From a bystander’s perspective, the story of Neill Blomkamp’s Alien 5 project seems to have moved with all the speed and agility of the franchise’s title monster. What began as a collection of artwork on Instagram in the early part of the year had morphed into a distinct possibility by February.
While on the press tour for his latest sci-fi film, Chappie, the director indicated that Fox was keen for him to make an Alien sequel, and that Sigourney Weaver had also been interested in getting involved. The problem, it seemed, was Blomkamp’s own disillusionment with the Hollywood system; “I just wasn’t sure if I was going to do another film – like, at all,” he told Uproxx.
As we now know, the situation has changed. On the 18th February, Blomkamp again took to Instagram to make his own announcement, writing, “Um… So I think it’s officially my next film #alien.” Beneath his post: HR Giger’s airbrushed image of the Starbeast. Tinseltown outlets backed the story up, with their sources confirming that Fox had greenlit Alien 5, and that it will be produced through Ridley Scott’s production company, Scott Free.
The positive response to both Blomkamp’s involvement and his artwork has, it seems, convinced Fox to hand the director the keys to one of its most recognisable franchises. So as the news sinks in, here’s a look at what we currently know about the project, our lingering questions, plus a few of our fears and hopes at what Alien 5 might bring.
What we know so far
Currently, we’ve little to go on other than the evocative concept art Blomkamp shared in February. This introduced the exciting notion that Sigourney Weaver and Michael Biehn would be reuniting for the story, which sees the Weyland Yutani Corporation get its hands on alien DNA.
At the time of writing, neither Weaver nor Biehn have been confirmed for the sequel, though Blomkamp’s on-set talks with Weaver during the making of Chappie clearly fired the filmmaker’s imagination. For her own part, Weaver seems cautiously open to the thought of returning.
“If something happens from this,” the Ripley actress told Coming Soon, “it would be very organic and very original, and because of that, it would make me want to do it. If it was someone as talented as Neill, I’d certainly listen.”
What’s clear is that Alien 5 is by no means a replacement for Prometheus 2. That film is still currently pencilled in for release in March next year, and will, according to Ridley Scott, “reintroduce a fresher form of alien in the third act.”
Blomkamp’s concept art suggests that he has a clear story in mind for his Alien sequel. If we’re interpreting it correctly, it goes like this: the Weyland Yutani Corporation has successfully brought back a series of alien artefacts from the depths of space. They now have in their possession a Juggernaut ship, as seen in Alien, Aliens, and Prometheus, which they’ve been busily stripping and studying in what looks like a colossal structure that is part space station, part Elysium-like verdant paradise.
Just as we saw in Alien: Resurrection, there appears to have been some tinkering with xenomorph DNA going on in the facility, too. One image shows off a new type of alien egg, along with its occupant: a grotesque, slug-like breed of facehugger.
What’s evident is that things soon go wrong for the Company; one picture shows Ripley staring in horror – and a hint of recognition – at a figure cocooned in an alien nest. Another picture shows that Ripley’s old nemesis, the alien queen, is also stomping around the place and looking as toothsome as ever.
The most evocative piece of art, though, is the one which sees Ripley and Hicks reunited. Ripley has a bomb strapped around her waist, her hand gripping the trigger. Hicks clutches a shotgun, a look of resolve on his damaged face. Clearly, they’re preparing to engage in a suicide-revenge mission against the Company – and, of course, the alien species the corporation keeps trying to capture.
But even as the sight of Ripley and Hicks pushes our nostalgia buttons, it also sends all kinds of questions swimming around our minds. Is this the alien-human hybrid Ripley we saw from Alien: Resurrection? And if so, how do we account for the survival of Hicks, who died before the opening credits of Alien 3? If Ripley’s a clone, it seems clear that Hicks isn’t – he’s still wearing the facial scars he sustained from Aliens.
Weirdly, a possible (and partial) answer to the Hicks question may come from a videogame.
Released in 2013 to almost unanimously negative reviews, first-person shooter Aliens: Colonial Marines paid a belated return visit to LV-426. Lambasted though it was, Colonial Marines was confirmed as series canon by 20th Century Fox, with a story that followed on directly from the events of Aliens and Alien 3.
In it, Corporal Dwayne Hicks was revealed to be alive after all. When the escape pod ejected from the Sulaco at the start of Alien 3, Hicks wasn’t on board as we’d originally been led to believe; instead, he remained on the Sulaco and steered it away from the planet Fiorina ‘Fury’ 161 (where Ripley met her maker) and back to LV-426. Amusingly, the game has no explanation for one important question: if it wasn’t Hicks who died in that cryotube in Alien 3, then who was it?
“That’s a longer story,” Hicks says.
Given Colonial Marines‘ reception, it seems that Fox will draw a veil over the events it laid out, but it does represent one storytelling possibility: that Hicks didn’t really die in Alien 3, but instead remained aboard the Sulaco, stuck in cryosleep.
Hicks would have had to remain in cryosleep for a long time, too, because the events of Alien: Resurrection took place 200 years after those of Alien 3.
As it stands, Ripley and Hicks are separated by three seemingly insurmountable forces: time, space, and the cold fingers of death.
The way around this would be to pretend that Alien 3 and Resurrection never happened. This way, Ripley and Hicks could wake up a few years in the future without the complications of the earlier films muddying up the story. But then the film would have to come up with some Star Trek-style means of establishing a parallel universe, which could create storytelling problems of its own.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a fan of the Alien series, it’s to temper my excitement. From the unexpected knockabout space comedy of Alien: Resurrection to the squabbling scientists on a school trip in Prometheus, the Alien franchise has so far failed to recapture the outright brilliance of the first two films.
Even with Blomkamp attached – a talented director with a clear affection for sci-fi – I remain cautiously optimistic rather than swinging from the nearest light fixture with excitement. If it happens as planned in Blomkamp’s artwork, Ripley and Hicks’ reintroduction could be the chance to give the pair a fitting final chapter to their story, as opposed to the abrupt and cruel twist of fortune visited on them in Alien 3.
But then again, there’s also the chance that bringing Sigourney Weaver and Dwayne Hicks back after so long could be akin to making a sci-fi version of The Expendables: an entertaining exercise in nostalgia, with all your favourite heroes of yesteryear in one place, but ultimately serving as a pale facsimile of a bygone era and its films.
Then again, there are all kinds of reasons why a fifth Alien film – particularly directed by Blomkamp – is worth anticipating. Blomkamp shares the same fascination with sci-fi hardware as James Cameron, and District 9, in particular, showed an affinity for body horror and gooey, button-pushing gore.
A concept introduced in his artwork – that of Ripley clad in what appears to be Space Jockey bio-armour – is the kind of outlandish thing that, if handled right, could work superbly, just as the potentially ridiculous scene with Ripley in a Power Loader suit proved to be so unforgettably bad-ass in Aliens.
Most of all, the Alien sequel provides an opportunity for Fox to make the Starbeast scary again. Another recent videogame, the sweaty-palmed survival horror Alien: Isolation, categorically proved that the 35-year-old alien is still a formidable, terrifying creature when placed into the right context. In that game, the alien was re-established as the beast it was in Ridley Scott’s 1979 original: a powerful and nightmarish hunter.
Prometheus, released in 2012, attempted to delve more deeply into the Alien mythos, and mined from it a somewhat deranged but occasionally beautiful origin story in which life on Earth was begun by a race of giant, marble-faced, flute-playing ambulant statues. Although it was filled with Space Jockeys and a flying Juggernaut, Prometheus was more space opera than cosmic horror. Scott’s statement that Prometheus 2‘s alien will introduce “a fresher form of alien” could be a sign that the sequel will drift further from the franchise’s Giger-designed roots.
Alien 5, on the other hand, gives Fox another chance to breathe new life into the central franchise. Where Prometheus spiralled off on a hunt for gods and life-giving black goo, Alien 5 could not only serve as another (perhaps concluding) chapter in Ripley’s story, but also something of a cinematic rebirth for the original alien. Under Blomkamp’s guidance, the xenomorph has the chance to re-emerge as a horrifying force of nature.
As the ill-fated Dillon (Charles S Dutton) once said in Alien 3, “…within each death, no matter how small, there’s always a new life. A new beginning…”