Should Alien 5 be the “true sequel” to Aliens?
It’s official: 20th Century Fox is making yet another sequel to Alien, 18 long years after the last one (not counting, of course, various prequels and crossovers). Reportedly, attached writer-director Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium) tried unsuccessfully to get the project off the ground for a while, until he posted some of the concept artwork to Instagram. The designs provoked a huge reaction on social media, one thing led to another, and now the studio is moving forward with the film.
Obviously, what got everyone so excited was a couple of illustrations depicting Sigourney Weaver as an older Ellen Ripley, taking up arms next to Michael Biehn as an older Corporal Dwayne Hicks (his face scarred from being hit with alien acid blood in Aliens). Weaver has all but confirmed she’s coming back to play Ripley for a fifth time, and Biehn has allegedly been contacted about reprising his role of Hicks (but this scoop comes from a random Redittor, so take with the requisite dose of salt).
But mixed in with the excitement is a huge amount of disconnect, because those who saw Alien 3 will recall it opened with—spoilers for a 23-year-old film!—the death of Hicks (clumsily wedged in between opening titles, no less) and ended with the death of Ripley, as she threw herself into a giant furnace to kill the Alien Queen gestating inside her.
Alien 3 was (and still is) considered a major disappointment, coming as it did after two Alien films that became near-instant classics. The film was saddled with an unfinished script, an unprecedented amount of studio interference, and a director named David Fincher (who’s since said of the film that “no one hates it more than me”) with nothing under his belt but Madonna videos. Ultimately, the third entry in the saga was little more than a dull and downbeat retread of the first film, and the casual way in which it offed characters who had done so much to survive the previous movie (not only Hicks, but also Newt and Bishop) was an added poke in the eye for Aliens fans.
So when these new concept images hit the internet, it inspired hope that Blomkamp’s sequel would be the Alien 3 everyone wanted back in the ‘90s. With Ripley and Hicks alive and well and ready to kick Xenomorph ass despite looking a decade or two older, the immediate assumption was that Blomkamp would wipe the slate clean: His film would surely have to ignore Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection and be the “true sequel” to Aliens. This seemed to be confirmed when Blomkamp spoke about it in an interview during the press tour for his latest film Chappie.
His comments sparked a lot of controversy, and Blomkamp has since walked them back, insisting he’s not planning to “undo” any previous film. I’m going to guess the Alien 3 fans got to him; they may not be great in number, but they can be extremely… vocal about their love for the film, and Fincher’s eventual status as an A-list director has only inspired them to defend it that much more loudly. (But then again, I’m pretty sure every sci-fi film that was a commercial or critical failure in its original release gets declared a “misunderstood masterpiece” sooner or later.)
But assuming Blomkamp wasn’t simply trying to stanch the flow of angry tweets, how can his film possibly coexist with Alien 3 and Resurrection? How can Ripley be alive years after she clearly and unequivocally died on camera? And not only did we see her die in Alien 3, but the whole premise of Resurrection was built around cloning Ripley with the Alien Queen still growing inside of her. How can the Alien series possibly remain internally consistent if Blomkamp’s sequel gets made?
I strongly suspect that at this stage of development, Blomkamp himself has no idea. So in the interests of helping him make up his mind, I now present a few compelling arguments both for keeping Alien 3 and Resurrection in the official Alien continuity, and for ignoring them completely.
The case for ignoring Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection
For the vast majority of fans, this argument begins and ends with “they sucked”. Why should all creative decisions in the Alien franchise from now until the end of time be straightjacketed by two lackluster movies, both of which have been largely disowned by their creators? Why should a new writer stifle his creative freedom to preserve the sanctity and validity of two (at best) mediocre movies? If the choice is between bringing back Ripley and Hicks and tossing out a couple of movies few people liked, I think the vast majority of fans would gladly throw Alien 3 in the trash.
And let’s face it, any attempt to try to reconcile an older Ripley and Hicks with their apparent “deaths” in Alien 3 is most likely going to be really stupid. The Aliens: Colonial Marines video game (declared “canon” at the time of release by Fox, presumably not so much anymore) suggests Hicks was never aboard the escape pod that crash landed on the prison planet in Alien 3. According to the game, the dead guy we thought was Hicks was really an LV-426 colonist who awakened Hicks from hypersleep, and then somehow fell into his cryo chamber just before the Sulaco’s escape pod ejected. This bit of retconning was greeted with about as much enthusiasm as you’d expect. Now just imagine a scene like this actually happening in the movie.
Other lame possibilities floated by fans include Ripley and Hicks being androids built by Weyland-Yutani, or Ripley and Hicks being clones, both concepts which would be massive copouts (hell, Resurrection itself already came off as a copout for the same reason). And we can’t forget the dodgiest fanon explanation currently bouncing around the net: the latter two films are merely Ripley’s lengthy, detailed bad dream while in hypersleep. Yes, people are seriously suggesting this. Are we trying to bring back Corporal Hicks or Bobby Ewing?
What’s really scary is I know exactly how they could do it. If the filmmakers decide that Alien 3 and Resurrection actually “happened”, all they have to do is adopt the same method of restarting franchises that’s very much in vogue these days, thanks to the Star Trek reboot, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and the upcoming Terminator film: Have a character travel into the past, going from the timeframe of Resurrection to just after Aliens to stop whatever disaster befell the Sulaco, causing the creation of an alternate parallel timeline that splits off in a totally different direction from Alien 3.
I’m about 80% positive that’s what they’ll do, but believe me, I really and truly do not want to be right about this. When I think about time travel hijinks and headache-inducing paradoxes and reset buttons being introduced into the Alien universe, the “it was all a dream” explanation suddenly starts looking pretty reasonable.
In that case, they’d be much better off simply disregarding the latter two films, especially since there’s already precedent in the Alien series for disregarding movies. The Aliens vs. Predator films are technically part of this franchise, but they were basically ignored by the Alien prequel Prometheus, which offers up a different origin for the Xenomorphs, and introduces a totally different founder of Weyland Industries: Prometheus has Peter Weyland, while AvP has Charles Bishop Weyland, who stupidly looks exactly like his distant descendant from Alien 3, Michael Weyland (though, I’m sure with a heavy dose of fan-wankery, someone can make it all fit together).
Not only that, there are plenty of Alien tie-in novels and Alien video games and Alien comic books that everyone is perfectly comfortable in ignoring. I know that with most franchises, the rule of “if it happens onscreen, it’s canon” is taken as gospel, but when you think about it, isn’t that sort of an arbitrary line? Aren’t the video games “onscreen”, after all? If people can forget Colonial Marines existed—and it would seem most of the people who played it already have—then why not a movie or two?
The case for keeping Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection
If you liked either of these movies, it makes sense to not want to see them de-canonized and viewed as lesser entries (even though that’s not what “canon” means—canon is really just whatever the current owner of the property says is canon). But even if you’re like me and you found these movies pointless, to simply say they never happened just feels lazy on a fundamental level. With the amount of time and money being invested in the new sequel, you’d think the very least they could do is hire a screenwriter who can come up with a decent story that works within the confines of what came before.
I know what you’re thinking: Hey, you just said any attempt to bring back Ripley and Hicks after their onscreen deaths would be really stupid! Well… that’s exactly right. That’s why any decent story that continues the Alien series should probably not include Ripley or Hicks. Frankly, it’s probably for the best to finally let Ripley go.
Remember, they already had two chances to give Ripley’s story a proper ending, and they failed on both counts. And it’s unclear what’s inspiring all this confidence that they’ll get it right this time. Is it the presence of Blomkamp? Because while District 9 was a great film, Elysium was a preachy bore, and Chappie doesn’t look much more promising with its current 31% Rotten Tomatoes score.
And is a Ripley-centric film really all this franchise has to offer? If they were making a straightforward reboot or remake of the original Alien, everyone would be freaking out, bemoaning the death of originality in cinema, and complaining that Hollywood is out of ideas. And yet, for some reason, “Ripley fights aliens for the fifth time” is treated as a brilliant concept that absolutely needs to happen.
And while there may be a great deal of bitterness over Newt and Hicks being killed off in Alien 3, their deaths don’t literally make Aliens a worse film in retrospect. Trust me, the movie still holds up just fine. Yes, Hicks and Newt do die senselessly, but come on, it’s an Alien movie; the first film is nothing but people dying senselessly.
So overall, I don’t think we need another “true sequel” to Aliens. It would be far more interesting if Blomkamp made a film focusing on other characters within the Alien universe. Sort of like Prometheus, only without all the dumb stuff. But of course we’re getting another movie with Ripley, because Fox knows that whatever Prometheus grossed at the box office, a “true sequel” to Aliens starring Weaver and Biehn will put those numbers to shame.
At this point, I feel the same way about the Alien franchise that I feel about the Terminator franchise: the first film was an unexpected classic, the second film beat the odds and became just as highly regarded as the original, and now the owners of the property are on a hopeless, embarrassing quest to get lightning to strike for a third, fourth, and now a fifth time. If there were never another Alien (or Terminator) film, I’d be totally okay with that.
So ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. Keep Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection in continuity, or ignore them completely. Whichever approach wins, we lose.