As the director who kicked off the franchise back in 1979, Ridley Scott is inextricably associated with ‘Alien’. But while the series and indeed the very conception of the creature itself has evolved since that first film (one need look no farther than James Cameron’s superlative 1986 sequel, ‘Aliens’ to see that), Scott’s influence is inescapable. This is especially the case in the wake of his return to the franchise with ‘Prometheus‘ and ‘Alien: Covenant‘, which despite their nature as prequels to the classic installments have placed Scott in the position of charting the series’ future.
With that being the case, the state of the franchise generally is something that is seldom far from Scott’s mind. In a recent conversation with the Toronto Sun, the director took a moment out from promoting his latest effort, ‘All the Money in the World’, to opine on the current state of ‘Alien’ and what that might mean for its future:
“There’s no reason why ‘Alien’ should now not be on the same level for fans as ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Star Wars’. So I think the next step as to where to go is, do we sustain the ‘Alien’ with the evolution of the beast or do we reinvent something else? I think you need to have an evolution on this famous beast because he’s the best monster ever, really.”
It’s a sentiment that strikes me as a bit odd (except for the bit about Xenomorphs being “the best monster ever,” because, of course, they are). Not because I don’t agree, but because in at least some respects, it’s already the case. While ‘Alien’ may not loom as large in the popular imagination as, say, ‘Star Wars’, few things do. Though the ‘Alien’ films have certainly had their ups and downs over the years (to say nothing of ancillary media like comics, novels, etc) , the franchise has always had a rather ardent fanbase, people to whom Ellen Ripley means every bit as much as Luke Skywalker does to ‘Star Wars’ fans. In fact, I’d wager that if you aren’t such a fan yourself, the odds are pretty good that you know someone who is.
But scratching the surface a bit, Scott is more likely referring to the in-story world of ‘Alien’ rather than what you might call the business or cultural side of things. It’s a world he’s made pointed efforts to flesh out in recent years, but (again, with acknowledgment to some forty years of ancillary stories), he’s hardly the first to do so. Granted I’m reading between the lines a bit, but you don’t have to look too closely at ‘Prometheus’ and ‘Alien: Covenant’ to see this reflected in his work. You see, the thing about the ‘Alien’ films right now is that they seem to want to expand their narrative scope while being at a loss for exactly how to do that. The series foundational texts, if you will, are fundamentally about humanity’s encounters with the titular creature. The problem with that is that there have been six of these movies (eight with the ‘Alien vs Predator’ spinoffs), and even “the best monster ever” is subject to diminishing returns. There’s an implicit acknowledgment of that in Scott’s most recent efforts, which despite featuring the Xenomorph in varying capacities, have been much more interested in exploring bigger existential questions than in simply pitting the beast against a crew of hapless humans. Of course, given fan reaction to those installments, his is efforts in this direction could be described as a mixed success at best. Can’t fault the guy for trying, though. The franchise needs to evolve, but whether or not it’s doing so successfully is another matter.
Be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com for more on the future of the ‘Alien’ franchise as it becomes available.