‘Alien 5’ Has Problems, and Those Problems Are Video Games

There's a new Alien movie coming soon, which should be cause for celebration—if only <i>Colonial Marines</i> had never been made.

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Feb 25 2015, 8:00pm

The confirmation that there'll be a new, fifth Alien movie "proper" is well timed. The sequel to Ridley Scott's lore-relevant Prometheus is no closer to coming into focus, so a shift in the cinematic dialogue is helpful, and last year's excellent Alien: Isolation video game returned the franchise to its terrifying roots. That Creative Assembly's survival horror title received six nominations for this year's BAFTA Game Awards came as no surprise, as it really is an evocative continuation of the original movie's claustrophobic chills.

And with Neill Blomkamp at the helm, there's every chance that the fifth Alien film will avoid being a putrid sack of festering shit, in the vein of the abject Predator crossover flicks that Xenomorph fans have had to suffer through. The South African director has made his love for the series plain as day, releasing concept art online long before speculation regarding his involvement gave way to certified fact. He knows his way around grimy, industrial sci-fi, as evidenced by District 9. After David Fincher's acutely compromised third installment and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's attractive but empty fourth, his could be the movie that has us all loving the alien once more.

But Blomkamp has a problem that those directors didn't face. That Scott's not going to be bothered by as he furthers the story leading up to the fateful meeting between crabby mouth-fucking thing and John Hurt's eminently huggable face. Since 1997's Alien: Resurrection, the acid-for-blood beasts have been dragged from inappropriate comic-book pillar to ill-advised silver-screen post, facing off against not only the toothy Yautja seen first seen in 1987's Predator but also Lawgiver-toting keepers of the peace and a litany of superheroes. Judge Dredd, Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, and Witchblade have all got up close and personal with LV-426's greatest accidental export.

The comics aren't the problem here. Nor are the "versus" movies, the second of which, 2007's Requiem, was so awful that it looked to have left the series at an unrecoverable low. Thankfully for all involved in that abomination of a box-office smash (almost $130 million made from a $40 million budget proves that idiots enjoy a night out at the cinema, too), there was worse to come.

A video game called Aliens: Colonial Marines was on the drawing board as far back as 2001, its story to be set between the explosive ending of James Cameron's Aliens—Hadley's Hope go boom—and the beginning of Alien 3. Years passed with no developments before, in 2006, Gearbox Software confirmed they were working, beside new publisher Sega (which had just bought the series adaptation rights), on a new Aliens-affiliated game. Completely coincidentally, it bore the title Aliens: Colonial Marines. A few more years trickled by before a teaser trailer was released in June 2011, and the following spring saw Gearbox announce that their game was to be considered canon by 20th Century Fox, an approved sequel to Cameron's all-action classic.

And that is the problem, going into Alien 5.

Videogamer asks: what the hell happened to 'Colonial Marines'?

Playing through Colonial Marines made Requiem's bawling lawmen and blubbing college kids, irritable stereotypes equally ripe for a deadly impalement, seem comparatively bearable. The game, which finally came out in early 2013, utterly stunk. I can't be bothered, here, to get into all the reasons why I fucking hate Colonial Marines, but believe me: from the perspective of someone who attended a teenage house party (as a teenager) because the girl throwing it owned the director's cut of the second movie, which I could watch while most attendees did that whole tongue-down-throats dance, it's an absolute disaster. Unmitigated cack.

It wasn't just how the game played, though. Colonial Marines' story shat across what fans of the franchise had come to understand. Foremost, we all believed that Corporal Dwayne Hicks was deader than the dodo's incredibly dead prehistoric ancestors. The single Marine Corps survivor of Hadley's Hope is killed in the EEV crash that opens Alien 3, his body cremated as, across the smelting facility of Fiorina 161, the "dragon" is birthed from (depending what cut you watch) either a dog or an oxen. Colonial Marines found a way to bring Hicks back into the mix, "retconning" the canonical story that stretches across all Alien series movies so that a marine called Turk is mistaken for Hicks by Fiorina's occupants—he's so badly mangled in the wreck (check out this delightful prop) that they've no reason to believe he's not who his cryotube says he is.

Remember: canon. When Blomkamp comes to Alien 5, he'll do so knowing that he could incorporate Hicks—played in Aliens by Michael Biehn, now 58 and unlikely to be so peachy with a pulse rifle as he was back in 86—into his story. He's dropped a hint that he might do just that, posting a piece of concept art on his Instagram portraying an acid-burned Hicks beside Sigourney Weaver's Ripley wearing some highly fashionable explosives around her waist, a scene reminiscent of Vasquez and Gorman's final stand in Aliens.

But from one fan to another, Neill, I'm begging you here: find it in your heart to kill Hicks again. I've nothing against his actor—who is an absolute ball as Rex "Power" Colt in the 80s action movie-spoofing video game Far Cry: Blood Dragon, and has been cool in some filmsbut c'mon, now: Don't let Gearbox's gratuitous abuse of their privileges adversely affect this opportunity for a fresh start. Alien can be great, again. We can, and should, fear the "star beast" like we didn't Resurrection's goofy "newborn." Bringing older, craggier crew members back into the fold will compromise the commitment to what should be a new cast, eyes wide, and terrified in the face of an evergreen movie monster.

IGN explains the 'Alien' saga in five minutes, ahead of 'Colonial Marines'

Colonial Marines also showed us that, despite the "30-kilometer radius, 40 megaton" blast promised by the synthetic Bishop in Aliens, and seen at the end of that movie being Pretty Fucking Big, the settlement of Hadley's Hope actually came through its atmosphere processing plant's meltdown relatively well. Which presents Blomkamp with the option of taking the Alien story back to where it really began, pre-Prometheus anyway. But the human outpost on Acheron isn't quite as dead as it might be.

Colonial Marines had a twist for the aliens remaining amongst the abandoned buildings—without a queen to organize them, these soldiers retreated into basements, into sewers, where they grew old and mutated. Named "boilers," this posse of decaying creatures pose a special threat to any humans who might return to LV-426 for the fifth Alien—they are suicide bombers, exploding when in close proximity to an enemy, showering them in acid. The boiler isn't the sole alien "morph" featured in Colonial Marines, as there's also the "crusher," a large-crested quadrupedal variant that charges, bull-like, at its targets. The game doesn't go out of its way to explain why this alien is like it is—it's just something else to point a gun at (when you're not dodging its attacks).

The best policy for Blomkamp to take would be to erase Colonial Marines from the melting pot of screenplay starting points. It didn't put a single foot right. But Isolation, which is also canon and features Ripley's daughter, Amanda, searching for her mother 15 years after her post-Alien disappearance, didn't see its story through without a bump. For one thing it's just too damn long, with so much repetition, and the raw tension of being stalked by a single, incredible, invincible evil dissipated rather quickly once it became apparent that, wouldn't you know it, that double-mawed menace wasn't operating alone. Which is not to say that game's not great, as it is. It's simply not, as Ash's severed head once said, the "perfect organism."

Outside Xbox offers five things it loved about 'Alien Isolation'

Still, Amanda made it through in one piece, just about, so could Alien 5 continue its progeny-pursuing-parent plotline? And if Amanda catches up to her long lost mother—Weaver wants to do another Alien movie —what then? The game ended on a cliff-hanger, which could feed directly into the first moments of the fifth movie—unless Creative Assembly already has an Isolation sequel in secretive production (it's certainly discussed often enough).

But this doesn't feel right. Isolation isn't a movie; it's a game, made with the language of the medium and playing to those strengths. Its story is effective in driving "you" forward, but comprises a questionable foundation for a follow-up film. It paints in bold, primary colors: love and loss, suspicion and suspense. Compare that to the 1979 Alien, which is a thematic painter's palette left out in the drizzle, its hues running and mixing, shades you never saw first time forming. It's where lo-fi sci-fi, replicated expertly in Isolation, met progressive feminist thought in a fantastical telling of man's attempts to tame an off-world nature that's not ours to control. Likewise, trying to make sense of the Alien series's numerous narrative tendrils right now is akin to tying several shoelaces with a single hand while juggling a few chainsaws in the other. You're going to make a big mess before you get anything right.

If you miss a chapter of a DVD, you skip the film back those few minutes. If you start your game with the wrong set-up, you reset. This is what Blomkamp needs to do, in light of the Alien series's video game headaches: strip it back to the basics, rewind the clock to a time when Hicks was Hicks as we knew him, dead, and start anew. To be honest, he should probably forget about Resurrection, too, if only to rule out any Xenos-on-Earth nonsense. I'm tremendously excited by it all. I love Alien. Blomkamp loves Alien. District 9 was awesome. Elysium wasn't a write-off, despite Jodie Foster weirding it up. The ingredients are all in place. What could possibly go wrong?

Follow Mike Diver on Twitter.

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