Yesterday, Variety reported that Ridley Scott is attached to an upcoming Alien prequel. I am a fan of both Mr. Scott and his groundbreaking 1979 space thriller, but I can’t help hiking up my crotchety old man pants and start telling it like it is. So here comes a finger-wagging rant; get ready.
The Alien franchise is one of the most interesting in film history (for the purposes of this article, I am excluding the Alien vs. Predator series of films from the franchise). It stands out mostly for the incredible list of alumni. James Cameron, who directed Aliens, went on to pioneer the art of digital special effects and make the most successful film of all time, Titanic. Frenchman Jean-Pierre Jeunet, already established for international hits Delicatessen and City of Lost Children by the time he made Alien: Resurrection, directed Amélie a few years after joining the franchise; that film became the biggest francophonic film outside of France ever. Mr. Scott’s brother in arms from the Propoganda Films days, David Fincher, first cut his teeth with Alien3 in 1992, going on to make some of the most provocative thrillers since.
But it is Ridley who has always stood out as the most illustrious alum. The original Alien is a landmark film that took the world by surprise. It was a thriller set in space, not a sci-fi film that was thrilling. Three years later, Mr. Scott turned the sci-fi world on its side once again with Blade Runner. Essentially a film noir set in a bleak future cooked up by Phillip K. Dick, it remains the gold standard of futuristic cinema in the age of advanced special effects. Of course, sci-fi was only the beginning for him. In 1991, he received his first Oscar nomination for Thelma & Louise, which again rattled the world for defying genre and moving us forward.
Like every filmmaker, Mr. Scott has grown up. Over the years, his films have garnered a huge audience. His 2000Gladiator took home Best Picture and reintroduced the classical epic to modern eyes. Just the same, Black Hawk Down reinvented the American military protags for a bloodthirsty and hero-deficient audience in the wake of the September 11th attacks in 2001. These films, while respectable, don’t evoke quite the same earth-shattering sensibilities as his earlier work. They feel more like the conventional studio pics he defied in his younger days, fitted to a formula that could statistically bring in an audience and get awards voters’ attention. When I say he has grown up, I mean it in the sense of Peter Pan; he will need some fairy dust to get back to his old self.
So any fanboy (or girl) who feels all tingly inside over the decision to bring Ridley Scott back into the Alien fold must consider his body of work over the last decade rather than his whole body of work. It has been thirty years since he made us realize that in space, no one can hear you scream. I don’t mean to minimize the extent of his work in recent years. In fact, his Scott Free shingle, which he shares with directing brother Tony, has produced some wonderful content of late.
My point here is that the logic behind bringing him back to the film may be exciting because of who he is now, but I am not interested in the fact that he started this whole thing so long ago. Perhaps bringing a fresh face to the series would create an even better film. To wit, would anyone have preferred Leonard Nimoy or Nicholas Meyer to have directed this summer’s Star Trek? Even better, couldn’t the last three Star Wars films have been enhanced by a director other than George Lucas in the same manner that Irvin Kershner brought a fresh eye to Empire Strikes Back? I’m not saying these rules always hold true. For example, look where Richard Lester and Sidney J. Furie took Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (the dumps, we can fight about it in another post if you like). On the other hand, could anyone imagine Mr. Donner stepping back in to that series in 2006? The guy who made 16 Blocks?
In short, I am happy that, at least on paper, Mr. Scott will be returning to space, but I can’t find it in me to get all hot and bothered that he is doing so with the franchise that made him famous. While we obsess over these franchise reboots, I suppose I can take solace in the fact that a master like him will be joining in the fun. Who knows, maybe there’s a little 1979 Ridley hiding inside of him, just waiting for the right moment to blow us all away again. We’ll see.