If you've even a passing interest in science fiction, then you'll probably agree that Ridley Scott's 1979 classic, Alien, is one of the greatest films of all time ever. Ever. Aliens, James Cameron's 1986 sequel, shifted slightly away from the original's horror-focussed tone in favour of roller-coaster action spectacle and it too, in its own way, is excellent.
The subsequent sequels, spin-offs and prequels? Invariably fucking awful. A butchered William Gibson script left David Fincher's Alien 3 a mess. Joss Whedon struggled to meld his knack for ensemble casts with the horror of the beast in Alien Resurrection. Prometheus, Ridley Scott's high-concept return to the franchise he created, looked great, but clunky pacing and a woeful script meant it couldn't achieve the chin-stroking goals it set out with.
And for fear of sicking acid up onto my keyboard, I'm not even going to get started with Alien vs. Predator.
It'd be totally fair to call time on the series. But something as terrifying, resilient (and money -spinning) as the xenomorph won't go gentle into that good night. Which is a good thing in this case, as it's just been paired up with arguably the most exciting science fiction director of his generation -- Neill Blomkamp. The surprise announcement yesterday that he would officially be helming the Alien 5 film sent all geekdom into meltdown overnight, and for good reason: if anyone can save this undeservedly-floundering franchise, it's Blomkamp.
Here's why Neill Blomkamp's Alien 5 could be the best in the series since Aliens.
Blomkamp absolutely adores the Alien franchise
If there's a bigger Alien fan in all of Hollywood than Blomkamp, you'll be hard pressed to find them. When Blomkamp, inspired by working with Sigourney Weaver on his new movie Chappie, sat down to create the stunning concept art that kicked this whole thing off, he did so without pressure from a studio, paying for it out of his own pocket. He did it for fun, for a laugh, with no financial incentive. Alien's influence clear across his work, Blomkamp's blood runs green with acid. He'll give it his all, providing the top dogs at studio Fox give him room to breath.
Prometheus has set the perfect visual tone
Prometheus was...a lot of things. And while it's hard to argue that one of those things was "good", it was certainly visually arresting. Ridley Scott's creative team did a fine job of using modern filming techniques (including startlingly-rare use of well-executed 3D) and effects work to bring us back to scenes that had been all physical props back in 1979. Its world was believable (even if the script was not) with excellent industrial design work, from the smallest logo to the largest ship. Blomkamp would do well to get some of those guys onboard. Not that he will have any trouble himself however, as...
Blomkamp knows how to do gritty, believable sci-fi
Blomkamp's District 9 was the finest work of original science fiction for an age. Why? Because Blomkamp knows how to match spectacle with story, incredible aliens with warm, interesting, rounded human characters. Taking on apartheid, racism, class divides, the financial collapse, transhumanism, environmental issues and shady corporate manoeuvring (and still managing to squeeze a massive robot fight in there), District 9 is a modern allegorical classic. The shanty-town setting didn't shimmer with future-gazing excess -- it was a dust bowl that mirrored the very worst of real-world South Africa's most desperate areas.
The original Alien may have featured some iconic design work, but what made it truly resonate was its lived-in feel. Sigourney Weaver and her team of space truckers were average Joes, dealing with a shitty industrial job that just happened to get oh-so-very-much shittier. The subsequent sequels (Aliens, to a degree, included) failed to recognise this point (especially Resurrection) and got caught up in science-fiction cliche grand-standing. Blomkamp will bring the series back down to Earth (metaphorically speaking, at least). And there's nothing more frightening than a believable horror.
He also gets how to do great body horror
Even if you were to show it to someone who had never seen an Alien film in their life, chances are they'd recognise the disgustingly-iconic chest-burster scene, and they'd certainly flinch at the sight of HR Giger's xenomorph monstrosity. Alien, with its parasitic creatures and forced pregnancies was never subtle in its allusions to rape, and Blomkamp will be able to handle these explosions of physical violence with visceral visual expertise and emotional restraint.
Just think back to Sharlto Copley's slow, heart-breaking metamorphosis in District 9, or Matt Damon's gruelling man-and-machine grafting session in Elysium. Brutal, but never less than thought provoking.
A Neill Blomkamp-designed Power Loader would be insane
Blomkamp is obsessed with robotics and exoskeletons. District 9 had the shanty-town face off with Copley knocking about in a hulking alien mech, and Elysium is pretty much a film sold around the appeal of seeing Matt Damon jumping around in a muscle-enhancing exoskeleton. The root of Blomkamp's fixation?
Well, it's got to be this, right?
I can't pretend to know Blomkamp's first reaction to the Aliens Power Loader scene, but it was probably (much like everyone else's): "That's the coolest fucking thing I've ever seen!"
Giving his history with onscreen mechs, robotics and exoskeletons, Blomkamp's going to have a field day creating a next-gen Power Loader, and I can't wait to see what it's going to be. That is unless, of course, he takes a different tact. His concept art, showing heroine Ripley in a bio-mechanical xenomorph jumpsuit...
...suggests that the body-horror future-tech concerns of Blomkamp may be crashing together in Alien 5.
The Aliens: Colonial Marines game was shit, but...
It's gifted Blomkamp the possibility of resurrecting -- quite literally -- one of the franchise's unsung heroes. Corporal Dwayne Hicks, played by Michael Biehn, was the coolest of all Aliens marines and a fan favourite. But despite surviving the madness of LV-426, is unceremoniously killed offscreen at the opening of Alien 3. That's just not cool.
Aliens: Colonial Marines, was a gaming travesty, but was accepted as a canonical work by Fox. Which means when it (with very little reasonable explanation) magically explains away Biehn's death, he's fair game for Blomkamp to bring back into the fold without having to explain anything at all -- and without facing the wrath of the fanboys. In fact, going by the concept art, it's an idea that Blomkamp seems keen on:
Biehn, who you'll also recognise as Kyle Reece from the first Terminator film and the crazy marine from The Abyss, is the big-screen everyman action hero that sadly never made it into the Bruce Willis/early Stallone/Kurt Russell upper echelons. Alien 5 would give him a well deserved glory lap and, seeing as he came back to voice the character in the insipid Colonial Marines game, he'd probably jump at the chance to give Hicks something meatier to work with. It turns out Colonial Marines was good for something then...