So Neill Blomkamp of District 9 is going to make an aliens movie that will ignore the continuity of the underrated but divisive Alien 3 and the dreadful Alien: Resurrection. This is good news as long as the movie is actually good.
Some people feel the Aliens franchise has had it’s day. Between the muddled, insipid Alien: Resurrection or the shockingly poor Alien Vs. Predator to the beautiful but bewildering Prometheus, the saga hasn’t had a good day for a few years.
Indeed the last truly good thing to come from the Aliens Cannon was the computer game Alien Isolation which had nearly everything you’d want from a good aliens movie, even if at times it was a bit too busy.
However this is a proven, exciting movie franchise featuring an exciting, hard sci-fi setting and one of the most enduring monsters in movie history. HR Giger’s terrifying alien design works on many psychological levels and is a frequent flier in nightmares. Whilst the glory days of Aliens are nearly 30 years ago, surely a strong imagination and studio support are enough to see a new Aliens movie through to becoming a welcome addition to the cannon?
So in honour of Neil Blomkamp’s effort in this troubled franchise I offer the ten commandments to making a good Aliens movie…..
1- Though Shall Not Make A PG-12 / PG-13 movie….
The Alien is a horrific, parasitic predator that rips through the internal organs of its victims and then, when in its adult state, shatters the skulls of its victims with its horrendous teeth and bone-ram of a tongue. This isn’t a being that belongs in a main-stream suitable for children movie.
The Alien is horrible and it’s violence should be hard edged, though not excessive. A new alien movie should feature the tension, violence and gripping intensity of the original movies and thus not be suitable for children.
2- Though Shall Not Reinvent The Wheel
The alien and its life-cycle are recognised and powerful, as well as logical in its design. Therefore there is no need for you to create new aliens and a new life-cycle just to showcase something new. The aliens are already accepted designs and scary enough.
So no Dog-burster and certainly no New-Borns. The alien works and has endured for a reason. Use your creativity on the characters and the setting
3- Though Shall Be Careful With Humour
Sci-fi is famously humourless and the aliens movies don’t have much humour in them. There are some nice moments, especially with the smart-ass dialogue from the marines (Looks like love at first sight to me)….
However don’t include jokey moments. Never ever have the aliens play comedy fall guys. They are lethal killers and should be shown respect.
4- Though Shall Kill Without Mercy
Alien works because the alien is deadly. Every character that encounters the alien close up, with the exception of ‘final girl’ Ripley is killed. Again in Aliens the marines can kill the aliens but the aliens are still deadly, using speed and concealment.
So let’s avoid any moments where the heroes avoid death through anything silly. If a major character encounters an alien at close range, they should die unless there is a very good reason for them not to. Be ruthless with the cast, even if this means killing off a major character early on.
5- Though Shall Keep They Sci-Fi Hard
The Aliens universe is a gritty, dark place with a hard sci-fi sheen. There are robots and space-ships but everything looks like it works. The props look worn, the ships are ugly, bristling monsters and the space-suits are bulky and complex
The Aliens Sci-fi setting is physical, things break down, are jury rigged and scrawled across. This is a lived in sci-fi setting so let’s have no shiny, clean sci-fi environments.
6- Though Shall Use Practical Effects
No one says that you can’t use CGI and use it well. But let’s try to make sure that there are physical sets, physical settings and quality props for the cast so that they feel like they’re in a serious movie rather than a video-game.
Critically; the aliens should be a practical effect. CGI aliens just don’t look or move correctly and often don’t feel as dangerous. Remember the first alien was just a guy in a suit and is easily the most scary.
7- Though Shall Minimise The Alien’s Screen time
In Alien the actual xenomorph is only seen on screen for a few minutes of a near two hour movie. The alien is best used in the shadows, a lurking Freudian threat. The alien is mysterious, enigmatic and deadly. Therefore no scenes of the alien wandering around, no unobserved alien moments and definitely no alien POV moments.
The alien should be kept off screen to maximise its impact when it does appear. The alien is the movies star and should be treated as such. It’s not just the aliens movies that this works with; Silence of the Lambs features less than 20 minutes of screen-time for Hannibal Lector and it works perfectly.
8- Though Shall Have a Memorable Cast
Alien and Aliens both have a strong ensemble cast and interesting characters that you care about. From the blue collar heroes of Alien to the cocky marines of Aliens, without good heroes and victims, the xenomorph is just a passenger.
So write good characters and cast strong actors. Give them enough screen-time to give us time to care about them. And then kill them off, of course!
9- Though Shall Respect but Not Be In Awe of the Surviving Cast
By all means bring Michael Biehn (Corporal Hicks) and Sigourney Weaver back. Have them reprise their roles, just older than they were, though approach this with caution.
However Ripley and Hicks are not immortal and if they do not fit the story, then minimise or even kill them off. If they are in the movie, use them correctly. Ripley is at her best when a reluctant heroine, not as the superhuman she was in the awful Alien Resurrection.
10- Though Shall Know Thy Limits
Make one movie and don’t fret about legacy, don’t fret about sequels and the wider cannon. Make a movie that works and then if there are quality sequels then great. But just make one movie, self contained and effective. Don’t overreach like Ridley Scott did in Prometheus.
The new aliens movie must stand on it’s own and serve as a reboot for the franchise so know your limits. When in doubt; less is more.
So there are some rules to start off with. I’m sure Neill Blomkamp will read them and nod sagely. Let’s hope he knows what he’s doing because he’s standing in the shadow of some huge movie makers.
Remember that Danny Boyle and David Cronenberg both turned down making Alien movies. This is a hard beat and the talented David Fincher and Jean Pierre Jeunet both had flawed / failed aliens movies.
Neill Blomkamp is about to head out into the darkness, lets hope he knows what he’s doing.