Few film franchises have suffered like the Alien series. With Alien Day having come and gone, the fanfare over the series brought forth new concept art, and lots of memories of the greatness that could be. As someone who loves all the films, and yes, I do love Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection, I can say that mega studio Fox has not given the best of efforts to this iconic license. Is this mishandling of the property the fault of Fox, or is it just that difficult to move forward with it?
Let’s take a look, shall we?
A warning. Some of the images and descriptions below might be seen as a little graphic or disturbing for some. Some words used are considered trigger words. So heads up.
The original Alien screenplay was written by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett. It was drawn from the idea that aliens needed to be forces to be reckoned with and the terrible nightmares that Dan had after watching a educational film on wasps. The documentary showed him a wasp that laid its eggs in caterpillars, that hatched and ate their way out from the inside. It haunted him so greatly that he had to use it.
The script sat on the shelf until Star Wars happened. Once Lucas’ space opera hit, every studio starting buying up anything that was classified Sci-Fi in hopes to jump on the next huge hit. Things that had been shelved suddenly found their way on the fast track to production. After a short search, Fox settled on the relatively unknown Ridley Scott to direct this script about truckers in space.
Dan O’Bannon offered Mr. Scott a book by artist H.R. Giger, Necronomicon. In that book was the above image, Necronom IV, what instantly caught Ridley’s attention. Giger was brought on board to add his nightmarish visuals and designs. The only thing missing was the cast. Sigourney Weaver won the audition for the lead, and we all know what happened after that.
I can talk about how all the elements of the original film were perfect. That isn’t what I am here to discuss though. What we are looking at is how that perfect lightning in a bottle moment has all but created a benchmark that will never properly be reached.
Before Alien there was nothing quite like it. The film works as it is. It is a film with a strong female lead, a nigh unstoppable killing machine of a creatures, a solid twist. There is so much more there than just that. The film touches on a very prominent fear that we see playing out all around us today. Fear of that which we don’t understand preying on us, raping us, and killing us. I know that is a powerful and harsh word, but even the writer has said it. Alien is a metaphor for inter-species rape and impregnation of a male host.
That is a hard act to follow. You also have the fact that the creature itself is phallic in design adding to this terrifying scenario. That is part of what makes that creature so scary. Everything about it is a strange and warped sexual nature. And yet there is more. The idea of this thing not having eyes, but only the presence of sunken in eye sockets that are almost visible behind the semi-clear dome, and the pseudo mechanical look of exoskeleton like skin. You have a creature that hunts without any noticeable form of sense and can hide anywhere. It is birthed from out of bodies, just so that it can harvest us for more.
The perfect organism.
Following the first film was such a hard task that it took them seven years to even attempt it again. Enter James Cameron, who at the time was still generally new to the film scene. Only having directed The Terminator, but having written it and the second Rambo film, Cameron brought a very new idea to the franchise. He wanted to explore the holes left by the original film, but also deal with the horrors of fighting a war against an enemy that you cannot defeat.
Aliens is a lot more action heavy, but it still has many of the horror elements of the original. Cameron’s idea was to capture that feeling of the Vietnam War, fighting an enemy you don’t understand on its terms. A technological power house is shown why it’s tech isn’t always the answer. Weaver returned as Ripley, who just found out she missed nearly 60 years of her life floating in space. The heart of the film is a mourning mother finding a child who recently lost her family, and two strike up a bond filling in the recently open wounds of their loss. It is pivotal to this film.
Both films touched on very different aspects of horror. So how could things go wrong?
Well, this is where we get into the reason why Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection failed. Too many hands on deck.
Alien 3 had something like 4 different scripts, including one that involved a bunch of monks on a wooden space asylum that gets invaded as when the ship with Ripley, Hicks, and Newt crashes down on it. Some of those aspects still exist in the final product, but it is clear that so much was removed. As more revisions happened, directors came and went. The last director, David Fincher, was still a rookie and walked into a mess of a production. No final script, tons of concept images, sets half built, and a shooting schedule fast approaching.
The result was a film that tried hard but clearly was hindered behind the scenes. Fox’s manhandling of the production was so bad that Fincher to this day still refuses to acknowledge the film as one of his. It was panned so badly that Fox was ready to shelf the franchise. It would be nearly 5 years before they tried again.
Alien: Resurrection was Fox trying to use the writing talents of Joss Whedon to reinvigorate the franchise. Once again Fox had too many hands in the pot. Whedon wanted to make its more of a space adventure with monsters. You can even map most of his Firefly characters to the crew members of Resurrection. Fox wanted Ripley though. A character that the last movie killed off. This made Whedon have to dance around to try to find a way to get her into the story in a way that was plausible.
The other big issue with Resurrection was the director. The director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, is a fantastic director known more for his artistic films than his flare for horror. He originally was against the idea, but signed on when they gave him a check that would finance his future project, even though it put a rift between him and his long time cinematographer. He treated the property as a fun project, and the tone shifts were very clear.
Not ready to give up, the studio went back to the man who made the original so good. Scott wasn’t interested in doing a sequel. He wanted to explore the origins of the species that are the focal point of the series. This then evolved into him being more interested in the nameless space jockey.
Prometheus is a film that is a whole bunch of things. It has flashes of the original’s magic, but ultimately, it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to really do. The film has a very distinct horror feel for the bulk of it, but then that changes abruptly after a story twist magically shows up.
So why can’t we get a good sequel? If Ridley Scott can’t do it, if Sigourney Weaver can’t make the film, then what is the trick?
The trick is that what made the original work was that nothing was expected. There was nothing that was considered mandatory. I detailed out what each one did right or wrong to illustrate that point. The only two things that is needed for an Alien film are, the Xenomorph and a strong sense of dread. Of all the failed sequels, only 3 tried to do that.
For the Alien franchise to get back on track, what really needs to happen is the series needs to go back to its roots. Don’t give us an action film. Don’t give us Ripley. Don’t make it a film with ties to the others. It needs to be a claustrophobic, hidden horror film. Trust me, I love Ripley. She is a powerful character, but the series needs a fresh start. The production companies, the writers, the directors, need to stop trying out do or be better than the original. Bigger isn’t better.
What if the Weyland Yutani Corperation found a way to use the eggs as a way to assassinate political leaders while they were in space flight? A film centered on a family that wakes up from cryosleep only to discover that 2 or 3 eggs were on board, and now they have to survive till help can get there?
What made Ripley so good is that she wasn’t a fighter. She was a worker who was forced to survive. She was one of us, in a situation we never want to find ourselves in. The original crew were truckers, average people who doing the only thing they knew how to in an attempt to survive. Go back to metaphors that push the comfort levels of what we wanted to see on a subconscious level. That is what we need to go back to. An action film with marines and fighting might hold us over, but THIS is what is needed.
Well, that is my thoughts on that subject. This is, overall, my view and opinion. I could be wrong, but that is what I want to see. What are your thoughts?