Ever since District 9 director Neill Blomkamp announced his new Alien movie, there’s been a lot of speculation on where it’s headed. The artwork that he has put together for this project has been beautiful and details a visual style, but tells us nothing of the story except that it will clearly feature Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley and Michael Biehn as Hicks, who died between the second and third films. This has led a lot of people to speculate whether Blomkamp’s Alien would carry on the ongoing story from where Resurrection left off, or whether it would ignore the third and fourth entries and instead only be a sequel to Aliens.
While many fans are supportive of that idea, I think it would be a mistake. Even though Blomkamp has said that his movie will not consciously ignore the others, there’s still a good chance it might do so unconsciously. Alien 3 does not get the attention that it deserves, and even if Alien Resurrection took the franchise in some pretty strange new directions, that doesn’t make a new sequel impossible. It’s part of the fun of writing to face challenges, which we’re moving away from every time we treat rebooting a series as second nature. Characters in stories like these, much like real people, go through strange events and go to surprising new places all the time. Part of the excitement comes from getting those characters back on track.
At the end of Alien Resurrection in 1998, we left Ripley on Earth, a place this version of the character had never been before. Even if the movie wasn’t great, there’s a lot of room to tell a story there.
It’s possible to return to the tone of Alien and Aliens without ignoring every other film. It’s more of a challenge and, for that reason, a much better narrative solution. Taking the series back to its roots without saying it never left those roots behind would be altogether more satisfying, and trying to convince the audience that the bad stuff never happened would just cheapen the whole thing.
Alien Resurrection wasn’t that bad. Alien 3 wasn’t bad at all. And even if they were, that shouldn’t stop the new film from being its own thing while still being able to admit they existed. The alien universe is wide and comprehensive, there’s a lot of neat stuff in it and a very rich mythology. You shouldn’t have to take out whole sections in order to make a feature that fits within those parameters. Blomkamp can tell any kind of story he wants to tell and it should still be able to fit with what has been established by all four films.
Going back to the tone and style of Aliens is a great idea, to be sure. But what worries me is that it almost sounds like a rehash of Aliens instead of a tonal sequel. What made all four movies work on their own was the fact that they all came from very different directors who all had very different stories they wanted to tell. Blomkamp’s a competent director, with a great visual style, but if we want to put the Alien franchise back on track and make it something to get excited for again, we should be moving forward, not backward.