The Alien franchise: the good the bad and the scary

Posted: March 11, 2010 in FILM REVIEWS/COMMENTS
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The Alien film series produced by 20th Century Fox led to movie sequels, plus numerous books, comics and video game spin offs.

In addition to the franchise are the “Alien vs. Predator” films which I’ve left out as they don’t feature Lieutenant Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver).

Four very unique and visual directors brought the Alien to the screen giving a diverse visions of one subject matter, below are my comments and thoughts on the series that made aliens scary… and the latest spin off/ Prequel Prometheus.

Space, spaceships, androids and aliens, and no it’s not Starwars or Startrek
Alien is a perfect blend of characterisation, visual effects, sound and score. What separates this from the two franchises above is the gritty realism, a brooding atmospheric and claustrophobic feel that has given the film both cult and classic status. So much so it spawned its own franchise.
The acting is provided by a perfect heavy-weight cast that includes John Hurt, Sigourney Weaver and Tom Skerritt. Dan O’Bannon’s screen-play, coupled with Ridley Scott’s visuals stop this becoming just another monster alien movie or space film. The subject matter is delivered completely seriously and you become immersed in the dread, fear and uncertainty as even the main characters get killed off (which has become common place these days). Who will be the hero or the heroine.
H.R.Giger creature designs of the face huger and Alien is the ace in the hole and Jerry Goldsmith score mixed with the sound effects gives the film a nightmarish feel that build up the tension to breaking point. Scott’s direction is outstanding, creating the most fantastic and memorable moments in film history which push your fear threshold.
Compulsive viewing for Sci-fi fans who want story over action or in this case a steak to digest instead of fast food. If you’ve never seen Alien what it treat it will be to watch it fresh.
Aliens (1986)
The planet from Alien (1979) has been colonised, but contact is lost and a rescue team is dispatched. This 1986 sequel is action packed, bigger, louder, very gung-ho with Vietnam parallels.
I’m torn… I must say that at the time Aliens was the best action sci-fi films ever and probably still is), but overtime, I have grown less fond of Aliens and prefer the first Alien and re-edit of the 3rd.
What is superior about Aliens is that it builds on what Ridleys Scott created in first film, (even though some of Aliens ideas are based on cut scenes) surprise killings, misdirection and so on. The design and movement of the Alien is greatly improved, making the Alien far more menacing and agile than before.
There’s no doubt that James Cameron is an exceptional director and writer. All the characters are built up slowly, Lance Henriksen as the synthetic Bishop and Paul Reiser as Burke give subtle performances. Michael Biehn as Hicks and Sigourney Weaver are terrific. Ripley as a character is fleshed out further and the effects and sound are amazing (winning Best Visual Effects and Best Sound Effects).
Aliens is an unsurpassed solid sci-fi horror sequel packed with action and suspense but in retrospect it really is Alien pumped with testosterone and guns.
Alien³ (1992)

After a fire on the Sulaco an escape pod crash-lands on a refinery/prison planet killing everyone aboard except Lieutenant Ellen Ripley. As Ripley recovers she realises that fire was no accident and an Alien begins a killing spree that she must stop.The idea of coming away from Cameron’s Aliens (a fantastic mix of action, suspense and special effects) and go back to the gritty atmosphere basics of the first film was debatably a good idea. Producers, though misunderstood what director David Fincher was trying to achieve back in 1992.Plagued with creative differences, production and script problems the film was released… It seemed very disjointed and didn’t deliver the goods that the first two did…

After watching the new assembled version of Alien 3 I was pleasantly surprised. With the new version what you get is expanded and alternative scenes, more character development and a new subplot making it a more enjoyable Alien movie.

Like the previous version the Alien effects are still the same and not very well executed. That said, this version without a doubt is an improvement on the 1992 version coupled with a nice score, great performances, especially from Charles Dance and the sadly missed Brian Glover. Sigourney Weaver plays a very troubled shaven head Ellen Ripley convincingly. This time around with expanded scenes the supporting cast
get to show off their acting skills within the fantastic sets. Explained in the new cut is where and why some of the characters disappeared.

Overall with these adjustments the film finally sits nicely in the series. It’s dark, eerie and atmospheric.

Alien: Resurrection (1997)

I viewed the directors cut of Alien: Resurrection, it includes a few added bits – Lt. Ellen Ripley Clone #8 refers to Newt a few times, an alternate title sequence, a landing on earth and a few extra seconds here and there add to the mood making all the difference.
The down side though – some of the acting is too hammy, the Alien effects are computerised in parts which is just as distracting as they were back in 1997. They should have stuck to practical effects until CGI effects were perfected.
The New born is great and still gets my sympathy vote. The whole film isn’t a gritty as the previous but the sets are fantastic. Some characters do get developed,there are some memorable moments which usually include Perlman or Weavers characters.
The film including the extra bits bridge the earlier films making Resurrection a more enjoyable ride for Alien fans but to date, despite some good scenes it is the still the weakest of the series.
Watch if only to witness the resurrection.
Prometheus (2012)

The near future 2089 Earths historical artifact’s and ancient paintings prompt an expedition into space to find our makers but puts the crew of the Prometheus in grave danger when they land on LV-233 in 2093.
Veteran director Ridley Scott gives Prometheus its own unique look and rightly so as the action, suspense takes place on 233 not LV- 426 as in Alien(s). Without getting bogged down with Alien comparisons, this is a science expedition not a mining vessel, therefore differences in technology between the two is explained away at a drop of a hat. This change in location allows Prometheus to stand on its own.
Questioning our origins in a reasonable intelligent way the story written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof is intriguing and makes this film stand above your average Sci-fi. That said Prometheus does raise more questions than it answers yet it’s ambiguity is what makes this film special.
It’s excellently cast and includes international actors Guy Pearce Idris Elba and Logan Marshall-Green to name a few. Charlize Theron is stupendous as Meredith Vickers the cold hard nosed corporate mission director. Notably is Michael Fassbender as David who is every bit as interesting as Bishop and Ash with added a quirky ‘fondness’ for Peter O’Tool. Main protagonist Elizabeth Shaw played by Noomi Rapace is not your typical Ripley clone and carries much of the emotion for the film.
The effects are first rate, with the Space Jockeys, scenery, Weyland, ships and Aliens wonderfully realised and rendered. Some of the effects are practical and look organic for the most part. The location and environment feels real and makes everything more palatable. A nod should go to Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography and Pietro Scalia’s editing.
Scott delivers a few standout creepy scenes some particularly gut turning, notably the arm breaking, infection and decontamination scenes- it captures some xenomorph magic.
Marc Streitenfeld’s music score is an effective mixed bag although is a little over used. Both writers and Scott ensure to include a few character twists and wisely incorporate some elements from the Aliens series (in keeping with that world) whether it be a vehicle, a line or setup to possibly appease die-hard fans but for the most part it’s all new and fresh.
Prometheus tackles themes of origin, mortality and biological war fare to name a few. It’s a grower just like the spores themselves.

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