The intriguing prospect of Neill Blomkamp’s ‘Alien’ project

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After the recent news of the next planned installment to the Alien franchise it is safe to say there is a lot to be excited about

If you are interested in the latest news surrounding cinema you’ll know that we’re poised quite nicely in a strong time for science fiction. Last year we had films such as Under the Skin showing how small scale sci fi works perfectly, as well as big blockbusters such as Interstellar showing how mainstream audiences are still interested in the genre. This year we’ve got films such as Chappie and Ex Machina already leading the way for a good year, as well as Terminator making a much unwanted come back later this year. If you take a look towards future releases there have been some interesting announcements. Just recently we had the announcement that Blade Runner will be getting a sequel after years of the idea being discussed. However the news that has me most excited is that Neill Blomkamp, famed director of District 9 and Elysium, will be making the next installment in the Alien franchise.

It’s interesting, I think Blomkamp being named as director is the best part of this news, because we already know that he is a very talented filmmaker of the science fiction genre. If it was announced that this film was being made but without a director’s name being attached to it at this point then I would roll my eyes, sigh, and this blog post would be of an entirely different nature. I wouldn’t want to see another sequel made unless it was with a good director at the helm because I care about the original so much. Alien still stands as one of my favourite films of all time, I think it is one of the most important pieces of cinema to have ever been made, however for me the sequels have ruined it. Obviously Aliens is still a very good film but when you move into the region of Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection the story loses itself completely and it becomes void of any substance. It seems to have detracted too far away from the original Alien but I think Blomkamp could be the person to bring it back to where it once was.

Much like JJ Abrams was able to salvage the Star Trek franchise by recrafting it for a modern audience I think Blomkamp could be the person to do this for Alien. It just makes me happy to know that this project is being placed in the hands of a director who cares about it. What seems to have happened is that the original Alien idea has been stretched out in order to make money, hence we have somehow found ourselves presented with Alien vs Predator and worse still Aliens vs Predator: Requiem. All of the substance that was once held in Ridley Scott’s original 1979 masterpiece has been squeezed out so that the hollow shell can be used as a money maker. That’s not what Blomkamp will do, as we have found recently when his intentions became clear.

If you’ve read around the topic enough you’ll know that Alien 3 was a very conflicted project. The story was changed multiple times, it was reworked so that the film they were originally intending to make was dropped to make way for the god awful film we know today. What Blomkamp himself said when he first started talking about the film was:

“there’s Alien, then Aliens, and then this film”

and so what he has suggested is that his film would take place directly after Aliens, meaning that in the timeline of events Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection would essentially become null and void. Blomkamp would be taking events down a different path, and I like the sound of that. Alien 3 has always been considered a bad film. Famously David Fincher who directed the film didn’t like it and when they offered him to work on it again to create a director’s cut he turned it down and said he wanted nothing to do with the film, and we can see why. Story wise there is a very little development and the whole thing seems excessive. It’s like when you watch a film, get to a certain point and think “there, that is where the film should end” but then have to sit through thirty minutes more screen time and lose patience with it. That’s what Alien 3 is, it’s the thirty minutes of excess stretched out in to a feature film. Then after that we had Alien: Resurrection which was again excessive and just felt rather unnecessary, so I’m not bothered about Blomkamp wanting to make his film and pretend those films never happened, I think he would be doing the right thing.

There was a fiasco before whereby the story was changed for Alien 3 several times and now it’s unclear as to whether some people should be included in the credits for writing or if some people opted out of it to distance themselves from the project, so hopefully Blomkamp will steer us back in the right direction. I think no matter happens this is going to be an interesting experience because Blomkamp will obviously have a lot of ideas of his own. He has said on multiple occasions that he loves the first two films and so trusting him to make a sequel that comes directly after them is not only a wise decision but the right decision. In order to now screw this up the director/ writer has to care for the source material.

As well as the news of this film being made Blomkamp has released concept art for the film, originally releasing it and informing us that the project had been cancelled, before taking it back up again. The concept art is very intriguing, with some interesting work based around Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, but one of the most interesting pieces in the collection of artwork features someone else. In what is quite possibly the most intriguing piece of concept art we have seen so far we can quite clearly see the character of Ripley stood with the character of Hicks. I quite like the way that’s heading. Alien 3 in a way went off on a complete tangent, it felt like a film from a completely different series. What Blomkamp is intending to do it make a sequel that stays where we want it to and so we can only hope that the character of Hicks has a larger part somehow and it should be interesting to see exactly how that works.

Now I think Blomkamp is the right person to direct this film. He is a modern director with fresh ideas and experience in making science fiction. I haven’t seen Chappie yet and it’s been some time since I first saw Elysium but District 9 still stands as one of my favourite films from recent years. It was a big and unabashedly bold science fiction film and it had large success with audiences worldwide. It wasn’t just down to the incredible special effects or the interesting story that keeps you on the edge of your seat, it stood out because it has a running thread throughout of interviews with various people, and so what you have is almost this sociological commentary that follows the events as they develop and it did make for a very interesting experience. It was nice to see a film whereby humans aren’t depicted as just going in all guns blazing when the aliens arrive, instead we look more towards studying them and keeping the peace. Obviously one of the key features that stands out is the fact the aliens actually become residents and so parts of human life coincide with theirs. So we have sequences whereby the main character is giving out eviction notices to some aliens, and fact that the alien species comes to Earth and is very fond of cat food. It’s just the little details such as this that proved Blomkamp to be a talented writer who understands the genre well enough to add their own twist to it.

What is most important about him though, for me personally, is the fact that he appreciates the original film. It seems like directors that have made films based in the same universe as Alien had quite a pick’n’mix approach when considering the original. They looked at the film and picked out the violence and the blood and the creepiness that comes with the creature, and the chest bursting and so left out all of the elements that made the original as good as it was. Blomkamp has already said that Alien and Aliens were his favourite films of the franchise, so we know he has good intentions and and he isn’t about the run the risk of ruining the story. I think he understands the originals enough to know how to make a film based on them but whilst adding his own visual influence.

When considering how the Alien films have advanced I would still argue that the first one is the best and is one of the greatest films of all time. Aliens was still a good film and I can appreciate that but for me it borders into a slightly less impressive territory with the addition of marines firing off rounds in a James Cameron styled manner. Alien for me is the undisputed masterpiece. Every element is pitched perfectly, from the screenplay that develops the characters so that we actually care about them, right through to the pacing. And what was obviously one of the main factors that made the first film as good as it is was the work from artist H R Giger who designed the set and the creatures themselves. He brought a simplistic chill to the interior design of the Nostromo and obviously was responsible for creating one of the most terrifying creatures ever seen on screen. He was an extremely talented man and it is a shame that he won’t be here to help with the next film, however Blomkamp does seem like he has some pretty impressive ideas and I’m looking forward to seeing what a talented modern director with a good eye for cinema does with the Alien universe.

So in summary I think they have made the right decision in letting Blomkamp go ahead with this idea, I think he is full of good ideas and he respects the original film enough do it justice. It will be nice to see Aliens finally get the sequel it deserves and to see the franchise move back on track after recent disasters. I am hoping that this going to be similar to the Star Trek films of recent years whereby we see a franchise we all love coming back to the big screen, with a good director at the helm and in a modernised way but whilst still respecting what the original set out to do.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. If you have any thoughts on the matter then please feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. In particular I’d like to know your choices for directors who could make this sequel if Blomkamp was out of the question and why you would pick them.

Could ‘Interstellar’ by Christopher Nolan Be the New ‘2001’?

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Regular readers of this blog will have no doubt seen one of my latest entries in which I listed the films that are yet to be released this year that I am most excited about. Among the list of many I managed to narrow down three that I am most excited for in the form of the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game, Paul Thomas Anderson’s newest piece Inherent Vice, and of course the latest motion picture of genius and personal favourite Christopher Nolan, Interstellar. I am nervous but intrigued by all three of those titles but none more so than the last one, Interstellar, because I think it means the most to me. To see the man that is essentially my favourite film maker of the modern age presenting the mainstream audience with a unashamedly bold science fiction film fills me with nothing less than excitement.

The most admirable characteristic of any Christopher Nolan film is that they are intelligent; they are films written by a man who assumes that cinema audiences are as clever as he is. Too many film makers today follow the rather ugly rule that the way to make a successful film is to treat the audience as if they are stupid, hence we see films such as Transformers charging through with awful sequels that all achieve box office success. Nolan battles against that. He makes films that are sharper than a Japanese blade and more tasking that making a key stage three pupil watch University Challenge for an afternoon, and that is nothing short of heroic. He takes what the mainstream audience expects from a film and turns it completely on its head, to present us with films like The Prestige that not only entertain viewers but also engage them in thought. His films are those that could best be described as equivocal, what you receive from the films is equal to what you put in to them. This is why a lot of people I know do not understand Inception because they went in to wanting to see an action film but what they got was an intelligent blockbuster that may have featured action sequences, but they were by no means the focus. So they went in with expectations that weren’t met and so they didn’t understand the film, which is a shame because they missed out on one of the most impressive pieces of film from our lifetime.

Even from the start of his career with the genius of Memento Nolan entered film history with a strong first blow and continued to deliver hits that were executed perfectly. Memento came out of nowhere and impressed film critics and movie fanatics worldwide and he has continued this success to make a legacy, which is why it is thrilling to see that he is making another film. With Inception Nolan showed us that he is more than capable of handling a film with a slight science fiction-esque spin on it, so to see him attempt a film that looks like an old fashioned science fiction epic is intriguing.

If you have not seen any of the trailers already then I would say do one of two things. One choice would be to watch all of them rigorously; watch the trailers over and over again so that you pick up on every little detail and become more and more engaged by them. Or two, don’t watch any of the trailers. I understand that sometimes watching trailers can ruin a film when it is eventually seen, I know for example it happened to a lot of people with Prometheus back in 2012, so I think it would be a wise move to suggest avoiding the trailers altogether and letting the film approach you as a complete surprise.

For those who have seen the trailers or do indeed plan to watch them you will know that the film is big. And what I mean by this is that it’s not the usual science fiction flick in which there are aliens or flashy pieces of futuristic technology, this film is about humans and our interaction with other worlds. It’s not just about men and women in outfits that are figure-hugging while they run around shooting green men, it’s about the future of our planet and what we as humans can do to help it. It once again is a convention changing film; science fiction films always assume the earth is something to be invaded by outsides as opposed to being something worth protecting by its inhabitants.

Now I realise that the title of this post is a bold statement and it probably made the older science fiction fans reading this gasp or choke on a drink or even laugh when they read it, but I stick by it. I think Interstellar has the potential to be a film that is close to the 1968 Stanley Kubrick classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’m not trying to say I think it will be better because in our lifetime I refuse to believe that is even possible, what I’m saying is that I think it will be on the same scale of film mastery. From initial footage that has been released it looks as though it is at least at the same end of the science fiction spectrum, moving away from the ‘bog standard’ side to being more of an epic scale piece of film.

The thing that made 2001 as incredible as it is was the idea of it, a science fiction film that focused on humans. It sounds silly, much like having an action film that focuses on a pacifist, but it not only made perfect sense; it made film history. The film essentially goes from the birth of mankind right up to our adventures in space and attempting to communicate with alien species, so the film is very much based around humans and the human spirit. It is a film about curiosity and the hunger for knowledge, from the humans venturing in to deep space to find more life, right the way back even to the apes at the beginning of the film who are confused by the monolith, they still wanted some form of answer. That’s what Interstellar is about, albeit in a rather tangential manner.

From the looks of it Interstellar is still going to be a film about answers, just different answers. Where 2001 was looking for where humans were from, Interstellar appears to be looking more at where humans are going. It’s addressing issues such as our over-consumption of the world’s resources and our ever growing population, using fossil fuels, our treatment of the earth and such but it’s not approaching it in a childish 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow sort of approach, nothing quite as juvenile, it instead appears to be looking at those issues in more of a Gandhi approach. What I mean by this is the idea of an eye for an eye; as humans we are the ones who have damaged the earth so we should be the ones to deal with the problems of such actions.

Also with 2001 there was a very big focus on humans and on character. The frightening element of the film for audiences at the time was the computer, HAL, because it was simple and human-like. For a film with a U certificate it’s odd to see a character that is so sinister as a talking computer, but this accompanied the humans very nicely because it showed how they still had fear, and they had layers to them to show how complex the human condition is. With Interstellar it clearly has the Christopher Nolan approach. Nolan has always been very good with family relationships, as we’ve seen in Inception, The Prestige and even with the Dark Knight trilogy the strong family bonds do seep through the screenplay, but that is where the strength is: in the screenplay. The trailer already shows us footage of the family talking, with conversations such as why the child is named Murphy and how this links to the theory of Murphy’s law etcetera so it is clear that humans are a huge focus for the film and the screenplay is going to be one of the best weapons in Nolan’s arsenal.

Just like with the majority of Nolan’s past work we are seeing him pair up with cinematographer Wally Pfister to make the film, and already we are seeing some shots in the trailers that are very impressive. The film is going to be a visual treat for any science fiction fan, much like 2001 still is today. There’s something very daunting about seeing a small space ship floating off in the vast and unknown territory of space, and that is why the film looks big to me. When I say it looks big I mean it is of epic proportions, it is about a journey, it is about discovery and will be a challenging watch. I remember sitting down to watch 2001 at the age of sixteen and people such as my father had said one thing to me before it started: good luck. They wished me luck because they knew it was a difficult film to get through and I might not have understood it all after one viewing. I thoroughly enjoyed it first time and have enjoyed it again since but from what we have seen of the film and our preexisting knowledge of Nolan as a film maker it is clear to see that Interstellar will be much the same, a film that has to have your undivided attention.

I guess what I was really trying to say with the title of this post was more that I hope Interstellar will be a film that can walk in the footsteps of 2001 because it will no doubt be another stroke from the paintbrush of a genius. Nolan is an extremely talented man who has a great eye for film as both a director and a screenplay writer, and I hope that this will be another chance for him to make his mark on cinema history but in a bigger way. Inception was the perfect way for him to show us his capability of making an intelligent mainstream blockbuster, but it will take something bigger than that to really put his footprint on the moon so to speak. I think Interstellar could be that film, and I hope it is.

I will of course be posting a review and analysis of the film once I have seen it, with just about two months to go it’s safe to say I am counting down the days. Until that time I intend to watch 2001 again with a completely open mind to see if I get anything new from it like the previous times watching it. If anyone is reading this not knowing what I’m talking about because they haven’t seen 2001 then I would thoroughly recommend watching it at least once. Much like when film critic Mark Kermode suggested going to see There Will Be Blood in cinemas after booking all of the seats around yours to ensure there are no distractions in the perimeter, I suggest watching 2001 in the dark with the sound turned up and nothing around you to distract you. I know it sounds like advice for listening to a Pink Floyd album for the first time but trust me it will work.

So the only thing left to say really is hope you have enjoyed this post, if you even managed to make it this far, thank you. And if you have any thoughts on the matter then please do not hesitate to leave a comment, I welcome whatever you have to say be it bad or good, and I promise to respond to any comments left in due course.

Until the next time I shall simply leave you with my favourite quote from Interstellar (so far) taken from one of the trailer released recently:

“do not go gentle in to that good night…old age should burn and rage at close of day”

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