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So now it’s official: Neill Blomkamp has managed to go from Instagrammed images of a never-pitched Alien project to a greenlight to develop a script for Fox based on said images.
It’s seemingly good news for Blomkamp, who talked about having a complicated relationship with the movie industry prior to the news, and also for Fox, which gets to expand its resting Alien franchise beyond the Prometheus reboot. But is it actually good news for the Alien franchise itself?
In fact, for the number of entries in the movie series — seven, if you include the two Alien vs. Predator movies (Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection, Alien vs. Predator, Aliens vs. Predator and Prometheus) — there’s a case to be made that the Alien franchise is less an actual franchise and more a series of quasi-related movies that share a monster, but little else, and a series that relies on the creative influence of the first movie and financial success of the second for fuel to continue.
Certainly, the entries in the series past 1986’s Alien are, at best, half-heartedly embraced by critics and fans alike, with both Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection spoken of even by those responsible for making them as being at best troubled productions resulting in uneven movies. Prometheus, while more critically praised, nonetheless enjoys a complicated relationship with hardcore fans of the earlier movies, due to its lack of thematic (or literal) continuity with them. (The less said about the AVP movies, the better.)
That said, the continuity between each of the Alien movies is pretty tenuous at best, essentially consisting of “It has the H.R. Giger-inspired xenomorph in it, and probably Sigourney Weaver as well.” Everything else — plot, theme, even genre — is up for grabs and reappraisal, giving the series an unsurprisingly disjointed feel. It’s not one continued story, or even one continued attempt to grapple with the same set of ideas or questions; at its heart, it’s just a series of essentially disconnected monster movies hoping to evoke either the chills of Ridley Scott‘s original horror movie or the thrills of James Cameron‘s action movie follow-up.
In that, it’s prime real estate to be reexamined, reshaped and rebooted by the studio, as dangerous as that endeavor might be. (What, after all, is the defining characteristic of the series that should be focused on in any new movie? It depends on which of the movies is your favorite, and what you drew from that, arguably moreso than other, more consistent and coherent properties.) With so little behind the Alien brand, coupled with the reputation of those first two movies and attendant fond memories for the Alien/Aliens title, it’s no surprise that Fox would say yes to Blomkamp’s pitch.
On the other side of the equation, however, I’m struggling to find real reason beyond brand recognition to get excited about Blomkamp working on another movie in the Alien series, versus coming up with his own, entirely disconnected, take on the space monster movie idea unencumbered by a confused and sprawling mythology. After all, wouldn’t it be just as exciting — if not moreso — to see what he could do starting from scratch, instead, and pulling inspiration from what’s gone before without being beholden to rules and continuity created by other people?
Such talk is tantamount to treason in some circles, but unless Blomkamp’s Alien pitch is something that explicitly relies upon the events and characters from earlier movies — and, arguably, manages to reshape the mythology of the series into something coherent and meaningful, instead of the existing method of “repeating a number of names with meaningful looks and unexplored concepts, hoping that something worthwhile is implied in the mind of the viewer” — then what, exactly, is gained from the audience’s perspective from making it an Alien movie outside of nostalgia and brand extension?
Of course, judging by the online excitement both to Blomkamp’s original Instagram images and the subsequent announcement of his being hired to develop the movie as a real thing, it’s possible that nostalgia and brand extension are enough. (An argument can certainly be made that it has been in other cases — the Transformers movies, I’m looking at you.) It’s also possible that Blomkamp’s movie will manage to “fix” the franchise in a way that not only functions as an interesting film, but restores the mythology to something usable by other filmmakers. However, unless those are his specific aims in making the movie, it’s hard to shake the feeling that everyone other than Fox would be better served by starting over from scratch and doing something new instead.
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