Friday, June 2, 2017

Make it a Game

To paraphrase something movie reviewer Bob Chipman said:
There have been eight Alien films at this point and only the first two were good -just stop making them already.
It a comment I can relate to except I don't think it needs to be the end of the franchise.  I'm not talking about reboots here, rather I think any future Alien-themed properties should be in the form of video games.

Aside from novelizations of "Alien" and "Aliens" the books have been mediocre at best (with the possible exception of Aliens: Labyrinth).  The same is true of the comics although there are a few clever ideas scattered throughout them.  Video games have a pretty dismal track record as well, but the most recent adaptation of the IP, Alien: Isolation, has shown potential.  Don't get me wrong, the game is far from perfect.  For one thing it goes on for way too long, and for another there's a lot of pointless side characters whose presence seems to contradict the the title of the game.  Even so, I think a less action focused Alien game is the way to go.  Sure, everyone wants to recreate that classic battle between the xenomorphs and colonial marines, but it's been done to death now.  I'm not just talking about licensed games either, franchises like StarcraftResident Evil, Halo and DOOM have mined "Aliens" for every last piece of usable material.  The later movies have little of value to offer, and the original motion picture has been sucked dry too.  So where does that leave the IP?  As far as I can tell there's really only one place left untapped, and that's the prequels.

Putting it nicely, Prometheus and Alien: Covenant are not good films.  The visuals are well shot courtesy of long-time directory Ridley Scott, but other than that the mystery is poorly revealed, the horror bits are cliche, and the plot is a total mess.  For whatever reason the writers chose to ignore most of what the previous movies had established, resulting in contradictions all over the place in terms of the Alien lifecycle and overarching timeline.  I could go on a rant about all the inconsistencies, but I'd prefer to keep things positive here (and more importantly - constructive).

Figuring out the origins of the Alien isn't as interesting as it might seem.  On the other hand learning more about the enigmatic Space Jockey race is worth exploring in more detail.  Unfortunately, in the 2 hours and X minutes running time allotted to films these days, it's practically impossible to do the subject justice.  So instead we're given an abbreviated version with disjointed events and scatter-brained ideas, as well as character actions and motivations that don't make much sense.  The hands of the writers are also clearly visible at times since they want to go from point A to point C without taking the time to come up with a satisfactory point B.  These are all problems that could be solved if both these films had been video games instead; more time for the story to unfold, ideas to be fleshed out, and characters to behave in believable ways.  The player could actually get to explore the ruins of the engineers' civilization, uncover the secrets of their technology.  They could fully read the poems of Shelley, Milton and Byron, gain a deeper understanding of David's fascination with T.H. Laurance, not to mention have branching dialogues with various characters.  Best of all, the story need not be confined to a single path.  Think The Dig meets Until Dawn and you're well on your way to a proper video game adaptation of Prometheus.  Incidentally, it would be pretty awesome (not to mention subversive) to have an alien story in which everyone survives through sheer competence and teamwork.  It might not bet especially true to the franchise, but the simple fact of the matter is xenomorphs are basically oversized bugs with the brains of chimpanzees.  Deadly, to be sure, under a certain set of circumstances.  However, once they become a known quantity they're not an unsolvable problem.  Compare them to to Space Jockey race and suddenly humanity appears to be in far greater peril.  Unlike the xenomorphs, this species of (once pachyderm-like) interstellar travelers has technology far in advance of even what exo-world colonizing humans posses.  What's their culture like?  Their psychology?  Do they have outposts scattered across the galaxy?  How long have they been roaming the stars?  Based on what is shown by the holographic map in Prometheus the implied answers are "many" and "for a long time."  That begs the question though, are there any other planets with engineered life?  If so they must be close to human...maybe that's what the line from Aliens was on about regarding Arcturians...

The Alien franchise has followed a very bizarre course over the years.  It's started off as a very simple, but well thought out (and executed) melding of sci-fi and horror.  As more and more films have been released for the IP though the premise has become increasingly muddled until it degenerated into the brain-dead wrestling match that is the AvP movies.  Then it flip-flopped hard and turned into a bunch of pretentious nonsense.  A video game adaptation could potentially give this franchise some much needed grounding, structure and balance.  Of course, it would still need a competent storyteller which might be too much to ask of the video game industry.  Hmmm...I wonder if John Gonzalez is available?       

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