“Was working on this. Don’t think I am anymore. Love it though.”
One pithy line on an Instagram post seemed to mark the death of Alien 5 on New Year’s Day 2015. A death knell marked by a collection of beautiful concept art, memorialising a film that never was. With the release of Alien: Covenant this week, it’s time to review what could have happened down another path.
Director Neill Blomkamp, (sadly) our most regular contributor to our Best Films Never Made series, was just about to head onto the press tour for Chappie. Then, entirely out of the blue – in a wholly unannounced move – he delivered several pieces of concept art for a project entitled Alien Xeno. These images from a project no one was expecting, not even Fox, electrified the internet. Blomkamp boldly proclaimed they would lead to “a mental stroll into the world Ridley Scott created”. More importantly than that, they heralded the return of Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley.
Older, and more haunted in appearance, one of the most iconic characters in sci-fi history was back in the picture. Intriguingly, Ripley was wearing a helmet akin to those previously worn by the Engineers – and Blomkamp’s imagery clearly looked to blend the worlds of Alien and Prometheus. The hype did not end there as we experienced a gigantic Xenomorph Queen, as well as the apparent reemergence of scarred Cpl. Dwayne Hicks – played by Michael Biehn in Aliens. Following the disappointment of Prometheus, the appeal of a direct sequel to Aliens (retconning the rushed Alien 3) was tremendous.
Wonderfully, Blomkamp had seemingly conjured all this work up in his spare time, tweeting “They [Fox] didn’t really even know I was working on it ha”. This fan tribute ended up as a genuine bid to direct a sequel, and somehow it worked, with Fox and Sigourney Weaver both meeting the South African director within a month of the posts going live.
It usually helps your chances of attracting a talented actress back into a role when you spend every day with her. And luckily for Blomkamp, with Weaver starring in Chappie he suddenly found himself on a world press tour with Ellen Ripley. Weaver didn’t just sign on though, she actually fanned the flames, saying “If something happens from this, it would be very organic and very original, and because of that, it would make me want to do it. If it was someone as talented as Neill, I’d certainly listen.”
20th Century Fox did not mess around. Four days after these comments, the project was announced in Variety. Here’s the important detail: it was to be entirely separate from Ridley Scott’s previously announced Prometheus 2 (a man who is no stranger to our Best Films Never Made series). And, just like that, Blomkamp confirmed that this was officially his next film. From pitch to signed contract in two months, Blomkamp was having a good start to 2015. The only issue murmuring in the background was the prospect of Alien vs. Alien – could Fox allow for two movies at the same time?
Either way, Blomkamp was ready to begin. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, he explained the process: “A year later, when post-production was winding down on Chappie, I started fleshing out the idea for a film that would contain Sigourney. Fox never knew. I just worked on it when I could. Before I knew it, I had this really awesome film with a lot of artwork and a lot of backstory.” However, to quote MC Hammer – sort of – Blomkamp remained measured, warning eager fans, “it’s early yet. It’s Chappie time.”
We march towards March 2015, and Weaver begins to toot the horn of the prospective sequel: “I can’t think of a better director… It will certainly stand up to the others and probably break a lot of new ground as well.” Michael Biehn had stated his interest in returning to the franchise, and there was even talk of breaking the film into two in an interview with Empire. This is a true case of hype accelerating past reality.
At this early stage, no contracts had been signed, no script had been written, and the film remained very much “in development”. The only noticeable tweak was that Alien 5 had its title changed through Scott’s influence: “I changed the one thing [Scott] felt was bumping Prometheus a little bit. One thing that makes me feel good about it is that Ridley is producing it. He likes the idea of what I want to make.” After realising his errors with Elysium – too much detail, not enough plot – Blomkamp appeared truly focused and ready.
At this point, everything goes dark for four months until July 2015 – when Blomkamp pops up again on Instagram with new artwork. Weaver, Biehn, and a series of troops look tense and nervous. The caption read: “#alien going very well. Love this project”. Urge to hype rising. In October 2015, we got our first glimpse of the new pulse rifles – with added RIS no less! Urge to hype rising. Even better, Blomkamp had confirmed the return of Biehn as Corporal Hicks (somehow), and the presence of an adult Newt! Hype overload!
alien is kinda holding/ pending prometheus 2. So I shall be working on other things… as much as I love the xeno- and Lt ripley
— NΞill Blomkamp (@NeillBlomkamp) October 30, 2015
But slam those brakes on; you know this only ends sadly. At the end of October 2015, Blomkamp confirmed on Twitter that Prometheus 2 would take priority, and he would begin “working on other things”. According to a source at the time, Fox remained keen on the project – but an indefinite pause is never a good thing.
Fast-forward to April 2016, and the pulse is minimal on Alien 5. Word comes from Weaver that things are positive, if presently stagnant. Aggressive Comix reported her response where she explained: “Ridley asked Neill NOT to make our Alien til after Prometheus 2... But it’s an AMAZING script, and Neill and I are REALLY excited about doing it. We’re doing other things until we can get going on that. I’d be really surprised if we DIDN’T do it.” A few days later, Blomkamp shared the first concept image of a badass adult Newt.
Silence consumes the project once again. Weaver seems to be the single champion of the film, adding in July 2016, with some angst to Entertainment Weekly, “Well, we have a great script. Fox asked us to delay so Ridley Scott could shoot his [second] Prometheus movie. That was too bad because we would have already done it by now.” She received dutiful support from Aliens director James Cameron who described the script as “gangbusters”, calling it “a very strong script” that he “could go make […] tomorrow.”
After nearly a year of silence, and with the promotion beginning hard and fast for Alien: Covenant, Blomkamp broke his silence on Alien 5. With almost no official word from Fox or the project for over 18 months, it’s fair to say Blomkamp nailed it with his reply to a fan’s question on Twitter.
— NΞill Blomkamp (@NeillBlomkamp) January 21, 2017
Despite the life support from Biehn and Weaver to keep the film in conversation, it appeared at this point that Alien 5 was dead. Who better to put the final nail into that coffin than Ridley Scott. In an interview with French website Allocine just a fortnight ago, he seemingly killed the film once and for all: “I think it will never see the light. There was never a scenario, just an idea that evolved into a pitch of 10 pages. I had to participate as a producer but it did not go any further because Fox decided that they did not want to do it. I had already done Prometheus and worked on Covenant.”
So now what? The majority of Blomkamp’s Instagram posts have been deleted, and little remains except distant hopes and dreams. Blomkamp’s project joins the undesired ranks of brilliant unmade Alien films – especially Vincent Ward’s “Wooden Planet” Alien 3. Blomkamp, forever the professional, went above it all in his last tweet to commemorate #AlienDay, adding his excitement for Alien: Covenant. Who knows what the end result could’ve been, but nearly 30 months after those images were released – we’re still talking about the potential of the project.
— NΞill Blomkamp (@NeillBlomkamp) April 26, 2017