The Movie In Your Mind

By  · Published on January 5th, 2015

Neill Blomkamp Instagram

There’s an episode of Doug where the kid in khaki shorts goes to see a creature feature everyone is excited about, except he’s too scared to keep his eyes open when the monster appears. While his classmates are all raving about how terrifying it was, Doug fakes his way through the conversations and retreats to confront the question of what’s worse: his fear of lying to fit in or his fear of something fake on a movie screen. Eventually he works up the courage to see the movie again, and when the monster appears, he keeps his eyes uncovered to find that you can clearly see the zipper on a horrendous rubber costume. Everyone else was pretending, too, and the entire tale gets an Emperor’s New Monster Suit spin about following the crowd.

Over the weekend, Neill Blomkamp showed us a monster without the rubber suit.

He shared a series of concept art images (like the one above) from Doug Williams, Geoffroy Thoorens and others for an Alien sequel that he didn’t get off the ground, and the response was an overwhelming amount of drool followed by organized chants to make those images a cinematic reality. Which makes sense. We see something that looks cool, and we want more. A weird, organic spaceship blob from the guy who did District 9? Radical. Ripley aghast at a tar sludge version of Sloth from The Goonies? Sign us up. Ripley wearing a Space Jockey suit?? Shut up and take our money.

The movie we’ve all just watched in our mind is spectacular, and is has the benefit of not being real.

On the one hand, I’m as thrilled by these images as anyone, and Blomkamp would undoubtedly make for an interesting voice to add to the franchise universe. He’s a genre fan turned filmmaker, and these bits of concept art are dark and evocative. Since the movie didn’t happen, they’re also now a kind of professionally-made fan fiction. An artifact showing us what might have been.

Yet there’s a safety net there. The easiest thing to do is make a movie like that look cool. We don’t know if a big budget sci-fi movie’s dialogue will be clunky or if its plot will make any sense, but in 2015 we can be 99.9% certain that its visuals will be stunning. Living as concept art, this movie never had to find financing, go through a dozen script revisions based on studio notes, see sound stages, survive test screenings, see reshoots, or premiere for fans. It’s the monster in our imagination, and right now it has no exposed zippers. Unlike, say, Prometheus.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes us desperate to see a movie. After organizing our annual list of most anticipated movies and seeing Midnight Special surpass Age of Ultron and Star Wars 7, it struck me (like it probably does every year) that we have very little information to go on when it comes to excitement. A director’s name, a property we love, an interesting concept. If a trailer only shows 1.6% of a movie out of order, we have even less than that when it comes to sparking enthusiasm. We sometimes have concept art, which is more like .001% of a movie (if it’s even a percent at all).

Deadpool coming back to life after Tim Miller posted test CGI footage has proven that we have at least some power in dictating what studios will move forward with, but within the era of exploiting geek properties, big studios have managed essentially a coin flip’s average of greatness. The bell curve is alive and well, but when we see images like that concept art, we don’t think of them realistically as something to put through the sausage factory on a wing and a prayer, but as the obviously awesome thing that it’s destined to be. Pure potential is an intoxicating thing. It’s also problematic if studios are going to take cues from a happy mob on the internet.

Clearly, Blomkamp being able to make his Alien entry is better than this beautifully disturbed consolation prize because of the mere chance for greatness, but I’m still torn on what we as fans should ask for versus what we should expect. Studios have proven more than happy to cash in on our low-information excitement. Plus, there’s something beautiful about the Blomkamp Alien images existing as they are. It’s nice to appreciate them as pieces of art, not as something that evolves to become forgotten building blocks of a movie that might or might not be as good as the one in our minds.

It would be intriguing to see the movie inside Blomkamp’s, but for some reason I’m just as happy to enjoy these images for their intrinsic value without needing to see a movie come out of them.

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Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector [email protected] | Writing short stories at Adventitious.