Neill Blomkamp's planned Alien 5 seems to encompass both the best and the worst of the series. Imaginative designs? Check! Escalation that kills the original vision? Check! Upon approaching a series as frenetic and unstable as this one, perhaps Blomkamp would benefit by taking notes from the last Alien outing that everyone seemed to love... Alien Isolation.
I don't want to say the adoration heaped on Alien Isolation was simply down to how recreated the first Alien movie. I'd like to think some progress has been made in the last 35 years, and you know, being a video game helps. With a crowdpleaser like Alien Isolation to set an example, what could Blomkamp's Alien 5 do right?
This may seem like an obvious one, and even reek of an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude, but every Alien film since the first has confirmed this. More can be done with less (less being just one giant parasitic monster that eats your face as opposed to many). Aliens introduced multiple foes for Ripley, and in doing so, upped the stakes for the characters, but lessened them for the audience. Almost gleefully following Colonial Marines, Alien Isolation went back to basics, having you stalked by one Xenomorph. The terror was amped up, for you knew the alien wasn't completely scripted, and actually inhabited the place with you. If Blomkamp could replicate the same sense of spatial relations the game so brilliantly generates, we could be in for a tense ride!
How likely is this? Sadly, not very. It seems Blomkamp is unsurprisingly influenced by James Cameron's Aliens, and we might be in for a "more the merrier" approach. That way, we will get to see more Xenomorphs get shot and blown up, proving to the audience that they're so scary after all. Won't that be nice!
A Distinct Style
Most Alien projects since the 80s have had a muddled approach to sci-fi aesthetic (except Alien 3; Alien 3 looks gorgeous!) The first Alien had an extremely grounded, almost craggy style, extrapolating what the future would be like if it was somehow the 70s forever. Alien Isolation nailed a replication of this look, creating an appropriately shabby space-faring world. It also made use of the odd beauty that Alien can bring.
Just listen to the music from the main menu. It's not threatening, or even exciting, just... something. It's at once serene and ominous, and it's this discordance that elevates it above most horror sci-fi. Blomkamp is no stranger to discordance. His films often juxtapose a hyper-realistic aesthetic with fantastical ideas. Whether that's the right approach for Alien, who knows, but it sure will be interesting!
I'm sick of saving the world. Obviously, I've barely done anything worthy in real life, but movies and games have almost trivialised the idea halting doomsday. The worst moment in Alien Resurrection is when the characters realise the USM Auriga is headed towards... Earth! Who cares about Earth! I'm bored of Earth, that's why I'm watching this movie!
Once again, Alien Isolation dialled things back perfectly, with a simple story of Amanda Ripley trying to uncover the secrets left by her mother. Oh yeah, and not getting eaten. Whether or not Blomkamp creates some earth shattering element to keep us in our seats all rests on his approach to another element.
A New Villain
Why does every Alien movie try to convince me Weyland Yutani are some sinister force and not the stupidest people alive for wanting to bring unstoppable killing machines back to earth? A genius move on the part of Alien Isolation was making the antagonist a shoddy imitation of Weylant Yutani. Seegson fulfilled all the roles a maniacal organisation out of their depth should, while also being interesting, creepy, and even a little sad.
Unfortunately, it seems Blomkamp is ploughing ahead with having Alien 5 revolve around Weyland Yutani, for they are apparently the only thing in the Alien universe that can generate drama. Why can't a member of Weyland Yutani be a good guy for once? Or can't anyone else familiar come back? It's a shame that the worn out villains make a return and Jonesy doesn't.
A Human Story
This is a pretty cliche observation to make; that the best monster movies aren't really about the monsters yada yada. Here, Alien Isolation had the biggest advantage simply by not being a film. The story was ours, of the player overcoming their fear, and melding with a complex world functioning in real time. While this would be difficult to replicate on screen, it's a subtlety the series is no stranger to. If people claim the characters in the first film don't feel real enough, I point them to the dinner table scene. The fact that one of the most iconic moments in film sci-fi happens amidst the vulnerability of having to eat shows that Alien is very much about the immediate human need to stay alive. Alien Isolation conveys that need brilliantly, and conveys the threat to it even better.
So what's the likelihood that Neill Blomkamp will manage a complex tone about the inherent human need for survival? Well... you seen how much that guy loves mechs?