Following the poor reception of director Ridley Scott’s Alien “prequel” Prometheus—which came nearly two decade after the last film in the Alien universe was released—Neil Blomkamp, the District 9 director, has taken up the helm of the franchise, planning a new sequel with the series’ original lead Sigourney Weaver.
The Alien franchise held me in an inexpressible state of horror growing up. My 5-year-old mind imagined innumerable terrors and monstrosities that filled the box set of the series I came across at a friend’s house. My friend’s mom noticed I’d been intrigued by the iconic creature on the front of the set and warned me very seriously that Alien and its sequels would be far too frightful for me at that age and that even when she saw the films for the first time, in her 20’s, that they were way too much for her to handle. That woman inspired a fear in me that lasted until about a month ago, when I saw the first two films in the series for the first time.
I was so utterly disappointed in my lack of fear or interest in what I saw. To be fair to Ridley Scott and James Cameron, the directors of the first two films, it has been a long time since the films were released. Scott’s admirable and holistic use of practical effects really shine through in Alien, while Cameron’s sequel, Aliens, solidified the alien and the series as cultural icons. Time, however, has taken its toll on the horror franchise.
Compared to gargantuan gore films like Saw and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the Alien movies lack the shock value that I had greatly anticipated in my reluctance to see any of them. Despite constant recommendations to see at least the first film, I held off seeing any of them for about 15 years because I was too scared to face the menacing monster I’d created in my own head.
I had imagined the terrible ways this creature would mutilate its victims, but, to my disappointment, the alien simply sticks its second head/tongue into their necks. In high definition, the alien plainly looked like a man in a suit, but I feel like a more grainy picture in a 70s theater would obscure the effect just enough that the alien would look inhuman. To their credit, Alien and Aliens are not modern horror films, but viewers today lack the historical perspective to fully appreciate what Alien meant to 70s and 80s viewers.
Horror films have fallen off the face of the earth. Aside from The Cabin in the Woods and Paranormal Activity, not many horror flicks have gained critical praise in the last decade. Few films can combine disturbing cinematic elements with appropriate levels of pure shock value. Instead, they favor one or the other, scarring viewers for life or going for cheap jump-gags.
Putting together Alien’s terrifying artistry and modern movie-making techniques, Blomkamp’s Alien could be a genuine horror flick, surpassing the hype and acclimation of its predecessors. Sadly, it could also be the travesty that puts the franchise down for good (kind of like Robert Rodriguez’s Predators).
Circulating rumors suggested that Blomkamp’s film would follow Aliens and exist aside from its sequels, Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection. I actually found these rumors rather appealing. I felt that these sequels were uninspired nonsense that put the franchise right into the hiatus that it currently resides in. Picking up the story with Ripley directly after Aliens would give her room to grow outside of the slump that that the Aliens sequels put her into.
Sadly, Blomkamp denied these rumors and is now in the process of putting together multiple sequels.
With that, the future of the Alien franchise looks rather bleak. I have, however, a slim hope that Blomkamp can pull off his vision and restore Alien to its pinnacle fame and stature. The franchise has enough of a name and history that it can attract a rather large fan base, now Blomkamp just needs to come through with fulfillment.
The contemporary director has a vision that is appealing, but his overdone themes and poorly written dialogue have hindered Elysium and his newest release, Chappie. His Alien, however, could be very different. Blomkamp is working in a whole new genre and with a reputable series not based his own concept. There isn’t room for big drawn out societal themes with a horror flick and that constriction might be just what Blomkamp needs.
The Alien franchise is hanging by a thread of relevance with a recent, highly-praised video game and the announcement of the series’ resumption, but there is room for an epic comeback for Ripley and the Xenomorphs. Hopefully, Blomkamp’s revival isn’t a Chestburster waiting to kill the franchise for good.