I’ve had this one in the works for a good while now folks. If you’re writing a series pitching the best direction to take awesome franchises that have sadly run out of steam then you have to tackle ‘Alien’.
But the problem with this particular franchise is that if you asked a hundred fans of the first and second film which direction they would like to see the series head next, you’d probably get a hundred different responses.
“They should do a prequel on the Alien planet. I want to know where that Space Jockey came from.”
“They should do what they did with Superman Returns. Make another film which acts as the official third entry in the series and pretends the other films don’t exist.”
“They should just make Alien 5 taking place after ‘Resurrection’ and set on Earth.”
“They should make a real ‘Aliens versus Predator’ movie, on an epic scale.”
“Just do Aliens on Earth. That’s what we want, never mind how. Screw the continuity.”
“Whatever it is, they should just scale it back to its essence; the scary monster in the dark.”
“Don’t make another one; period. It‘s been raped enough.”
…and so on. We wouldn’t even be having this discussion if things had gone to plan. After the one-two punch of ‘Alien’ and ‘Aliens’, it seemed a forgone conclusion that the third film would feature a whole horde of the species invading Earth while the fourth would have space marines landing on their homeworld to kick ass. For reasons far too elaborate to go into, David Fincher’s ‘Alien 3’ went in an entirely unexpected direction. I’m actually quite fond of that film and will quite happily consider the series a trilogy myself ‘Alien Resurrection’ on the other hand is a film I find so repellent that (call me a fan boy) I really do try to pretend it doesn’t exist. I didn’t even watch the ‘Alien vs. Predator ’ movies because of the terrible word of mouth and now we hear that Ridley Scott is charting a course to, at the very least, produce a prequel film that will presumably take us to the Alien homeworld and explain their origins.
Since it is still in the development stage at this point, I have no problem pitching something completely different as a possible Alien 5. Whilst there is, of course, some appeal in the idea of the creator of the franchise exploring the origins of this fascinating universe and possibly giving us a full two hours of wonderfully shot H.R.Giger lunacy, I can’t believe it is going to go down that well with the fans. Even if they want to know the true origins of the aliens, the space jockey and how they ended up on LV426, they’re only going to end up disappointed no matter what the explanation is. The shroud of mystique surrounding the aliens is pulled back and they lose some of their appeal. And like all prequels, it threatens to seriously undermine the film that chronologically follows it.
So a sequel is going to be best course of action. But then we have to solve the problem of continuity. If it simply is an Alien 5 following the events of that wretched fourth film then it holds about as much appeal (to me anyway) as a tax bill. On the other hand, a sequel to ‘Aliens’ which disregards the films after it seems like a more enticing prospect but runs the risk of annoying the fans of David Fincher’s third outing and even those fans desperate to tie the whole saga, including the ‘AvP’ movies, together into one continuity. The solution seems to be to make a sequel whose starting point is vague enough in the timeline that it can be placed anywhere. That means, regrettably, no Ripley, Hicks or Newt. Either with the original actors or, inconceivable as it sounds, recasting the parts, having those characters back would just confuse the issue.
The other critical element of any new film is which specific genre it is to belongs to. The real appeal of the series is how versatile it is. Within the basic context of science fiction, we’ve had a claustrophobic horror film, an adrenaline fuelled action picture, a depressing prison movie and…….some other shite after that. What can be done for Alien 5 to continue in that tradition?
How about...................a disaster movie?
I don’t mean a terrible film that nobody will go and see. I mean a gigantic scale story set on Earth with the aliens representing an uncontrollable force of nature which threatens to destroy the entire planet allowing us to follow multiple characters and locations and how they react to the crisis. I know you think I’ve lost my mind but for all the reasons mentioned above, I feel painted into a corner here. It would be so much easier to pitch an ‘aliens on Earth’ story in an original, clever and slightly satirical way if ‘District 9’ hadn’t gotten there first. Nor would it do the franchise much good to embark on a ‘Conquest of the Planet of the Apes’ rip-off with imprisoned aliens breaking free and turning on their human tormentors. Just stick with me on this idea and see how it sounds.
The film would not open with a long protracted set up of how the Aliens arrive on Earth; it would open with a bang. The aliens are already here and they’re tearing the place apart. Only a few cities spread throughout the globe remain free of the infestation. The rest have been completely overrun, which gives the film a potentially visually stunning opportunity. Remember the disturbing sight of seeing an entire human colony on LV426 infested with aliens, dripping in acid and decorated with dozens of cocooned bodies and hundreds of eggs? Imagine seeing that on the scale of an entire city?
How this catastrophe happened will be the great mystery of the film. We learn very quickly that the general populace know nothing about the aliens or Weyland-Yutani(the ‘fucking’ company that spent three films trying to bring the species to Earth for study)’s involvement. Yutani no longer exists (according the fourth film it was, ugh, bought out by Wall-Mart) and the military conglomerate which now owns their holdings, patents, technology and files have it all archived and stored as one of its many seemingly inconsequential assets. Yet they are as surprised by the appearance of the aliens as anybody. They have none of the species in captivity, nor are they artificially creating them. For once, a private military-scientific interest is not the villain of the piece. But just try persuading the rest of humanity of that.
This is our first real opportunity, though we got small glimpses in the other films, to see the future Earth of the ‘Alien’ universe. You may disagree but I’ve always thought of it as not too far removed from our own. We have space stations but space travel is heavily regulated and most of the population have remained grounded. Technology too, is privately owned by corporations. This is not a ‘Blade Runner’ future of flying cars and animated billboards. I also think it would be most interesting if the majority of humans had never seen an extra terrestrial species of any kind before the arrival of the aliens. It is implied in ‘Aliens’ that Weyland-Yutani, in all its colonisation of over 200 surveyed worlds has encountered other species before but who is to say that anyone outside the company ever knew about them? It makes the fear of the humans and their helplessness against their enemy far more believable and palpable if they have never had any experience of dealing with an alien species.
Their appearance, seemingly from out of nowhere, also has very strong religious implications; that demons have finally arrived on Earth for judgment day to make us all pay for our sins (something which was minimally explored in the third film). One particular religious fanatic rallies the fearful remnants of humanity and gives them a target for their anger, accusing the military conglomerate of bringing these alien creatures back from their home planet in order to study them here. Once again, science and technology are the devil and have brought about the downfall of humanity. In reality, they are listening to the ranting of a lunatic, fanatical despot, an ex-employee of Weyland-Yutani with access to their files which disclose that they did find the location of the alien homeworld allowing him to venture there and bring back alien eggs to hatch on Earth. Having gotten impatient in old age waiting for the apocalypse to come and for humanity to be judged, he has decided to accelerate the process, and them blame it on science.
Nevertheless, like any great lie, there is a small kernel of truth behind it. In this case, Weyland-Yutani did discover the aliens and their home planet. One particular character in the story, a high ranking officer in the military conglomerate, decides to dig into the company’s archives to see if there is any truth in the fanatic’s claims and, upon discovering the horrifying truth, digs deeper to expose him. Near the climax of the film, humanity is down to its last city and its last few hundred people. The aliens are closing in on their position and will be there within hours. In a clash of ideologies, the military are trying to find a way to fight the aliens back and stand their ground, the scientific minds are trying to formulate an escape plan and the religious nuts are telling everyone to lie down and die already. As humanity’s deciding hour approaches, do you think this is going to have a happy ending; that all the aliens will be dealt with in one final massive attack and the Earth will be reclaimed and brought into a new era of peace and happiness like in most other disaster films of recent years?
No fucking way, this is ‘Aliens’ we’re talking about. The film would end on an incredibly bleak note but one which would leave the story on an enticing cliffhanger and totally change the concept of the series. The company rep, having dug into Weyland-Yutani’s files, as well as feeling the guilt of their mistakes, at least has detailed information on the species and how to fight them. On a pedestal in front of what is left of the human race, he tells them everything he has found out. Now they are faced with the critical choice which will define their species for whatever remains of its time in the universe. Do they stand their ground and fight, surrender or escape? In a totally unexpected move, they choose a fourth option. They turn hostile on the very man who gave them the information. Having actually confirmed what the religious leader said, despite having nothing to do with it, they decide he is the personification of all their sorrows. Determined to get retribution, they tear the poor guy apart, attacking with the same brutal savagery of the aliens. The last act of the human race on Earth is the murder of one of their own.
What is left of the sane minded humans know that there is no chance for their species now, least not on Earth and quickly scramble to nearby spacecraft. Rather than face extinction, they have no choice but to abandon Earth to its new colonists for good, as well as leaving the mob to its fate on the planet. Exhausted from their ordeal and with no knowledge of any habitable planet they could go to, they leave the ship, which seems to be on a pre-ordained flight course, to take them into the unknown. After all, wherever they are headed, it can’t be worse than what they have just escaped from.
The ships they are on belongs to the religious nut and that pre-ordained flight course is taking them straight to the alien homeworld.
And in the sequel after this, we would have the wonderful twist that, with the humans inhabiting the alien planet, it is THEY who are the aliens in the title.*
I don’t know about you but I’m pretty happy with that as a basic structure. It’s a totally different style of film to the others with unexpected twists, plenty of opportunity for action scenes, scary monsters coming from the dark, R rated gore, and all on a huge scale not yet seen in the series. Most importantly, the story retains the mystique of the aliens rather than over-exposing them and blowing their origin, as well as keeping the focus on the human characters. Or does it? Do let me know in the comments section. I just hope it goes down a little more smoothly than Conan.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to return this pitch to James Cameron’s file cabinet before he notices it’s missing. Till next week folks, all the best.
*Full credit goes to regular commenter Darren Seeley for that idea. He mentioned it when Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ prequel was being discussed and I think it’s such an astute observation. Bravo sir!