The Alien franchise has to be one of my favourites, and I am always excited to have an excuse to rewatch them all, and what better excuse than a new film to be added to the series! Yes, I am off to see Ridley Scott’s Prometheus shortly, and so I have made a Saga Review of the previous four films.
It is a strange saga; quite possibly one of the most diverse anyone might watch in a sequence, from Alien and Alien 3’s subtle horror, to Aliens and Resurrection‘s marketable action horror.
I don’t remember Ridley Scott’s Alien so much as my obsession over James Cameron’s Aliens, and thanks to that film’s toy line I have forever enjoyed (and feared) every second that H.R Giger’s alien creature has been on screen.
Well, almost every second…
Alien (1979) Director’s Cut (2003)
The crew of a mining ship find themselves woken from deep sleep and directed to an unknown planet when the ship detects a distress call. When one of the crew returns from the investigation with a parasitic organism, it becomes a matter of life and death.
The original pitch for Alien was “Jaws in Space”, and it surely is one of the most tense and alarming science fiction horrors ever made. Director Ridley Scott (who was not the first choice for directing) defined a genre with this film, and would inspire another genre-defining film, Aliens.
Alien is a very slow film, it piles on the atmosphere with the first half until you are completely suppressed by the claustrophobic lifestyle onboard a space ship. The only time spent “outside” is embracing howling winds of the alien planet that sound otherworldly next to the near-silence within the ship. This only compounds the carnage that follows in the final forty minutes.
I wish this film could be watched with “fresh eyes”. The Alien creature has global acclaim now, but one can only imagine the intense mystery the film projects, followed by the mortifying reveal of Swiss artist H.R. Giger’s Alien for the first time. Not only that but compared to earlier science fiction of the time, Alien defied convention. Anyone new to the series must, must, must start here.
There’s a lot of debate around the first Alien film, there are who, what, where and why questions that remain unanswered in preference for the dark mystery it employs. With subsequent sequels (and now “prequels”) too much digging may undermine Alien’s integrity.
But in space no one can hear you scream, and Alien is a film that is strong on its own merits, a timeless classic.
Additional Marshmallows: I’d recommend the Director’s Cut, it doesn’t ruin the film; only adds a couple of extra scenes that were originally filmed but left out.
That’s how one of James Cameron’s friends affectionately described Aliens after he directed and released this masterpiece of science fiction, action and horror.
Aliens follows directly from Alien, after surviving the nightmare upon the Nostromo, Ellen Ripley awakens fifty-seven years in the future when the unknown planet she and her crew had landed upon had been colonised. Not long after however, communication is lost with the colony and Ripley’s expertise is needed when a squad of marines go to the planet to rescue the colonists…
I love this movie.
The film quite possibly does what few sequels could ever do nowadays; deviate from the tone of the original movie, yet work as a fantastic sequel. Aliens is its own movie, yet uses the first film as a springboard. The first hour is mostly setup, James Cameron takes the template set by Scott’s Alien to heart and withholds the film’s menace for as long as possible. Characters are fleshed out, especially Ripley, Sigourney Weaver is given fantastic material to work with; an emboldened woman whose experience evolves her into an awesome badass. One of cinema’s all time greats and completely irreplaceable.
She is teamed up with a ragged bunch of smart-mouthed space marines, a cocky team of gun-totting eccentrics. Bill Paxton and Michael Biehn being the standouts, but Al Matthews as their hard-nosed sergeant and Jenette Goldstein as the powerhouse Vasquez.
The universe and lore’s expanded upon in a believable fashion, not overdone (cough-Riddick-cough) but the whole movie is a colossal action roller-coaster that I will never tire of. Is it Cameron’s best film? Absolutely.
The writing is snappy and the script has some of the most memorable and quoted lines in history. “Game over man, it’s game over!” Not to mention it being strong enough that we have several new characters introduced all at once and we feel something for each of them. From the dumb heroics of the marines, to the others you are instantly made to distrust.
Aliens is now over 26 years old, yet it boasts the best animatronic special effects, miniature effects, costume design and matte painting compositions I’ve ever seen in science fiction (it won the Academy Award for Best Effects, and so it should!) Today’s CGI still cannot stand above this movie’s achievements; the finale here is an incredible feat of artistic engineering.
The film was a massive success, and was incredibly marketable for an 18 certificate horror movie. I remember having several of the Aliens toys and being desperate to see it for years, and I was not disappointed. A film that lives up to its hype and single-handedly inspired over two decades of sci-fi television, video games, comics, books and film.
If you haven’t seen this film, or haven’t watched it in a long time, do yourself a favour and watch it. This is an example of film-making techniques I feel are lost in modern movies, a timelessness that simply cannot be obtained with computer generated methods.
Additional Marshmallows: While HR Giger was turned down by Cameron as concept designer, Syd Mead (who worked on Blade Runner and TRON) worked on much of the interior and vehicle designs.
Alien 3 (1992)
“Three times the suspense, three times the danger, three times the terror”, claimed some posters. It’s really, really not. Oh boy, is this a difficult one to sum up.
After the events of Aliens this film shows (during the opening credits no less) that an alien was onboard the marine ship Sulaco. Its presence caused all of the surviving characters to die and Ellen Ripley to wake up on an all male prison/refinery planet. With that bucket of cold water out of the way, a plot attempts to develop. Another alien creature is loose after the crash, and while Ripley has her own “inner demons”, she must rally some of the most pitiful humans together to kill the creature.
The debut film for director David Fincher (who would find his feet with such successes as Seven, The Social Network and Fight Club) could not have been more chaotic and badly developed. There have been three edits (ironically) and another that Fincher rejected. The DVD copy I watched was the lengthier cut, supposedly more detailed than the theatrical cut, and while there are merits in its attempt to recapture the mood of Ridley Scott’s original Alien, there are a lot of problems.
Ditching the likeable, well formed characters from Aliens may have given Ripley even more angst, but replacing them with a load of cookie-cutter British inmates whose only purpose appears to be dropping F-bombs all the time, confuses me. The digital alien effects (alongside decent physical effects, it should be said) are utterly dire, while there are some scenes with very bad sound editing (apparently now fixed in the Blu-ray edit).
Ellen Ripley’s plight in this film is the only salvageable part. Her ability to survive is tested to the limits; alone, in a hostile environment with an alien loose and the ever-present Company still after her.
Fincher’s original idea has become somewhat legendary now; a giant wooden artificial planet, which would have been equally as damning to the popcorn-audience, but may have had more respect nowadays. Instead it feels awkward, without memorable characters and too much of the plot develops for the sake of convenience.
It is a sad end to the Alien trilogy as there are moments of intrigue; the Company “Weylan-Yutani” and their fixation on Ripley could have been explored further, but instead we have unlikeable and throwaway characters, a throwaway romance and unbelievable circumstances.
Additional Marshmallows: The character of Dillon is played by Charles Dance; viewers may now recognise him from television’s Game of Thrones.
Alien: Resurrection (1997)
Upon watching an Alien film marathon, one thing is certain: at this point you will say to yourself “Oh, so that’s how you do a bad Alien film! Alien 3 was quite good actually!”
With unexplained sciences, a military run division recreates Ellen Ripley with human and alien DNA. Why? To recover the Alien Queen embryo she had inside of her and breed more aliens. She is resurrected two-hundred years in the future, where things aren’t much different and a ragtag mercenary crew supply humans for the military’s experiments.
Upon the financial flop of Alien 3, the studios wanted a more marketable movie to… dare I say, “resurrect” the alien franchise five years later. Why they chose director Jean Pierre Jeunet and writer Joss Whedon I do not know.
Now, I love the work of both of them. Jeunet’s Amelie is an all time favourite with its quirkiness, and Whedon’s incredibly likeable and witty writing has finally been recognised with The Avengers. But neither quirky directing nor witty writing make an Alien film!
An argument stands that the Alien films are diverse, one is not like the other and Resurrection is its own animal. Unfortunately, the tone that holds the original three together, a sense of helplessness, claustrophobia and intensity, is completely missing! The underplayed themes of motherhood, sexuality and evolution in those movies are blown out of proportion here, making it feel more like a parody than a faithful sequel. It isn’t even scary, not even remotely!
Its only strengths lie in its special effects, set and costume design, which have Jeunet’s artistic flare and Whedon’s rustic Firefly vision, and does show up Alien 3’s rather bare production value.
But, what is worse than Alien 3’s uninteresting, throwaway characters? That would be an ensemble of unique, unusual characters that are ultimately uninteresting throwaways.Resurrection is a poor excuse for an Alien film. Jeunet and Whedon could be a great combination, but not in this franchise!
Additional Marshmallows: One of Jeunet’s returning actors, Dominique Pinon, features but only adds to the odd hybrid of multiple styles at work here. Brad Dourif from Lord of the Rings also plays a strange part as one of the military’s scientists.
The future of the Alien series was sealed after Resurrection; a film that roared into existence five years after a dud entry, only to fail once again. The magic and original spark of Alien and Aliens looked further and further out of reach.
One should mention the Alien Versus Predator films… unfortunately.
I never want to watch those films again. They outright ruined the Alien franchise, buried it six feet under, and I implore you all to stay away from them! Unfathomably stupid and immature rubbish, and I wince every time someone talks about continuity between this saga and those abominations.
So for the most part, Alien and Aliens are the best we will get, and I am okay with that; they are timeless, especially in terms of visual effects.
Now Prometheus is here, and I am very excited for it. I haven’t read reviews, but I believe it will be much closer to Alien in tone and theme than Aliens, although I have to feel sorry for its 15 certificate; it will be the first Alien film to be given one.
Ridley Scott has had more than a couple dud films in the last decade (in my opinion) so I am doubly hopeful Prometheus can restore my faith in his vision!
I will find out soon enough!