The Alien franchise remains near and dear to my heart. The quality fluctuates as the series progresses through studio mismanagement and a lack of singular creative direction over the course of the quadrilogy. A lack of singular creative vision resulted in a vastly different style of movie upon each entry but it’s ultimately why I’ve come to love it so much. Each director that gets to play in the primary movies in the franchise (disregard Avp and Prometheus for this conversation) is able to bring their own aesthetic to the world of Alien.
Alien is a pure horror thriller. I’m not crazy about the genre in general, but if they were able to maintain the quality brought about by one of Ridley Scott’s best films, I’d be more willing to explore the genre further. No cliché caricatures in sight, the crew of the Nostromo are living, breathing people. They complain about shitty food and being underpaid. The Nostromo is a giant ship with a small crew, only serving a giant faceless organization. I’ve always loved the idea of them being blue collar truckers in space. Alien can also boast itself as the only entry in the franchise where the characters are distinct personalities from each other. We don’t want to see them undergo grizzly death scenes. With a tagline like “In space, no one can hear you scream” you just know it has to happen.
And like the best horror has to offer, the villain is more than just an unstoppable monster. The phallic shaped Xenomorph is a true monstrosity. The phallic shape of its head and mouth-within-mouth (tongue?) are no coincidence. The conceptual idea of the Xenomorph is all about “interspecies rape” as said by screenwriter Dan O’Bannon who worked with the late, great H.R. Giger to establish the creature as a vessel that “…could just as easily fuck you before it killed you.” That is terror.
Aliens mostly does away with the sex symbolism to focus on the aftermath of the Vietnam War. It’s not one of America’s finest hours and we didn’t get over it for quite some time. Just take a look at the surplus of endless pro-America movies that came out of the woodwork from the late 70s to the end of the 80s. America wasn’t over the loss. Neither was Ripley. She lives but at the expense of having everything taken from her (except Jonesy). Her fight with the Xenomorph is far from over.
The atmosphere is much softer this time, with clean hospitals and a blue tint to the future Ripley finds herself in. The grounded character work from the first film is replaced with what can only be referred to as caricatures (which is fine since they’re the caricatures). A sea of unfamiliar faces pour over Ripley and the audience as she’s brought into the military fold and entirely new territory. The overload of characters in Aliens fixes itself for the last half of the movie once the cast is chewed down to size. Like Ripley, these characters are no longer cracking wise or cutting loose. They must now fight to survive as Ripley once did. She gains a new family with Hicks, Newt, and Bishop and defeats the Xenomorph queen and seems to live in a happily ever after.
It’s a recurring theme in the Alien franchise to end a cycle, and start anew with every installment. You can say the franchise veered too far off course by the end (veered is putting it lightly). Few franchises in the history of Hollywood will give fans such a tonal whiplash as the jump from Aliens to Alien 3 does.
Alien 3 is more in line with the first film for taking a hard turn back to the horror aspects, but also touching on relatable fears. Alien 3 is about Ripley’s struggle to rid herself of a child she didn’t want (yes, abortion), some overt religious symbolism involving purgatory, and the struggle of men who were doomed to die without assistance from a powerful organization (yes, AIDS). The theatrical cut drops the ball on about all these ideas, but the Assembly Cut follows through on damn near all of them. Gone are the James Cameron blue hues, clean imagery, and action movie bravado. Everyone we came to love lies dead on a prison planet. The prison planet is rife with disgusting atmosphere as well as nameless repenting inmates. The death scenes seem more in your face and the world can hardly be described as anything but ugly. I just happen to find its ugliness beautiful in its own unique way. David Fincher’s language of cinema is present from his first giant feature film, even if it was butchered on a theatrical release from studio execs. By the end of this 2.5 hour journey, I find myself filled with a sense of optimism. Ripley’s battle is over. She won.
Alien: Resurrection is dumb as shit. Characters say things with no prior purpose or endgame. The emotional elements fall flat. It’s trashy and I can’t help but enjoy it. In some ways, it’s not dumb enough. A scene involving a bullet ricocheting off several walls before hitting a soldier in the head is the sort of schlock I live for. I take what I said about tonal whiplash back earlier. This isn’t the levels of bad that Jason X is, but it’s almost there. Jean-Pierre Jeunet still brings his steampunk style from City of Lost Children (a favorite of mine) to the futuristic Firefly test run from then up-and-coming screenwriter, Joss Whedon. The acting is dialed up to eleven here with performances coming out and in from different genres. To further amplify the crazy, Ripley is brought back through cloning science and some really comic book ideas of science fiction. It should be awesome. It kinda is and kinda isn’t. If you hate Alien 3, I believe I can dissuade you. If you hate Alien: Resurrection, you’re not wrong but I have a deep admiration for its specific brand of crazy.
There’s not much hidden in the text of Resurrection, unfortunately. It’s such a shame because there are definitely ideas at play, but none are given proper time to grow. I like the idea of Ripley feeling like a loner, connecting with an artificial Winona Ryder bot. It has nothing to do with anything else in the movie, but I like it. There are a few moments that are genuinely thrilling even. The underwater chase scene with Xenomorphs swimming at high speeds still gets me excited enough to feel like a kid again (I’m secretly an 89 year old man).
What I want from the next Alien movie is for Neill Blomkamp to be allowed to breathe and create a specific vision for his own take on this world. We’ve already jumped the shark in a world of science fiction. There’s no better franchise for a director to share their inner workings with the world. As long as he doesn’t make the Xenomorphs heroes or anything radical (like deleting Alien 3 and Resurrection from canon)*, I won’t have anything to worry about, and neither should you.