In space, no one can hear you scream
In giddy anticipation of Popcornography’s Prometheus review, it seems only fitting that a quick overview of the Alien franchise is discussed. And when I mean the Alien franchise, I mean the only films worth mentioning i.e. Alien and Aliens. After that there were merely awkward Predator spin offs, something involving Winona Ryder, and Sigourney shaving her not so fabulous locks. Popcornography likes to pretend that these instalments do not exist. When Alien was released back in 1979, Science Fiction films were all the rage. Light sabres and Ewoks were dominating the screens but despite this, Alien was truly one of a kind. It was not the first blood-thirsty homicidal monster to appear on screen and nor was it the first time cast members were hunted down in dark and dingy spaces. However, Ridley Scott’s Alien was the first feature to effectively combine the two above genres which ultimately lead to a multitude of sequels and spin offs. The sequel Aliens, directed by James Cameron, was the franchises true flagship as critics favoured the action heavy focus as opposed to the initial films strong horror elements. However it is my opinion that the best of the franchise lies in Scott’s original masterpiece. Regardless, the Alien franchise is considered to be 20th Century Fox’s second most popular science fiction film franchise of all time.
In addition to the near perfect blend of Horror and Science Fiction, Alien had other pioneering attributes. Among these was the introduction of a female heroine. Sigourney Weaver ends up being the sole survivor, except for her ginger kitty, that manages to escape the rampaging “Xenomorph”. As a result when a film, on the rare occasion, features a female protagonist that takes the lead in an action/ adventure movie she is often compared to old Sigourney. With regard to the strong horror elements of the original, the manner in which Scott meticulously manages to raise the menace and tension is worthy of Hitchcock. Recently watching Alien for the first time, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it despite its age. It remains, to this day, pretty darn scary. Scott accurately produces a nightmarish atmosphere through copious amounts of horrific imagery. However, for the majority of the film, Scott restricts the audience to brief glimpses of the creature which raises the tension considerably.
Jones, the cat, manages to survive a multitude of Alien films.
Alien begins calmly on board the commercial towing vehicle; Nostromo. The movie begins slowly as the seven crew members (including Sigourney) are awoken due a suspicious transmission coming from a seemingly uninhabited planet (Planet LV-426). The initial pacing of the movie is SLOW. Scott introduces the characters at a glacial pace. The characters are not the least bit concerned about blood thirsty homicidal aliens and Scott manages to accurately portray a sense of ordinariness with regard to the crew’s activities and personal desires. Many will thus complain that the movie’s pacing is dull and unnecessarily delayed. Those people are missing the point. Scott’s initial lethargic pace is crucial for the rest of the movie to play out as effectively as it does.
The crew decides to investigate the transmission and on arrival of the foreign planet, they discover what seems to be an enormous vessel that has crash landed. OBVIOUSLY they venture forth with the intent to explore. They discover bizarre technology, a deceased being adorning an elephantine mask (which has special relevance to the prequel Prometheus), and lastly a chamber of curious eggs. OBVIOUSLY someone has to investigate the eggs. The crew member Kane (John Hurt) examines an egg which opens and launches a leathery creature, known as a “facehugger”, which penetrates his protective helmet and forces alien parts down his throat. The crew take Kane back to Nostromo with the immovable creature attached to his face. Sigourney has issues with this due to contamination, however, her opinions are dismissed and he is taken aboard. Annoyingly, if people would just listen to Sigourney, far fewer cast members would meet gruesome ends. However, Sigourney remains unheard throughout the remainder of the Alien franchise and as a result the body count continues to grow exponentially.
To survive one should avoid the Facehugger to the best of their ability.
Soon after, we learn of the creature’s lifecycle and the well-known and over referenced Alien scene arrives. At mealtime there is normal crew-like chit-chat which is interrupted by Kane who begins to gag and convulse. Once Kane falls to the table, a creature bursts out of his chest and scampers off into the air ducts. The “chestburster” scene has been referenced countless times in other films and at the time was the most talked about scene in the movie. I always imagined that the scene would be unbearable to behold, and at the time I am sure it was, but watching the movie recently it actually just looks rather ridiculous. With that said, I am amazed at what they could achieve back in 1979 with regard to visuals. Film analysts will claim that the “chestburster” scene portrays themes of non-consensual intercourse due the impregnation of humans as well as the phallic nature of the emerging baby Xenomorph. Alien, just so you know, is essentially a rape movie. Anyway that is neither here nor there but the scene, despite the awkward and bizarre manner in which the baby Xenomorph scurries away, is still truly disturbing to this day.
Aw a baby Xenormorph.
After baby alien makes its escape, the crew panic and ultimately an angry adult Xenomorph emerges and begins to slay folk relentlessly. As difficult as it is to imagine that someone is responsible for actually conceptualizing such a bizarre and disturbing concept, the film and the idea is surprisingly intriguing. You are never sure what is going to happen next and although the movie is at times gruesome and disgusting, you are continuously curious to learn more about the creature. As a result you sympathize with those who want to “study” it in the film. Sadly, those people all die.
Aliens is where James Cameron steps in and as a result there is less intrigue, suspense and horror and more action and adventure elements. This was solely done to broaden the appeal of the film and to attract mass interest as opposed to the very niche ideals of the original project. The first film left Sigourney very disgruntled and consequently she strikes back against the Xenomorphs in Aliens. Despite my personal feelings, Aliens was the most successful of the franchise and was nominated for seven Academy awards. OBVIOUSLY, Mr Cameron’s involvement resulted in Oscar buzz. Shocking. The real stars of Alien are not the humans, however. They are in fact the production design of Michael Seymour and the creature design of H.R. Giger. Seymour’s work fashions a perfect playground for the creature consisting of dark and claustrophic passages that emphasize the sense of ever mounting tension. Giger’s creature design is of unparalleled terror and represents the most memorable vision in Science Fiction history. Filmmaker’s over the years have attempted to mimic Giger’s design and have failed miserably at best.
There’s the alien we all know and love.
Alien was so successful that sequels (and now prequels) were almost mandatory. Prometheus will attempt to answer the questions that the franchise failed to do. For instance, we hope that it will finally shed light on what really happened on Planet LV-426 with regard to the downed vessel and the bizarre beings in elephantine masks. According to the hype, more of the Alien mythology will be investigated. Additionally, it has been suggested that Prometheus will be deep enough to stand independently of other Alien films as opposed to just being perceived as a strict prequel. Ridley Scott returns as the director of Prometheus and for this reason we should all be very excited. If, for some reason, the Alien franchise is not enough to drag you to Prometheus then Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron should. Michael Fassbender is the hottest new comer to Hollywood; recently receiving an Academy award nomination for his role in Shame. Alternatively, go for Charlize. We all love Charlize. CHARLIZE REALLY IS SO HOT RIGHT NOW. With the director that pioneered science-fiction horror and with cinematography that is likely to be breath-taking, Prometheus should not be missed. I personally am excited to witness how the Alien universe transitions into modern day film. If nothing else, I expect this film to be a spectacle of technological marvel. The Alien franchise, admittedly, has had very strong cringe worthy moments but where it succeeds, it does so tremendously. In its own way, the Alien franchise has been as influential as Star Wars as it proves that during the 70s/80s wave of sci-fi, there was room for darker and grittier projects. Alien may not have been completely unique in its delivery but its wide-spread acceptance made it a blueprint for an entire sub-genre. The Alien franchise deserves your attention.
Check out the Trailer for Prometheus below. Hectic.