Let’s start off by coming clean on something that Hollywood already knows and we ourselves are loath to admit.
We, the audience, are a bunch of tramps. (And that’s putting it mildly.)
While our trampiness can be attributed to our willingness to financially support all manner of speculative dreck, for the purpose of today’s rant, I will focus my remarks on the oft-bemoaned phenomena of remakes and sequels that Hollywood seems hellbent on pushing down our all-too-willing throats.
Like the flood of remakes and sequels themselves, blogs complaining about Hollywood’s penchant for wholesale recycling of films are all-invasive. I recognize that I’m simply adding to the noise with one more blog, but if Hollywood continues to foist recycled films upon us, then we have the right to foist right back. So thank you very much.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand the business proposition here. Hollywood dumps in obscene amounts of money to make a film – any film – so you have to show a decent return on investment. It makes sense to go with a property that already has demonstrated it has legs in the marketplace, with built-in brand recognition and a ready-made fanbase. It makes good business sense.
But doesn’t that kind of suck?
Hollywood has been at its best (see 1970s) when it at least had the pretense that it was putting its artists and their ideas above the desire for shareholder appeasement. There are still instances even in today’s film market where it feels that a certain film was made despite gross commercial considerations, but that’s happening with greater and greater infrequency.
Is it just me, or does it seem that every science fiction film made in the 1970’s and 1980’s is destined for the remake treatment? Just ask John Carpenter. I suspect there are probably a few TV commercials he made in-between films in the late 70’s that are probably being remade as I type this. Home movies. Maybe even a Polaroid or two. He’s the hardest working, not working director in Hollywood today. Seriously. Can They Live … Again be too far behind?
Let’s qualify "remake" and "sequel" – most of the time, they mean one and the same thing. A true sequel is the continuation of an ongoing story. For instance, Two Towers is a sequel to The Fellowship of the Ring. A sequel is something that is a necessary part in order to complete the story.
By comparison, Aliens (grand as it was) is really just a remake of Alien. I’m nuts, I know, but think about it. Alien was a self-contained story. You didn’t really need to know more than what it provided to you. And it’s the Alien franchise that I want to pick on today.
You should know that Alien counts as my favorite film of all time. Period. For a number of reasons that I’ll save for some other time when I don’t have anything else to blog about.
As far as I can tell, I’m the only person who wishes they stopped after the first movie.
That’s right – I’m saying it. I wish Aliens had never been made.
Yes, Jim Cameron is great. Aliens was great. Hudson was great. Guns. One liners. Newt. "Why don’t you put her in charge?" Burke wearing a suit with the collar up – great. Half of Lance Henrikson sloshing around in a pool of milk – well, yeah, pretty great, too. "Get away from her you bitch." Alien Queen – dorky, but what the heck, two hours in, I’ll buy it.
But when I read posts where people say it was actually better than the first film, I’m like, what the heck are you talking about? It was fun, but really the Alien universe was not improved with the advent of Aliens, Alien3 or Alien Resurrection. C’mon.
Alien. It was a punk rock shockwave across the sci fi spectrum at a time when Lucas was reintroducing Flash Gordon and Spielberg had us reaching for our xylophones to call the mothership. Alien was a seismic tremor that shook loose the Planet of the Apes-Logan’s Run-Omega Man doldrums of the 70’s and heralded something far more dangerous. Instead of Bruce Dern singing along to Joan Baez while growing intergalactic carrots on his way to Saturn, we got Parker going mano-a-mano with a headless robot aggressively trying to get Sigourney to renew her magazine subscription. Alien showed us that space is truly, deeply, really, in a word, alien. The creature had no eyes! Its tongue had teeth! And it had no respect for personal boundaries! Plus, H.R. Giger has this art school Peter Lorre vibe about him. Doesn’t all that just creep you out? Alien fulfilled its mission to tell you that the universe is a wild, weird place.
But, we’re tramps. We can’t let it alone. We want more. And we’ll pony up for it.
They had to make a sequel. They knew we would come. And we did.
Aliens was a huge hit. Bigger than the first one. So they kept going, milking the franchise and running it into the ground. Christopher Nolan was right – for the most part, the third film in any series sucks. In this case, so did the fourth film. Alien was weird in a genuine and pure way. So they kept going for it, but they manufactured the weirdness in subsequent films.
Alien felt like a punk rock anthem born in a garage. The others were studio films.
So now, we come to the Alien Prequel, coming to a theatre near you in 2011. Even without knowing anything of the story, it’s got a lot going for it. Ridley Scott, for one. Do you need more than that? Probably not, but it also has going for it that it escapes from all the narrative handcuffs placed on the franchise, thanks to films two, three and four. It’s a fresh start. A reboot, a … oh well, let’s just say it, a remake. Yeah, it is. So what?
The "so what" is that you have to ask yourself if there are any sacred cows left out in the sci fi pasture. Part of the beauty of Alien is that so much was left unexplained. Like Jaws (of which Alien has so oft been compared), you had to fill in the blanks for much of the movie. But what’s more, Alien was just weird from the get-go and didn’t really clear things up. Which is greatness. There was the derelict ship with Dumbo’s weird uncle fossilized in the pilot seat. Where did he come from? We might never know. And that is great. Where did the aliens come from? Who knows? Somewhere alien and weird. Great. Don’t shade it all in for me. Let me always wonder about that.
But Hollywood can’t let it go. And we can’t let it go. I tell you, when I heard that Ridley Scott was doing the prequel, I was gleeful. Gleeful, like a mad little kid. Still am. But now on reflection, I’m sad, too. Sad because I’d always hoped that some of the beauty would go unexplained and we’d always hang on to some of the mystery. Undoubtedly, the prequel will give us insight on where the aliens come from, why they are how they are, maybe even tell us more about Dumbo’s weird uncle. All that. And I can understand why Ridley Scott would want to restore the legacy of what was perhaps his greatest film by rescuing a franchise that has fallen into science fiction’s version of pro wrestling, a la the Alien versus Predator nonsense.
I wish I could tell you that I will stand strong. I won’t pay to go see the Alien Prequel. I will safeguard the mystery of the unexplained, of the pristine beauty of the long unknowable. But I know better. Once it’s out there, I will want to see it, too. Saying "don’t look at that thing" only makes you want to look at it the more. I just hope it’s good. Damn you, Hollywood. You know me too well.