In its anniversary year, we asked Alien Fanattik, Mark Ingram, to take us through his thoughts on the film franchise 40 years after it first hit the big screen.
1979 and Ridley Scott releases ‘Alien’, a film that changes the science fiction genre. Not in the soap opera way of Star Wars fantasy, but in using characters we can relate to and putting them in a situation we could all imagine.
Setting the film on a spaceship was inspiring, even though this doesn’t really play into the film until the final third, allowing the sense of restriction on where people can run or hide.
Any true film fan will have the Alien films in their collection, with a challenge that once you start watching, you want to do all the films although in recent years we are now wondering do we watch Prometheus and Covenant before Alien? Many people struggle with the two ‘prequels’ and this is not because they are bad films, just that the original was such a brilliant film. So many elements have become iconic throughout the years since the first Alien film and copied 100s of times in some good (and some not so good!) films.
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Alien – In space no one can hear you scream. This tagline set up science fiction with horror and with a slow, almost ballet style, opening builds the tension of the unknown as we meet the characters with both their serious sides and fun sides. With a mix of UK and US actors, Ridley Scott delivered us characters we believe in and we believe they had spent a long time working together and know each other. Every member of the cast deserves equal mentions for what they bring to the film, regardless of their air time.
The moment the crew land on the planet, we have real spacesuits and none of the fantasy of people beaming down or walking around in the shirt sleeves with a laser gun strapped to the side. This is how real life space travel will be within our foreseeable future and not thousands of years away – so we buy into the heavy almost clunky spacesuits and heavy breathing equipment. As Kane (a brilliant John Hurt) looks around a derelict spaceship the tension builds up and suddenly you get the first ‘jump’ moment and the film changes gear. Then we first see the Facehugger, a personal favourite of mine. It only exists for a short time in the film giving it forever, cult status amongst film fans.
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This leads us on to probably the most talked about ‘dinner table’ scene in film history and there can’t be many people now who don’t know that all the actors (except John Hurt) had no idea what the scene involved and therefore reactions are real as we first meet the Chestburster. I will say the little alien scuttling out of the room perhaps hasn’t aged as well as the rest of the film!
Now the film steps up another gear as the crew chase the alien creature to contain it but suddenly this switches as the Alien grows and the crew become the hunted.
At this point, you fully expect Tom Skerritt as the captain to become the hero but this is quickly removed from our minds and the crew are left leaderless. Interestingly people forget that you see very little violence on screen in the original (as opposed to its sequels) so lots of quick cutaways with Ridley Scott letting people’s imaginations take over.
Photo credit: Mark Ingram
This, in my view, is now where the film became even more iconic and forever copied in taking a strong female character and resting the whole film on her. Sigourney Weaver’s portrayal of Ripley gave us someone who would evolve through the sequels and carry the franchise for the next few films.
By now, we’ve had one Facehugger and one alien (grown from Chestburster to full Alien) with what we now know has acid for blood and some interesting sets of metallic-like teeth. We see the Alien tracking down the crew one by one as we move towards the final act of the film, which when it is over gives us, as the audience, insight to the fate of Ripley (would she ever get back to earth or would she just die in space?).
It’s important to mention the sequels Aliens, Alien3 and Alien Resurrection as they were interesting in their own rights and regardless of the strength of stories, should be part of everyone’s collection.
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Aliens is a rollercoaster and James Cameron goes straight down the Sci-Fi action route increasing a thousand fold the aliens and, with them, many more deaths. I loved the start of the film, waking up Ripley from 57 years in space, literally the next scene after Ridley Scott’s film ends.
In this sequel we don’t just get the one Facehugger and alien, we are introduced to what is seemingly a colony of aliens who are working as a group to hunt down the humans. As aliens, they haven’t changed much since the first one we met but this time they appear like animals hunting as a pack.
But apart from the thousands of rounds of bullets used trying to kill the aliens, this film does one thing and introduces us to the Alien Queen which eventually leads us to a final showdown of alien versus human with the most quotable line from the whole franchise ‘Get away from her you bitch’. Aliens also introduces us to ‘the company’ that was mentioned in the first film and which starts to play more of a role in the sequels. Sigourney Weaver again holds the whole thing together and becomes your gun totting action hero and you just know she’s out to destroy all the aliens.
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Alien3 was more interesting to see where David Fincher went as I am a big fan of his, however I think the story let Fincher down and it is overshadowed by the two earlier, stronger films, struggling to have its own identity. It is not a bad film and certainly for Alien fans, it has to be in your collection.
Alien Resurrection was a film I was looking forward to for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I do like the work of Jean-Pierre Jeunet who is, in my view, artistic in the approach of his work in the same way Ridley Scott is (Cameron is big scale action and Fincher is very technical). Then secondly I was hoping the introduction of Winona Ryder (loved her since Heathers) would be a handover from Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley to a new lead to kick off a couple of alien hunter type films and I so wanted Winona to come out with double machine guns and really blow the aliens away. On a trivia note, I also love the fact that Ripley sinking the basketball in the net with her back turned from about 20 yards was actually done in one take!! Unfortunately, despite some good scenes, the film doesn’t hit anyone’s top film lists as it loses its way slightly with the human-alien hybrid which in my opinion didn’t really bring any tension or scares.
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Now to the Prequels – Prometheus and Covenant are good films. The biggest question in the Alien franchise is, were they really needed? I was really looking forward to them and I was not disappointed although I’m not sure they really brought explanations to the origins of mankind or the original Alien, more just that something had happened. The stand out in these films is the wonderful Michael Fassbender although all the cast are excellent as you would expect from the castings.
The fact is that Prometheus and Covenant are coming in 20 years after the last Alien film and it didn’t re-invent the franchise or re-boot it. It added to it and that’s not a bad thing but it did mean for us hardened fans, it was going to be more of the same. But no collection should be without these films and a 6 film marathon is always on the cards.
- Which was your favourite Alien film?
- Were Prometheus and Covenant needed?
- Would you like to see Ellen Ripley return one last time?
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