So, let’s be real.
Has there ever been a better series of movies than the Alien films?
Um… okay, maybe, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of my absolute favorites. There’s just something hypnotizing about these movies, and in particular the world they depict. I can’t tell from the reviews what I should expect from Prometheus, but I can tell you I’m excited just to be going back to that place for a little while.
So I’m gonna go back over the movies the lead up to (or is that follow?) Prometheus. And since the Alien franchise has seen a lot of tweaking over the years, I’m going to specify which cut I’m referencing for each of the movies.
And no Alien vs. Predator.
1997 – Alien: Resurrection (Theatrical Cut)
Alien: Resurrection is the redheaded stepchild of the Alien franchise, both in terms of story and audience reception. After the workprint of Alien3 came to light, this odd fourth entry really took on the bulk of the criticism aimed at the franchise. But, as I mentioned earlier, this series is one of my favorites in all of film history. So I naturally like its last entry better than most people.
To be sure, Resurrection doesn’t mesh seamlessly with the other three movies. The story leaps 200 (???) years into the future. As far as the world goes, French visionary Jean-Pierre Jeunet brings an undeniably bizarre sensibility to the iconic visuals. As far as characters go, Ripley is the only familiar face, and I use the phrase loosely. As far as non-sequiturs go, there’s a scene in a basketball court. Basically, The movie feels like an afterthought to an otherwise pretty high-quality series.
But I’ll be darned if I didn’t have a good time watching it. Writer Joss Whedon has famously criticized virtually every second of this movie, but his involvement still injects a good bit of life into the proceedings. For instance, the misfit mercenaries at the center of the story. Each is distinctive enough to make an impression, though together they make a weird mix. Winona Ryder feels a little bit out of place; the only big star in a group of players from past Jeunet movies (Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon) or character actors (Deadwood’s Brad Dourif).
But… it works. Sort of. A lot of the bizarre additions seem to be at home in this world. In particular, Dominique Pinon’s wheelchair-bound mechanic provides a lot of fun and a bit of pathos. Ron Perlman, too, always seems at home in this sort of genre fare. There’s something oddly coherent about their outlandish quirkiness — at least, to this viewer.
And personally, I love this scene.
Additionally, though Alien: Resurrection doesn’t further the narrative of the series, it still riffs on the themes and motifs of the other movies. There’s the typical birthing imagery, from the fetal development of Ripley at the beginning to the one truly tragic scene in the movie involving a room of failed cloning attempts. A hallmark of this series is the short-sightedness of men in suits and lab coats. Resurrection is certainly not short on misguided industry, either. It’s an odd bird, but it’s Alien’s odd bird.
Though if it’s all the same, I’m not gonna try defending this.
1992 – Alien3 (Workprint)
The first three Alien movies more or less make up a complete trilogy (leaving Alien: Resurrection as the odd one out). Alien3, despite what a lot of people would say, does a pretty good job wrapping things up with Ripley, as well as creating its own identity in the series.
One of the great things about the Alien franchise at this point is how different the movies are from each other, despite all taking place in the same world (though admittedly, not the same time). Alien3 is the bleakest; a nihilistic chiller taking place on a run-down space prison. In the first movie, we see an autopsy of an alien entity. In the third, the autopsy is of a young girl. Whereas the second movie saw Ripley become a surrogate mother, in this one she has to shave her head; ditching her femininity to fit in with a penal colony’s worth of violent, potentially sexually abusive felons.
The added element of apocalyptic (and somewhat misguided) religious fervor highlights the twisted feel of this piece. It’s one thing to have people running from a Xenomorph; quite another for them to look upon it as some sort of revered deity.
There’s a reason it’s looked down on, though. The last thirty minutes hold some serious flaws. For some reason, the visual effects look extra-cheesy once the Xenomorph starts running people down in the tunnels. There are other problems, too, like the “alien vision” camera that sounds like a good idea (a la Jaws) but doesn’t quite work onscreen.
Despite these problems, Alien3 is a great addition to the series from a tonal perspective, and a fitting end to Ripley’s arc. Her face-to-face with the creature in the movie’s final moments is a great sendoff to both of those iconic characters.
1986 – Aliens (Director’s Cut)
We haven’t gotten there yet, but I should go ahead and state the obvious: The first Alien is a straight-up classic. It still defines the sci-fi/horror hybrid for the world of film. Heck, this article is proof that the ideas in that movie have lasted over thirty years. So how do you make a direct sequel to something like that?
James Cameron decided to forgo any attempt at recapturing the horror or claustrophobia of the first film, and opted instead to take on the world of the first movie and blow the doors off it. The brilliant simplicity of the approach starts with the title. From one, to many.