The Alien prequel began development a good couple of years ago, when it was announced that Scott would be producing the project, with commercial director Carl Erik Rinsch taking the director’s chair. There were differing reactions to this. For many, the idea of a new Alien film under the control of a young director who has shown a great visual flair in his work sounded fresh and exciting. For others, there were fears that an inexperienced feature director would not have the skills to put together a worthy movie, and there was disappointment that Scott would only be involved as a producer. The studio financing the project, 20th Century Fox, obviously agreed with the latter argument, and said they would only greenlight the project if Ridley Scott himself would direct. Scott agreed, reluctantly at first, and the project was a go.
It seems that during the development of the script, originally written by John Spaihts, but now overhauled by Scott and Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof, the project morphed into something more original, with some elements of the Alien world inherent but set in a completely different universe. Scott and Lindelof used the new ideas they developed as a jumping off point and began to create Prometheus instead. The fascinating part of all this is that Fox have given them the go ahead to drop the Alien prequel and carry on with this new concept. The Alien name on the finished movie would have afforded it a certain cache, and guaranteed a vast number of bums in seats. For Fox to choose to let go of the franchise name in favour of letting Scott go his own way is unusual for a studio, and shows a great deal of respect for Scott. The studio is taking a gamble on an original idea when they could take the cash in on the established franchise, and should be admired for this decision.The reason this is perhaps so unexpected is because it was Fox in the first place that insisted Ridley Scott direct the Alien Prequel nearly two years ago, and now because of this decision will not get the Scott directed Alien film that they demanded.
Despite how the Alien fans might feel, this news bodes well for a great movie. The new concept must be pretty strong to have convinced Fox that it is financially viable. Avatar of course showed that a big sci-fi movie did not need to be based on an existing licence to make vast sums of money, and Fox have clearly taken note of this. It is also much more likely to be a better film than one constrained by the events and canon of an existing franchise. the problem with writing a prequel is the rules that you are guided by, the necessity to take into account events from the future of the world in which you are writing. It is possible to shoehorn in all the required elements, and some wiggle room to add in elements that don’t necessarily tie up perfectly with the original installments in the series, but it is a tricky balancing act. George Lucas tried and failed to create a prequel trilogy to a beloved space franchise, and was lambasted for the elements that did not seem to fit in with the history of the story. By creating a whole new world, with a brand new set of rules, Scott has avoided this potential minefield, allowing himself complete creative freedom and avoiding a massive continuity headache. This will allow him to focus on making a great movie without the constant distraction of second guessing his own creative movements.
For Fox, there is the potential goldmine of a whole new set of merchandise tie-ins. Anything you can think of has already undergone some kind of Alien branding, with videogames, comics, toys and the like being created and sold over the course of the last 30-odd years. A new licence allows them to start afresh. Whilst tie-ins to the alien prequel would have made money, there is far more potential available to them if the new concept is successful and popular.
So where does this leave the original Alien prequel? Clearly this is the nail in the coffin for a Scott directed project, but could we still perhaps see a prequel somewhere down the road? 20th Century Fox would be unlikely to bankroll simultaneous, ambitious sci-fi movies but nonetheless it would be nice to see the idea revisited somewhere down the line. It may not be feasible if Prometheus proves to be too similar to any imaginable origin story for Aliens xenomorphs. It would be interesting to see what Carl Erik Rinsch could do if handed the reigns back, though at this point i doubt he would agree to do it if it was even offered.
I had no real interest in an Alien prequel, but an original movie based on a similar theme is very interesting. Ridley Scott does not have the greatest of resumes as of late, so my optimism for the end product is a little clouded, but he has helped create some great, iconic sci-fi movies in the past, and with a renewed enthusiasm for this latest project, here’s hoping he can recapture the magic of his earlier filmmaking career.