The Fanfilm Fox Halted and The Independent Film That Took Its Place.
The previous week saw unusual agitation surrounding 20th Century Fox and a fan-made project building on the Alien franchise, a film called Alien Identity. Fox’s legal department sent a Cease and Desist letter to its makers, an independent production company called Sonnet Realm Films. Apparent reasons were that the plot of the film might have been a bit too close to the expected official sequel for the Alien franchise, currently in pre-production under Neill Blomkamp (known for his recent work on films District 9 and Chappie).
Alien Identity was originally intended to be a Kickstarter-funded film and it was eagerly anticipated by fans of the franchise. It was supposed to follow the character of Newt, the little girl from Aliens, now grown-up and facing the horrors of her past again. The authors based their story on an idea, popular among those fans disappointed with the later films, that events after Aliens were just bad dreams Ripley and Newt had in cryosleep. Neill Blomkamp has confirmed earlier that his Alien sequel, while not aiming to erase the events of Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection, will try to follow the second Alien film both in style and in story. Fox’s intervention in Alien Identity’s case confirms that something of that kind is indeed underway.
Whereas the new official Alien sequel so far raises high hopes, Fox ordering a fan film to shut down is still something the fans don’t appreciate. Not only is it a disappointment, because Alien Identity seemed really good, but also because Sonnet Realm Films put a lot of effort into it. They managed to get some of the original Aliens actors to appear (Carrie Henn and Ricco Ross in the roles of Newt’s mother and pvt. Frost’s brother, respectively). But it also seems like the owners of the license are hurting their own children – because what else is it that fans are? And it is true that the holders of the Alien license have not been giving very many new “toys” to their “children” recently; should they take it as a slight that the kids started playing their own new games with the old toys parents gave them years ago?
Every successful franchise creates a strong fanbase, which is then driven purely by its love for the story in question, and continues to express it by going to conventions, making fan-art, and also making fan films. It is quite ironic that earlier, Adam Sonnet, the director and writer of Alien Identity, had said: “We also wanted to extend our gratitude to 20th Century Fox for allowing the fans over the years to produce well executed Alien/Predator fan films like Batman: Dead End, Aliens: LV-426, and most recently, Predator: Dark Ages. Films like these are a testament to the potential of the fan film community, and we hope that our film, Alien Identity, will inspire others as well to create fan films for years to come. As a fan of the Alien films, I’m very much looking forward to what Neill Blomkamp is doing and want to wish him continued success.”
Adam Sonnet was right here about the potential of the fan film community. And Fox’s action against Alien Identity raises the question: is creativity of fans really something that should be restricted? I do not mean legally, but just in principle – is it something the license-holders should interfere with at all?
I do not want to talk about intellectual property here. That is, after all, something all the fans respect. Fans do not seek to gain profit from someone else’s ideas, they want to please other fans and they do it also for themselves, out of pure desire to create and enrich the universe they fell in love with. Alien Identity probably wouldn’t be such a big deal and it would not have occured to Fox to intervene if the fan films of this era were not capable of producing visual and special effects comparable to those of “real” movies, as opposed to a bunch of enthusiastic kids with plastic guns filming on an old camera in someone’s backyard. Independent art is in a different situation than it was twenty years ago. I shall leave it to everyone to ponder what it means for the big film companies. I am not sure myself, but there is at least one thing – I hope the future Alien sequel will be really good, to convince me that the action Fox took against Sonnet Realm Films actually did not rob me of potentially good film in exchange for something half-baked.
Be it as it may, Adam Sonnet is not going to leave his fans and supporters empty-handed. Despite the disappointment, he issued a calm response to Fox, in which he said: “Although we wanted to make a tribute film spin-off in the Alien universe reuniting original cast members to play new roles, we understand that this is Fox’s intellectual property and we want to respect their wishes. Therefore we peacefully withdraw from any further production of Alien Identity, and will pursue our own original content, which I think is best anyway. We realize some of the fans will be disappointed by this, but we are happy that our talent from the tribute film will be coming on board taking the roles of original characters in our other Sci-Fi adventure Triborn, that we’ve been developing. We thank all the fans for their support and invite them to join us on another adventure.”
So here we have it. This far, there is not much to be said about Triborn, but the few lines available on the film’s official page have the right chilling ring to it: “I can hear them speaking to me in my dreams, a nameless and faceless voice that calls to me from out of the darkness. What are they, and what do they want from me?” It does not sound really that far from the dark vibe of the original Alien, does it?
I don’t know about you, but I will be following the progress of this independent film with great interest.