Ridley Scott's ultra-mysterious Prometheus is headed to theaters this Friday, and fans of the decade-spanning Alien franchise are endlessly enthusiastic — but also very, very confused. Is it a reboot? A prequel? A sequel? A sequel that's secretly disguised as a prequel? We know that the film stars Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Noomi Rapace, and Logan Marshall-Greene as members of an interplanetary expedition to find out where the human race came from, but the little buggers' involvement in all of this remains a mystery.
To date, there have been six other films in the Alien franchise: Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, Alien Resurrection, Alien vs. Predator, and Alien vs. Predator: Requiem. That's a lot, and the latter two were so far removed from Scott's original masterpiece that it's hard to know if their weird Predator back story even counts. (Most Alien fans would probably answer that question with a resounding no.) Still, to make things easier for those who may not know that in space, no one can hear you scream, Hollywood.com has broken down the very basic need-to-know facts from the Alien-verse, even though we still don't know much about that damned Weyland Corporation.
Unlike many other works of science fiction, the Aliens here — also known as Xenomorphs — are a relatively unintelligent (but adaptable) lifeform whose only goal seems to be survival of the species, and destruction of anything that stands in their way. They are skeletal in appearance, and have elongated skulls with no eyes. Their blood is a potent acid that can melt through flesh, and their tails are deadly blades. They are very strong, and can quickly adapt to their surroundings — in the films, they figured out how to use their opponents' machinery at a basic level — basic enough to turn off power and kill everybody.
Alien life begins with a Queen, who can produce an army of beasts all by her lonesome. Once the eggs are released, they patiently wait for a potential host to enter their vicinity. Once this happens, a "facehugger" parasitoid attaches itself to the host's face to deposit an embryo. After the embryo is deposited, the facehugger dies.
Soon after, the host awakens with no symptoms. After an incubation period of about 24 hours, the "chestburster" emerges from the victim's chest, killing him or her instantly. The creature reaches adult size in a matter of hours, and then everybody is totally screwed.
In Alien, Ripley's ship, the Nostromo, entered the planetoid LV-426 in 2122, after receiving a warning signal broadcast from a spacecraft on the planetoid called The Derelict. The Derelict is believed to have crashed on LV-426 (also called Acheron) several millennia prior to the arrival of the Nostromo. In its cockpit, an alien lifeform called "The Space Jockey" had been fossilized, with a giant hole in its chest that suggested outward explosion. The ship also contained a chamber of Alien eggs, causing the initial Alien infestation.
After Nostromo was destroyed during the initial attack, Ripley (and Mr. Jones the cat) awoke 57 years later (in Aliens) in 2179, to find that LV-426 was now home to a terraforming colony, "Hadley's Hope," that contained a population of 158. Bad news.
Ripley re-entered the planetoid on the USS Sulaco when communication with the colony was lost, and once again fought off the Aliens, who had infested everyone but the child Newt under the direction of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation (who had ordered the colonists to re-enter The Derelict to be used as hosts). Unfortunately, this time Ripley was "impregnated" by the Alien Queen on her way out of dodge.
In Alien 3, Ripley's hypersleep chamber crashed on Fiorina "Fury" 161, a really crappy all-male prison colony where Tywin Lannister acted as the prison doctor. An Alien facehugger had crashed with them, and infested the colony via the prison's dog. Ripley learned that she was impregnated with the Alien Queen when she scanned herself after noticing that none of the Aliens would kill her, and sacrificed herself and the Queen to (hopefully) save humanity.
Alien Resurrection took place in the 24th century, 200 years after the events of Alien 3. Scientists on the vessel USM Auriga cloned Ripley using DNA from blood samples taken before her death, and also extracted the embryo of the Alien Queen to raise it and collect its eggs. In the cloning process, Ripley's DNA was mixed with the Queen's, giving her enhanced strength, acidic blood, and an emotional link with the Aliens.
A mercenary ship called the Betty kidnapped several humans, using them as hosts for the Aliens. The Aliens destroyed the Auriga, whose default command in an emergency was to land on Earth. Ripley and co. used the Betty to destroy Auriga, which eventually collided into Earth. During Ripley's time on the Auriga, she discovered that the Alien Queen had developed the ability to create life without the need for human hosts.
Prometheus is set in late 21st century, less than 100 years before the events of the first Alien film. Prometheus focuses on a Weyland-sponsored scientific exploration on a vessel named for the Titan in Greek mythology who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans, resulting in his liver being eaten every day for all of eternity.
The Weyland-Yutani Corporation are somehow behind everything bad that ever happens in the Alien universe. Throughout the franchise, the corporation has its hands in all aspects of space colonization and research, and their goal throughout centuries has been to obtain living Alien specimens for use as biological weapons. In Alien, Ripley was in their employ, and she eventually learned that the company considered her crew expendable, as their on-board android's main goal was to protect the Alien specimen. In Aliens, Weyland told the colonists to explore The Derelict, showing again that they consider human life to be expendable.
In Prometheus, Michael Fassbender will portray another Weyland-created android, and Guy Pearce will star as Peter Weyland, the billionaire founder and CEO of Weyland Corp.
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[PHOTO CREDIT: 20th Century Fox]