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Bingewatching the Alien franchise

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Reading time: 6 minutes

*Minor spoilers*

In honour of Alien’s 40th anniversary, I decided to watch the entire franchise in one long marathon, in chronological narrative order (i.e. Prometheus first). I didn’t rewatch the Alien vs Predator series, because frankly, they’re shit.

The ambition was to watch all six movies in one sitting. My logic being that twelve hours was less than I’m awake for per day. I lasted until breakfast. Unfortunately, I need to eat and go to the toilet. I also wanted to enjoy the experience – not end up hating the films because I forced myself through them in a day.

Rather than a straightforward review of each movie, I’m going to try and talk about how and if they connect as a progressive, twelve-hour space horror. The recent ‘origins’ films (prequels to you and me) made by Ridley Scott came under some fire, but I’ll admit early on, I saw both in the cinema and own them at home, so it’s fair to say I don’t hate them.

Prometheus (2012)

Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien universe received a lot of flak from fans because it didn’t feel like a direct Alien relative. Plus, the Xenomorphs were virtually absent. But it’s an origins film, so I’d argue if you went in expecting not to have the years rolled back, you’re an idiot.

It isn’t without its problems, but there’s an otherworldly beauty to Prometheus. This may sound silly because it’s literally set on another world, but you know what I mean. Everything from the score to the slightly religious awe in the discovery of creation is ephemeral.

The Engineers are a strange race. In the sense of what they look like and their relation to humans, but I like that their history and the mystery around them and their relationship to the Alien universe.

Just like in the Star Wars prequels (episodes 1-3) there’s a rather liberal artistic licence to the production design, in that much of the technology looks more advanced than in the later-set, earlier-made films. This doesn’t bother me that much though and the ‘marathon’ is off to a good start. Prometheus is fun sci-fi and a nice addition to the Alien series.

Covenant (2017)

After the criticisms of Prometheus, Ridders went for more of a classic horror approach on the much darker (both tonally and visually) Covenant. The story of the creation of the events from the Alien series is furthered significantly and there’s some terrific action and gore.

However, I did wonder whether seeing the myth revealed before watching the original film is something of a spoiler. Alien‘s strength is in its mystery and the shock and surprise of these new creatures and planets.

If I were to advise someone who had never seen the series, I’d most certainly say start with the 1979 film and watch them through the years.

It’s what I did over some twenty years since seeing Alien, but watching them all in one go made me hyper-aware of how much Prometheus and Covenant might spoil Alien. While the origins films are good entertainment, they’re not as good as Alien – ruining that masterpiece would be a shame.

Alien (1979)

I chose to watch the original version of Alien because last time I watched the director’s cut and ended up thinking that Alien wasn’t as good as I remembered. There’s a reason for that – Ridley Scott stands by the original as his vision and the latter version is simply a marketing ploy.

My advice, therefore, is to watch the original if you haven’t seen either.

Alien has a very effective Jaws-feel to the hidden horror of this killing machine. And it remains a wonderful, atmospheric, shocking piece of cinema – long after the first watch.

It’s dated, clearly, but it retains the charm of older films rather than looking cheap or schlocky. Very, very much enjoyed this rewatch – if only because I’d recalled the director’s cut. Alien is a superior film to the prequels, as the Xenomorph emerges from the dark, stalking the crew of mining ship, Nostromo.

Trivia alert: to get the cat to hiss when it saw the alien, they had an Alsatian behind a glass screen to scare it into thinking it was about to die. Yet when I do that to my mum’s cat, I’m a ‘psychopath’…

Finally, aren’t you glad they didn’t call it Star Beast!

Aliens (1986)

Aliens is my favourite film in the series and one of my favourite films of all time.

It’s bigger, badder and war-ier than the 1979 creation. Despite the traditional sequel bombast, it retains the horror and fear which Alien imposed on the us. Aliens just tweaked it.

It’s a wonderful feat from James Cameron to upgrade, change the approach but expand on Scott’s series opener.

However, I chose the original version, rather than the 1991 special edition that James Cameron gave his seal of approval to. Having seen Cameron’s ‘preferred’ cut (not director’s cut) before, I know it doesn’t really add to the story. Also, James Cameron gave Terminator Genisys his backing so great director or not, we know he’ll say anything for a few quid.

While the abandoned planet the team of marines descend into the bowels of is brilliant and terrifyingly constructed, as everything inevitably goes wrong, I couldn’t help but think that there’s a slight lack of heroic consequence. Ripley isn’t punished for mistakes that other characters suffer for. I’m nitpicking and I know they were never going to kill off the star, but it did cross my mind, so it’s worth noting.

Aliens remains an astonishing film that I enjoyed all over again. It’s not lost any of its unique and, frankly, still unrivalled atmosphere or fear over the years.

Alien³

Arguably the best supporting cast of the series? Charles Dance, Pete Postlethwaite, Charles S. Dutton, Paul McGann, Brian Glover and Lance Henriksen all join Sigourney.

Directed by David Fincher with a script that was essentially written on the fly (much like the new Bond film, my friend on set tells me). To call the production troubled would be something of an understatement.

Much like The Godfather Part 3, Alien³ has been derided, but unfairly in my opinion. Could it have been better if the studios hadn’t interfered so much? Almost certainly. David Fincher has gone on to prove what a brilliant filmmaker he is – and he disowned the final version of Alien³.

Having learned from the other films in the series, no way was I watching the ‘2003 special edition’. It remains an entertaining film, with lots of tension created by the setting (a penal colony for men). So when a woman crash lands, it causes friction – and brings along an alien or two. There’s a lot of good gore, including an eye-watering autopsy scene.

Although Alien³ isn’t at the top end of the series in terms of quality, none of them are ‘bad’ films. But as I type this, I’m yet to rewatch Alien: Resurrection.

On that note…

Alien: Resurrection (1997)

Brutally put, Alien: Resurrection is the worst film in the series and very much a let down given the cast and director. Jean-Pierre Jeunet directed The City of Lost Children and Amelie, so you’d think he’d be able to make a convincing environment. And he does to an extent, but it’s far out of keeping with the feel of the first three films, which makes it something of an outlier from the tone of the other five films.

Some great actors are doing their best in a film which that feels like a sequel in a franchise which was running into dead ends – narratively speaking. I feel bad complaining, as Resurrection isn’t trash and I like seeing Ron Perlman and Brad Dourif, but unfortunately, the series ends on a low note when watched in this order.

Another reason to start with Alien and work through from there.

In conclusion…  

The prequels build interestingly on the expanding mythos of the Alien movies and they’re not bad films by any means, but it’s understandable why some fans don’t enjoy their exposition – some mysteries are best left unexplained. I would certainly advise anyone new to the series to start with Alien and watch through in the order the films were made.

For a six-film series, though, I can’t think of a better cinematic set. Twelve hours of Xenomorph terror, with a variety of angles, a wonderful sense of awe and a rich universe full of stories. I would very much like to see Neill Blomkamp given a turn at helming another Alien effort.

I understand some people may have some Ripley fatigue, but I certainly do not.

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