Last week, word broke that Neil Blomkamp’s Alien 5 was being put on hold due to ongoing work while Ridley Scott’s Prometheus 2 is being developed. That’s a shame, but if Fox looks at what Marvel’s been doing, they can probably have their cake and eat it too.
I’ll preface this by saying that I enjoyed parts of Prometheus: it was pretty, had some interesting concepts that were otherwise washed out by some shoddy execution. I’ll certainly give Prometheus 2 a shot when it hits theaters, but I’d love to see more of Neil Blomkamp’s efforts on Alien 5.
Fox should approach the Aliens universe in the same way that Marvel and Disney have been approaching their content: they should create a unified Cinematic Universe that allows them to not only incorporate the older films, but lay groundwork for future installments that make some level of sense.
Ridley Scott’s Alien universe has already been joined by a couple of crossover stories: in addition to the Prometheus line of films that are coming out, the Predator movies also take place in the same universe. Already, you have the bare bones of a CU in place: a shared universe, with three separate storylines running. We’ve already seen that Aliens can run on its own: it’s since spawned off a couple of sequels. Predator also has its own stories that it’s playing out, especially with Predators and various people in the room wanting to do Predators 2. Prometheus was a bit more problematic, but it did well at the box office, enough to get a sequel running.
If you wanted to throw in another franchise, shoehorn in The Thing, which I’ve always felt like it fits alongside Alien and Predator. There’s even some fan theories that Blade Runner and Alien share a universe.
Why do a shared universe in the first place? There’s a couple of reasons, the first of which means that by necessity, there needs to be a lot of oversight and coordination from producers. This is sometimes good (Marvel) and sometimes disastrous (Fantastic 4), but if the right story and vision is in place, you can spin out a really interesting, longform story that you wouldn’t normally see. Individual installments help support a much larger story, rather than each sequel retelling all the elements that made the first movie good in the first place.
Moreover, it spreads out the financial risk a bit more by creating an incentive for moviegoers to return to join in and continue onwards for a larger story, while enjoying individual installments. Marvel’s done a great job with this, and the financial reward seems to be paying off for them.
The other reason to do an Aliens/Predator/Prometheus CU would be to open up some new possibilities for the world. Alien showed off a fantastic, interstellar playground with lost alien civilizations, while humans are mucking it up with a healthy dose of corporate greed. There’s a lot that a talented screenwriter can pull out of there.
It also allows for a movie team to use some shared resources: there’s a reason why sequels are so common. They’re easier to put together, because much of the world and characters have already been established. A CU spreads out the work a little more.
There’s some interesting possibilities here: I’d love to see some space marines face off against a couple of predators, and I’d be interested in seeing some type of thriller about the Weyland Yutani or something that explores the attack ships stationed at Orion and Tannhäuser Gate.
Moreover, a CU, (again, with the caveat that it’s done properly) can dig into some deeper stories that go beyond what a single film can do. Alien looks at how utterly batshit scary the universe is. Predator does pretty much the same thing, except that it now shows off that humans are at the extreme low end of the totem pole. Prometheus shows that there’s some really powerful alien civilizations out there, while there’s also some really intriguing things going on with robotics and artificial intelligence.
Finally, a CU is probably a future that we’ll see more of. Consolidation of film IP means that studios with attentive producers can put together some interesting mashups, and as they plan out movies years in advance, these are the types of mega projects that will get all of the marketing, production and starpower. This just coordinates the elements and stories together into one larger franchise.
There’s certainly some significant challenges to this. Marvel’s only been successful because they seem to have their shit together. DC has struggled with putting together their own comparable franchise, while Fox has already done more damage to the Fantastic Four brand with their latest effort. Who knows if Disney can do it with Star Wars?
What needs to happen ahead of time is a larger vision that’s mapped out: an overarching story needs to be put into place that acts as the backbone to all of the separate parts, which is challenging with this particular idea, because each franchise has come together organically. Even if that happens, the right people and right screenwriters need to be in place to ensure that the story works for the universe, along with all of the side stories that are contributing.
It’s not an easy thing to do: Marvel’s gotten away with it because they trust their source material, not to mention having some really good people working on it.
Here’s the other thing: sequels aren’t going away, no matter how many people complain about adding them on. Despite cries to the contrary, sequels are generally a fairly safe bet to get for a studio. Sometimes, you get a couple of sequels that work out, but for the most part, they’re a disappointment. Why do a CU? You’re essentially planning out what your sequels will be in advance, and tell a larger story all along, rather than something tacked on because a studio exec liked it.
If it pays off? There’s some really interesting things that Fox could do with everything that Alien/Prometheus/Predator/Blade Runner has built so far. If they don’t at least consider how these films fit together, we’re going to have more films like Prometheus, and fewer like Aliens.