sadly, it's not one I can replicate with PROMETHEUS - in 1989, Gaumont 2 was carved up into four smaller screens. However, my expectations are running high and nothing I've seen in the run-up to its release has dampened my enthusiasm.
Not mine - nor that of my inner 14-year-old self...