With the release of Alien: Covenant upon us it seemed like a good idea to revisit the original movies and share my views on the classic sci-fi series. This week, aside from attending my father’s wedding as best man, I have devoted my time to re-watching the Alien series, complete with Alien Vs Predator spin offs and Ridley Scott’s 2012 prologue, Prometheus. This article is a collection of my musings while watching the first two movies (please note this is not a researched piece of work but rather a stream of consciousness).
Alien, the first of the series, was directed by Ridley Scott and released in 1979 joining many of the early science fiction hall of fame classics with Star Wars: A New Hope preceding it just two years earlier, serving as a huge inspiration to Scott. The plot of the movie is very simple, the sleeping crew of a mining spacecraft are awoken from their cryogenically frozen state in order to explore an uninhabited planet, but unfortunately an Alien manages to get on board the ship and so the fight for survival begins. This fight soon ends as all the crew are massacred by the lone creature. The movie appears to borrow hugely from Kubrick’s genre defining 2001: a Space Odyssey in both its mise-en-scene and themes relating to artificial intelligence. The character of Ash in Alien is an android which goes rogue, sacrificing the lives of the crew in order to preserve the xenomorph on behalf of the greedy, merciless capitalist organisation known only as the “company” and later Weyland-Yutani. In Stanley Kubrick’s movie Ash’s closest parallel is HAL the Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer and though not identical there are clear reflections and this concept has continually been regurgitated in modern sci-fi horrors like Resident Evil (2002) or I Robot (2004).
While Alien helped to define the survival horror genre and is generally considered the best of the series, the sequels differ tremendously in their style and it is hard to pin the franchise to a single genre, probably due to every movie possessing a different director. Though Aliens Is still, at its core, a survival horror it shows off the Xenomorph’s supremacy by pitting them against a heavily equipped, futuristic military platoon as opposed to several unarmed space miners, (the movie’s tag line becoming “This time it’s war” as opposed to “In space no one can hear you scream”). The setting has also changed dramatically, transferring from deep space to the surface of the original planet from the original movie, specifically in a colony located near the ship’s wreckage that triggered events in Alien. The movie sacrifices its psychological factor which its predecessor utilised to perfection in favour of more special effects action and fantastic explosions, typical of James Cameron’s grand style. It seems clear to me that this movie has defined its own genre separate from the first as it has helped to inspire further movies like John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars which also features a group of soldiers sent to investigate a colony with which contact has been lost, or Starship Troopers and video games like Earth Defence Force which revolve around futuristic marines vs giant ravenous bugs. licenced video games like Aliens: Colonial Marines and Alien Vs Predator (which featured a marine campaign heavily influenced by the 1986 movie) have also enjoyed huge popularity in recent years. Similarly, the atmosphere created by the first instalment has been preserved by the release of Alien: Isolation for the next gen consoles, a game where there is only one Alien which you have to avoid and no way to kill it, a clear salute to the original movie and survival horror genre with which it helped define.