Nick Triani ponders the imminent return of Twin Peaks just as another Alien prequel arrives. In his essay Triani tempers high expectations for both, hoping he won’t be disappointed.
There was a tinge of sadness when I read that the mooted Alien 5 film has probably been scrapped. Neill Blomkamp (of District Nine fame) was to direct with Sigourney Weaver reprising her role as the increasingly resilient Ripley. Ridley Scott, promoting his second Alien prequel, the imminent Alien: Covenant, said it was unlikely to happen (and he should know, being one of the possible producers on the xenomorph franchise). But amongst all the Alien prequels, Aliens and Alien sequels (which is where Alien 5 was to be pitched) – and not forgetting the Alien vs Predator disasters (how could you?) – one could find following the various strands as confusing as the plot to Prometheus (the first Alien prequel). Do pay attention you sitting at the back! To a fanboy like me, I can’t get enough of it, and judging from the fervour the various trailers for Alien: Covenant have generated amongst fangirls and boys alike, neither can everyone else. Let’s not forget, Prometheus has been mocked in some quarters (though not by me).
David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks also returns this month, and one can’t help but get a little excited. Twin Peaks is the zeitgeist for much of the TV medium we are so addicted to nowadays. I could argue that without Twin Peaks the idea of HBO as a going concern would probably not have happened so quickly – and while we’re at it, that has had the knock-on effect of Netflix focussing on its own in-house programming. The TV serial really is in the ascendance, with many an a-list actor or director no longer finding it demeaning to produce or appear in projects made exclusively for the small screen. The Twin Peaks effect can be sampled from the X Files to Six Feet Under, from The Soprano’s to West World, from Stranger Things to True Detective and beyond. It’s the idea of bringing a little bit of cinema to the TV series that made Twin Peaks so influential: production values and direction from a genuine auteur – TV has never been the same again. Dark, adult themes mixed with the lightness of a family soap drama, Twin Peaks in essence created 21st Century TV a couple of decades early.
David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks also returns this month, and one can’t help but get a little excited. Twin Peaks is the zeitgeist for much of the TV medium we are so addicted to nowadays.
In this respect, the simultaneous return of Twin Peaks and the Alien franchise, offers us the latest instalments from two cultural and influential giants of recent times. As much as Twin Peaks has influenced our home cinema viewing habits, the impression made by Alien for the sci-fi movie genre and the female-led action protagonist in general is just as important. But perhaps the reason for writing about this new Ridley Scott and David Lynch material, and the tenuous link of them appearing in this article together, is that both directors shaped a certain visual and aesthetic identity with their past cinema that has resonated very much across pop-culture ever since. Both Twin Peaks and Alien will be what both directors are ultimately remembered for, at least as far as mainstream audiences are concerned. Finding both directors releasing new material within a week of each other, it’s tempting to wonder if we’ll find them at the peak of their powers, or if their new take on their most iconic material just relies on us – the viewers – and our own nostalgic feelings to get by.
A modern heroine
All the way back in 1979, no one had imagined horror in space like Alien. Yes, Dark Star had some of the similar naturalness on view (and the Alien screenwriter in Dan O’Bannon), and perhaps Solaris exhibited the minimalist creepiness, but Scott’s original is like no other and thanks to its almost accidental heroine – and that memorable chest bursting – Alien has not only endured but set its own zeitgeist in big screen female heroines. We can all marvel at every franchise like Resident Evil and the Underworld series, both with their own kind-of-Ripley-inspired heroine, but no one had quite captured Ellen Ripley’s cool on screen till we caught our first sight of Charlize Theron as Furiosa in Mad Max: Thunder Road. Scarlett Johansson seems to have been carrying her own Ripley torch in many action vehicles of late (especially her turn as Black Widow in the Avengers series). It’s taken awhile but Theron and Johansson at the least seem to be taking the female action heroine to the next level (and about bloody time too). Scott, no slouch in these matters, has wisely based his Alien-prequels around strong female characters too, keeping that franchise relevant in these currently feminist-aware times. Let’s also not forget it was Scott who helmed the proto-feminist Thelma And Louise.
But if I’m to locate any uncomfortableness about all this rabid nostalgia, it’s that expectations will surely be crushed. Whilst Alien and its sequel Aliens still stand close scrutiny, the sequels/prequels/spin-offs since then have mostly been rubbish. And revisiting the whole Twin Peaks series last year, a lot of it was slow and cumbersome (although most of the Lynch directed episodes still on the most part stood up). Twin Peaks stands to lose a lot by not succeeding on its return – the worst could be a new generation missing out on those handful of original episodes that really did change TV forever. Of course, one can just enjoy the fact that Lynch is behind the camera again (it looked like that could have been it for awhile), and a part of me would like that super experimental, vague, dreamlike, atmosphere- heavy, wild weirdness that Lynch has brought us on occasion to just dominate this new series. Do I want answers from this new Twin Peaks? Probably not.
David Lynch is 71 whilst Ridley Scott is 80 years old. In this respect both directors don’t really represent the zeitgeist of the directorial medium like they once did. And in an extremely diverse world, and this is especially the case with Twin Peaks, what’s offered by both these iconic titles is a very white, middle class world view. Of course, Twin Peaks never offered itself as social criticism, but its love of 1950s Rock n Roll aesthetics is a pure white experience (a worldview that runs through the majority of Lynch’s work). In this respect Twin Peaks, and to a lesser extent the Aliens franchise, offer the perfect nostalgia for these post-progressive times, a throwback to era’s that were less complicated and things were more, erm, black and white. Donald Trump would probably approve.
And in an extremely diverse world, and this is especially the case with Twin Peaks, what’s offered by both these iconic titles is a very white, middle class world view.
The cast of Twin Peaks look really old in the few shots that have been revealed. So far, contrary to the original season’s focus on youthful characters, this new Twin Peaks looks like being a very middle aged world. And how cool will Agent Cooper really be as a mid-fifties FBI agent, with the knowledge of Kyle Mcloughlin playing Trey in Sex & The City still relatively fresh in my mind? It certainly won’t be the same actor from Blue Velvet (or Twin Peaks first time round for that matter). It’s natural to feel that some of the mystique from Twin Peaks has gone, which makes Lynch’s challenge even harder.
Familiarity breeds contempt
Why should we care for another legion of new characters who will be served up as dinner in the latest Alien? If Alien three and four ‘s biggest fault line removed the prospect of any threat towards Ripley – thus removing any tension from the movies – Prometheus presented us with a new character list that we didn’t even know or give a fuck about. For all Ripley’s latter day invincibility, it was still interesting to watch how Weaver developed the character in those later films – and at least it felt like you were watching an icon of sorts. Alien: Covenant looks like a retelling of previous movies, a best of the human devouring antics of the Xenomorph. The least we can hope for are some imaginative and new eye-catching ways for the Alien to do away with the cast.
Ultimately old TV shows and movie franchises are increasingly resembling seasoned rock bands, they never die and always seem to come together for one last tour or album. The original spark that both Alien and Twin Peaks ignited could be extinguished by the prospect of their ever decreasing returns. On the other hand, if there’s a trace of something good to be had from these, however miniscule, it increases the appetite for people like me to want more, who still cling onto the moments of magic that have defined certain aspects of our adolescence. And the circle begins again. We could be in for more damn fine coffee and screaming in space where no one can hear us ad infinitum. If I’m being truly honest, I probably won’t mind.
Ultimately old TV shows and movie franchises are increasingly resembling seasoned rock bands, they never die and always seem to come together for one last tour or album.