Some of the best movies in the sci-fi/horror and fantasy genres happened over thirty years ago. This isn’t just a bland statement based on personal nostalgia; it speaks of a deeper hole in the Hollywood system that prefers a sure thing over a fresh option and any kind of artistic merit. Which is why another Alien film is, after a heavy duty Twitter campaign and some heavily media covered interest from Director Neil Blomkamp, a much safer bet than something new and financially unpredictable.
There are two predominant reasons for this:
#1 Alien is probably still the best sci-fi horror ever made.
#2 The fans haven’t forgotten.
Brand love has remained and, in spite of quality, fans still want more. Those same first, second and third generation fans who have already been stung with an average Alien movie (Alien 3,) a poor tribute (Alien: Resurrection,) and two well intentioned, but deeply flawed cross-overs (AvP 1&2.) find it tough to admit to, but at this point in the Alien film franchise there are more poor Alien films than good ones.
But, and this is a big but, for Hollywood financiers and money moguls, poor movies aren’t necessarily a problem. Because we fans are in love with, and will still stick with, the brand. Transformers is a prime example of poor films that make millions based on a brand. But then, at this point, so is Aliens. Old timers will remember a time when Hollywood took risks on fresh ideas; films who’s concepts and characters were set in a place and time, and who’s story had a start, a finish and a place in cult history. This time is no more, and we as fans have to take some responsibility for killing it. Killing it with our love of ‘more of the same.’
Before we go any further though: yes, there have always been anomalies and exceptions to the rule. James Bond is the perfect example of a franchise who’s lead exists outside of all of the former rules. He’s never the same actor in the same time period playing by the same rules. Hell, at this point in his history it’s very difficult to untangle Bond continuity at all.
For the majority of films however, the rules apply, or at least applied – Ghostbusters was set in the 80s – Indiana Jones was set in the 30s and Escape From New York was set in an alternate 1990s. They had heroes whose stories had a beginning and an end. They were finite, and that was fine. In most cases it was better.
Now the reason I used these films as examples is that once ground in finite cultural eras, they are now all subjects of the Hollywood reboot/continuity rejig. The finite rules will cease to apply and things will become very foggy from here on. They will cease to be a story, and become a timeline. And that timeline won’t always make sense qualitatively or quantitatively.
For Comic book readers this isn’t big news, because in comic books characters have existed outside of all the finite rules for decades. Continuous reboots, rejigs and alternative universes have managed to keep age old characters current for decades. In a bid to extend profits, Hollywood have adopted this model, and in playing to the modern mythology of cultural icons, once western gunslingers, now action archetypes and superheroes, they have adopted the comic book format of taking an existing formula and extending it indefinitely.
This is a good thing for people interested in creating the mass consumption of mediocrity in order to generate revenue (how many bad comic book runs and poor movie franchises have you had to sift through to find the rare, good ones.) But it’s bad news for originality and it’s bad news, as pretentious as it sounds, for creativity and artistic merit. Pioneers the likes of Ridley Scott, James Cameron and Paul Verhoeven might today find themselves labouring under pre-existing franchise visions, rather than innovating new ones. In stark contrast to yesteryear, today’s most evident directors – Michael Bay and JJ Abrams have made their names rehashing other people’s ideas.
Which brings me back to Alien and the upcoming reboot/retool. The Alien franchise has already been well milked by Fox with numerous sequels/side-quels. Mark Verheiden, pre Battlestar penned some of the best stories following Cameron’s classic Aliens, for Dark Horse Comics in the 80’s. This shouldn’t be considered an objection to more Aliens stories. There’s no doubt that there are plenty of tales yet to be told, good and bad. But it would be nice to have something come along that shook the world like Alien did, instead of more of the same.
In modern times we seem to have forgotten that cultural phenomenons based on original ideas were once a regular influx. As those types of phenomenons go, there have been few that have exploded to such acclaim in recent years as in decades previous. In the last 25 years we have enjoyed Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, FireFly, Game of Thrones, Kick-Ass, The Hunger Games, Twilight, The Fast and the Furious, The Matrix and Jurassic Park. I left out superhero movies and LOTR as all of those ideas existed previously for at least half a century. While I may have missed a few the cinematic offerings (minus the TV shows) the above equal seven cult phenomenons that came from new ideas, five of those already existent as books in the last 25 years.
Whereas from 1977-1990 we had; Star Wars, Jaws, Indiana Jones, Robocop, Terminator, Back to the Future, Alien, Predator, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Evil Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Conan the Barbarian, Rambo, Rocky, Blade Runner, Mad Max, Escape from New York, Total Recall, Ghostbusters, The Lost Boys, Die Hard, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Highlander, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Goonies and the list just keeps going. I stopped at 27, and that’s only counting single film titles and not whole series, albeit seven of them were pre-existent as books. That’s over three times the iconic output in half the time, most of which were original cinematic creations.
The thing to note about the 1970-90s is that Hollywood was not afraid of new ideas or unsure bets. In fact, some crazy projects saw films financed that never in a million years should have made it as bankable properties. Like, say, Star Wars. Or Jaws. The two films that may have inadvertently started the whole mega-franchise appeal. The point is that, without risk, those films and half of what we love about 1980s cult movies wouldn’t exist.
There’s nothing wrong with more of the same.
Another Alien movie by a hot director with a great cast isn’t to be sniffed at. But until the movie business wakes up to the idea that people respond to the classics so much because, at one time, those classic cult films were so amazingly fresh and new.
Until they realise that Computer Games and TV are doing so well right now because they are taking chances. Until that time comes, we’ll be getting more of the same. And this writer for one, looks forward to a shake-up.