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The ALIEN Series – A Brief Critique

CONTAINS SPOILERS!

ALIEN films by date released:

  • Alien (1979)
  • Aliens (1986)
  • Alien 3 (1992)
  • Alien Resurrection (1997)
  • Alien vs. Predator (2004)
  • Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)
  • Prometheus (2012)
  • Alien: Covenant (2017)

ALIEN (1979)

Some films stay with you forever and ALIEN, released in 1979, is at the top of my list, very close to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. I remember watching it at a London cinema and being gripped from beginning to end. I’m not a big fan of horror, yet I do love science fiction, so when Kane (John Hurt) goes into spasms while enjoying his spaghetti Bolognese, followed by the now infamous scene of a baby alien ripping itself from his chest, it was the most shocking horror show I had ever seen. I distinctly remember the gasps from the audience, with some viewers leaving the cinema in tears and others fainting, reminiscent of many theatre scenes when The Exorcist was screened. Yet, since 1979, I must have watched the film dozens of times, on VHS, DVD, BluRay, and later, streamed.

Masterfully directed by Ridley Scott, we are shown how the crew of the Nostromo is woken by Mother (the on-board computer) from deep sleep because a distress signal has been received from a strange planet, which is when you wonder when things are going to go horribly wrong, which they do. In retrospect, I’m struck by how timeless the film is and having watched countless other sci-fi horror films over the years, how terribly unpretentious it is. There’s no cheesy dialogue, no corny scenes, and the film literally drips with atmosphere, from the clanging chains in the cargo bay, the water dripping from the dark, high ceiling, and the alien-like cables that run the length of the spaceship – all framed to build up the menacing atmosphere to great effect. It’s what you don’t see and merely what’s hinted at that ensnares the viewer – actual shots of the Xenomorph are rare. In short, it is a work of art.

ALIENS (1986)

Sequels are notoriously difficult to get right, particularly when the original was such a masterpiece. But it can be done – The Godfather II and Terminator 2 are great examples. In ALIENS, James Cameron pulls it off in spades and puts Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) at the centre of the action, reminiscent of two mothers fighting over their children. Again, there isn’t a hint of cheese or corn to be found, except perhaps the gung-ho marines with their massive guns and one-liners. But they can be excused a little exuberance for the terror they are about to witness, mainly unwittingly from above and because there’s more than one alien wanting to chomp down on them. There’s one character I was glad to see the back of and that’s Bill Paxton’s Private Hudson who spends so much time whining and throwing his toys out of the pram that you almost invite our alien friends over for dinner, with Hudson being the main course. All in all, a very worthy sequel that keeps you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.

ALIEN 3 (1992)

David Fincher directs this third installment and with some poor supporting acting, it’s a pretty grim experience, saved only by the final alien chase scenes. You know the alien is bound to have hitched a lift on the EEV (emergency escape vehicle) containing Ripley, Newt, and Hicks that crash lands on a desolate prison planet. And it becomes clear that the inmates, a bunch of incoherent dullards simply don’t have the wherewithal or the guts to take on the alien which is on the loose and causing havoc throughout the penitentiary. Add to that the underlying testosterone flying about, with Ripley the only female the prisoners have seen in decades. She is also blamed for bringing the creature to the prison in the first place, although Clemens (Charles Dance) does enjoy a rare moment of intimacy with Ripley, just when we thought the only man in her life was Big Al. In a way, it was a relief to see Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) make her grand exit, strangely enough in a similar manner to Schwarzenegger’s molten demise in T2 because our bony, toothy friend had surely taken quite enough Hollywood exploitation. But wait, there’s more…

For me, this is when the series begins its decline into blockbuster fodder and I was left wondering why I had watched the film in the first place.

ALIEN Resurrection (1997)

This is the one where Ripley is brought back from the dead by cloning her DNA from a blood sample gathered from the scene of the ALIEN 3 penitentiary. Of course, it was and clearly had nothing to do with a handsome payday for Weaver. In this preposterous outing, Ripley is endowed with Alien traits and Mummy Alien gives birth to a Ripley-Alien clone which, in the final scene is sucked bit by bit into outer space through a pinhole in a bulkhead porthole, yet Ripley survives the vacuum and decompression and the world is saved from alien invasion. Everyone except Ripley dies of course, which is the whole purpose of this debacle.

ALIEN vs Predator 1 & 2

These two films are a fun sideshow and good for a laugh, where the predator becomes the hero. Enough said.

Prometheus (2012)

Directed by Ridley Scott, Prometheus is a cinematic tour de force, yet the crew of said spaceship is unbelievably stupid. They land on a strange planet, knowing nothing of its composition, and proceed to behave as if it’s benign, which is where it all starts to go badly wrong. Oh yes, and the script is dripping with cheese and plenty of corn.

ALIEN: Covenant (2017)

In another exuberant Ridley Scott showcase, our intrepid explorers, hoping to colonise a distant planet are even more stupid than their forebears of Prometheus. I mean, who in their right mind lands on an unknown planet without a spacesuit, pokes and then sniffs a strange mushroom which puffs out evil spores, without expecting dire consequences? Beautifully filmed like Prometheus is, yet both films insult the audience with belief-suspending characters, goofy dialogue, and cheesy lines abounding.

H.R.Giger – The Artist

One cannot end a critique of ALIEN without a mention of H.R.Giger, the Swiss artist, painter, and designer who created the creature and who was the inspiration for Ridley Scott’s direction of the films. For copyright reasons, I won’t post any images of his work here, but they can be found on his website at  H.R.Giger.

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