Interesting crosscurrents on the movie blog-o-sphere this past week concerning Neill Blomkamp's forthcoming Alien sequel, rumored to star Sigourney Weaver and pick up where Aliens left off nearly thirty years ago, ignoring Alien3and Alien Resurrection. Blomkamp has said, in somewhat vague terms, that his movie will not "undo" the latter two films in the series, but that it would be "connected" directly to the first two movies. Still, with illustrations of sixtysomething versions of Ripley and Hicks in his proposal, and no signs of Winona Ryder, Ron Perlman, or Dominique Pinon's characters from Resurrection, it's safe to assume that even if Blomkamp doesn't mean to erase the third and fourth movies in the series, he will casually ignore them.
This pick-and-choose approach to canonicity has both its detractors and supporters. The AV Club's Jesse Hassenger is decidedly con, citing Blomkamp's approach as "wish-fulfillment" aimed at fans who share his indifference to the '90s sequels, rather than the general moviegoing public:
Just as it's not uncommon to find people who love Alien and Aliens and hate the films that follow–while nonetheless hungering for a "better" Alien sequel—plenty of older Star Wars fans will praise A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back as great films, dismiss Return Of The Jedi as a compromised harbinger of things to come, and damn the prequels as the worthless disappointments of a lifetime. For many fans, this adds up to a total of two unreserved recommendations out of six Star Wars movies, even as those same fans try in vain to keep their surging expectations in check for the upcoming seventh episode.
Such fans are already inured to disappointment, Hassenger argues, so it's not as if a new movie, even one made by grown-up fans of the originals, would satisfy their desires for a proverbial "good" Alien or Star Wars sequel. Regardless of quality, it might be impossible for even a talented filmmaker to overcome their stratospheric expectations, and even then stale nostalgia and overfamiliarity might result in an inertia-bound product that satisfies neither hardcore enthusiasts nor neophytes (see Prometheus).
Over at The Dissolve, Chris Klimek takes a more optimistic position, recognizing the artwork in Blomkamp's proposal as "fan-fic":
They're fan-fic, these pictures. And as a fan, I feel well-served: If the Alien movies are or ever were important to you, these are the sort of pregnant images that give birth to stories. Presumably ones that aren't as mellow-harshing an existential bummer as 1992's Alien 3, the one where Hicks and Newt die at the beginning, and Ripley dies at the end...
I have one word for this guy who thinks he can just saunter in and violate the established continuity of the benighted Alien franchise: "Phew."
Here are four more: Better luck this time.
Like many fans, Klimek hated Alien3 at first, but over time came to admire David Fincher's problematic and in some ways unfinished debut film. Even so, he takes pleasure in the fact that Blomkamp appears to be making the action-packed, kick-ass third Alien movie his adolescent self always wanted to see back in 1992. Still, even if it's a classic, it won't magically erase Fincher's movie:
No matter what Neill Blomkamp does, this Alien 3 will always exist, like the Ralph Richardson-John Gielgud radio version of Sherlock Holmes, and the Adam West TV version of Batman. Like Superman III. Like X-Men: The Last Stand, that dumb, stupid, Brett Ratner-y piece of stupid dumb crap.
This is a valid point, and it's one that tends to get overlooked in discussions of reboots, canons, and continuity. Movies exist whether we choose to acknowledge them or not, not because some fannish or "official" authority has decreed their veracity. Even if Alien 5 (or 3, or 8, or whatever non-numerical title Fox saddles it with) violates the established continuity of the series, Alien3 and Resurrection will still be around, as will the AvP movies and Prometheus.
Continuity exists in the eye of the beholder, which often means fans, but disdain can't unmake movies or shows that already exist. Sure, you may hate Joel Schumacher's Day-Glo Batman movies from the '90s, but they're out there, and presumably a fair number of people actually enjoy and own them on DVD or Blu-Ray. You may not acknowledge Superman III or IV, or The Last Stand, whether because you hate them, or subsequent films in the series nullified their storylines, but that doesn't mean they won't show up on Starz at 3 AM. Phantom Menace may have violated your precious childhood memories, but the prequels actually are a part of other people's childhoods. Even a quasi-official judgment can't alter things too drastically: Gene Roddenberry apparently disliked Star Trek V so much that he considered it non-canonical, but the movie was never pulled from theaters or purged from subsequent video releases as a result of the Great Bird of the Galaxy's edict. You can even watch it on Netflix right this minute, if you want to.
Similarly, most of the stuff that you liked back in the day is still around, even if it's no longer part of the official history. Many of the older Star Wars novels and comics are available in handsome new editions, though the post-Jedi movies invalidated some or all of the events depicted in them. Likewise, if you enjoyed the DC or Marvel Universes before the last cosmic shakeup, there are still hundreds of trade paperback and hardcover collections chronicling those now apocryphal stories. "Canonicity" shouldn't affect how you enjoy something; after all, think of all the "official" stories that devoted fans ignore anyway, like the Star Wars Holiday Special or "Spock's Brain" or every other Doctor Who serial in the 1980s.
So fans of Alien3 and Resurrection shouldn't fret; those movies may not have anything to do with Blomkamp's sequel, but that doesn't mean they've been wiped from memory, any more than Heir to the Empire or the pre-Crisis DC Universe. But as more fans become filmmakers, and franchises themselves come to be defined by specific concepts of fandom (see Snyder and Goyer's post-Miller/Moore approach to the DC characters) I suspect we'll see further comic book-style arbitration as to which entries in a series actually "count." This is a departure from the sequels of the past, which were mostly just attempts to exploit the popularity of the originals, made by the original filmmakers or disinterested hired hands. It's also a departure from the now-familar concept of the reboot, which had existed in some form for decades before being formalized with Nolan's Bat-movies. If Blomkamp has his way, it'll be a retcon instead, preserving elements of established continuity while ignoring others. It'll be fitting if the Alien franchise introduces the retcon to big-budget movies, since Cameron's Aliens may have been the first example of a major Hollywood movie as fanfic: a sequel written and directed by a dyed-in-the-wool fan of the original who sought to expand that universe with his own ideas and concepts, much in the same way that the first generation of comics fans turned professionals such as Roy Thomas transformed their favorite superheroes in the '60s and '70s. (It was Thomas who popularized the term in the '80s.) Increasingly, all movie universes are becoming expanded universes, and all big budget sequels and remakes are becoming fan fiction. To manage their proliferating storylines and mythologies, they'll have to rely on other concepts from fandom as well.