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Franchise Killers: Alien Resurrection

In the late nineties, Twentieth Century Fox had a franchise problem.  The studio’s most successful series of the day, the Die Hard trilogy, appeared to be done.  They had tried and failed repeatedly to find a cost-effective way to reboot the Planet of the Apes movies.  The X-Men series was still a couple of years away.  Macaulay Culkin had aged out of the Home Alone movies, but Fox was so desperate that made a third movie without him anyway.  With nowhere else to turn, Fox tried to resurrect the Alien franchise.  Instead, they ended up killing the series.

Not that the Alien series was in the best shape prior to Resurrection.  The previous installment, Alien 3, suffered from too much studio interference.  Sigourney Weaver ran hot and cold on the idea of playing Ellen Ripley.  So at one point, the studio intended to carry on the series with Michael Biehn’s character as the lead.  Ripley wasn’t written out of the franchise, but she was sidelined in the original treatment for the third movie.  The idea was that she would have a cameo with the possibility of returning in a later movie.

But that didn’t happen.  Instead, Fox’s president at the time, Joe Roth, declared that Weaver was “the centerpiece of the series.”  Somewhat reluctantly, Weaver returned to the role for what she intended to be the final time.  Having been declared a vital component of one of the studio’s biggest franchises by the president himself, Weaver was in a prime bargaining position.  In addition to a big payday, Weaver had certain conditions.  For one, she didn’t want to make another gun-laden action movie like Aliens.  Also, Weaver insisted, Ripley had to be killed off.

Reluctantly, Fox agreed to let Ripley die at the end of Alien 3.  The studio was understandably nervous.  They had already spent millions of dollars developing Alien 3 and their star insisted on an unhappy ending.  They had a novice director at the helm and a bummer of an ending.  Their director, David Fincher, was a novice.  But that didn’t stop him from fighting with the studio over his vision for the movie.  When Fincher’s original cut of Alien 3 was deemed too depression, Fox demanded a bunch of reshoots to try to amp up the action.

The end result was a movie that disappointed everyone.  Whatever movie Fincher had made was ruined by studio interference and Fox was still stuck with a big budget summer movie about mortality in which its lead actress looked like a cancer patient thanks to a shaved head.  While Alien 3 wasn’t a flop, Fox wasn’t in a big hurry to continue the series.

But soon after Alien 3, Roth left Fox for a position at Disney.  Eventually, Roth’s replacement thought their might be some life left in the Alien franchise.  The original idea was to reboot the series with a new protagonist.  The previous movie had angered fans by killing off fan favorite characters Newt and Hicks off-screen.  The plan for Alien 4 was to revive Newt as a teenage clone.  Given that concept as a starting point, it’s no surprise that they turned to Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon for a script.

Whedon turned in a 30-page treatment for Alien 4 featuring Newt as a very Buffy-like heroine.  The studio was excited by Whedon’s draft, but they got cold feet about the idea of an Alien movie without Ripley.  Their notes were to make the movie more scary like the first one, more exciting like the second one and to bring back Ripley.  That was a tall order for any writer and Whedon considered walking away.  But as a fan of the series, he wanted to put his stamp on it.  Eventually, he came up with the idea that since Ripley was pregnant with an alien when she died, her clone would have some alien DNA in her and wouldn’t be quite right.

When the script was sent to Sigourney Weaver, he expected the actress to request changes to make her character more likable.  Instead, Weaver went in the other direction.  She liked the alien DNA so much she asked to push that angle further.

Meanwhile, Fox was shopping around for a director who could revive their franchise.  Not surprisingly, calls were made to Ridley Scott and James Cameron.  Also not surprisingly, both passed.  Cameron cited concerns over Fox’s plans to eventually crossover the Alien series with Predator.  Danny Boyle was involved early on, but left when he feared he would not be able to make the movie his own with Fox watching over him.  Peter Jackson and Bryan Singer were also approached.

Ultimately, the job fell to French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet.  Alien: Resurrection was Jeunet’s first Hollywood movie and his first as a solo director.  He had worked with a collaborator on his previous films.  Additionally, he had a language barrier to overcome.

According to Jeunet, he was given a great deal of creative liberty by Fox.  Where he felt studio pressure was on the budget.  Concerns about cost also impacted the script.  Whedon rewrote the end of Alien 4 five times.  Originally, the third act took place on Earth which would have set up the fifth movie in the series.  But Fox kept asking Whedon to make the ending both more exciting and cheaper.  Eventually, they did away with the entire “coming to Earth” concept.

In the case of Alien: Resurrection, they decided to spend their money in other places than going to Earth. And I just kept saying, “The reason people are here is we’re going to do the thing we’ve never done; we’re gonna go to Earth.” But there were a lot of things that we hadn’t done that we ended up not doing because of a singular lack of vision.

As a writer-for-hire, Whedon sat on the sidelines while Jeunet interpreted his script.  Whedon has been vocal about his disappointment in the finished product.  According to Whedon, Jeunet and company stuck to the script for the most part.  They just didn’t execute it properly.

It wasn’t a question of doing everything differently, although they changed the ending; it was mostly a matter of doing everything wrong. They said the lines…mostly…but they said them all wrong. And they cast it wrong. And they designed it wrong. And they scored it wrong. They did everything wrong that they could possibly do.

For example, Whedon claimed that the way the movie was cast robbed the story of certain twists which were intended to be surprising:

I wrote two characters for Alien: Resurrection and their arc was that you would not know what way they were going to go. One of them turned out to be insane – and what do they do? They call Brad Dourif. So there is no plot twist. Brad is a very good actor but he has been pigeonholed into these roles. Then they case J.E. Freeman as a thug – and his character was also supposed to be a mystery. So there you go again – the mystery is gone. Those are just a couple of examples because there are thousands of them when it comes to Alien: Resurrection.

Despite the return of Weaver as Ripley, audiences weren’t lured back into theaters for Alien 4.  The movie opened in second place at the box office behind Disney’s remake of Flubber.  It ended up recouping less than two-thirds of its $75 million dollar budget in the US making it the least successful movie in the Alien franchise up to that point.

After Alien 4 flopped at the box office, plans for a follow-up were put on ice.  Instead Fox pulled the ripcord on their crossover idea with Alien Vs. Predator.  For what it’s worth, Whedon is a fan of the Paul W. S. Anderson movie.  After an AVP sequel bombed, Fox eventually lured Ridely Scott back to the series.  Scott directed the Alien prequel Prometheus and a prequel-sequel, Alien: Covenant.  A third film in Scott’s prequel trilogy is planned, but its future is uncertain after Covenant came up short at the box office.

Meanwhile, Weaver has expressed interest in returning to the role of Ripley once more.  Director Neill Blomkamp was developing a direct sequel to Aliens which would have brought back Weaver and Michael Biehn.  But that project stalled out and appears to be dead.  Odds are good that Fox will find a way to continue the Alien franchise, but at this point it’s unclear what form it will take.

Let’s break this down:

How many movies in the series? 4

How many of them were good? 2

Health of the franchise before it died? In need of a resurrection

Likelihood of a reboot? There has been one, but another may be needed

Any redeeming value? Weaver’s take on the alien-hybrid version of Ripley is interesting even if most of the rest of the movie is a mess

More Franchise Killers

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Posted on November 24, 2017, in Franchise Killers, Movies and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Like I pointed out previously, to me the alien/Ripley story was pretty much done after Aliens. There was more alien story to be told. But it would’ve made sense to move on form Ripley. If they’d done one with Newt, that might’ve worked.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am inclined to agree with you for the most part. The thing is, it’s all about execution. You could have made another movie with Ripley, Hicks or Newt as the protagonist. Or a new character. Any of those things could have worked if done well. With Alien 3, the studio had the jitters. They kept switching directions. I’m not sure how commercial David Fincher’s Alien 3 would have been, but it had to be better than the studio-edited mess that was released in theaters. This is playing out right now with Justice League.

      With Alien 4, Fox wasn’t so involved. Their plan seemed to be to keep costs low enough and hope that people missed the franchise enough to come back. Weaver returning to the role was seen as a major selling point. They ended up with their umpteenth choice for director, but he would work relatively cheaply and play nice with the studio and Weaver so he got the job. I would like to see what the movie might have been like if Whedon had been given the reigns. It couldn’t have been worse, right?

      Of course I come back to this: Was there really any more story to tell? After the first movie, the story had been told really. The fact that Cameron pulled off a worthy sequel is a testament to his skills. I always talk about the Terminator as a franchise that really didn’t need any sequels. That’s true to a lesser extent of Alien as well. But Cameron was able to find what worked with the first movies and make it feel fresh in his sequels. That’s really hard to do as Ridley Scott is finding out.

      While I am sure there will be more Alien movies, I don’t think there should be. Create something new. We have been looking at the Giger designs (along with countless ripoffs) for decades now. The xenomorph has been diluted to the point where it’s no longer able to thrill or scare us. I think Covenant proved that you can’t just trot out the old Alien bag of tricks and expect audiences to care any more.

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  2. 10 Lamest Excuses For A Movie Failing

    http://whatculture.com/film/10-lamest-excuses-for-a-movie-failing?page=7

    The Casting Was All Wrong – Alien Resurrection

    The Failure: Though the fourth film in the Alien franchise is the highest grossing of the lot – unadjusted for inflation, that is – it is also easily the most expensive, and so its $161.3 million gross against a $75 million budget doesn’t really seem all that great. Compared to the earlier films, its profit-to-budget ratio is much, much smaller. The film scored 52% on Rotten Tomatoes, making it the second-worst reviewed film of the four. The Excuse: Joss Whedon wrote the film, and remarked that, “Casting is storytelling…I wrote two characters for Alien: Resurrection and their arc was that you would not know what way they were going to go. One of them turned out to be insane – and what do they do? They call Brad Dourif. So there is no plot twist. Brad is a very good actor but he has been pigeonholed into these roles. Then they case J.E. Freeman as a thug – and his character was also supposed to be a mystery. So there you go again – the mystery is gone. Those are just a couple of examples because there are thousands of them when it comes to Alien: Resurrection.” The Truth: Though Whedon has a point, he seems far too keen to shift the blame from his script to the direction and casting. One can’t ignore the rather dull nature of Whedon’s script, and how it does nothing to really move the mythology forward in an interesting way. Where is the quick-witted brilliance of his other works?

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    • 10 Movie Franchises That Were Destroyed In A Single Moment

      http://whatculture.com/film/10-movie-franchises-that-were-destroyed-in-a-single-moment?page=4

      Ripley Plays Basketball – Alien: Resurrection

      There are some who believe that David Fincher’s flawed third entry in the Alien canon derailed the franchise at large, but I’m not entirely convinced. Aside from Ripley’s unwarranted death at the end of the movie, I don’t think her dark and gloomy prison adventure does too much or too little for the series on the whole – although Alien 3 is an incredibly different picture, it’s also an incredibly safe and samey one. At its core, it’s another “Ripley trapped in an enclosed space facing off against a Xenomorph.” Shame about Hicks and Newt, though. It wasn’t until the fourth installment, subtitled Ressurrection, where I really felt like the franchise had gone too far. The fact that we had Ripley rebirthing in the first place was ludicrous, but I was far more distraught at the sight of the movie’s basketball scene – a sport which Clone Ripley uses to showcase her badass new skills. I’m not saying that basketball doesn’t fit in with the Alien universe (though it really doesn’t), but this was such an annoyingly conscious ’90s touch that it just caused me to shake my head and mutter: “That’s it. I’m done.”

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  3. How I Learned to Appreciate Prometheus After Re-Watching Alien Resurrection

    http://whatculture.com/film/how-i-learned-to-appreciate-prometheus-after-re-watching-alien-resurrection

    Why Prometheus is the best Alien movie we’ve had in decades and why we should be thankful for that.

    With Prometheus’ release in theaters almost two months ago, people have been ranting incessantly about €œplot holes€, lazy writing, as well as a general sense of disappointment. While I can€™t necessarily disagree with some of the negative criticism that director Ridley Scott€™s recent science fiction opus has received, I feel the urge, a sudden compulsion, if you will, to tell everybody to chill the hell out. I€™m not saying that it was great. It had its fair share of problems. But things have been worse for Alien fans. By worse, I mean Alien Resurrection. Take a moment to absorb that. I bet you thought that all of those memories, nay, nightmares, of that mess were all but erased. You thought the characters in Prometheus were flat, forgettable, irritating, or flat-out bizarre? You thought that it was completely unnecessary, a total waste, considering the massive amounts of talent behind and in front of the camera?

    Well just get a load of Resurrection! First, a little background: despite the critical disappointment of 1992’s Alien 3, 20th Century Fox decided to continue squeezing as much money as possible out of the Alien franchise, as its third installment was still a financial success (though, to be fair, it was just as pointless as what was to come next, but more on that later). They got Joss Whedon (now famous for creating Buffy The Vampire Slayer and directing The Avengers film adaptation) to write the screenplay, as well as Jean-Pierre Jeunet, known for his unique visual style, who was approached for directorial duties, although, beforehand, others such as Peter Jackson, Bryan Singer, and even Trainspotting director Danny Boyle, were given the chance to helm the picture. You can clearly see the potential within such a project. While it wasn€™t something that audiences were really clamoring for, the possibilities for rejuvenation within the series was not completely out of the question. Having watched Mic-Macs, another film directed by Jeunet, I can say that he certainly has a strong visual style that, although not necessarily what I would like to think of as the perfect example of developing the Alien universe, still showed great potential in the eye candy department. To me, and probably many fans at the time, our trust leaned more on Whedon€™s side of the development process. Known for his lightning-fast humor and great characters, he seemed like the ideal choice to bring the movie back up to the levels of Aliens, if not Alien itself.

    Unfortunately, somewhere down the road, somethings were lost in translation, so to speak. The film details the new exploits of Ellen Ripley, who, following her death at the end of Alien 3, finds herself being cloned in some sort of facility, where the eeeeevvviiiilllllll Weyland-Yutani Corporation (Apparently, in the extended cut, it had been bought-out by Wal-Mart. Yes. I€™m serious. Don€™t look at me like that) are hoping to extract the queen embryo that had died along with the original Ripley. How? Well, as the movie puts it: they found some samples of Ripley€™s blood on Fiorina 161. Look, it€™s been a while since I€™ve seen it, but as I recall, she€™s barely even harmed for the duration of Alien 3, save for, perhaps, the opening, in which her ship had crashed on Fiorina. If the filmmakers are suggesting that the scientists found the blood samples on the ship, why didn€™t they make it apparent in the previous film?

    Despite this being such an important piece of information (the whole reason this damn movie exists in the first place), then why are we given such vague details about it? In fact, let€™s go back to Alien 3 for a moment. If I recall correctly, it had also pulled a similar stunt in order to get the plot going: having Ripley impregnated by a facehugger. Much like with this whole blood sample fiasco, we are never given reason to believe that such a thing would be possible in the previous movie, Aliens, which seemed to end on a very conclusive note (as in, €œthis is IT€), suggesting that the entirety of the alien species, at least the ones on LV-426, had been bloody annihilated. It didn€™t exactly scream for a sequel. It€™s not like Alien, in which several questions were left unanswered, and could have easily resulted in a follow-up. If that weren€™t enough, the very idea that a facehugger had found it€™s way onto the ship is utterly confusing. For one, the queen alien€™s €œbirthing sack€ had been blown up, so any theories that it had laid an egg while it remained hidden on the craft are completely out of the question.

    Thus, we are left to believe that it secretly carried an egg with one of it€™s extra arms. But again, this is never really elaborated in either Aliens or Alien 3, merely coming off as a cheap retcon used to put reasoning behind the continuation of the series. The disaster that was Alien 3 is, and always will be, a complete and utter pointless rehash of what had been done so much better in the past. With this in mind, Alien Resurrection is just that. An absolute chore for anybody with a sense of logic. It€™s complete existence is negated with a single afterthought. Now you see how unnecessary another adventure following Ellen Ripley is, but, for the hell of it, let€™s take a look at how the movie hold€™s up on its own. As mentioned earlier, Ripley had been cloned. The facility in which the film is set, which hosts a series of €œlovable€ and endearing€ characters (such as General Perez, played by Dan Hedaya, as well as Brad Dourif as Brad Dourif), has hired mercenaries to collect several people that some scientists can use as subjects for tests, which, of course, involve the titular aliens. To start off,

    I couldn€™t care less about any of the characters featured throughout this picture (I was using sarcasm before, if you couldn€™t tell). Any sense of likability that we got out of the Ripley character is now gone, replaced by €œObnoxious Action Movie Heroine #27€. What made her the standout amongst other film protagonists was the fact that she showed emotion. You could see, in previous installments, particularly Alien, that she was probably under a lot of stress, or wracked with sadness at the loss of her friends. Due to her new personality, one that is completely devoid of humanity, as well as the Mercenaries€™ utter lack of fear in the aliens, often killing them without even so much as flinching, as though they are invincible, a great deal of tension is missing from the experience. I NEVER felt a sense of urgency because I always knew that Ripley would use her nifty new powers to save the day. She€™s like a superhero. At one point, during the film€™s climax, she manages to jump a great distance in a single bound without any effort. I realize that it€™s become a trend for female characters to be strong, to empower women, but when you€™re making an action film, a genre that€™s essentially tailored to adrenaline junkies, you have to do just that: get us pumped up.

    A character like the cloned Ripley, however bad-ass she may be, is completely uninteresting as a character, as you never feel as though she has any reason to fear for her wellbeing. Her character might€™ve been an intriguing secondary character, but putting her at the forefront of the story was, honestly, a big mistake. Every character is either a fearless mercenary, an emotionless robot/clone, or a mad scientist. Basically, there€™s not a single person you find yourself rooting for because, it would seem, nobody in the movie seems to give a shit about what€™s happening. But look: it€™s not a completely awful movie. There are some moments that actually coerce the audience into having a genuine emotional response, though that might depend on how much of an Alien fan you are. One such instance is seen when the scientists try to educate the Ripley clone, and show her a card with a little girl illustrated on it, causing her memories of Newt, a character with whom she had a strong bond. This can either be considered touching (by fans), or confusing (by the general audience, who will likely have no idea why she reacts to the image in such a way as she does). Unfortunately, moments like these are kept to a minimum, and quickly brushed aside for awkward, droll humor (she said €œf***€ instead of €œfork€. LAUGH!).

    By and large, Alien Resurrection is a total failure, both as a sequel, as well as a standalone film. For fans, it€™s a strong departure from the dark, visual mastery that previous films had managed to convey. For the common audience, it€™s a complete bore, stuffing explosions and blood down our throats as though it will compensate for the lack of any real excitement or thrills. It simply fails to please anyone. People are screaming “bloody murder” in reaction to Prometheus, and it’s inability to live up to the hype, yet we should all be appreciative of how ambitious it was, for the fact that it was actually trying! It’s not perfect, but you could tell that the creative forces behind the production were actually putting in what you could call an effort.

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