When Ridley Scott decided to take back the reins of his Alien franchise and helm Alien: Covenant, the news was met with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Although some were delighted to have the director of the original masterpiece back on board, others (correctly) pre-empted a George Lucas-esque self-sabotage by a man who has no idea what made his original creation great. Others were disappointed because Ridley’s return meant that the long rumoured Alien 5, directed by Neil Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium, Chappie) was officially dead in the water. There is, however, a silver-lining to Blomkamp’s dismissal: Oats Studios.
Blomkamp’s Alien sequel, ditched for another Alien prequel/Prometheus sequel, was apparently green-lit in in 2015 although Scott more recently said that there was never actually a script, only a pitch from Blomkamp. It seems that Blomkamp, lauded for his South African based, postcolonial sci-fi social commentaries, had jumped the gun when he shared on Instagram a piece of Alien concept art with the caption: ‘Um … So I think it’s officially my next film. #alien.’
He was also reported as having secured Sigourney Weaver’s presence, she would be returning as the iconic Ellen Ripley. ‘Speaking to Sigourney Weaver, when we were doing Chappie, she set off a bunch of thoughts in my head — I had come up with an idea that didn’t have Sigourney, it was a different idea… I spent all of the shooting time with her, it was like, holy shit, that could actually be really interesting. When I came back to Vancouver, I had an entire year to work on Chappie. And when I wasn’t needed in the edit, I could think about Alien. So, I basically developed an entire movie and I did all of this artwork as well.’ There were also reports of Alien 5 ignoring the less popular Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection in order to revive characters Hicks and Newt and carry on from Aliens.
On the 11th of November last year Oats Studios Youtube channel posted a couple of shorts, around ten to fifteen seconds each, which seemed to mock the idea of the then campaigning current President of the United States. They were single shots, one of Air Force One taking off, the other of the Presidential Motorcade, although the vehicles were adapted and exaggerated to more suit Donald Trump. The channel then went quiet until a few weeks ago when the first of a couple of teaser trailers was posted. Today came Rakka, the twenty-two-minute short film that was being teased.
Oats Studios, it seems, is an experimental sci-fi anthology free from the stifling nature of big budget studio interference and from the shackling nature of their focus on franchises and sequels. Blomkamp’s breakout hit of 2009, District 9, was based on the six minute short, Alive in Joburg, which garnered attention online and led to a feature-length film. The hope is that Oats Studios will allow for shorts and ideas to develop and be picked up for feature films down the line, in a similar fashion to District 9. Blomkamp described it as ‘essentially like, how do I create these smaller vignettes of ideas that I just feel like expressing that are unconnected and untethered to discussions that I find really uncreative, about audience testing and sitting in theatres in Southern California waiting to get your scorecard back. I’m just not interested in that.’ Blomkamp went on to describe how Oats intends to take advantage of its residence on Youtube and the interactive creator/audience relationship. How this will manifest, and considering Youtube comment sections are often the bottom of the barrel that is the internet, we will have to wait and see. One way in which this new outlook will be revolutionary, though, claims Blomkamp, is that sound files, 3D models and other materials from Outs Studios output will be made accessible to fans to then create their own films and projects.
The first film from Oats Studios is Rakka, and it has Blomkamp written all over it. Alien invaders have taken over Earth and rather than being segregated into ghettos like the Prawns from District 9, the occupying aliens prevail in destroying and subjugating the human race. Once the scene is set the short introduces Nosh and Amir. Nosh is a pyromaniac, an outcast in the old world but a necessity in the new. He has become essential in aiding earth’s guerrilla forces in taking on their oppressors. Amir, on the other hand, is a failed experiment, tossed aside by the invaders after being cruelly augmented. He must also use his new powers to find a calling within the resistance. Blomkamp’s trademark allegories are on show as well his eye for brilliant sci-fi effects, both practical and CGI; a clear indicator of what to be expected from Oats Studios.
We’ll never see Neil Blomkamp’s Alien 5, which is a shame because what we got instead was a forgettable mess. However, the concept of Oats Studios is far more exciting than another instalment of a franchise that hasn’t been interesting since 1986. How Oats Studios will make enough money online to sustain itself is a mystery but any attempt to develop and take advantage of new platforms in filmmaking is commendable and exciting. Hopefully this anthology will have measurable effects on the film industry.