'Alien': The Most Genre-Bending Franchise!
Happy belated Alien Day! Don't wait too long to take down your Alien Day trees or eat up that leftover Alien Day turkey!
With the prequel Alien: Covenant finally coming around the corner, I figured it’s time to explore this oddly constructed franchise, however only focusing on Alien, Aliens, and the first prequel, Prometheus. It’s well known that most people do not like Alien 3 (including director David Fincher) nor Alien: Resurrection, but also neither of these movies do anything different with genre. So, let’s get into this:
Hollywood was fresh off the heels of the success of sci-fi franchise juggernaut Star Wars. I wasn’t alive at the time, but I’ve been told that, along with the resurgence of “Star Trek” going back into syndication (where it found its real success), space and science fiction were all the rage at the time. So Ridley Scott got a flawed space horror script called Starbeast that he loved the premise of, made some changes, and created Alien.
This movie is much more in the slow-burning vein of 2001: A Space Odyssey than the action/adventure of Star Wars; however, it doesn’t retain the mystery and confusion that plagues many casual movie-goers trying to watch 2001. What this movie actually is, is a slasher flick. It’s horror in it’s purest form in the '70s, when we had more artful slasher flicks like Halloween, and the goofier gorefest franchises of the '80s, like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Evil Dead, hadn’t come out yet. Alien in its basic plot follows the blue-collar crew of the spaceship Nostromo, which sets it apart from many sci-fis at the time in that we always follow people of high status in space. The sets for the ship look dirty and overused, but something about that makes it seem more real, like people actually live on this ship. The crew gets a distress call but find a very old crashed ship with no survivors. They find some freaky things and one of the crew gets infected when they make it back to the ship, thus giving birth to the xenomorph alien that will later hunt them all down.
What makes this movie even weirder is that we have no idea who the protagonist is until sometime in the third act. Until then, the audience is either left guessing or feeling like they’re part of the crew. It’s the little details in this movie that has made it stand up for many years. Even today, the movie still gets praised for so many things from story telling and cinematography to set design and the effects surrounding the alien. This creature stalking the crew in the dark actually looks pretty real. So even if you find this movie boring, it’s actually quite terrifying if you stay with it. Just put your phone away and give it your full attention. It’ll get scary to the point that any noise or sudden movement could make you scream… but like the tagline suggests, “In space nobody can hear you scream”... unless you’re my next-door neighbor because I can hear you do everything… everything.
After the success and cliffhanger of Alien, Fox announced they would be immediately making a sequel. Well, that didn’t happen right away. A lot of weird legal red tape and business on how much money a sequel would make got in the way, but one of the producers was hell-bent on getting this made. The producer eventually read the script to Terminator and asked known fan of Alien and up-and-coming director James Cameron to write Alien II, which Cameron later wrote and directed as Aliens.
The title alone tells you everything, and if you saw the original, you could get a picture that this one would be much more terrifying. We saw how tough it was for the Nostromo crew to fight one alien, but now there’s going to be more. I can tell you it’s not like an alien buddy system. This movie has a freaking hive of these human-eating monsters, but that’s really the only part of the horror. This time, the movie takes the direction of a balls-to-the-wall action flick that involves a team of marines going on a mission to check on a terraforming colony that was set up in the same place the where one Nostromo crew got infected and gave birth to the xenomorph alien in the previous film.
Aside from art direction, set design, and the alien creatures, everything about Aliens is totally different from Alien. The horror is all but gone, as the humans are now all highly-trained marines with top-of-the-line weaponry. The battlefield isn’t quite even, as the xenomorphs are clearly better and have higher numbers, but this movie is more about cool action from start to finish than building horror and suspense, although it does have some scary scenes. Out of the two, I personally feel that Alien is a better film but Aliens is more fun to watch. I will admit most people find Aliens as being much more entertaining. You be the judge, though!
Many people went to this movie five years ago and said “Well… what the hell was that?” This movie is messy and directionless due to the script, which reportedly went under a lot of rewrites, and then there are a few deleted scenes that, if left in, could’ve clarified a lot of things for people. On top of that, it wasn’t openly marketed as a prequel to Alien, so many came away from the ending of the movie quite confused. Only hardcore fans of the Alien franchise were tipped off online beforehand due to fandom or noticed from the start how the movie revolved around the ever-present fictional company pulling shady things within the franchise, Weyland.
The movie flips the Alien script and follows a team of scientists trying to find the home world of the humanoid aliens who created them, so this time we are following a group of elite smarty-pants. What kind of a horror/action/sci-fi film would it be if chaos didn’t ensue within the group? If you’ve seen the other Alien movies at this point, then you know it comes from more places than just the aliens. What at first seemed like an interesting sci-fi adventure of a sort of self-discovery becomes a story of backstabbing, let down on your origin/purpose, and corrupt corporate intrigue, making this less a horror action movie as much as an adventure film crossed with elements of a workplace drama having an existential crisis.
Visually, the cinematography is on-point as Ridley Scott climbs back in the director’s chair. On top of that, they did what the Star Wars prequels didn’t and kept the technology not too advanced-looking from the original. Everything is more sterile and not as lived-in as Alien, but these are more elite people using presumably newer technology, as it takes place around 30 years before the events of Alien, but there are things on screens and overall graphics that don’t make it all seem to advance compared to Alien. Still, in our real world standards of graphics and special effects, a lot has changed so some things can’t help but look newer.
With all of the negative stuff I mentioned earlier, it is a fact that a lot of people had trouble with this one. It wasn’t so much that people hated it as much as they were let down. It’s obvious that the script had many problems, but I still enjoyed it for what it was. It gave some ideas that were newer to my mind at the time on the origin of man and possible extraterrestrial interference. It also laid out some answers for Alien and its origin, but, of course, not enough, as there is still room for sequels.
Alien: Covenant (2017)
Considering Prometheus was a confusing title for the last film, this time Ridley Scott returns and tacks Alien in front of the ship we’re going to follow this go around so everyone knows exactly what this is a prequel to. This film, however, looks like a great step up from Prometheus. In Aliens, we only really heard about a terraforming colony, so in this film, we follow a different one. From the trailers and a promotional short film, it seems as if the ship Covenant has a mix of blue-collar and white-collar workers, as the ship is full of couples ready to populate another planet. This film has not come out yet, so I don’t know exactly what will happen or where it’ll go, but it looks like it’ll be one-part adventure, one-part horror and one-part balls-to-the-wall action film, like a marriage of the franchise's most prominent films. Ridley Scott has said this won’t be the last, so we’ll have to wait and see where this franchise will go.
Alien: Covenant is out on May 19 but you can play catch-up with the past Alien movies anytime you like!
(Image via 20th Century Fox/YouTube)
- Kevin Donaldson, YH Contributing Writer