2019 is the 40th Anniversary of Alien, the starting point of a pretty big franchise overall. As such I thought I’d offer my thoughts on the 6 core films in the series, meaning no Alien vs Predator thank Christ. It also means that I don’t get yet another chance to bitch about Colonial Marines and how much of a colossal turd it was (and I really like doing it every chance I get all told). Obviously, there may be a few spoilers for the films though most of them are old enough now that this shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
Alien was a blend of science fiction and horror, directed by Ridley Scott who was a relative unknown at the time. It’s brilliant, it’s genuinely tense and it’s clear early on that no character is truly safe. The chest-burster scene while iconic now was unexpected the first time you saw it if you didn’t know what was going to happen. It also perfectly cast Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, who would go on to become the face of the franchise, and it’s worth remembering she wasn’t the top-billed star of the film so in theory, she would have been one of the victims in any other horror film.
Seriously if you’ve never seen it get it watched, it’s up there with Jaws in terms of non-traditional horror movies.
7 years later saw the release of the first sequel, Aliens and was directed by another relative newcomer in James Cameron. Aliens bins off the horror aspect in favour of becoming a war film that ratchets up the action. This is my favourite entry in the series as it does a great job of respecting what’s come before while introducing new elements such as the alien Queen while transforming Ripley from a victim to a badass in an arc that feels earned. It also has some of the most quotable lines of any film, in particular Hudson losing his shit and Hicks, who doesn’t speak much but when he does it’s memorable.
I’d also recommend the directors cut, there’s nothing imperative from a story point of view but you do get character moments such as Ripley finding out what happened to her daughter in the time between the two films.
Alien 3 (1993)
In another 6 years Alien 3 was released, this one directed by David Fincher in his feature film debut. It’s documented that he had to deal with a lot of studio interference and by all accounts, it wasn’t a pleasant production to the point where the ending was re-shot to differentiate it from the ending of Terminator 2. I actually like Alien 3, though I do think the directors cut is an improvement but I can totally understand why other people aren’t so keen. I disagree with the call to kill off Hicks and Newt right at the start but it’s an effective little horror movie.
The decision to kill Ripley off was a bold move and it had Charles Dance in it which is always a good thing.
Alien Resurrection (1997)
French director Jean Pierre-Jeunet directed the fourth entry in the series, Alien Resurrection, which was released in 1997. Written by a Joss Whedon, the film was set 200 years in the future and picks up where Ripley has been cloned to obtain the Queen alien that was inside her at the point of her death. As a side effect, she’s become a hybrid with alien DNA and similarly the Queen has picked up some human DNA which causes it to give birth to an alien that’s more human than previous iterations seen.
The let down here is that it’s all a bit tonally tongue in cheek and the special effects are a bit ropey, it loses a lot of what made the previous films so effective. They also don’t utilise this new version of Ripley as effectively as they could, more character development would have been appreciated for me. It also has Ron Perlman, which is always a nice sign, and his character is an entertaining arsehole.
We now move into prequel territory with 2012’s Prometheus, most notable for the return of Ridley Scott to the franchise. Now I think it’s safe to say this was incredibly lacklustre, I’d go so far as to say it’s my least favourite of the Alien films. Don’t get me wrong, it’s visually stunning and the scene where Noomi Rapace’s character performs DIY surgery to cut an alien out of her is impressively unpleasant. The biggest problem is that it’s just a bit dull which shouldn’t be possible with an Alien film, you also have continuity issues as the technology in the film is light years ahead of Alien where it’s set before that film. I still don’t understand how you manage to waste an actor like Idris Elba, I wanted to like the film and while it’s not awful, it’s also not a worthy addition to the series.
Alien: Covenant (2017)
Last we have Alien: Covenant, the follow up to Prometheus, released in 2017. This was again directed by Ridley Scott and upon first viewing I liked it. I thought that Michael Fassbender was excellent in dual roles of Walter and the returning David, it felt like a decent attempt to blend the horror and action elements of the first two films. Later on when I thought about it though I started to have misgivings though, things like David appearing with a body where he had his head ripped off in Prometheus, the twist where David replaces Walter which can literally be telegraphed about halfway through the film at the latest. The biggest one though is in essentially giving the alien an origin, making it a result of David conducting genetic experiments. This robs the alien of its mystique in my opinion and was more effective as a merciless killing machine with no backstory.
In terms of what’s to come that’s up in the after the purchase of 20th Century Fox by Disney. It looks like the proposed third film in Ridley Scott’s prequel trilogy is on ice, which is a small mercy and there was talk that James Cameron is potentially involved in getting the proposed Neill Blomkamp sequel back on the cards, this would apparently ignore 3 and Resurrection bringing back Hicks and Newt alongside Ripley which is an intriguing proposition.
I just hope that whatever it is that Disney eventually decides to do with the franchise that they avoid making anything as shit as Colonial Marines… like ever again.