For sheer horror chills, it is pretty hard to beat acid-blooded, phallic beasts from outer space that invade human bodies, impregnate them and then, for good measure, kill off their host as the offspring arrives. And yet the xenomorphs of the Alien franchise may not even deliver the saga’s most bloodcurdling moment. There is also the scene in Alien in which we realise that Ian Holm’s Ash is in fact an android, and that the only reason reason our heroes have been dispatched to planet LV-426 is because the head office of their corporate employer, Weyland-Yutani, reckons the creatures there might make a useful biological weapon.
Most viewers of that film or James Cameron’s sequel, in which Weyland-Yutani suit Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) sends Ripley back into hell, will recognise them as savage indictments of corporate evil. So why has Noah Hawley been accused of reimagining his new Alien TV show through a socially conscious filter?
Hawley recently told Vanity Fair he plans to double down on the “blue collar space-trucker world” introduced by Ridley Scott in which “Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton are basically Waiting for Godot. They’re like Samuel Beckett characters, ordered to go to a place by a faceless nameless corporation.”
He added: “The second movie is such an 80s movie, but it’s still about grunts. Paul Reiser is middle management at best. So, it is the story of the people you send to do the dirty work.
“In mine, you’re also going to see the people who are sending them. So you will see what happens when the inequality we’re struggling with now isn’t resolved. If we as a society can’t figure out how to prop each other up and spread the wealth, then what’s going to happen to us? There’s that great Sigourney Weaver line to Paul Reiser where she says: ‘I don’t know which species is worse. At least they don’t fuck each other over for a percentage.’”
It’s this last comment that seems to have upset Dave Rubin, who tweeted: “I’ve been saying for years that wokeism is a parasite that fully infects the host and then eventually bursts forth like in the movie Alien. The circle is now complete.”
Cue a slew of responses pointing out that the saga has always put the malevolence of big business at the centre of its dystopian vision. You could argue that the later films in the series, in which the anti-corporate critique is less strident, were weaker for it. Returning the saga to its key focus on the dangers of allowing big business to run riot is a genius move, not just for its timeliness but because it allows the franchise to retain its essence.
With the middling Prometheus and its even lesser sequel, Alien: Covenant Scott tried to shift the story’s focus to the Engineers and then to the machinations of Michael Fassbender’s android. In doing so, the veteran director lost much of the saga’s essential identity.
Showing us Weyland-Yutani in all its terrifying glory is a much smarter plan, with shades of the brilliant TV reboot of Westworld. That series moved the story on from the scary-robot thrills of the 1973 film to a startling vision of a future where a humankind must learn to live alongside artificially intelligent beings.
If Hawley’s Alien show can achieve anything similar, it will be well worth watching. And if it takes injecting a little woke back into the space saga’s DNA to get it moving again, nobody who has watched and loved those early classic instalments can really say it isn’t long overdue.