The James Clayton Column: Alien Enterprises

James wants the new Ridley Scott movie to tell us the truth about the real monster in the Alien franchise - 'The Company'...

As far as things go, the recent confirmation that the Alien series is to be extended by prequel not sequel and that Ridley Scott himself will be at the helm is just about the best news that film fans could hear. With this prospect on the far horizon, there’s more chance that the next movie in the sci-fi franchise will be a worthwhile, really good movie and not a tanking pile of intergalactic garbage.

Firstly, having Scott attached to the next Alien feature is a boon – especially considering that the flick is a prequel – as he directed the original first instalment back in 1979. He already has the kudos and is wired into the world of Alien having played a key part in visualising and defining it from the off. By getting a respected veteran filmmaker as opposed to roping in a gun for hire, the studio has already reassured anxious fans and cut off the kind of criticism witnessed, for example, in the case of McG and Terminator Salvation.

Add to that the fact that it’s Ridley Scott’s return to sci-fi and not only is fanboy excitement and huge hype guaranteed, but a stylish feature of epic grandeur and vision is the most likely outcome.

Secondly, the powers-that-be at Fox studios have made a smart move by opting to chronologically backpeddle and make a prequel. The world can do without any Alien V effort that keeps the series – already far beyond a ‘logical conclusion’ point – clunking on with another unconvincing explanation as to Ripley’s continuing existence. I’m more interested in seeing an ‘origins’ tale that goes back before the voyage of the Nostromo and – for the sake of giving the poor woman a break from being perpetually pestered by the xenomorph – doesn’t shoehorn in Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley.

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Nevertheless, as was painfully proved by the Star Wars prequels, taking the narrative backwards in time doesn’t necessarily safeguard a series from severe missteps. Because human beings can only take so much heartbreak and disappointment, care must be taken with the new Alien flick to avoid any Jar Jar Binks-style abomination that stains the series’ legacy.

Despite the numerous possible problems of keeping the prequel clanger-free and in sync with continuity, I trust that Jon Spaihts’s reboot script and Ridley Scott’s sure hand are up to the mark. I don’t think we need to worry about this one. In fact, I’m willing to bet that it will be absolutely ace.

Maybe I’m excited and extremely optimistic about the Alien reboot because it offers the prospect of a bigger on-screen role for the real villain of the franchise. If you thought that the xenomorphic alien was the big baddie in all the Alien movies, you’d be wrong. That prestigious position is occupied by the phantom menace that lurks malevolently in the background and sits as possibly the most sinister fictional enterprise in film history. The ultimate evil, of course, is the Weyland-Yutani organisation.

It’s true that behind every good sci-fi story and speculative vision of a dystopian future, there’s a gloriously wicked corporation pulling the strings. This is the case in the RoboCop with the Omni Consumer Products mega-corporation, in Blade Runner with the replicant-crafting Tyrell Corporation and in the Terminator franchise in the form of Cyberdyne, to name a select view. It’s Weyland-Yutani, though, that stands head and shoulders amongst the other cruel commercial titans of the movie marketplace and reigns supreme.

Metaphorically speaking, on The Apprentice Weyland-Yutani would be the Sir Allan Sugar figure. All other blackhearted fictional businesses look like weedy schoolboy bullies next to the universal power and perverse influence of the evil empire in the Alien series.

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So “The bitch is back”, to quote the publicity of Alien3. Is “the bitch” Ripley or the eponymous parasite? I’d say it’s neither and that the truth is “the bitch” never went away: Weyland-Yutani is the true big nasty in the franchise and functions as an ominous, faceless entity.

Through the entire Alien series, there is no hint or trace that there’s anything like a heart or conscience at the core of the company. No redeeming features or reason to believe that the organisation has an ethics remit or philanthropic streak are offered up. This is a callous corporation that repeatedly puts its employees in extreme peril and exposes the entire human race to interstellar danger in order to further its own selfish agenda. As Alien‘s heart of darkness, I desire to know more about the insidious enterprise. I say that the prequel should put Weyland-Yutani as the foremost focal concern.

It’s all too often the case, I feel, that the fictional companies in blockbuster flicks aren’t fleshed out and function too simplistically as plot filler. Take, for example, Stark Industries in Iron Man. After his holiday as a hostage in Afghanistan, Tony Stark decides to do the decent thing and turn his weapons manufacturing operations around after witnessing the true atrocities facilitated by his products. That this total u-turn is done and dusted pretty much after one press briefing is astounding; in the real world, it would involve significant infrastructure shifting, meetings, assessments, retraining programmes and a variety of other types of red tape.

Likewise, the Empire in Star Wars is a pretty non-descript outfit. It occupies an immense amount of space with its Death Star base and has legions of stormtroopers and grey-suited men on the books, but what does it do? You’d be forgiven for thinking that it was just an empty symbol of ‘evil’ instead of a working power-structure.

I want to know a bit more about the inner mechanisms, political wranglings and internal ideologies of these malicious megacorporations. How did they get so evil? What sort of backstabbing and backhanding activity goes on in the boardroom? What percent of revenue is siphoned off into evil schemes research and development instead of staff pastoral care? Can we possibly, in the style of OCP in RoboCop, see some bitingly satirical commercials?

A prequel offers the perfect chance to dig up the dirt and delve into the despicable backstory of Weyland-Yutani. They knew about the alien before the last voyage of the Nostromo and we viewers want to know how. In the current climate of economic catastrophe, a Ridley Scott prequel peering into the omnipotent background villain of the Alien world would be most welcome…

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James’ previous column can be found here.