Alien: A Complete Retrospective

Alien: A Complete Retrospective

 

Alien: A Complete Retrospective

By Brian Wallinger 

The science fiction film genre has always been a landmark achievement for the industry, providing not only a high profile of contemporary films, but also retaining a social insight on the human race. In the 1950's films such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Thing From Another Planet, The Fly, or even such cult classics as The Blob or Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers changed the face of American cinema forever. It would be this movement of films that would inspire an entire generation of future film makers such as Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, and most importantly Sir Ridley Scott. No matter how many films Scott has made, it all leads back to his classic and beloved Alien, that has since become an iconic franchise in the world of film. But the real question is, how did it all begin, where did it start, and more importantly where is the series at now given this recent release of the newest film?

Alien

Alien was released by 20th century fox in 1979, and it took fourteen weeks to shoot between June 5th to October 21st 1978. The screenplay was originally written by Dan O' Bannon. It was directed by Scott on a nine million dollar budget, raking in a box office haul somewhere between 104 and 203 million dollars. The cast consists of Sigourney Weaver as the film's hero Ellen Ripley, along with Ian Holm playing a synthetic android. Tom Skerritt stars as the captain of the ship, and is supported by John Hurt, Yaphett Koto, Harry Dean Stanton, and Veronica Cartwright.

Alien has a runtime of 117 minutes, with music being scored by Jerry Goldsmith respectively. In 2008 it was ranked seventh best science fiction film of all time and the film was also given several award nominations including winning an Oscar for best visual effects. The story takes place in deep space on a starship known as the Nostromos. The ship and its crew are on a recon exploration mission when suddenly they pick up what appears to be a distress signal coming from an unverified planet. The crew uses a shuttle to land on the planet’s surface only to have one of their members subdued by what appears to be a squid like predator. The situation eventually appears to be sound until the same crew member has an alien organism burst out of his chest killing him and making an escape somewhere aboard the ship; hiding and systematically killing off the crew until Ellen Ripley is the only one left.

The ship was constructed into three decks created by one solely placed piece that consisted of separate rooms and corridors offering a very horrifying and claustrophobic visual aspect to the film that transcends the terror lurking in the shadows. The design was created by Ron Cobb interfacing an industrial look conceived by transistors and low range resolution. The Alien is organic and biomechanical, born in the work of H.R. Giger. The Alien Eggs consist of dry bones and shellfish. The chest bursting sequence that has since become a landmark in sci-fi horror communities was inspired by Francis Bacon's 1944 painting "Three Studies For Figures At The Base Of A Crucifixion." The alien suit was made up of latex and a separate head piece that could individually control the movement of the alien's second mouth. The alien was created by Carlo Rambaldi who had also worked on Spielberg's hit film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Alien opened to mixed reviews by critics such as Roger Ebert calling it an "Intergalactic haunted house thriller set inside a spaceship".  However, over time the film has received critical acclaim.  The film currently holds a 97% percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Aliens

In 1986 a sequel titled Aliens was released.  It was directed by James Cameron who had previously directed the world wide sci-fi classic The Terminator. Aliens picks up decades after the first film with Sigourney Weaver reprising her role as Ellen Ripley, this time acting alongside Lance Hendrickson, Michael Bien, and recently deceased actor Bill Paxton.

The film begins when Ripley is found by a salvage team in deep space. Ripley gives testimony of her story and her encounter with the alien life form that is met with skeptical criticism by the corporation involved in the conspiracy of the first film.  A colony has been established on the planet that the alien was said to exist on, yet the colonists have never reported any encounters. The radio communications then go abruptly silent and a rescue team made up of a dozen marines and Ripley are dispatched to the planet searching intently through the hauntingly abandoned compound only to find hordes of the alien race and an alien queen that is deep below the surface laying hundreds of eggs.

The film cost significantly more than the original and filming took over ten months. Two stages were used to construct the colony while it took fourteen puppeteers to operate the alien queen. Large segments of the film were shot on soundstages in London. The film draws heavy inspiration from the Vietnam War using its dropship to operate and appear in a simliar fashion to an apache helicopter.  James Horner produced the musical score this time around. Aliens was met with widespread critical acclaim garnishing several awards and nominations including an Oscar nomination for best actress for Weaver.  The Alien design also received praise for being more flexibly inclined and extensively more durable.

Alien 3

Since the release of the first two films, the series has been in critical decline. Alien 3 was directed by David Fincher, marking his directorial debut.  It was labeled by most as the worst entry in the series, although the film was given a special edition release as well as an assembly director’s cut. Despite this, the film has always leaned more towards cult film status as opposed to a mainstream success of the first two predecessors. 

The film takes place after the events of Aliens when Ripley, again played by Sigourney Weaver, is found stranded on a prison planet when a single alien attacks and forces the prisoners and others to survive against it. The story takes an interesting turn when it is revealed that Ripley is pregnant with an alien embryo inside her. Lance Hendrickson again appears as a reprogrammed Bishop only to be driven by profits to insure the capture and study of the aliens by the company. Ripley destroys the Alien and herself in the conclusion, essentially ending the trilogy.

The film was released May 22, 1992 to mixed reviews. The budget cost 50 million with a box office return of 159 million. The film's production experienced large scale problems, such as filming with an incomplete script. The Alien was created by both practical effects and CGI including a blue screen.

Alien Resurrection

After the release of Alien 3 the fourth and final sequel titled Alien Resurrection was released. Sigourney Weaver reprised her role as Ripley for the final time as a clone of her original self aboard a vessel with mercenaries and scientists who have been studying Ripley and the alien species.  One of them Escapes from its cell and frees the remaining aliens, forcing the survivors to have Ripley aid them in an escape.

The film was directed by Jeane Pierre Jeaunet, and was written by Joss Whedon. The budget of the film was 75 million with a box office return of 160 million. Filming began in October 1996 and ended in February 1997. The film did not go without setbacks in production. The biggest was how the visual layout was made to look like a comic book with miniature sets made up to create the ships because the CGI had turned out to be poorly ineffective. Also actress Winona Ryder almost drowned in the underwater segment that was shot at Stage 16. The release of Alien Resurrection was met with a mixed to negative reception. Ron Perlman and Michael Wincott also starred.

Prometheus

Years after a disastrous run with the spin off Alien VS Predator series. Ridley Scott again found himself at the helm to produce a much more personal and profound prequel series to tie into Alien known as Prometheus, drawing inspiration from Greek mythology. The film is about a journey into deep space to pinpoint the origins of mankind's birth using a star map that leads the titular spaceship towards an uninhabited planet. An unknown pathogen finds itself taking over the bodies of the crew until they are fully morphed into a complex lifeform made up of several DNA strands. It is found out at a race of beings known as engineers are responsible for creating man as well as the pathogen that is revealed to have created the xenomorphs.

The film does many flaws and the performances are a little flat at face value, though it is the performance of Michael Fassbender as the synthetic android David that saves the film. The rest of the cast is comprised of Noomi Rapace, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, and Charlize Theron.  Production began in April 2010 and ended June 1 2012. Practical effects and CGI were both used to conceive the visual structure of the planet as well as the exterior space shots, and the different alien encounters. Prometheus was made on a 130 million dollar budget garnishing a 403 million box office return, while opening to mostly positive reviews. The film is known for stepping away from the intense action of previous outings and creating a more in depth, philosophically intriguing exercise.  There are exactly 1300 digital effect shots created during the production of the film.

Alien: Covenant

In his next mega blockbuster sequel director Ridley Scott goes all in to create one of the darker and glorifying entries into to the Alien series.

Taking place exactly ten years after Prometheus, a team of colonists are on a mission to look for a planet that is ideal to populate when they experience an unforeseen series of events, and the crew is left with the question of where to go next. The ship intercepts a signal from a mysterious, but habitable planet and decides to investigate.

The film, like Prometheus, holds off on the action prompting a much more intimate script of questioning our purpose and our existence as a race of beings. All things are connected and eventually destroyed because it is in our nature.

Michael Fassbender steals the show as David, who now has a complete focus on himself and maintains a very elusive and sinister agenda. Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, and Katherine Waterston all play their parts with conviction while the rest of the cast appears to be useless and killed off immediately by the second half of the film.

The effects of the Xenomorph are a little dull at times however there are some equally horrifyingly, well placed scenes that balance it out. The film doesn't place the story directly on the spot of the map it wants us to believe it's on, however it is incredibly closer than the previous films. However, some parts of Covenant make you wonder if Prometheus was worth it or not, as many aspects of Alien: Covenant render the previous film almost pointless. The film was financed by four separate production companies at a ninety seven million budget accumulating thus far one hundred seventeen million at the box office.

After viewing this film, I admit I was a little let down until I tried to imagine putting myself in Ridley Scott's shoes: Where he's been in life, the tragic death of his brother Tony Scott, and his entire career up to now. He is a director well past his years, exhausted, and he's made every move in a monumentally driven career anyone would love to replicate even in the slightest, and this film, the sixth Alien installment is not for the fans as much as it is for Scott himself.

When you see Fassbender playing two roles and the interactions between them, I couldn't help but wonder what if that represents Ridley and his brother Tony? I couldn’t shake the themes of life and death, searching ourselves in vast spaces of time only to find answers in objects around us or within us, somewhere in the depths of our souls.  I think that this is much more personal. The film isn't all deeper meaning aesthetic, there are times in the final act that pay a razor sharp homage to the original film. I must say I'm beyond excited to see where Ridley Scott is going to take us, and only he can do it... Alien: Covenant may not be a perfect film at face value, but it is underneath the surface of unbalanced characters and within the true words and images where the magic is found, even if it is terrifying as it is as equally stunning.

Alien as a series has had its ups and downs, maybe even more downs lately with the spin off Alien VS Predator series and underperforming 90's sequels. Thankfully, we have its true puppet master to take it back where it belongs and Scott once again proves with sincere validation he's still one of the best in the game.

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