Aliens (1986) & the Future of the Franchise

The making of Aliens

It’s been nearly 20 years since the ill-received Alien Resurrection, and Sigourney Weaver is finally ready to give the Alien franchise a proper ending.

While attending this year’s Sheffield Film and Comic Con, actor Michael Biehn (Corporal Hicks, Aliens) opened up about the upcoming installment to the Alien franchise. The Internet went nuts when director Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium) posted concept art on his Instagram page depicting an aged Ripley alongside Corporal Hicks, a ship bearing resemblance to The Derelict from the 1979 Alien, and a concept Xenomorph. Biehn revealed that while he has spoken to Blomkamp about the upcoming film, he hasn’t been offered to reprise his iconic role in the franchise. Yet.

Neill Blomkamp Alien Art

In an interview with Sky Movies, Blomkamp revealed that the fifth movie will pick up where the second movie left off.

“I want this film to feel like it is literally the genetic sibling of Aliens. So it’s Alien, Aliens, this movie,” he explains.

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While everyone has been tight-lipped about the project, there has been speculation that the project will be pushed back to make room for Ridley Scott’s Prometheus sequel; Scott will be producing the Blomkamp project. This means a lengthy development process for Blomkamp’s Alien, and a potential release in 2018.

Many fans are asking though if we really need another reboot or have we already dragged this franchise through the mud enough?

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alien-behind-the-scenes

As one of the many movie fanatics who gripes over reboots littering theaters, especially the summer blockbusters (read: Jurassic World), I believe with his background in science fiction, along with the reprise of Ellen Ripley, this next installment has potential. Not to mention that Blomkamp is a tremendous fan of the franchise since his childhood–there’s almost a sense of responsibility for him to conclude the franchise the way it was meant to end.

“During the first half century of cinema, the so-called “Golden Age”, most films were less ‘permanent’ back then, most forgotten once it had stopped its theatrical run, so that a few years, or even a few months later, one could “reboot” a story yet again, using the same source material in a comedy, a drama, a musical, whatever. While we see two Hulk origin films in a decade as pretty abnormal, the likes of Maltese Falcon was remade at least twice within the same span, with the Bogart one the last of that run. What is relatively new is the notion of the ‘preboot’, a specific combination of both prequel (a film set in the timeline before an established core, “canon” work) and reboot (a re-imagining of that core world or circumstance, allowing a new timeline to continue). The Dark Knight was a reboot of Burton’s Batman, which in turn was a reboot of the TV-series’ film adaptation. The Attack of the Clones, or Temple of Doom, situate their stories before the canon work, and thus work as an episodic precursor, yet play as part of a consistent, narrative whole with a shared timeline and shared core characters.” via Twitch

As long as they’re done in good taste, and maintain the legacy of the original creator, than I support those efforts. I want a sequel/reboot/preboot to almost be an homage to the original work, but maintain the credibility to be a standalone piece, not just a script with dollar signs attached to the project. Aliens holds a special place in my science-fiction heart as one of the greatest sequels, especially in the sci-fi genre.

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Aliens was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Music, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, and Best Art Direction/Set Decoration. It won two awards for Sound Effects Editing and Visual Effects. Sigourney Weaver received her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, and although she did not win, it was considered a landmark nomination for an actress to be considered for a science fiction/horror film, a genre which was given little recognition by the Academy in 1986.

Aliens 1986 gif Aliens launches 57 years later after Alien where Ripley has been in hypersleep. She is debriefed by her employers at the Weyland-Yutani Corporation over the destruction of her ship, the Nostromo; they are skeptical of her claims that an Alien killed the ship’s crew and forced her to destroy the ship. LV-426, the planet where the Nostromo encountered the Alien eggs, is now home to a human terraforming colony, Hadley’s Hope. When contact is lost with Hadley’s Hope, Weyland-Yutani representative Carter Burke and Colonial Marine Lieutenant Gorman ask Ripley to accompany Burke and a Colonial Marine unit to investigate the disturbance. Everything goes awry when Ripley and the marines discover that the colony has been infested and overtaken by aliens, and they’re forced to find their own escape off the planet.
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While filming The Terminator (1984), James Cameron wrote 90 pages for Aliens. Although the script wasn’t finished, 20th Century Fox was impressed and told him that if The Terminator was a success, he would be able to direct Aliens. Following the success of The Terminator, which helped establish James Cameron as a major action director, Fox greenlit the project for a sequel to Alien.

Many fans of the original were less satisfied with the change in direction from science fiction to more action-packed combat. Cameron was enticed by the opportunity to create a new world and opted not to follow the same formula as Alien, but to create a worthy combat sequel focusing “more on terror, less on horror”.

Cameron drew inspiration for the Aliens story from the Vietnam War, a situation in which a technologically superior force was mired in a hostile foreign environment. The attitude of the space marines are portrayed as cocky and confident of their inevitable victory, but when they find themselves facing a less technologically advanced but more determined enemy, the outcome is not what they expect.

Alien 3 SetThere’s a lot of meat to chew on with this sequel, but the third and fourth installments fail to live up to the legacy of the first two films. Not only did they fail, but even director David Fincher has washed his hands clean of the mess of Alien³ . I’m not opposed to Alien³ nor Alien Resurrection; I think they’re both terrifying to a degree, but they just fell really flat. Alien³ and Resurrection have some of the best art direction and camera angles of the four movies. Fincher also brings back the ‘less is more’ terror tactic that Ridley Scott used in the original Alien. By showing less throughout the majority of the film, it created a greater sense of urgency and unease of what’s around the next corner. Fincher’s famously lauded low shot angles created to generate movement as the alien also brought a new visual experience to film that the previous films had never explored.

And then Ridley Scott decided to keep the spirit alive with the preboot Prometheus, which I found even weaker than Alien³ and Alien Resurrection. Yes, I’ll watch Alien³ again before I watch Prometheus.

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“With Prometheus, we have no cat, nor any kid (save for a calamari looking afterbirth thing). We have a slew of crew members that have little personality, so that when they do make a genuine sacrifice (staying with the Captain on ship, say) we really don’t particularly care. We have an old man that shows up towards the end in one of the several awkward plot twists that is meant to be pulling the strings, but when he finally meets his own violent demise there’s no sense of either loss or catharsis.

One of the critical elements that gave the crew of Alien such rich character was the deceptively effortless crosstalking, a form of  banter that characterized Altmaneseque filmmaking of the 70s. In Prometheus every line seems either expositional or disposable, and there’s little chemistry between our heroes as they seem to talk past one another. More troubling, in attempting to graft higher themes and ideals (read: philosophical concepts), the film oversteps its reach dramatically. If it’s to be taken as a serious examination of the origin of human life, then its preposterous missteps and clunky dialogue mask this goal. If this is a monster movie simply using these elements to fool an audience into seeing something more sophisticated than it really is, well, it failed on that count as well. By making explicit these concepts, Prometheus becomes actually less satisfying intellectually than Alien.” via Twitch

I’m not here to say that Prometheus is entirely unnecessary; many fans of the franchise actually like the film, myself not included. It’s not completely lacking, but it feels half-baked in the details. Sigourney Weaver has claimed that if the Alien franchise was rebooted, they would have to do it without Ellen Ripley. Now 20 years later, she’s agreeing to put the space suit back on and battle the monster of our nightmares. I have faith that Weaver is critical enough to wait around this long for something worth revisiting.

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14 Comments

  1. Great post! I had forgotten Aliens got all those award nominations! Personally I think Sigourney Weaver is getting too old to play Ripley, at least the action heroine. Maybe she should play a mentor role for the next generation or something. Agree the first two films are the best. As a fan, of course I’ll watch the sequels, to see where they take the story. Unfortunately so many of the recent sequels/reboots are mediocre, thank god we occasionally get a Fury Road or Aliens.

  2. I don’t have any love for the series but I think it’s hard for people who do – you always want just a little bit more, and yet, knowing it could possibly take away from the warm fuzzy feelings you have a bout a franchise, it’s really hard to commit to it lately. We’ve had a lot of bad runs.

  3. As a huge fan of Alien and Aliens I’m both interested and apprehensive when it comes to a new sequel. I felt the re-direction towards other – somewhat related – stories like Prometheus and the Alien V Predator movies were a good way to give fans another dose of the franchise without impacting upon the legacy of the originals. That said, Aliens never got the sequel it deserved because Fincher killed off principle characters during the credits (my biggest gripe in a film I actually have a lot of time for).

    I was in the audience at Sheffield Comic Con to hear Michael Biehn talk about the new film and have to say I’m looking forward to it. Having recently seen Chappie, I have no reservations about Blomkamp being the right man for the job. I’m just glad they are currently talking about sequels and NOT remakes ala the horrid Jurassic World.

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