Jordan Peele’s brilliant new horror Nope delivered on themes that Ridley Scott’s Alien sequels missed. Perhaps the true antagonist of the Alien saga is the Weyland-Yutani corporation, owner of the Nostromo mining ship, and a malevolent force throughout the franchise. Over the course of the 1990s Alien films, Weyland-Yutani repeatedly puts human lives in danger in order to collect and study the Xenomorphs, with an eye to converting them into lucrative biological weapons. The folly of trying to harness these incredibly dangerous creatures for profit is a recurrent theme throughout the franchise and something that Peele’s movie Nope also addresses.
Nope, which has already drawn favorable comparisons to other famed UFO films like Signs, follows two siblings running a Californian Hollywood horse ranch who discover a UFO on their land and seek to capture it on film. They discover that, rather than a spaceship, the UFO is a terrifying predatory animal, which they nickname Jean Jacket, that has been sucking up and devouring their horses. Both Alien and Nope deviate from other famous space invader films such as Signs, War of the Worlds, and Independence Day, in that their titular aliens don’t possess human-level sentience and are driven by the basic instinct to feed and reproduce. The latter of these is baked into the aggressively sexual design of the chest bursters in Alien. Both movie monsters are scary because they tap into our primordial fear of being hunted. The Xenomorphs and Jean Jacket, the former akin to a parasitic wasp laying eggs in caterpillars and the latter to a hungry squid slurping up crabs and regurgitating the shells, run on basic desire and cannot be reasoned with.
The films also share a cautionary message about the risks of manipulating dangerous animals for profit. Yet, Nope approaches this in a way that the Alien saga never did, with a theme that would have made for a fascinating addition to the Alien franchise. Like the Weyland-Yutani corporation, some human characters in Nope can’t resist the potential profit that the alien creature represents. Rather than trying to turn the alien into a weapon, Nope’s misguided characters attempt to turn the animal into entertainment. Most notably Jupe, a neighboring theme park owner, tries to feed Jean Jacket a horse in front of a crowd. This leads to him and his entire unfortunate audience, in the most harrowing scene of the film, being sucked up by the alien and digested alive. By tying into this theme, the Alien saga could have explored a new narrative direction while simultaneously staying true to the message of the original.
Alien & Nope Share A Cautionary Message
Though Alien and Nope both warn against the dangers of exploiting dangerous animals for profit, the Alien saga is limited in the ways it imagines how people might profiteer from Xenomorphs. Imagining how greed might drive people to use Xenomorphs for spectacle could have made for a fascinating and disturbing sequel. A film exploring this idea would not need to follow the terrible Spielberg Aliens idea that Xenomorphs are misunderstood. Rather, it could center around a character in the heavily corporatized world of Alien naively trying to use the deadly creatures for sport, entertainment, or show business. A breakout at an ill-advised, Jurassic Park–style alien zoo, or perhaps a Running Man–style game show with Xenomorph combat could have made for an interesting change of pace.
Nope has drawn thought-provoking comparisons to real-life instances of human exploitation of animals for entertainment, such as the life of the orca Tillikum, who was involved in the deaths of three people at SeaWorld, and Montecore the white tiger who famously turned on his handlers Siegfried and Roy. Driving home this point was the purpose of the brilliant, and perhaps weirdest subplot in Nope; Jupe’s traumatic origin story with a chimpanzee gone rogue on the set of the fictional TV series Gordy’s Home. The masterful exploration of these ideas, along with the gut-wrenching horror scenes, show just how interesting they may have been in the Alien universe, and could set an example to those working in the iconic franchise in the future.
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