Monday, March 23, 2015

Ask JKM a Question: Alien 5?

A reader named David writes:

“What do you think about Neill Blomkamp’s Alien 5? And how do you feel about his decision to ignore the events of Alien3 (1992) and Alien Resurrection (1997)?

Those are two excellent questions, David. 

I have hoped -- for a very long time -- that we’d get another installment of the Alien series, starring Sigourney Weaver as Ripley. 

So I feel very, very pleased about the news, in general. I love how we have an Alien film that reflects the 70s, the 80s, and two in the nineties.  How will we view this universe in 2016?

I’m curious to find out.

Furthermore, I feel that Neill Blomkamp is right in line with the other directors in the series -- Ridley Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. 

In particular, and just like that group, he is a visual director first, and communicates well through symbolic imagery. I am an avowed admirer of District 9 (2009) and consider it a great fil, but feel that Elysium (2013) was a hot mess…as Blomkamp himself readily admits these days.  I haven’t seen Chappie (2015) yet, so I can’ comment on that film, or how it reflects on his artistry. 

I feel that Blomkamp will do well in terms of world building with Alien 5. My only concern is that he is unproven in terms of the horror genre.

But of course, so were Fincher in 1992, and Scott in 1979.

My emotions are, frankly, split about the intended rewind of the Alien saga. On one hand, it would be wonderful to see a universe featuring Hicks, Newt and Bishop again. Those are great characters.

On the other hand, I am a stalwart defender of Alien3 as a work of art. Tomorrow, I'll present a detailed defense of the film's artistry, so look out for it.

Short story: I appreciate and respect the film’s comment on sacrifice as a higher ideal, at least in some circumstances, than survival. 

On the artistic merit of this concept, I feel strongly that Alien3 possesses real value. No, it isn’t popular, but that’s a separate matter from quality, or artistry. Again, more on this tomorrow.

But I agree with Sigourney Weaver’s comments at the time, that it would be depressing as hell to live a life in which you wake up from cryo-sleep, fight aliens, wake up from cryo-sleep somewhere else, and then fight more aliens.  Alien3 found a higher virtue even than motherhood – personal sacrifice, when it is necessary -- and I love how Fincher turned Ripley into a space age Joan of Arc or Jesus Christ figure.

I also would submit that the film features a great performance not only by Weaver, but by the incomparable Lance Henriksen.  He is remarkable in the closing act of the film, playing a silver tongued Satan, whispering everything that Ripley wants to hear, but lying through and through.  What a remarkable “tempter” this Bishop proves to be.  Henriksen gives the end of the film real psychic heft, and works brilliantly with Weaver.

I’m not at all thrilled by the idea of losing Ripley’s sacrifice, or Alien 3 . At least if losing it happens on a whim and not in a dramatically valid or worthwhile way. 

 But more on that in a moment.

Making Alien 5 a direct sequel to Aliens may not actually be entirely helpful in terms of fan expectations, either.  For thirty years, a group of Alien fans have been wanting to see the space age nuclear family --Ripley, Newt, Hicks and Bishop -- reunited.  They long for the movie they didn’t get, and compare Alien3 to that non-existent “perfect” sequel they didn’t get.

So what happens when that perfect sequel -- heretofore existing only in the mind -- becomes manifest on celluloid? What happens when the “fantasy” possesses real life details to quibble with and argue over?

What happens if Alien 5 is more Elysium than District 9

What if after all the trouble of a re-do, Alien 5 can’t stand beside Alien3 in terms of artistic merit and theme?

Sometimes, fan service is terrible.  Sometimes, the worst thing for a fan is getting exactly the film he or she *thinks* is desirable. The film in your dreams, alas, can’t always match up to the finished film. 

So the expectations game is going to be tough on Alien 5.

Have other franchises gone back and over-written previous, under-performing entries? 

Well, yes, of course, but their reputations have suffered from the creative inertia. Superman fans accept Superman: The Movie (1979) and Superman II (1982), but dismissed Superman III (1983) and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987).  Superman Returns (2006) over-wrote those last two efforts, and went back to the storyline/tone/closing point of the first two films.  Personally, I like and enjoy the film, but I realize I am in the minority on this.  So how did the “overwriting” gimmick work in this case?

If you ask many fans, not too well.

Halloween is another example.  Halloween IV (1988) through Halloween VI (1996) got over-written for one good Halloween movie, H20 (1998).  Three Donald Pleasence entries were over-turned for a new Jamie Lee Curtis one.  But then the creators of the franchise -- having eliminated all the characters introduced in the universe (Jamie Lloyd, Rachel Carruthers) -- had nowhere else to go with the series, and had to re-invent the wheel with the atrocious Halloween: Resurrection (2002).

Sometimes, perhaps, it’s better simply to swallow a bad sequel, and move forward, rather than attempt to rewrite from an earlier point, pretending that established works of art don’t exist, or somehow aren’t canon. 

If the rewrite fails you’ve pulped not one universe, but two, the original and the rewritten one.

What if J.J. Abrams had decided to make Star Wars episode 7 a sequel to The Empire Strikes Back, overwriting Return of the Jedi?  Star Wars fans might be annoyed, right?  Even if they don’t love Return of the Jedi.  The same argument might go for Alien fans. 

Alien, I submit, has a similar pedigree. Yes, we’ve had craven crossovers (AVP) and prequels (Prometheus), but there’s still a way to fit all those pieces together in a single, coherent chronology.  An Alien 5 that destroys the third and fourth Alien films makes – for the first time since 1979 --that no longer a true statement.

Another important point, as I noted above, is that Alien3 may not be cherished in the way that Alien or Aliens is, but the makers had real artistic, dramatic motivations for their choices.  Some get called; some get saved.  Ripley had to lead and save people in that film that she didn’t like, and had to face the idea that beating the Alien and the Company meant being willing to die.  That’s a real artistic theme in a mass entertainment, as unpopular as it has proven with fans (who, let’s face it, would choose for the series to go on endlessly, unchanging…).

So going back 30 years to Aliens in Alien 5 must be dramatically, artistically motivated, in my opinion.  It must happen for a legitimate, meaningful reason, and for character-based purposes.  What do the characters gain by this choice? What does the film series gain that makes it worth losing the third and fourth films?

How Neill Blomkamp answers these questions will be crucial.  

If he is just arbitrarily erasing two films based on personal choice -- because he loves Aliens and thinks it’s the coolest -- then the sequel may fail.  If he's doing all this just to bring back Hicks, but not Bishop, or Newt, he will fail because he's overturning everything for the sake of one character. His Alien 5 will be a fan service movie that exists for no reason, serving to destroy rather than to create.  

Oppositely, if he possesses a real, artistic reason for taking Alien 5 back to 1986 and that branch of the story-line, then hopefully we will get a great film.

So I want another Alien movie, but -- here's the point -- why not pick up twenty years after Alien Resurrection, with an older Ripley (clone) called upon to face the aliens again?

There’s enough freedom in that approach to tell the story desired, and still maintain the time-line, isn’t there? 

There all kinds of way to get Hicks and Bishop back, even within that framework. It seems a little arbitrary, and at this point, destructive, simply to erase a substantial portion of the Alien lineage. 

Look at it this way: What if Chris Nolan decides he wants to direct Alien 6, but make it a direct sequel to the original 1979 Ridley Scott film, restoring the original premise of the alien life-cycle (no queen, no insect hive...just a perfect circle)?

When you take the reins of a major pop culture franchise, I would argue, you carry some responsibility -- some duty -- to that franchise, and to telling a story that fits with what comes before…not that just one that happens to tickle your fancy, or fit your personal taste.

At this point we don't know all the details, or even many of them, but these are the questions and thoughts in my mind, at the moment.

Don't forget to ask me your questions at


  1. John excellent thoughts on Alien5. Albeit, Neill Blomkamp has recently stated that both Alien3 and Alien:Resurrection still exist in his Alien5 timeline. They are not eliminated.


  2. John,
    Enjoyed the question and answer.
    And I'll add I'm one of those people who quite enjoyed AR despite its problems I suppose.

    To your point what if alien 5 can't stand next to A3, what if it can't stand next to AR?

    District 9 was terrific, but I'm starting worry. Still, I'm more than happy to see NB give it a shot. Hope he delivers something in the order of D9.

  3. woodchuckgod8:41 AM

    ... I hadn't even -heard- about this. I must research now, apparently. (Particularly the addendum SGB brings to the table - curiouser and curiouser). I'll stand hoping that they -do- persist as history in his newer film. I saw A3 & AR both in the theater and for their various issues - I enjoyed them both. Originally I'd have said AR over A3 in terms of preference, but I think time and reflection has overturned and reversed it. There's a lot I enjoy in AR, but A3's stark and oppressive, compressive story shines much brighter in my mind, these days.