In 2012 the film world was given what many science fiction fans thought would be the second coming. Ridley Scott was at last returning to the genre he defined. Initially sold as a prequel to the penultimate ALIEN (1979) starring a then unknown Sigourney Weaver, Scott would be taking the helm of another ALIEN film, aptly titled, Prometheus. After years of rumors, and false starts, it was announced. It was happening.
Promoted with a series of viral videos and a campaign that was unprecedented, Prometheus, written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, hoped to be not only a prequel, but a film for the ages, righting the ship on a storied and notoriously troubled franchise.
Arguably, there hasn’t been a decent ALIEN film since 1992’s ALIEN 3, the film that help define the term ‘development hell.’ Directed by David Fincher, ALIEN 3 was 20th Century Fox’s attempt to make an ALIEN film themselves (essentially, the suits were the auteurs), with the help of a visionary and young filmmaker, with a resume that included Return of the Jedi, Madonna music videos and commercials. The production went through several rewrites and directors until Fincher got the job, while battling the executives in charge, (20th Century Fox) to stay true to his own vision.
Eventually, ALIEN 3 released to abysmal reviews, poor box office numbers, and a director who never wanted to speak about the film (or the experience) again. Fox was left with a dead heroine, and not just any heroine, the best heroine the film industry had ever been given, and a dead franchise. Fox wouldn’t be stopped. A few years later, they hired Joss Whedon (The Avengers) to write them a new story, resurrect Ripley and their franchise.
The Resurrection and The Life.
In keeping with past missteps, Fox hired a filmmaker known for his visual style. Jean Pierre Jeunet, a then only French speaking director, coming off the cult hit The City of Lost Children, was believed to be the best fit for the film (Danny Boyle of Trainspotting turned down the gig), based solely off his use of visuals and his dark, rich style.
In 1997, ALIEN Resurrection released. The film flopped critically and commercially, opening to a paltry 29 million over the long Thanksgiving weekend. Unable to get the franchise back on track, It wouldn’t be until 15 years later that yet again, Fox would try and revive their franchise formally. In the interim, the studio essentially licensed out the Xenomorph in two Alien vs. Predator films that would only hurt the larger franchise more than help.
Dayton Allen, an artist well known among many fans of the ALIEN films, because of his very specific and detailed work had this to say about the attempt to cross the alien creature and the predator,
“I was desperate....desperate for some sort of respect to be brought back to the creature I feared long ago...alas they reduced the alien to be nothing more than a rabid animal, a hunters trophy. I think Prometheus helped bring the franchise back to a steady medium....without ever making the beast it's focus (until the last sequence). If well thought out, they can use Prometheus as a jumping off point to breathing new life into Giger's Alien…"
ALIEN, Thru A Back Door.
Hired to draft a proper prequel to ALIEN, first time writer, Jon Spaihts worked on five drafts of his then titled ALIEN : Engineers script b. Ridley Scott was on board to direct after some wrangling by Fox that he be directly involved in the reboot. The project soon changed course as Scott and the studio felt like the star of the show, (the Xenomorph) had been played out. It’s time was over, and Scott was interested in a larger mythological tale. Damon Lindelof, of LOST, was brought in to rewrite Spaihts script and turn it into a bit of a different story, opening the door to more questions, leaving the alien creature to myth, while exploring the origins of the Space Jockey, that colossal and haunting extraterrestrial being found stuck to his chair in Scott’s masterpiece, ALIEN.
“The job I was hired to do was to scale back the familiar tropes or symbology of what we think of when we think of an Alien movie. When I say Alien to you, you think face-hugger, chest-burster, eggs, acid blood, queen - the concentration of those things was much higher (before Lindlelof stepped in)in Prometheus.”
-Damon Lindleof to Entertainment Weekly, 2012
Heavily promoted, the build up to Prometheus whet the appetite of everyone, while stoking the fire of a generation of fans who grew up surrounding the altar of ALIEN and James Cameron’s equally brilliant, ALIENS. Finally after months of speculation, and brilliant promotional videos (which included faux Ted Talks and interviews with the crew), Prometheus released. The picture would go on to make Fox 126 million domestically, and close to 403 million world wide. It was a success, barely.
Quickly, fans divided. The negative sentiment from a now galvanized and polarized fanbase was that Prometheus was counterfeit, offering none of the brilliance that Scott brought to them in ALIEN. Prometheus was considered void of believable characters and natural dialogue. The film angered many, while creating an entire new audience that loved the film.
It was clear, however that Prometheus was an intellectual misfire, not holding a candle to the now legendary characters that preceded them in ALIEN, ALIENS, and yes, even ALIEN 3. Prometheus was successful enough to produce a sequel. The chatter on social media was loud, with fans feeling like they had burned yet again, after investing such fervor in the months leading up to the release. (Alien Resurrection also inflicted irreparable damage to the fan base, and the credibility of Fox’s ability to produce another great ALIEN film)
A New Covenant.
For ALIEN : Covenant, hopes aren’t as high as one might expect, excitement isn’t as measurable. Fans are cautious and scared that Covenant will be a repeat of Prometheus.
Aaron Percival, the site runner for Aliens vs. Predator Galaxy backs up this notion.
“In the lead up to Alien: Covenant I've noticed quite a distinct sense of apprehension from the fanbase towards any news regarding the film. However, now we're starting to see some actual pictures I'm seeing more people expressing an interest and a positive attitude towards the film but I expect that until we start to see footage that sense of apprehension will be there. Fans don't want to let themselves be disappointed again.
Announced, by Ridley Scott initially as ALIEN : Paradise Lost, and then re-announced and retitled again, as ALIEN : Covenant, by Scott a few months later, confusion set in as to what might be happening at Fox and in the offices of Scott Free, Ridley’s production company.
Back up a few months. Neill Blomkamp, director of District 9, Elysium, and Chappie, began posting visually arresting concept designs of an Alien film that showcased Ripley and Hicks, visibly older. Blomkamp released these images via his instagram account in January of 2015. Alien fandom went most certainly, nuts. The images were captvating, in keeping with Blomkamp’s aesthetic. One image featured Ripley an alien-like suit, another, a queen alien roamed in some kind of interior forest. The images fanned the flames of fan excitement.
Blomkamp clearly has a vision, and a story to tell. He began to quietly discuss his ideas, making it clear his desire to sidestep the much maligned ALIEN 3, crafting a formal sequel to James Cameron’s ALIENS, which meant bringing Ripley back, and Hicks. Everyone was on board, including 20th Century Fox, giving Blomkamp the go ahead. Work began right away, and continuing for a few months.
After Blomkamp released Chappie, a film that faired poorly at the box office, and his second commercial failure, (after his controversial film, Elysium), he announced that his Alien project would begin pre-production. Less than a month later, he then announced that it would be put on hold, as he let Ridley Scott’s film take center stage. A strange dynamic was happening during the announcement of both projects. It was abundantly clear which project fans were more excited about. The noise was loud with excitement.
Blomkamp’s untitled ALIEN film was abruptly put on a shelf until Ridley finished work on Covenant, presumably, because Fox wanted to hedge their bets making sure the next film is a hit, before sinking resources into a second production. You could almost hear a collective sigh of disappointment from fans all over the world. It was clear what project people were more excited about.
One can only speculate that perhaps Fox wanted to spare egos, while protecting both projects.
A Signed Covenant.
In November of 2015, what had been announced as the sequel to Prometheus, ALIEN: Paradise Lost, had now become ALIEN: Covenant, with the studio also releasing an official, yet brief synopsis of the film, further legitimizing it.
“Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, the crew of the colony ship Covenant discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world -- whose sole inhabitant is the "synthetic" David, survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition.”
-20th Century Fox
In the weeks to follow, Scott himself would go on record discussing his intentions to bring back the formal alien creature and all of the familiar tropes of the series, an odd move after speaking at length, (and for years) that the creature itself had been played out. Again, it’s been speculated that Fox, while watching the unimaginable success of Star Wars The Force Awakens, took a page out of the Disney playbook, going back to the initial story, reworking it, making it better, to allow for a better film to be released, a film that fans had hoped and pined for. Scott even spoke of connecting Covenant to Ripley, somehow. But he wasn’t telling.
ALIEN : Covenant is the sixth film 20th Century Fox is releasing in this now wildly uneven, and unfocused , unsatisfying series of films. The only installments of the series that have been universally praised by fans and critics are the first two. The lightning in a bottle needed has not been recaptured, despite the following and praise that Fincher’s ALIEN 3 has received over the last few years.
Alien films have proven to be difficult films to make. At their heart, they’re not movies about creatures, they're movies about people in circumstances they could never possibly imagine. The Alien mythology has been mistaken for films about cool sets, and awesome vehicles, than stories about the perseverance of the human spirit, in the face of abject terror.
William Robbie, the founder and lead administrator of biggest ALIEN-centric social media group, The Weyland-Yutani Bulletin (The fucking company from the Aliein films) is not just cautious, he’s tepid.
“Is it possible to right the ship in the wake of the cancerous chapter in the ALIEN legacy, that is Prometheus? Well, it appears Scott is listening to a large percentage of the ALIEN fan-base, he's at least steering ALIEN Covenant in the right direction, or so it appears. Of course we'll have to wait and see but I for one refuse to get my hopes up (as I did in the case of Prometheus) just to have them dashed yet again. The scars of Prometheus run deep, and regardless of the apparent flip-flop to focus more on the rooted lure of the ALIEN franchise rather than moving off and away from it's good standings and established fan-base, ALIEN Covenant is still a direct sequel to Prometheus...a bastard child of a bastard child. It will take great efforts (and mostly heart) to sway the fans left burned by the fires of Prometheus.
So, is it possible to right this ship?..perhaps. Am I excited about it?…no, I can't be, I won't be. The damage is done, and the mere mention of Prometheus stirs people to the breaking point. I'm only just learning to live in a geekdom where "Prometheus" daren't be mentioned...enter, ALIEN Covenant.
The question remains; Can 20th Century Fox pull it off? Can Ridley Scott pull it off? Can Alien: Covenant do what 5 films before it have been unable to do? What’s going for it are the script writers. Michael Green has been credited with rewriting the script, a writer who’s also attached to the Blade Runner followup, a script Harrison Ford said to be “the best script I’ve ever read.”
“We want to fall in love again with an ALIEN film. We’re jumping at the chance. We thought we would with Prometheus, but it was like they were trying to piss us off intentionally. I can’t come up with any better ideas. I know I speak for many fans when I say, Covenant is our last hope. If they’re not going to give us the film we really want (Blomkamp’s untitled ALIEN project) than hit it out of the park with the film we aren’t sure about.”
- Member of the Weyland-Yutani Bulletin Facebook group
With an international ALIEN Day (4/26, in honor of LV426, the planetary designation from the original Alien film) quickly approaching, and Fox completely on board, further involving themselves with their many fans, all signs point to the studio finally, yes, finally taking its audience seriously.
JM Prater for Scified.com
JM Prateris an artist and writer, founder and co-host of
JM is also an admin for The Weyland-Yutani Bulletin
He is also a contributing editor for scified.com
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If you're a fan of Alien / Prometheus and would like to discuss Alien: Covenant and its upcoming sequel with other like-minded fans, be sure to join in our Alien: Covenant forum! Ranked the #1 Prometheus forum back in 2012 and reigning as the web's top Alien: Covenant fan site, it's a great place to discuss the upcoming Prometheus sequels, dissect details from every trailer and engage with other fans just like you.
The future of Alien
The Alien franchise is taking a dramatic turn at 20th Century Studios, now owned by Disney. Currently there are two major Alien projects in development - a new Alien TV series by Noah Hawley and a new, stand-alone Alien movie being directed by Fede Alvarez. Both of which will be taking the franchise in a new direction - moving away from the Alien prequel direction Ridley Scott set out to pursue back in 2012.
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