Sam loves movies and enjoys science fiction, zombie movies, and pessimistic survival films.
The Ever-Expanding 'Alien' Universe
At the time of writing, there are six movies that are considered part of the Alien storyline that starts with the release of the original Ridley Scott Alien movie. I'm not going to review the Alien vs Predator movies because they are so loosely related in the whole Alien universe and it's a euphemism to call them not that great.
Although Prometheus doesn't really involve xenomorphs, it still matters for the Alien storyline. With the release of Covenant, the connection becomes clearer. We'll see what Ridley Scott will offer in his probably last outing in the Alien film universe. Let's hope he's on an upward trajectory. I hope you'll enjoy our write up on all the Alien movies in order of release.
The Alien Saga began as few ones can: With a meeting of great minds at the beginning of their careers, seeking to make catharsis after an ambitious project, in which many were involved, ended up shelved.
Release Year: 1979
Director(s): Ridley Scott
Actors: Sigourney Weaver, Harry Dean Stanton, Ian Holm, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, a.o.
The Success: 'Alien'
In more than one way, Alien existed thanks to Alejandro Jodorowsky's failed Dune film project. A bankrupt Dan O'Bannon co-created this sci-fi/horror story along with his friend Ronald Shusett. To round off the look of the film, H.R. Giger, Chris Foss and Jean Giraud (who worked with O'Bannon on Jodorowsky's Dune) printed their visual biomechanical style in this little universe to make it memorable.
And then there was a young Ridley Scott. Excited by the opportunity to direct this story, he ended up infecting his enthusiasm to 20th Century Fox, achieving not only the desired green light but that the limited budget was doubled.
Alien's strength is that it's primarily a straightforward horror "home invasion" movie that happens in space, shot like an art piece and never assumed as a B-Monster Movie. It's the mix of genres, the detailed production design, the direction and the performances that subtly show the deeper themes.
But above all, its success was due to its “last scream girl”: the iconic Ripley. Sigourney Weaver took this trope and along with the "damsel in distress," destroyed them with an incredible dose (and little-seen at that time) of badass, not-forced, female empowerment.
Ripley fights against patriarchy and exploitation in every possible way. Even the ship she is in symbolizes her own struggle as a woman.
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The design of the Xenomorph reinforces this idea. The alien camouflages perfectly between the machinery and the ship's pipes as an analogy and constant reminder of the deadly exploitative employer and the avarice behind tech development. It's an enclosed, enslaved, claustrophobic and hostile environment. The horror of not only an invading entity but of knowing that the ones that were meant to look after you have betrayed you.
Release Year: 1986
Director(s): James Cameron
Actors: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Carrie Henn , a.o.
The Best Sequel: 'Aliens'
Seven years later, Ripley would return to star in the story against the xenomorphs. But this time, this character would have a new side that we didn't know: the maternal one.
James Cameron took Ridley Scott's spot as director and changed the straightforward horror tone with frenzy, explosive action. The result, Aliens, is one of the best sequels of all time.
After spending decades drifting through space in stasis, Ripley is finally rescued by her employers, the Weyland-Yutani Company. She discovers that 57 years have passed and her daughter, who was a child the last time she saw her, has died from old age natural causes.
Ripley: A Feminine Icon
The development of Ripley as the beacon of feminine light in historical fiction follows a progressive and logical route. Ripley continues to raise her voice and take strong actions against the condescending patriarchal oppressors that surround her. When we see the Marines for the first time, they are cocky meatheads whose relationship to weapons is practically erotic.
Ripley deals with the loss of her biological daughter, by taking under her wing a little girl called Newt (Carrie Henn), the only survivor of a colony. Cameron goes even further, introducing the figure of the Alien Queen, a giant version of the average xenomorph that fiercely protects her eggs. The result is an engaging "final boss" confrontation between two species, with their maternal protective instincts as the main fuel.
Bigger, louder and faster, Aliens takes to its heart the plural in its name, delivering the highest quality point of the saga.
And then came Alien 3.
Alien 3 (1992)
Title: Alien 3
Release Year: 1992
Director(s): David Fincher
Actors: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, a.o.
The Mistake: 'Alien 3'
The unforgivable sin of the third entry in the saga is that it's a movie made by executives rather than by artists. You can't have David Fincher as the creative head of the project and restrain him. Created in 1992, this mistake would not have been made today.
Alien 3 begins his infamy by instantly eliminating the key emotional characters of Aliens. A lazy, cheap clean slate so Ripley's new motivation doesn't have any old obstacles. Newt is dead. Hicks is dead.
Alien 3 does have interesting themes that deepen Ripley's constant feminist struggle. Ripley's sexuality is enhanced. She is surrounded by the worst examples that masculinity can offer in the form of rapists, murderers, and sociopaths. She is objectified on several occasions (she even survives an attempted rape) and treated as a "damsel in distress" before she assumes her natural leadership.
Newt's death reaffirms a motif about Ripley's doomed maternity. Because of the Weyland-Yutani Company, Ripley has already lost two daughters (one biological, the other adopted). In Alien 3, while literally being a prisoner of the company, Ripley learns that her hated alien enemy has impregnated her. She then decides to end her life and the alien's inside her (her bizarre "third daughter", because it's an infant alien queen).
It was Ripley's femininity treated as an obstacle and a threat. Sadly, these themes were lost under a ton of bad decisions and aged CGI.
It would take five years for executives to get a more dignified way to revive the franchise.
Alien: Resurrection (1997)
Title: Alien: Resurrection (Alien 4)
Release Year: 1997
Director(s): Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Actors: Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon, a.o.
It Does Its Job: 'Alien: Resurrection'
They called Joss Whedon (Toy Story, Buffy, The Avengers) to write the script, brought Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amélie, Delicatessen) to direct, and became fully engaged with its borderline-pulp plot on cloning and mixed breeds.
And although at the time the franchise was at its lowest point and the reviews were mixed, the truth is that Alien: Resurrection achieved its purpose. It's a dignified, grotesque, fun and bloody addition to the saga.
The Great Ripley Returns
Following its over-the-top approach, there's another thing that Resurrection does very well, within its style: They basically created a bonkers-yet-unforgettable UBER Ripley.
200 years have passed since the infamous events of Alien 3. Weyland-Yutani Company no longer exists (Walmart bought it lol), but the United Systems Military Auriga is the new unethical greedy corporation of humankind. After 7 failed attempts, they have managed to clone Lt. Ellen Ripley (and most importantly, the alien queen inside her) thanks to a blood sample collected in the furnace where she committed suicide. The result of the experiment is a Ripley-8 with some aspects of the xenomorphs and an alien queen with her own reproductive system. Disgusting. Wonderful.
Of course, Ripley's femininity and doomed motherhood remain the most important theme of the saga. Ripley-8 is a mix of memories and genetic material. She has the memories of the original Ripley but also has acid blood and superhuman strength. She also quotes Newt as if they were her own words. Ripley-8 is the mother (Ripley) and the daughters (the biological, the adopted, and the alien one) completely merged.
Ripley-8 is the most sexually explicit version of Ripley. Her stare, her movements, her dialogues, all have an implicit seduction and a powerful erotic drive. This film suggests a sexual relationship between Ripley-8 and the xenomorphs, in addition to making clear her strong maternal connection with the final hybrid alien. She's a woman with few reasons to believe in mankind, who just keeps looking for that intimate contact even with her humans and aliens antagonists.
The Alien saga, like any good Sci-fi dystopia, exists to contextualize the shadow of our humanity. "No human being is that humane," says Ripley-8 when she discovers that Call (Winona Ryder) is an android. Alien: Resurrection gives respite to Ripley and eliminates technophobia (very present in Alien and Alien 3) within the same move: Ripley-8 and Call end up holding each other back on Earth, planning their future.
You can argue about it, but in more ways than one, this was the perfect ending for one of the best movie characters of the 20th century.
Release Year: 2012
Director(s): Ridley Scott
Actors: Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba a.o.
A Controversial Take: 'Prometheus'
A generation later, and in a whole new century, Ridley Scott would return to the Alien universe to create a tangential prequel.
Prometheus happens about 30 years before the events depicted in Alien. In this story, a ship/mission is entrusted with following a stellar map — obtained in different artifacts of several ancient Earth cultures — that allegedly is an invitation to meet the "engineers" creators of humanity. All this financed by the Weyland Corporation, which of course from the get-go makes us understand that there will be a hidden agenda.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Prometheus is not precisely the denial of xenomorphs. Not even Ripley's absence, who is an iconic character, but her presence would make no sense in this prequel.
It Lacks Soul
The real problem is the absence of "Ripley's soul," if you will. The true protagonist of this story is an android. And although Michael Fassbender is wonderful as David, the tonal change is one that was meant to polarize the audience, no matter how wannabe-Ripley Noomi Rapace is, or how cool the chemistry between Idris Elba and Charlize Theron is.
When we understand that David is the true protagonist, empathy disappears. The recurring theme of the importance of tenacity for survival is gone. At least on a human level. David is an android. One with quite dark behaviors. Fuck that robot. I'm out.
The characters drop like flies, sometimes even by their own choice, in a matter of seconds. Nobody really wants to live, except perhaps the big antagonist (WTF). That's impossible to connect with. Ripley's human spirit of survival was necessary for this to hold. It didn't.
However, let never be said that Ridley Scott is not a persistent guy.
Alien: Covenant (2017)
Title: Alien: Covenant
Release Year: 2017
Director(s): Ridley Scott
Actors: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride a.o.
Full of Entertainment: 'Alien: Covenant'
Alien: Covenant is undoubtedly his most frenetic movie and perhaps the most strictly entertaining of the entire saga. Set 12 years after the events of Prometheus, this is the story of the colonization-ship Covenant, full of thousands of colonialists in the form of humans suspended in stasis and human embryos ready to build new civilizations, all headed for a remote planet called Origae-6.
The crew consists of a solid casting led by Katherine Waterston (Danny), who for the get-go looks like the wannabe-Ripley on duty, with a look similar to Aliens’ Private Vasquez. The dynamics of this crew is different from that of past films because instead of soldiers and "lone wolves", all members of the ship were selected with their stable partners, so they'll be ready to create new families in this colonization.
Good for Gore-Filled Entertainment
At times, Alien: Covenant looks like a Ridley Scott spoiled tantrum in the face of Prometheus' lukewarm reception. Scott sacrifices originality and a serious atmosphere of horror for a fast-paced and predictable bloody entertainment. Gone are the philosophical themes or the analogies with Greek mythologies. This is a pure summer blockbuster.
The overkill of his female protagonists is remarkable. It seemed, at times, a statement about the impossibility of replacing Ripley, who was also a sort of martyr but was always the clear lead and eternal survivor of the original quadrilogy.
Once more, the David/Walter androids (played by a great Michael Fassbender), ends up being the thunder stealer. So far in this prequel, it's evident that the wannabe Ripleys have been simple decoys so that the stoic android with bone-chilling AI — a recurring theme in the whole saga — is really the one who makes the interesting philosophical musings and who makes the plot move forward.
David/Walter is the only proof of original personality in this new prequel trilogy. Besides that, and especially here in Alien: Covenant, everything is a steroid version of the "Greatest Hits" of the entire saga. There are like five "chestbursters", two "facehuggers", a protagonist who is the almost perfect phenotypic hybrid between Ripley and Vasquez and crew members who in one way or another remind us of former crew members victims of xenomorphs.
It wasn't enough. Ripley was always the perfect counterpart of the xenomorphs. Our empathy with her struggle was the only way we can respond as an audience. Wanting to emulate her with forgettable characters without their own personality was not a good idea.
Nor was it to put an android in the "emotional" center of the story. Ballsy, no doubt, but flawed.
This was our write up for the Alien movies in order of release. Although very flawed the nearly 12-hour runtime offers enough kicks and thrills for science fiction space horror enthusiasts. We can see were Ridley Scott wants to go with the philosophical and psychological arc of the saga, but let's be honest, it often fails to deliver on that promise.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2019 Sam Shepards