Henry Bevan on whether legacy sequels fail if they pander to the audience…
As if a family party wasn’t scary enough during the festive season, Fox decided to unleash the trailer for Alien: Covenant on Christmas Day. Yes, Fox decided to bring the yuletide joy by giving you nightmares. The trailer featured everything you’d want from an Alien movie — facehuggers, dark corridors and gory shower sex. Ridley Scott has given fans everything they wanted, and the evidence provided in the trailer suggests he took the negative fan reaction to Prometheus to heart.
It appears Prometheus‘ philosophical musings have been sucked into space, and Covenant‘s relationship with its predecessor alludes to the murky relationship between fans and their favourite franchises. It makes you wonder if fans are holding franchises back.
Franchises grow and evolve in positive and negative ways. The James Bond franchise is notorious for one film being the reaction to the one that came before it. Casino Royale is the response to the cheesiness of Die Another Day. The fun of Skyfall is the response to the too gritty Quantum of Solace. There is reason Bond is still kicking 54 years after Dr. No.
For franchises to survive each instalment has to go in a new direction. Sometimes, fans won’t like where they’re going. The most famous example is Star Wars. Fans rejected the prequels because they spent too much time dealing with politics. The prequels are flawed films, but the argument that trade disputes made them bad is unfair. George Lucas was trying to do something new with his franchise. As a result of prequel hate, The Force Awakens gave fans everything they wanted: a desert locale, “practical” effects and another trench run. J.J. Abrams sought to recapture the magic of the film he loved as a kid and ended up remaking it. His film is great entertainment, but it is not the movie Lucas would have made or have wanted to make. By making one for the fans, filmmakers risk stymieing the growth of their favourite franchise.
These “legacy” sequels walk a hard path. They need to be new and familiar. There are many ways to go about this. Aliens took the first film’s mythology and built upon it. Aliens is one of the best genre movies ever made because it wasn’t a horror film; it was a war movie. It took the constraints of one genre and made its franchise fit them.
On the other hand, Prometheus tried to hide the fact it was an Alien movie, to the point, no one was sure it was on release (a savvy bit of marketing by Fox). Damon Lindelof removed the overt Alien elements from Jon Spaihts’ screenplay and created a more autonomous film. The film’s quasi-prequel status, its need to be independent whilst franchise dependent, and its oblique themes didn’t adhere it to fans. It has been sort of rejected and Scott seems to be returning to a more traditional Xenomorph romp.
Katherine Waterston has to deal with Ellen Ripley’s legacy. People can’t let Ripley go, and all future female characters have to be Ripley. Daniels, Covenant‘s lead, is not allowed to be her own character at the moment. Whatever she does, she gives off Ripley-vibes. As Covenant approaches, Prometheus might be reevaluated. The cast has already said it is the one you should watch before heading to the cinema, but, right now, Fox seems to be running away from it.
Joss Whedon once said: “Don’t give people what they want, give them what they need.” So far, Alien: Covenant seems to be giving people what they want.