The Alien franchise is harder to kill than the perfect organism at its core. There have been eight movies over a period of almost forty years, during which time the series’ narrative has spanned four centuries and the full gamut of quality (and that’s nothing on the dense mythology built up in comics, books and games). The xenomorph has been a straight horror monster. It’s been a bug-hunt Viet Kong metaphor. It’s become whatever the Newborn is. It’s fought Predators (although we try to forget that).
Even the history of canceled Alien projects is a dense, dependably bonkers one. Right from when it was called “Star Beast” the series was cycling through various weird ideas (including the notion of the alien turning people into eggs, brought back for the original’s “director’s cut”) and Alien 3 famously almost went in various different directions to the point a teaser promised “in 1992, we will discover on Earth everyone can hear you scream” (it’s not set on Earth). In the late 1990s Ridley Scott and James Cameron even considered teaming on a fifth entry that would delve into the xeno’s past before Fox vetoed it in favor of AvP (that idea has to some degree informed the Prometheus run). And it looks like we can now add Neill Blomkamp’s Alien 5 to that list.
Back in 2015, the South African wunderkind shared concept art for a new movie in the franchise that would retcon the deaths of Hicks, Newt and Ripley in Alien 3 and give fans that long-desired good Aliens sequel. It quickly gained traction and was endorsed by Sigourney Weaver (who it emerged had actually discussed the project with Blomkamp while working on Chappie), leading to Fox officially putting the movie in development. And then… nothing. All involved (including a set-to-return Michael Biehn) have been reluctant to say anything resolute since and as prequel Alien: Covenant moved forward it looks dead or at least stalled.
Now the chest is well and truly burst. According to Ridley Scott, the film never really got beyond the pitch stage, with only a ten-page treatment and no script, and as his prequel enterprise is expanding to be as many as six more films it will probably never happen. But while the cancellation of a superficially interesting Alien project may at first seem upsetting, when you really look at what Alien 5 was and the man behind it perhaps it wouldn’t have been all its cracked up to be.
Blomkamp: One-Trick Wonder
The core reason to quell excitement is the filmmaker. Only two directors have really made the xenomorph unequivocally work – Scott and Cameron – and Blomkamp hasn’t represented the inherent skill needed to realize it.
Oh, he started out great. After the Halo movie he’d been developing with Peter Jackson stalled he was given $30 million to make his long-gestating passion project District 9. On the face of it a simple apartheid allegory, it told an achingly personal story that mixed real-world bureaucracy, intergalactic pathos and sci-fi mechs perfectly – all three elements essential to Alien – and wound up with a shock Best Picture nom. But while D-9 announced a fresh talent on the block, the director has since failed to follow it up. Elysium had some snazzy concepts but couldn’t find its focus while Chappie was a bizarre coming-of-age story without any real emotional weight, and both were ultimately undone by a slavish reuse of District’s gritty, South African-infused style for minimal effect beyond keeping conceptual costs down.
Fundamentally, Blomkamp essentially struggles with idea delivery. His films all have a delectable, unique concept that can be dissected from multiple angles, yet with both of his post-debut outings has handed in a high school-level exploration of them. He’s even admitted that he was so enamored with the giant space ring in Elysium that he neglected a proper story. What’s to say he’d not repeat this with Alien 5 and just realize those concept pieces in a basic manner? The fact all his films feel the same definitely doesn’t boost confidence; what was fresh with District 9 now appears to have limited him.
Of course, we do still know Blomkamp is capable of creating challenging, entertaining sci-fi from his first film, and the real barrier with his follow ups has been time; he had almost five years spent envisioning his debut (which started life as short Alive in Joburg), but only a couple on the Elysium and Chappie. With that in mind, Alien 5 is already two years in “development”, so it’s possible he could pull it together. Although that brings us to the more fundamental story issues.