Earlier today, Vulture published an interview with filmmaker James Cameron (The Terminator, Aliens, Titanic). While Cameron was mostly there to promote his new National Geographic documentary Atlantis Rising, the interview managed to squeeze a few words out of him about the Alien franchise. And while Cameron was polite (he’s Canadian), he didn’t exactly sing its praises. Here’s the quote:
“The franchise has kind of wandered all over the map. Ridley [Scott] did the first film, and he inspired an entire generation of filmmakers and science-fiction fans with that one movie and there have been so many films that stylistically have derived from it, including my own Aliens, which was the legitimate sequel and, I think, the proper heir to his film. I sort of did it as a fanboy. I wanted to honor his film, but also say what I needed to say. After that, I don’t take any responsibility.”
“I don’t think it’s worked out terribly well. I think we’ve moved on beyond it. It’s like, okay, we’ve got it, we’ve got the whole Freudian biomechanoid meme. I’ve seen it in 100 horror films since. I think both of those films stand at a certain point in time, as a reference point. But is there any validity to doing another one now? I don’t know. Maybe. Let’s see, jury’s out. Let’s see what Ridley comes up with. Let me just add to that — and don’t cut this part off, please — I will stand in line for any Ridley Scott movie, even a not-so-great one, because he is such an artist, he’s such a filmmaker. I always learn from him. And what he does with going back to his own franchise would be fascinating.”
His words sting the ears of an Alien franchise devotee and apologist like me. But I think the argument he’s trying to make here isn’t about the “we” moving beyond Alien‘s weird eroticism or biomechanical monsters. If “we” were all tired of that, Prometheus probably wouldn’t have made over $400 million worldwide. No, I think what he’s saying is that he has no interest in those aspects of the franchise. Frankly, I’m not sure he ever did. His 1986 sequel mostly abandoned the stranger aspects of Ridley Scott’s Alien.
Cameron’s Aliens is a much broader film than any of the others in the Alien series. It’s a straighter shot, a crowd-pleaser that delivers some of the most rousing moments in genre cinema history. It’s a masterpiece, but it lacks the trademark weirdness that pervades the series’ other entries. That’s not necessarily a negative — just an observation. But that icky erotic vibe is largely part of Swiss artist H.R. Giger’s influence. It was one of the magical elements that made Alien so widely imitated. It’s also why none of the cheap imitations could ever measure up to the original.
Now, if the upcoming Alien: Covenant underperforms this May, maybe Cameron is right. Maybe his crystal ball is in better working order than mine. But I’ll be surprised if Alien: Covenant doesn’t bring fans to the box office in droves. And from the sound of it, James Cameron might show up, too. He just might not enjoy it.