Saturday, 21 February 2015

ALIEN 5 is hatching, but what can we expect from Neill Blomkamp?

Saturday, 21 February 2015

You can't have failed to notice excitement over news director Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium) is getting the chance to make his dream project: ALIEN 5. Or whatever 20th Century Fox decide to call this latest instalment in their 36-year-old franchise, which recently received a jolt of renewed interest when Ridley Scott (director of Alien) made the prequel Prometheus. That movie may have been met with mixed reviews, but it was enough of a success that a sequel's in development, and it perhaps helped encourage the birth of awards-laden video game Alien: Isolation.

But what can we expect from Blomkamp's fifth Alien?

It's impossible to say with any certainty, but it's always fun to speculate!

Firstly, I think the overall tone and design aesthetic is going to be fairly predictable. Alien 5 has to feel 'of a piece' with the older movies, and it likely won't ignore the production design of Prometheus (which had the trickier job of showcasing modern effects that, nevertheless, felt like they may preempt what we saw in 1979's Alien—with leeway for artistic license).

Blomkamp will undoubtedly bring his own vision to the project, as every director in the Alien saga has done, because that's part of what's so fascinating about the long-running franchise. You had the industrialised sexual horror of Scott's Alien, the militaristic frights of James Cameron's Aliens, the claustrophobic tension of Alien3, and the grim fairy tale of Alien: Resurrection.

Blomkamp is a lifelong fan of the movies (like me, he's also the same age as the saga), and also prefers the first two movies over the latter few, so expect a hybrid of Scott and Cameron's visions—which, let's be honest, has clearly influenced and inspired a great deal of his existing work. You can see all the Alien homages in District 9 and Elysium, most obviously.

What will Alien 5 be about?

No idea, but we can intuit a few things. Sort of. It will undoubtedly be a canonical sequel, so therefore has to follow everything that came before. And, whether you like the film or not, it can't ignore the events and conclusion of Alien: Resurrection. If you weren't a fan of super-strong clone-Ripley and her xenomorph DNA, it's hard to imagine a creative way of wriggling out of that. The original Ripley died in Alien3, so my guess is we're stuck with the human-alien crossbreed version of Ellen Ripley.

Other aspects of the sequel's intentions can be surmised by looking at Blomkamp's personally commissioned Concept Art, which helped get this whole project started after he released it online and revealed Sigourney Weaver (star of his upcoming sci-fi movie Chappie) is interested in reprising her signature role. The tricky thing with concept art is this: it's impossible to know if the artist is being asked to visualise ingredients of an existing story, before a script has been written, to stoke Blomkamp's creative fires... or if it's simply an artistic form of brainstorming and most of what we're seeing is just pure imagination.

Let's take a look at the concept art, created by Geoffrey Thoorens and Doug Williams (Pacific Rim), then try and assess whether or not it's likely to be part of a genuine film:

Queen of the Jungle
On the face of it, a very cool and traditional image of an Alien Queen... but the backdrop is what's significant and interesting. She appears to be in a picturesque country setting that even includes a small bridge, and yet further beyond you get the feeling we're aboard a spaceship with strip lights and darkness. It seems to be a man-made habitation, engineered to help deep-space crews relax. The concept art underneath makes that deduction much clearer.

Hicks is back?
The strangest aspect of these conceptual pieces is the return of Cpl Dwayne Hicks (Michael Biehn), here posing alongside the Aliens-era Ripley in a suicide belt. Interestingly, Hicks has sustained a rather graphic burn to his face and a milky eye, which suggests the idea is that he survived the events of Alien3 somehow? Of all the drawings, my guess is that Hicks' improbable return is just fanboy fantasising.

The Alien Ship
For my money, the most interesting and plausible piece of art is the above one of the iconic alien ship (first seen in 1979 and, later, Prometheus), sitting inside a hangar. You immediately want to know WHY, but provoking questions and interest is part of this artwork's job. Who knows if this scene would form part of Alien 5's actual narrative, but it's the most likely to. And why is the ship covered in slime? Has it been dredged up from underwater? After all, it can't be the one from Alien, because that vessel must have been destroyed in the nuclear blast that ended Aliens.

Ripley meets... someone!
Another fascinating image. My guess is that Ripley's inside the salvaged alien ship and that figure is one of the Engineers from Prometheus, which would prove Blomkamp isn't going to be ignoring those prequels.

New Egg
This artwork has words, so there's less mistaking what it shows. It's simply an update of the familiar 'facehugger' and 'alien egg', with explained differences. The changes perhaps suggest this Alien Queen who laid that egg is different to the others we've seen, perhaps by design?

Ripley the... Space Jockey?
The craziest image is this one, showing Ripley wearing a bizarre space-suit that's similar to the one the so-called Space Jockeys wore in Alien and Prometheus, and yet clearly more evocative of the xenomorph's curved skull design. Pure artistic nonsense, or a genuine peek into what Blomkamp has in store for us?

But how do you account for the fact Sigourney Weaver is currently 65, and likely to be a few years older when the cameras roll?

There's an outside chance genre legend Weaver may be 70 by the time Blomkamp's film's released, which is over two decades older than she was in Alien: Resurrection! Well, this whole problem may be easily solvable thanks to Ripley now being a clone. Blomkamp can either set Alien 5 approximately 22-years after Resurrection, which is maintaining the tradition of time-jumps between instalments; or, he can pick things up sooner and explain Ripley's rapid ageing as an unpredicted side-effect of her unnatural cloning.

The only real issue for the latter idea (which would nicely introduce a feeling of mortality for Ripley), is that it would be strange if android Call wasn't therefore part of the film, for awhile, and Winona Ryder's ageing couldn't be so easily explained. Unless the story demands that Call is damaged or destroyed very early on? I doubt anyone would care if that were so!

Is anything set in stone about Alien 5?

Oh sure. Sharlo Copley's bound to have a role, right?