There hasn’t been a good Alien film since 1986. Is Fede Alvarez the right director to bring the monster franchise back to life?
It really is an indictment of modern Hollywood that there hasn’t been a decent Alien movie since 1986. That’s 36 years in which studio interference (Alien 3), clumsy setups (Alien: Resurrection), brain-dead conceptualisation (the Alien vs Predator movies) and preposterous, portentous grandiosity (everything from Prometheus onwards) has hamstrung the long-running slasher in space saga. Three decades-plus in which film-makers of the quality of David Fincher, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Ridley Scott himself have tried and failed to come up with something that matches the gut-churning majesty of Scott’s 1979 original Alien, and its more bombastic sequel, James Cameron’s Aliens.
A TV show is expected sometime next year, with Fargo’s Noah Hawley at the helm. And this week there are reports that Mare of Easttown’s Cailee Spaeny will lead a new Alien movie from Fede Alvarez, the Uruguayan director of 2016’s coolly unorthodox horror Don’t Breathe.
We can only hope the decision to hire Alvarez means 20th Century Studios, now under Disney ownership, is planning a back to basics approach. Scott’s more recent Alien movies, beginning with 2012’s Prometheus, have adopted the position that everyone is fascinated by minor elements of the original film (such as the mysterious Space Jockeys/Engineers) and will happily sit through several hours of yucky high-concept posturing about where they might have come from. This was mildly intriguing until the veteran film-maker killed them all off at the beginning of 2017’s Alien: Covenant because Michael Fassbender’s David8 the android had gone down better with the critics in the first film.
Scott got the chance to expand on the Alien prequels’ icky premise, that somebody out in the cosmos is messing with life itself to create perfect living killing machines, in the recently cancelled TV series Raised By Wolves. This show shared with the later Alien films a sense that the audience was being thrown constant questions, but never really getting to the answers before new ones were posed. This kind of mystery thriller approach works far better in episodic format, and I will miss Raised By Wolves’ eccentric, moody space battles between scary androids and weirdo religious nuts. And yet surely the new Alien film, despite Scott being back as a producer, needs to find a new path forward after so many years of failure.
Perhaps 20th Century Studios has one eye on the success of its own Prey, a Predator sequel set among the Native Americans of 1719. Dan Trachtenberg’s lithe and atmospheric sci-fi actioner cost a comparitively modest $65m to make, yet emerged as by far the best entry in that mercurial sci-fi saga since Arnold Schwarzenegger took on the mandibled extra-terrestrial in the Central American jungle, circa 1987. Rather than telling us more and more about where the alien hunter-clan came from, it wisely spotted that shifting the action to an entirely new era could be just as fierce, furious, and unexpected as the first film.
Wouldn’t it be great if Alvarez’s Alien film did something similar? Perhaps we don’t want to see every single stage in the evolution of the original Xenomorph. Maybe the crew of the Nostromo just lucked out, rather than finding themselves at the centre of a tedious conspiracy involving mankind’s apparent creators and a sociopathic android with a god complex? Wasn’t it all a lot more interesting when nobody quite knew what the bejesus was going on? Perhaps, after all these years, we might even get to meet a different extra-terrestrial that has nothing to do with HR Giger and maybe, you know, doesn’t even have acid blood?
That’s probably a bit too much to ask. But after all this time we can be certain of one thing: as a set-up for future Alien sequels, yet more xenomorph backstory is about as useful as trying to trying to carry on regardless when your eyes are blood red, the space-eggs have begun to open up and your crewmate is clearly “pregnant” with something utterly hideous.
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