Thursday, February 19, 2015

Neill Blomkamp Ready to Bring Life Back to the Alien Franchise


Several weeks ago, I promised I was going to start writing on here again and try to rebrand it as a movie site. Though I think my current status and resources are better suited for in-depth think-pieces, retrospectives and reviews rather than news due to the fact that it would largely be doomed to regurgitation, I also recognize the most popular pieces regarding movies on the Internet tend to be speculations, rumours and glimpses into future works. Because gosh darn, we movie nerds love the hype.

There is also a very large subset of us that love the Alien franchise, even if a truly good and riveting picture from the series hasn't come out since 1986. Neill Blomkamp is pretty close to modern sci-fi royalty, even if at this point that exorbitant good-will mostly comes just from District 9 (hopefully, Chappie can erase the sour aftertaste left behind by Elysium). Those two sentences reek with cynicism but that doesn't dull the fact that there is a warranted amount of excitement over the news that Blomkamp will be directing a new Alien feature, which he revealed from his Instagram account.

This was something Scott and I discussed in the last podcast when it was nothing more than Blomkamp clearly pitching for the position and we wrongly assumed that any real movement would be delayed until after the opening weekend box office of Chappie came out. It looks like the director's bold prediction that Fox would instantly jump at making the movie the moment they got his pitch and idea turns out to be true. Of course, in today's franchise obsessed environment it seems like studios will eagerly gobble up anything with a recognizable name and has the promise of creating more merchandise or amusement park rides on top of high opening weekend grosses. It isn't like Blomkamp was boldly declaring a studio would eagerly pick up a complicated drama about a gay couple trying to raise a family in an Amish community or a road trip between a yuppie and his autistic brother.

To be honest, when it surfaced a week ago that he was attempting to get his vision of Alien approved by Fox, I started feeling the burning of the cinematic universe rash that is spreading throughout all of Hollywood. Ridley Scott is already making a Prometheus sequel, and even though he has gone on record that there won't be any xenomorphs this time, it is still set in the same universe. I didn't love the idea of two simultaneous Alien universe pictures being released, since there is a strong likelihood of blurring and confusion. More importantly, it is just that nagging obsession with cinematic universe that largely turns into one movie having scenes that act as teasers or full-on trailers for the other picture rather than an organic melding. I like how Stephen King incorporates his characters and towns into each book and makes it feel like a living and breathing world, but movies tend to be far more blunt and jarring in their implementation. Even Marvel Studios is getting a little tedious in its dropping of characters in several movies, and they're the master and pioneers of the form in cinema

Of course, I'm being cynical again since both pictures at this point are still at the screenplay phase, and those dreaded words of cinematic universe hasn't even been uttered yet. And even though the Alien universe hasn't told a good story in far too long, it is a world that probably has many thrilling adventures left to tell and has potential if the story comes about due to a vision and from a burning desire to tell it rather than a blatant attempt to keep a series chugging along.

The exciting part is the Blomkamp Alien movie is a genuine passion project and coming from a clear fan of the past pictures. He clearly has inspiration and this is a movie he wants to make rather than being hired on by a studio to resurrect a cash cow. Over the last few decades we've seen studio executive power increase while filmmakers at the mainstream level have had their voice lessened. Directors like Ron Howard, who were once major powerhouses, are forced to make an independent pictures because he dares to try to make something that doesn't have a toyline attached or isn't about super heroes. Passion projects have been annexed to the independent scene and studios buy rights to popular brand names then find a director to do their bidding rather than the director pitching exciting stories to studios.

Obviously, this Alien picture is part of a franchise and still reinforcing the current idea of studios only wanting established names or pictures that can birth a horde of sequels. The exciting part is that it was a director that was pitching the idea and more importantly, a director that is clearly passionate and excited about his idea. This is something worth chugging out the hype train for even without knowing any of the plot outside of some conceptual drawings that were released a few weeks back.

It seems like the new way to get studio approval is throw out an idea on social media, get a fanbase excited, and guarantee that a studio will want it before any real discussions are made. At this point, it looks like Blomkamp has all the power in this scenario and it is his vision and story that will have the chance to be showcased on the big screen. It is still at the infant stage and lots of time for studio meddling, but at this point it is a win for filmmakers and those wanting to have the freedom to tell their stories. He clearly has pitched something that swiftly won over Fox.

To be the skeptic and negative party pooper again, Ant-Man essentially started out as a Edgar Wright passion project and it looked like he was going to have the freedom to realize his vision on a big budget. Now the movie is being helmed by Peyton Reed. Of course, the situations are likely very different, especially since Blomkamp already has experience making movie that are big budget and trying to create a movie for a broad audience. It seems like Blomkamp's story is fully realized at this point and it was what would have caused the green light.

Since I'm already playing the speculation game, I mind as well dive right in. All we really know about Blomkamp's vision for the next Alien picture is the images he revealed. The intriguing part is that the sketches showed both Ellen Ripley (and Blomkamp has also made it clear he wants to work with Sigourney Weaver again) and Hicks. The Ripley appearance isn't surprising, because she has been in every movie except Prometheus (even if her character died in the third). Hicks is also dead, and doesn't seem to have ever been cloned like Ripley. So, it leaves us to ponder if those were sketches actually designed for the movie that Blomkamp is going to make.

Will it be revealed that both Ripley and Hicks are clones? Or is this a reimagining of canon, and Blomkamp's attempt to redo Alien 3? From what I remember, there isn't any story to tell between Aliens and Alien 3 unless this moneymaking idea is a 2 hour feature about hypersleep. Or maybe time traveling is being introduced to the universe and another character will be joining the heroes during the events of Aliens, sort of like in the upcoming Terminator Genysys set in the time of the original film but things have now been altered and shaken up.

Much like how I swore I was done with Star Wars after the disappointing prequels but then have been a giddy and squealy ever since Disney bought the right and have now been emitting high-pitch piercing joy screams ever since the amazing teaser trailer, I'm feeling some anticipation for this potential "reboot" despite being burned the last few times. I promise to keep up the hope no matter how Chappie turns out, because I'm currently ready to pass Elysium off as a one-time misstep.

A Neill Blomkamp Alien movie is happening, even though we have no information on it other than the drawings. Drawings could be red herrings and nothing to do with the actual movie that is about to be shot. We do know the idea was enough to sell Fox on it just like Blomkamp predicted. So, if he also predicts that we'll love the movie then I'm willing to declare him a fortune teller.

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