Neil Blomkamp's plans for an "Alien" sequel recently surfaced, and drummed up enough attention to get him placed at the forefront of a bona fide new "Alien" project. This set off the usual round of debates over what that meant for the franchise, particularly in light of Ridley Scott's existing plans for his "Prometheus" sequel. There was also some smaller discussion of what it meant for Blomkamp, whose latest original science-fiction film "Chappie" has been floundering at the domestic box office. It used to be that a promising director taking on a big, franchise film was seen at best as a stepping stone to something better, or an unfortunate detour at worst. Unless they originated the franchise, it was inevitable that the directors of James Bond films and "Superman" films and even "Star Wars" films would be lower-profile talents, who would often end up being best known for those lesser sequels.
This changed as franchise films became blockbusters, of course, and we started seeing longer film series lke "Harry Potter" and reboots of older series like "Star Trek" and "Planet of the Apes." Since Jim Cameron made "Aliens" back in 1986 it was recognized that a director could turn out a good, memorable sequel with their own personal stamp on it, but it wasn't until you had well established names like Alphonso Cuaron making "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" and Ang Lee doing a "Hulk" movie without any discernible negative impact on their careers, that the stigma of sequel work really dissipated. While franchise films and reboots are still often handed to newcomers like Colin Trevorrow ("Jurassic Park") or dependable workhorse directors like Martin Campbell ("Casino Royale," "Green Lantern"), these days we've also got Sam Mendes directing the latest Bond films and Kenneth Branagh getting his best notices in years for "Cinderella." And it feels like a mutually beneficial development when Rian Johnson gets to make one of the highly anticipated new "Star Wars" films, or Paul Feig agree to help revive the "Ghostbusters" series.
While "Alien" fans might not have Neil Blomkamp as their first choice to be helming a new "Alien" movie, and Blomkamp fans might be wary of the director choosing a franchise project over something original, as someone with some experience on both sides it looks like a pretty good match of talent and material to me. More importantly, the timing is right. Though "Prometheus" has its defenders, and everyone appears to be committed to making "Prometheus 2," it didn't galvanize much passion from general audiences, leaving the "Alien" movies in a bit of a slump. Also, "Chappie" is Blomkamp's second disappointment after the massive critical and financial success "District 9." He's certainly capable of putting a good looking science fiction movie together, but he might do better working off of other people's scripts and concepts for a while. So Neil Blomkamp making "Alien 5" (or is it "Alien 7"?) could help both the franchise and the director.
There have been many cases where similar pairings haven't worked out, of course. Guillermo Del Toro wasted far too much time on "The Hobbit" and Edgar Wright deciding to part with "Ant-Man" is downright tragic. The "Alien" franchise has been a notoriously difficult one, resulting in the worst films on the resumes of David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Then again, neither of those directors had much experience with science-fiction and have mostly stayed out of the genre since. Neil Blomkamp cut his teeth on the best alien-themed film in a decade. What gives me more cause for concern is his ability to maintain the darker horror/thriller tone, and possibly insisting on bringing along Sharlto Copley. Well, maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing. Copley would make a good successor to Paul Reiser as a slimeball Weyland-Yutani suit.
Best case scenario is that Blomkamp's "Alien" movie goes well, and he gains the experience and the clout to move on and make more original projects like Paul Greengrass after the "Bourne" sequels or Christopher Nolan after rehabilitating Batman. Crossing paths with a major franchise can be a good career choice, and it's become impossible to discuss the work of some major directors without also discussing their contributions to the blockbuster culture. A sad sign of the times? Maybe sometimes, but not always.