Timeline Tampering: Can Filmmakers Reset the Clock?

Everybody loves a good film franchise. Star Wars (excluding the prequels), the MCU, even Harry Potter, have been praised by fans and critics alike for their (relatively) consistent quality. Meanwhile the fans of older franchises such as Terminator, have not been so fortunate. Yet, the release of Halloween last month is the first of a potential trend that could breathe new life into such franchises. Drastic continuity alterations could be the key to their resurrection, while disregarding the instalments that were bad. Really, really bad.

Halloween (2018) was fairly well received and has so far grossed just shy of $140 million, the most of any single film in its franchise. So what makes it so different from the others? The answer is quite simple: the film takes the franchise back to its roots. Although it increases the number of instalments to 11, the continuity is changed so that all the prior instalments except the original are disregarded, while also bringing back the original star Jamie Lee Curtis. The success of this direct sequel only adds fuel to motivation of other filmmakers who are currently trying to resurrect their respective franchises using similar methods.

One of those was the ‘retcon’ (retroactive continuity) of the Alien films. Writer and director Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium) was reportedly set to try and breathe new life into the franchise with a direct sequel to James Cameron’s 1986 film Aliens. The later instalments failed to reach the heights the franchise had with Cameron in 1986. The most significant change Blomkamp would have made is removing the off-screen deaths of fan favourite characters Corporal Dwayne Hicks, played by Michael Beihn, and Newt, who were both killed between the events of Aliens and Alien 3 (also ignoring Alien: Resurrection as a result). Hick’s potential return was greeted positively when concept art of Biehn and Sigourney Weaver was released. Letting the stories of Hick and Newt continue would reverse what is (at least in my opinion) one of the worst and stupidest decisions in film history. However, despite the potential it’s unlikely to happen now, mainly due the fact this film would have clashed with Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel trilogy. The lukewarm reception of those prequels has probably proved how much Blomkamp’s take was needed. Despite Blomkamp saying he has moved on, there is a glimmer of hope as Ripley herself, Sigourney Weaver, has reportedly said that her and James Cameron liked Blomkamp’s ideas. So it might be worth keeping an eye on this space…

While his Alien film might not be happening, Blomkamp seems persistent on applying this method somewhere, as he is at the helm of a new RoboCop sequel, titled RoboCop Returns. Of course, it involves correcting the timeline, being a direct sequel to the 1987 original. RoboCop 2 & 3 will be ignored, as will the 2014 reboot. The franchise made the mistake of shifting toward a younger audience, losing its R-rating/18 certificate with RoboCop 3, as well as losing lead man Peter Weller. The reboot, despite having an amazing cast, failed for similar reasons. Blomkamp is supposedly set to bring back the R-rating and violence that the original is synonymous with, as well as the original Alex Murphy himself, Peter Weller. He probably won’t be in the actual suit because the guy is 71 now, but his return would have a similar effect as bringing Jamie Lee Curtis back to Halloween. This is yet another project to keep your eye on.

Finally, unsurprisingly the Terminator franchise is also still trying to dig itself out of a whole. Linda Hamilton is set for a long awaited return, as is James Cameron as executive producer. Arnold Schwarzenegger is staying true to his famous catch phrase and is also back, because let’s face it a Terminator film without Arnie is not a Terminator film. This new instalment will be a direct sequel to Terminator 2: Judgement Day, disregarding the dodgier films which gave the franchise its notoriously hard to follow timeline. It got to a point when the continuity gave the X-Men timeline a run for its money. Cameron himself has said they’re treating the later films as ‘a bad dream’. This instalment could be what saves the franchise, the return of Sarah Connor has been long overdue, and although Cameron is still working on 4 million Avatar sequels, his presence is a good sign.

In the years since the release of these franchise’s greatest instalments, they’ve gone off track. Sequels, prequels and reboots have all been tried and failed, however these new retcons offer a light at the end of the tunnel. They need to back to their roots and remember what makes the originals the classics that they are, which is exactly what they seem to be doing. Bring on the ‘Retcon’!

Matthew Moorey

Image Courtesy of Toronto Film Festival