Bursting for a return: could Sigourney Weaver resurrect the Alien franchise?
Battlestar Galactica posited the idea that human civilisation operates on an endless wheel of evolution, technological boom and eventual destruction by the very machines it has hubristically brought into existence. There seems to be something very similar about the life-cycle of big-screen futurism. From Terminator to Star Trek to Alien, Hollywood’s best-known stories always seem to wind up eating themselves from within, only for some robot at the relevant studio to remark that it might be time for a reboot.
But where the new Star Trek movies, for all their inability to capture a sustained audience, have managed to both pay tribute to previous eras and tell new stories, the Terminator and Alien franchises have never been able to break free from the past. Arnie will probably still be turning up as yet another version of the menacing T-800 well into his 80s, and no Alien fan has rid themselves of the feeling that those cosmic screams never curdled the soul as they did when Sigourney Weaver was on board as Ellen Ripley.
Weaver’s hard-bitten former warrant officer was killed off in David Fincher’s Alien 3, sacrificing herself to save the universe from yet another xenomorph infestation. Unfortunately that did not stop Jean-Pierre Jeunet bringing her back as a human-xenomorph clone in Alien: Resurrection.
Then there was Neill Blomkamp’s abortive attempt to restore Ripley to life once again in a direct sequel to Aliens. The idea there, played out via mocked-up concept art released on Instagram, was to ignore the events of Alien 3 and bring back Michael Biehn’s Hicks, as well as an older version of the young girl Newt, both stars on the second movie.
Blomkamp was flavour of the month at the time following the success of District 9. But Twentieth Century Fox eventually plumped to put all its xenomorph eggs into Ridley Scott’s basket, the veteran director returning for 2017’s ill-fated Alien: Covenant after an initial return to the franchise with 2012’s Prometheus.
With both movies now deemed to have been middling at best, it seems Weaver is back in the picture – perhaps in part due to Fox’s recent takeover by Disney. Empire reported recently that a 50-page treatment from Alien franchise producer Walter Hill was sent to the actor around a year and a half ago. Blomkamp may no longer be involved but it appears the concept he devised in 2015 may be ready to burst into life.
Quite how Scott feels about this remains to be seen. The 82-year-old was only recently touting yet another Alien movie, to be directed by him, which would presumably wrap up the story that began with Prometheus. Unfortunately, most fans in their right mind would rather be cryogenically frozen and dumped alone on the xenomorphs’ planet than sit through yet another instalment of tedious, fractious, portentous and confusing late-era Alien as directed by Scott.
The veteran film-maker once told a reporter “the beast is done”, referring to the iconic monster he introduced in 1979. This turned out to be a falsehood – the HR Giger-inspired hellbeasts returned in Covenant – but Scott’s own run at the helm of the franchise certainly seems to be over.
Hill told Syfy.com this week that he had written the new Alien treatment (which bears the intriguing new tagline: “In space no one can hear you dream”) alongside fellow saga stalwart David Giler but that Weaver is still not fully on board.
“Sigourney, as she has from the very beginning, is being too modest about her proven ability to pull off the idea – which is to tell a story that scares the pants off your date, kicks the ass of a new xenomorph, and conducts a meditation on both the universe of the Alien franchise and the destiny of the character of Ripley,” he said.
Given the saga has already brought Ripley back via cloning, a story in which the conflict takes place entirely within her own mind might be seen as the next logical step. And yet transforming Alien into a phantasmagorical tale of the nightmare subconscious could easily be seen as a copout. Do we really want to see Ripley “stepping out of the shower”, Bobby Ewing style, only to discover that the events of every Alien movie we’ve seen thus far were just a dream?
If so, no wonder Weaver hasn’t yet signed on the dotted line. She was famously reticent to return for Alien: Resurrection and history tells us she should probably have stuck to her gut feeling. On the other hand, if Ripley doesn’t return with her original face, somebody else will eventually pull on the power loader – and that somebody might hold significantly less sway when it comes to assuring quality control. We are nearing a quarter of a century since Weaver last appeared in an Alien movie, and not much has gone well since. Perhaps this particular cycle of blood-curdling cosmic horror is one that needs to be brought right back to the start, with its original sci-fi scream queen back in the hotseat.