One thing I”ve always appreciated about the Alien franchise is that it has never failed to spin itself off in interesting creative directions. In an age when the biggest movies in the universe are a series of same-y (not necessarily bad) Marvel superhero sequels and spinoffs — and the most popular movie of the last several years is essentially a remake of the first film in the same series — the sci-fi/horror/action franchise kicked off by Ridley Scott in 1979 stands as a refreshing counterpoint to the “blockbuster by rote” rulebook that often plagues modern Hollywood.
For those who loathed Alien 3 and its followup Alien: Resurrection, Sigourney Weaver”s recent claim in an interview with EW that the plot of Neill Blomkamp”s Alien 5 will ignore that those films ever happened no doubt came as a welcome bit of news. Yet I can”t help but wonder whether Blomkamp”s plan to “reboot” the series is less a function of his own creative proclivities than an indulgence for fans who came away feeling betrayed by the the bold, bleak (admittedly-compromised) vision of director David Fincher and screenwriters David Giler and Walter Hill (not to mention the bevy of other scribes who took a stab at the script during the project”s tortured, protracted development phase) and Jean Pierre-Jeunet”s bizarre, tongue-in-cheek, visually inventive Resurrection.
Blomkamp”s proposed vision — at least as Weaver describes it — smells to me like fan service, which has become an overwhelming consideration in the way movies are made and sold today. The films that roll off the Marvel assembly line are almost uniformly well-directed in the blandest sense, shorn of almost any sense of artistic agency behind the camera. To be fair, that”s what mainstream-minded superhero-movie fans seem to want, and Marvel has done a bang-up job of catering to those moviegoers” tried-and-tested appetites. But that”s not what the Alien franchise is or should be. What often gets lost in discussions of the final two films in the series, as well as Scott”s widely-pilloried sorta-prequel Prometheus, is that despite their respective shortcomings, they at least weren”t afraid to give us something to chew on, be it narratively, visually or thematically. That”s more than I can say for the majority of sequels Hollywood churns out.
After the one-two punch of the original Alien and its full-throttle, more action-oriented sequel Aliens, fans were understandably let down when Alien 3 failed to meet the high standards set by its predecessors. No doubt, the first two films in the series are near-perfect films that epilogue the carnage with relatively tidy resolutions. Alien 3, by contrast, undid what many saw as the goodwill fostered by its immediate predecessor by killing off two of the three human survivors of Aliens in the opening scene while serving up an unrepentantly bleak setting and tone that ended with the death of Ellen Ripley (Weaver), last seen flinging herself into a fiery pit just as a baby Alien Queen burst from her chest. It was a lot to take, and most fans weren”t up to the task.
And yet Alien 3 isn”t an easy film to forget; love it or hate it, it lingers in the memory long after the end credits roll. The film is full of unforgettable visuals, from Ripley”s final swoon into the volcanic abyss to her extremely close encounter with a xenomorph as it corners her against a wall in close-up, her shaved noggin and carved cheekbones somehow mirroring the alien monster”s smooth, seductive aesthetic. It is far from a perfect film — the prisoners, for example, are almost uniformly underdeveloped, glorified xenomorph bait — but the grim world it creates is coherent and haunting, and it is a far better film than its reputation suggests.
Now we have the dangling promise not only of Scott”s intriguing Prometheus sequel Alien: Covenant (currently filming in Australia) but Blomkamp”s Alien 5, which the director has teased with concept art via his official Instagram account (an aged Corporal Hicks is prominently featured, suggesting that Weaver”s summation of the film”s plot is in fact accurate). Personally, I”m a little conflicted about the idea of eschewing 3 and Resurrection and continuing on an alternate post-Aliens timeline in which Hicks (and possibly Newt) live on. There”s something about the concept that in itself feels almost like a betrayal, not of the characters but the ethos of a franchise that has always placed a priority on artistry and ideas over risk-free, four-quadrant thrills. And after the dual disappointments of Elysium and Chappie, I”m also not particularly sold on Blomkamp as the director to bring a long-belated fifth installment of the series to the big screen. District 9 was a solid and auspicious debut, but those latter films were frustrating-bordering-on-embarrassing misfires that lacked the drive and sophistication of his inaugural effort. At this stage, I”m not convinced he has the chops to pull off the sort of bold strokes that made the first two films stone-cold classics and the latter two such intriguingly flawed works.
What I fear most of all about Blomkamp”s Alien 5 is that it”s a reaction not to understandable disappointment regarding where the franchise went narratively after Aliens but to boldness itself — the idea that to shoot for something gutsier and more challenging than your standard popcorn fare was somehow a sin in need of correcting for a series that made its bones by offering up one of the strangest beasts in the history of popular cinema. I can only hope that if the film does come to fruition, Blomkamp”s vision makes room for that weirdness to shine through, even at the risk of alienating some fans.