Alien is a science-fiction horror film series following Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and her battles against the Xenomorph, an extraterrestrial life-form.
Director(s): Ridley Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher, Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Stars: Sigourney Weaver
There are currently four films in the main Alien franchise, with further spin-offs and prequels in the form of the Alien vs Predator and Prometheus. A second prequel, Alien: Covenant is due for release in 2017. Furthermore a sequel to the second film, Aliens, is also in the works and is expected to be released after Covenent.
Taking each of the original films in turn, the MovieMuse team dust off another boxset and run their critical eye over one of the best loved sci-fi series of all time. But without the aid of rose-tinted 3D glasses, are they still as good as we remember?
Alien Resurrection (1997)
In deep space, the crew of the commercial starship Nostromo is awakened from cryo-sleep halfway through their journey home to investigate a distress call from an alien vessel. The crew encounters a nest of eggs inside the alien ship and are attacked by one of the creatures. Continuing their journey back to Earth with the crew having recovered and the critter killed, they soon realise that its life cycle has merely begun.
Dan O’Bannon’s idea for Alien (or Memory as the script was originally called) was to create a movie similar to his earlier low-budget effort with Jon Carpenter, Dark Star, but as a horror rather than a comedy. He can’t have had any idea just how popular his creepy space thriller could be, but the studio sure did as they doubled the production budget after seeing Ridley Scott’s initial storyboards. Clearly more of a horror film that the sequels, the quiet and foreboding air on the ship, the jump shocks and the tense score married perfectly with a great cast and wonderfully otherworldly creature design. Alien is clearly my favourite of the franchise, but it is hard to decide who to heap the most praise on. Weaver for her performance? Scott for his direction? Giger for the monster? Or Goldsmith for the music?
As a fan of horror movies, I’ve always loved Alien and seen it more as a haunted house film than sci-fi. While its USP of the time may have been the chest-burster scene, today I appreciate it more for the way the movie ratchets up the tension and claustrophobia as the xeno hunts down the crew members.
Most people will remember the franchise’s debut for the villain’s unwelcome appearance from John Hurt’s chest, and Sigourney Weaver’s performance as the strong and resourceful Ripley. However, the real strength of this film is Ridley Scott’s masterful building up of almost unbearable tension throughout the film, which is actually more stalk and slash than Sci-Fi. Blessed with a small but stellar cast, lavish production design and a spine-tingling soundtrack, the final ingredient for a hit movie was H.R. Giger’s terrifying antagonist. A film that is almost as nerve-wracking now as it ever was.
Sigourney Weaver returns as Ripley, the only survivor from mankind’s first encounter with the monstrous Alien. Her account of the Alien and the fate of her crew are received with skepticism, that is until the mysterious disappearance of colonists on LV-426 leads her to join a team of high-tech colonial marines sent in to investigate.
Not only was there a change of director for the sequel, we also got a completely different focus. Instead of the tense isolation of Scott’s Alien, James Cameron brought us action by the bucket load as Ripley and a team space marines kick alien butt with big guns and the the odd piece of astro-tech. The addition of a child lets Cameron play with the protective mother paradigm as both Ripley and the Queen look to protect their young. Cameron is a master of big-balls action and it is hard to think that there is anyone who wouldn’t get a kick out of the film. Aliens delivers memorable scenes, quotable quotes and a likeable cast to reimagine the xenomorph threat and confirm Ripley as the star of a fully fledged franchise.
A logical extension of the original, Aliens is far more action-orientated, and quite irritatingly gung-ho in many parts. However, its still a superbly balanced movie with many excellent sequences and model work that still stands up today.
If the first film was a slasher movie in space, the sequel is more like a war movie, as Ripley teams up with a memorable battalion of space marines to take on an army of xenomorphs. Director James Cameron eschews much of the first film’s tension in favour of all-out action, with some tremendously exciting sequences, making this a very different film from its predecessor and one that is not only better, but is also one of the greatest action movies ever made.
Ripley is the lone survivor when her crippled spaceship crash lands on Fiorina 161, a bleak wasteland inhabited by former inmates of the planet’s maximum security prison. Ripley’s fears that an Alien was aboard her craft are confirmed when the mutilated bodies of ex-cons begin to mount. Without weapons or modern technology of any kind, Ripley must lead the men into battle against the terrifying creature.
David Fincher made his directorial debut with Alien3 and most would not have expected him to go on to such a distinguished career based on the film. However Alien3 is too often unfairly dismissed and when watched without the weight of expectation that understandably comes with following two huge hits, it is an enjoyable addition to the series. Pitching itself somewhere between the claustrophobia of Alien and the explosions of Aliens it features an odd cast of British actors, but it could have been odder as Fincher originally wanted to cast Richard E Grant (Withnail & I) in Charles Dance’s role! Whilst the director himself has since disowned the film, mired with script issues, production interference and late changes of director I think Fincher managed to produce a perfectly good film that sits comfortably (but a bit lower) on the podium with the first two. If they had only gone with more physical effects on the xeno, rather than the poor CGI then I would have rated it higher.
Underrated, in my opinion, as it strips back the pulse-rifle ridden marine fest of Aliens and reverts back to the haunted house theme of the original. It is unremittingly depressing however, and I’ll always be disappointed at the slightly callous way Newt and Hicks were disposed at the beginning.
David Fincher’s film in some ways tries to blend the claustrophobic tension of the first film and the action of the second, yet fails to reach the heights of either. There are some interesting characters and the situation Ripley finds herself in makes for an original story, but there are a number of confusing scenes in the film and the dark cinematography doesn’t help. This is by no means an awful film, but a definite step down from the high standards set by the first two.
Two hundred years after her death and Ellen Ripley is back. A group of scientists has cloned her, with the alien queen inside her, hoping to breed the ultimate weapon. The resurrected Ripley must team up with a band of smugglers, including a mechanic named Call, who holds more than a few surprises of her own.
Resurrecting both Ripley and the franchise no doubt made perfect sense financially and in theory the idea of cloning Ripley with the xeno inside her has its merits. However this did not bear out and even Weaver appears to be going through the motions. Alien Resurrection remains the only film that Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet didn’t write and whilst the script is pretty poor, we can’t let Jeunet off too lightly. Wynona Ryder destroying every scene she is in, a ridiculous ending and more awful CGI and effects makes Resurrection easily the worst of the quadrilogy and can only be recommended for completionists.
As the only Alien movie I’ve seen at the cinema I have a lot of nostalgic affection for this fourth entry, despite its weaknesses. The characters make the movie, from Brad Dourif’s bonkers scientist to Dan Hedaya’s gruff military commander, but the newborn alien is as naff as ever.
Undoubtedly the worst film in the core franchise, but the fourth instalment is still a reasonable action film, despite being wholly unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. Joss Whedon’s script adds more humour to proceedings than the previous movies, and the band of mercenaries that teams up with Ripley includes some decent characters, though Weaver herself was starting to look bored with it all. With the exception of a few sequences, this is a mostly forgettable finale to the saga to date.
A quadrilogy of two halves. The first two films will forever be seen as classics of their respective genres, but the acceptable but unexceptional latter films drag the overall scores for the quadrilogy down. Killing off the forward timeline and focussing on prequels seems a sensible decision, but the original Alien Quadrilogy still stands as the greatest sci-fi/horror series to date.
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