Neill Blomkamp’s Alien 5: the story of his unmade Ripley revival

A model of the Alien from Alien not Alien Romulus
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In the 2010s, the web was ablaze with news that Neill Blomkamp was to make Alien 5 – a direct sequel to Aliens. We look at why it never happened…

During interviews for District 9 back in 2009, Neill Blomkamp told Variety that his greatest inspiration was Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron’s Aliens. “I was literally obsessed as a kid,” he said. “But all of those sci-fi films, the whole spectrum that fits into that group. I just love science fiction and I love creature films.”

Just a few months before the release of his 2015 film, Chappie, Blomkamp posted on his Instagram and Twitter accounts some incredible concept art for a project referred to as ‘Alien Xeno’. It showed Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, the return of Michael Biehn’s Corporal Dwayne Hicks, the iconic alien Xenomorph, numerous locations, the Weyland Corporation, and so on. Beautifully rendered, it led fans to a simple question  – was Blomkamp working on a new Alien movie?

At the time, this was refuted. Blomkamp claimed he was developing the artwork purely for his own enjoyment, as a fan. His caption nonetheless teased: “Was working on this, don’t think I am anymore. Love it, though.”

Many times he’d discussed how influential Cameron’s work and Aliens in particular had been on his own projects. Aliens is filled with the combination of biology and technology that Blomkamp loves. Just picture Ripley in the Loader at the climax, screaming “Get away from her, you bitch!” and you have the Rosetta Stone for a great deal of Blomkamp’s work.

Casting Weaver in Chappie, therefore, would have been something of a hero worship moment for Blomkamp. It was there a friendship bloomed, as the director waxed lyrical on how much he loved her in the Alien movies, and how he long had an idea for a new one. Weaver hadn’t played Ripley since 1997’s poorly-received Alien: Resurrection, though after the relative critical doldrums of 2004’s Alien Vs Predator (I’ll die on a hill defending that one, mind) and 2007’s Alien V Predator: Requiem, Ridley Scott had returned with an origin story for the universe in 2012’s divisive but ambitious Prometheus.

In short, space existed for an Alien picture that revived Ellen Ripley. Blomkamp’s idea was to follow Bryan Singer’s template for Superman Returns and pretend the two inferior sequels never existed, picking up Ripley’s story after the end of 1986’s Aliens. Though 30 years removed, the zeitgeist was keyed into the concept of the ‘legacyquel’, reviving not just iconic characters but the aged actors who played them. The revival of Star Trek and Star Wars began a trend followed by everything from Terminator to Bill & Ted. Audiences would have almost certainly been tantalised at the prospect of Weaver back as Ripley.

Blomkamp explained more to Coming Soon:

Fox didn’t know that I was developing it, so in that sense, it was completely unsanctioned and just basically for fun. To me, it wasn’t for fun. To me, that was what I wanted to do next, and I spent a lot of time doing it, and there was a lot of effort that went into. Like when I could take breaks between Chappie’s post-production winding down as VFX got under control … (Sigourney) knows about it and part of it was just inspired by speaking to her on set when we were filming Chappie, and getting her thoughts on Alien and what she thought of the movies that came after Aliens and what she felt about Ripley and what was incomplete for her about Ripley. There was so much fuel in what she was telling me.

Weaver, when asked about returning to the role, stated:

He kept sending me these brilliant designs and ideas and everything … It’s not that so much is that we just left it at such a creepy place, sort of stranded above Earth. I was quite happy to move onto other things and I didn’t want to go to Earth. I didn’t want to manufacture a sequel and I felt like we were starting to do that. 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.

Weaver’s enthusiasm kicked Blomkamp into gear, fuelling the concept art and seeing him beaver away on a script, supposedly known as Alien: Awakening. Audience enthusiasm equalled them both, as expected, and 20th Century Fox recognised it. With Scott aboard as a producer, preproduction began in 2015. Weaver stated at San Diego Comic Con that she had received a script four months later “that was so amazing. It gives fans everything they’re looking for.”

More concept art came in 2016, revealing Blomkamp’s intention to revive Newt from Aliens, presumably again played by the otherwise retired from acting Carrie Henn. This would be alongside Biehn as Hicks and Lance Henriksen as another form of the android Bishop  –  though he too had featured in Alien Vs Predator as the human inspiration for the android, Charles Bishop Weyland, lending the comic-book mash-up adaptation a form of canonical legitimacy. The plan nonetheless seemed to get all of the band back together for Alien: Awakening, the intended true follow-up to Alien & Aliens.

What we know about Alien: Awakening (or as artist Geoffrey Thoorens, who developed the concept art for Blomkamp called it, ‘Alien: Red Harvest’) is scant. The artwork came from before the point they had a completed script. It includes shots of a new alien Queen, a room filled with wired-up Xenomorph eggs, and a visual of Ripley emerging from a biomechanical Xenomorph disguise to battle said Queen. It is very likely Blomkamp, given his pre-existing obsession with the combination of biology and technology, would have realised this in ultimate fashion for Ripley. The whole project looked set to happen.

Chappie was released in March, a month after ‘Alien 5’ (as it was referred to) was announced. Come October, the project had been cancelled, with Fox declaring instead how it intended to move ahead with a Scott-directed sequel to Prometheus, which became 2017’s Alien: Covenant, set over a century before Ripley’s time and the events of Alien. Blomkamp’s Alien 5 died a swift and quite public death, with Scott positing the reason as concerning his own intentions to develop a second sequel to Prometheus, after Covenant, with the same name, as he explained to the Independent:

They wanted to do Alien, er, Awakening  – Neill Blomkamp … I said fine. I was going to be the producer. If I could have, I would have. Except I do question  –  why have both [Blomkamp’s Alien and Scott’s Alien] out there? It seems like shooting your big toe off  –  it doesn’t make sense. But they didn’t go forward with it, Fox, so I just kind of kept out of it. I mean, I’d literally ignited this thing to bring it off the ground again, because it was lying there dormant on a shelf. I had this thing to bring it back up  – but here we are.

Blomkamp has his own theories as to why his ‘Alien 5’ didn’t happen, as he told the Guardian:

It’s possible that Ridley watched Chappie and he was like, this guy can’t do Alien so let’s just go ahead and move on.

This remains, of course, pure speculation. In reality, Fox probably just decided Scott was the safer bet, as the ‘godfather’ of the Alien franchise, and wanted to avoid the complications of an Aliens sequel and an Alien prequel arriving on the landscape at the same time. Given how zealously corporations now guard ‘intellectual property’  – a term Blomkamp is on record as loathing  – they will be first and foremost considering the brand rather than specific audience wants and desires. Perhaps Fox simply didn’t believe Weaver, Ripley and the Aliens legacy cast were enough of a box office draw.

Blomkamp continues:

I also felt bad for Sigourney because she was really into what I had brought forward. I felt [for] audiences who loved Aliens, there was an opportunity to do one more film with Sigourney in a way that may have satiated what people were looking for and what I think I was looking for. What doesn’t make sense is that I feel like it’s what the audience wanted so it’s strange because Fox would never really turn down money.

Scott ended up making his Alien film, and may well in time make another, but until then Evil Dead director Fede Alvarez has filmed a new, Scott-produced film in the series, with a new and youthful cast, that presumably takes the franchise in a different direction. On the small screen, Noah Hawley is working on a prestige Alien television series. The chances of ‘Alien 5’ seem firmly now in the rear view mirror, especially given Blomkamp considers certain bridges burned:

I’m not gonna work on a film for two years and have the rug pulled out from underneath me and then go hang out and have beers. It’s exactly why I don’t want to do IP based on other people’s stuff ever again. I’m sure they will make many films with that piece of IP, it just doesn’t include me.

Blomkamp dabbled with a piece of intellectual property, albeit one from a different medium in Gran Turismo, but first he spent the remainder of the 2010s before the Covid-19 pandemic licking his wounds. The result makes for some intriguing, rather different Blomkamp projects…

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