Top 5 Alien Franchise Movies
By Bret Dorman
(As always, Spoilers! for the movies below)
Prometheus is out. Finally. The long awaited Alien sequel turned Alien prequel turned ‘Not-so-Alien-prequel’ Alien Prequel. The best way to describe it is Star Wars Episodes 1-3 are definitely prequels to Episodes 4-6, but there’s still a lot of stuff that goes on in between. Prometheus fits into the timeline of Alien, has some of the same themes, and is directed by Ridley Scott. It’s a pretty big deal for film buffs and sci-fi geeks (of which I am the former, and dabble a bit in the latter).
Because of this, Amazon recently had a “Super Deal of the Day” on the Alien Anthology Blu-Ray, so I picked it up. It has all four main Alien as well as tons of commentaries and ‘documentaries’ for each movie as well as original scripts and storyboards. Alien is definitely one of those older films where the story of why and how it got made is just as interesting as the final product.
Here, I will go through and rank those movies. I’m sure my list will be similar to ‘the normal’ ranking of these movies, but I want to do it anyway. I didn’t just spend all week watching the films and most the special features for nothing.
Written by Mel Brooks & Thomas Meehan & Ronny Graham; Directed by Mel Brooks
Sure I could put an AVP movie here but the first one was lame (PG13? really? And no the ‘Unrated’ DVD isn’t any better with its one or two minutes of extra non-gory footage) and the second one I only saw once. I could also be mean and put Alien 3 here and this movie one notch below, but this spot is a joke spot. There are 4 main Alien movies, so I’ll take this opportunity to highlight this fun scene from Spaceballs:
(bonus points for having John Hurt)
4) Alien 3
Story by Vincent Ward; Written by David Giler & Walter Hill and Larry Ferguson; Directed by David Fincher
Alien 3 is a mess. Its puzzling why they thought going from one Alien to multiple Aliens (and a Queen) back to one would be interesting. Part of what is intriguing about Aliens is that it expands on the mythology. Alien 3 goes back to the horror aspect of being trapped with one Alien but puts us on a prison where we don’t care about most (or any) of the characters. They are just fodder for the Alien to kill in gory ways. Much like with Halloween or Friday the 13th sequels, we start to root for the Alien instead of the people. The Directors Cut is frustratingly paced to keep the kills far and few in between and the “What is an Alien” routine by the prisoners is boring to fans who just want to get into it. Yes the first two took their time, but the pay offs were worth it. Alien had the chest bursting scene and Aliens had multiple Aliens.
Alien 3 makes attempts to keep ‘The Company’ paranoia alive and features a weird turn of a guy being absolutely terrified of the Alien monster but then thinking its the devil and wanting to please it or something. A nice tight script with gory execution and a bit of expansion on the mythology would have been okay, but this movie trips and stumbles over a bad idea making it hard to watch and easily the 4th ranked film of the Anthology. The problems start at the story/script level and just snowball from bad to worse.
The main religious prisoner is sometimes cool but is too bland to be memorable. The coolest part is when Ripley has to travel into the junkyard to get Bishop and the two share a nice little conversation about life and death. There aren’t many clips of the movie, so maybe this Deep Blue Sea rallying the troops scene cut short will do:
3) Alien Resurrection
Written by Joss Whedon; Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Alien Resurrection gets props for including Ripley’s death from Alien 3 into its story. The clone idea is great, but they go a couple steps further by making the main Ripley the eighth version and by having her form more of a bond with the Alien creature (which is sometimes conflicting though). Maybe I’m still high off my Whedon-Avengers viewings, but the story writing in Resurrection is pretty smart at times. He knows we’ve already seen Space Marines (done extremely well) so he gives us a military base that is high-jacked by thieves. These thieves may not be extremely likable, but they at least have personalities that the prisoners in Alien 3 lacked. Whedon also brings back the Robots and some of the pacing elements of the first, like having a space ship self-destruct with a fake out ending and final fight on the second ship.
Jeunet also has a good visual eye for action and fun. We get to see Aliens learn (the red button), kill each other and using its own acid as a weapon, acid spit (unfair), and swim underwater. Unlike Alien 3, Alien Resurrection plays more for the audience and not the characters. What I mean by that is the egg-trap and facehugger attacks are badass reveals and not full of explanations or characters quietly asking “what are those?” The robot reveal is also well done and handled pretty good from then on. You almost want to facepalm saying, “Of course there’s a robot! Why did I even forget!”
Alien Resurrection is a fun actioner. Its not a good Alien movie in the sense that it creates an erie atmosphere but Its a good action movie with Aliens. For some it may go overboard a bit (the Ripley-Alien hybrid) but I find that over the top craziness necessary. Alien set the bar, Aliens Raised it, and Alien Resurrection tried to jump it, whether or not it succeeded is up to debate, but at least Ron Pearlman is in it and he shoots things. Here’s a poor quality version of Aliens being badasses:
Story by Dan O’Bannon & Ronald Shusset; Written by Dan O’Bannon; Directed by Ridley Scott
The movie that started it all. Dan O’Bannon is the unsung hero for creating an atmosphere that united a bunch of artists that were tops in their fields and getting them to work on the movie. His story was reworked and rewritten, but in the end Ridley Scott noticed that his idea at the core was what made the movie work the best. An exercise in fear and tension, Alien absorbs you into its world, then knocks you to the ground with the chest bursting scene, lets you catch your breath just long enough to deliver some more one off kills, then has a super awesome twist (Ash being a robot), before delivering a riveting escape scene, and fake-out final fight. Ideas such as foreign body contamination, ‘The Company’ having ulterior motives, robots being trustworthy or not, and atmosphere are all set up for the future movies.
Alien also works because there’s rarely a boring scene amongst people. Every scene has tension or character building. There’s no obligatory scene that feels like its just going through the motions. Then you have the introduction of the Alien, which doesn’t replace the human interactions, but heightens them. It does a good job of passing what Jason Zinoman (author of Shock Value, a must read for horror-film fans) ‘The Monster Problem.’ That is when you build up the expectation of the monster so much so that it can not be satisfying to the audience and inevitably it becomes a let down. But Alien gives us the egg introduction surrounded in mysetry (forgeign planet, strange ship, the mysterious Space Jockey) and then progresses it along in stanges (egg, facehugger, chest burster, and finally xenomorph). By constantly showing us the monster but having it evolve keeps the audience constantly on edge and surprised. Then of course there’s the other hidden threat, Ash being a robot taking orders directly from ‘The Company.’ Its a masterpiece in sci-fi horror all around.
In this scene, Alien sets up what must have been awesome in the pre-internet age for people to sit and talk about different theories and ideas of what the movie is trying to do or say. Alien gives us plenty to talk about, but for fans of the movie the Space Jockey scene provides a puzzling scenario that we would have to wait over three decades (well, for me maybe one) to finally get a closer glimpse at its background:
Story by James Cameron and David Giler & Walter Hill; Written and Directed by James Cameron
Alien is the superior film, in my opinion. What makes Aliens exceptionally great is that it could have just tried to replicate the first, but it instead ratchets up the action. And not just in a corny way or average way, but in an Alien way. James Cameron hits those paces the first one does by having a slow-ish start, a crazy introduction of the Aliens to the crew members, great set design, and a fake-out final fight. It also plays with audience expectations by having Bishop right off the bat reveal himself as a robot but then redeem himself. He becomes more human by putting his differences aside, thinking for himself, and doing his best to save every life he can.
Cameron’s corporate hate is perfect to expand on the ruthless griminess of Paul Reiser’s character and his macho action dialogue and character design is unrivaled in Space Marine movies. But what makes Aliens get the Top Spot over Alien, especially if I think the first is a bit more superior? Two Words: Alien Queen. As one of the great last GIANT practical effect monsters, the Alien Queen serves as a nice expansion on the story. Originally, it seems like the Alien was supposed to turn people into eggs, as evidenced by a first script and deleted scene from Alien (?). But this deviates and gives us a cool look into the mythology as well as a badass final fight. Ripley in the Mech Suit Loader vs the Queen is pure movie magic. Also, Bishop’s ‘Death Scene’ is a total ‘Fuck Yeah!’ moment and its rare to see such visceral pain from when the Queen RIPS him in half in a movie. Again, youtube has let me down (it was on there before, maybe taken down to copyright reason?) so instead of the Bishop Death here’s this instead:
So there it is. 1 awesome sci-fi horror, 1 awesome sci-fi actioner, 1… other one, and 1 over the top action romp. A pretty good franchise for the casual movie watcher, but for film buffs every movie has its own story to tell behind the scenes. As I mentioned, I’m sure my list is not too different that everyone else’s (Alien and Aliens are generally pretty exchangable as #1). Or what do you think? Am I way off? I would ask your thoughts on if Prometheus lived up to the hype and how that movie fits in, but maybe I’ll write a separate review for that, as to keep the discussion Spoiler! free for the time being on that one…