The crew aboard the Nostromo, a mining vessel, are awakened from hypersleep to respond to a distress
signal that is coming from a remote planet. While investigating the derelict spacecraft, one of the crew members comes into contact with an alien life form that attaches itself to his face. He is brought back on board for medical attention, but after the creature frees itself, the real terror begins as the seed it has planted in its human host gestates into a monstrous killer. Thus begins one of the greatest sagas in the Sci-Fi/Action/Thriller genre, ALIEN!
Gritty. Realistic. Terrifying. Just a few words that could be used to describe Ridley Scott's ALIEN, the Science Fiction Horror film that changed it all. ALIEN provides us with a grim future that is not unlike the present, where Earth's resources have been depleted and must be harvested on distant worlds. The crew aboard the Nostromo are not daring cosmonauts, but blue-collared workmen and women, appropriately coined 'space truckers' by critics and fans alike for their crass behavior and neighborly personalities. These are average people that are thrust into extraordinary circumstances while performing their mandated duties. We relate to them because we are them, separated only by a few thousand light years.
Whether directly influenced or not, Dan O'Bannon's brilliant script bears a striking resemblance to a number of earlier space terrors. In QUEEN OF BLOOD, two cosmonauts are sent to Mars to recover an alien ambassador from the wreckage of her spacecraft, but the green-skinned beauty sates her hunger for blood on the crew once aboard ship. PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES is far more suspect as an early inspiration for the design and story structure in ALIEN. Mario Bava's technicolor space epic begins with two spaceships setting down on a remote planet in response to a similar signal for distress. After their investigation, several of the crew members turn up dead as others fall under the influence of an unseen alien invader. The characters and low-tech vision of futuristic space travel can also be attributed to O'Bannon's earlier film DARK STAR, a collaboration he had worked on with John Carpenter while attending USC.
Under Ridley Scott's direction, however, ALIEN produces some of the most frighteningly unexpected moments the Science Fiction genre has ever known. From the time the crew lands on the planet until the film's thrilling climax, we are not given a moment to recover from the growing tension and sheer terror. The audience is only temporarily disarmed as Kane rejoins the crew with no reason to suspect any further danger, but this is hardly any relief. In the famous 'birthing' sequence, the expressions of disbelief and utter horror that plague the faces of the stunned crew members mirror our own. Our increasing heart rates mimic the pulsing sound of the scanning device as Dallas enters the ventilation system to flush the creature out. Just when we think that all is well, we are shocked to find that the creature is even more clever than we ever could have imagined.
Dan O'Bannon would call upon an unusual Swiss artist that he had met while working on an early adaptation of DUNE to give the alien its unique design. H.R. Giger is known for his bizarre joining of metal and flesh, creating a grotesque beauty out of his highly-sexualized but cold and mechanical imagery. The designs used for the creatures, worlds, and spacecrafts in ALIEN are entirely unlike anything the world has ever scene as a result. As Ash describes it in his final moments, the alien is 'a perfect organism [whose] structural perfection is matched only by its hostility... [It is] unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.' Giger's insectoid realisation of the creature brings this statement to life with no less perfection.
ALIEN also introduces us to the character of Ellen Ripley, Warrant Officer aboard ship, but soon to become a film icon and the embodiment of female empowerment. Brave, resilient, and resolute, Ripley is a woman of action, and no one has portrayed these strengths better than Sigourney Weaver. Had the crew not broken Ripley's strict quarantine procedures, they likely could have avoided this entire mess, and it is ultimately up to her to finally destroy the creature when no one else can. These traits would only continue to grow in her future appearances within the series, especially when Ripley faces off with a horde of aliens and their temperamental queen in ALIENS.
ALIEN has unquestionably become one of the defining classics within the Science Fiction genre, spawning countless sequels and spin-offs across all forms of media along with an endless list of imitations. The strength of character and design along with the unmitigated terror that was first found in ALIEN is what sets it apart from all other films.
By 1986, James Cameron had already made a huge impression on the Science Fiction genre with THE TERMINATOR, yet no one could have anticipated the scope of the man's talents before he was approached to direct the sequel to Ridley Scott's ALIEN. In ALIENS, Cameron improves on perfection, delivering all of the same thrills and chills from the original along with blockbuster action sequences and mind-blowing special effects. Not only that, but the film stages an excellent assortment of characters and a gripping plot that dramatically expands upon Dan O'Bannon's original universe. ALIENS is quite simply the greatest Science Fiction adventure the genre has ever known.
Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley has been rescued from deep space 57 years after her deadly encounter with the alien organism that she and her crew recovered from a remote world. Since then, the planet has been inhabited by terraformers sent by The Company to prepare LV-426 for colonization. When communication to the command center is lost, The Company requests that Ripley joins a group of elite military soldiers on a rescue mission to LV-426, but what they find is a planet overrun by the killer alien species!
Cameron has no reservation whatsoever in taking his time with ALIENS. Although the first half of the film is entirely without action, Cameron's pacing never falters. The opening act is used primarily to demonize the cold, heartless company, whose bottom line means more than human lives. We are also drawn closer to the character of Ellen Ripley, who is given more emotional depth as she deals with the death of her daughter and prepares to risk herself for the lives of others. The action is stalled even after the marines disembark on LV-426, where we find terror and anticipation stalking the halls of the abandoned colony instead of aliens. Once the first aliens are discovered in the reactor core, however, it is non-stop action from there on out.
The Colonial Marines of Earth's future are the second key to ALIENS' success. As Hudson so eloquently puts it, "I am the ultimate badass! State of the badass art! You do NOT wanna fuck with me." And he's right. These marines are armed to the teeth with an arsenal of advanced weaponry and futuristic vehicles that make them a force to be reckoned with. Bill Paxton, as Hudson, is loud-mouthed and head-strong. Michael Biehn, AKA Hicks, is the noble guardsman, selfless and brave. Jenette Goldstein, AKA Vasquez, is the ruthless mercinary and weapons expert who prefers to shoot first and ask questions later. Together, they form the baddest team the universe has ever known, but they still can't compare to their civilian escort, Ripley.
Sigourney Weaver succeeds even over her previous performance in ALIEN, solidifying the character of Ellen Ripley as SciFi's leading heroine. Ripley outsmarts and outmuscles even the strongest and bravest of the space marines, yet through her maternal relationship with Newt, we find a softer and more vulnerable side to the character that allows her to retain her humanity. These two worlds collide as Ripley arms herself to do battle with the alien menace one-on-one after they kidnap her surrogate daughter.
Like Scott before him, Cameron chooses to keep the aliens hidden throughout the majority of the picture, despite the fact that there are several hundred more of them in the sequel. Stan Winston steps in to handle the creature effects, giving the aliens an even more insect-like appearance that carries over into their hive mentality. With the help of his talented crew, he also brings to life the Alien Queen, a monstrous new addition to the series that is meaner, nastier, and more impressive than the drones, themselves. This towering 15 foot beast required two men in costume in addition to several puppetiers and a hydraulic lift to fully articulate its head and body. In the final climactic battle, Ripley mans a robotic powerlifter in an intergalactic grudge match against the snarling Queen that demonstrates the pinnacle of practical effects. The Academy would later recognize ALIENS with the Oscar for Visual Effects, which it most clearly deserved.
While it is impossible to decide which is the better film between ALIEN and ALIENS, each are remarkable in their own separate ways, and must be considered masterworks of the Science Fiction genre. The claustrophobic tension of Ridley Scott's film has been traded in for a galaxy of terror.
Alien 3 (1993)
A jettisoned space pod comes crashing down to the prison world of "Fury" 161, leaving only two survivors: Lieutenant Ellen Ripley, and an alien stowaway. Now, Ripley faces twice the danger on a planet filled with murderers, rapists, and another deadly alien creature. ALIEN 3 is, by far, the darkest film in the ALIEN franchise, surpassing each of the earlier entries only in its apocalyptic vision of the future. A young David Fincher gives us no hope whatsoever on this wretched planet. "Fury" 161's facilities are rusted and inoperable, its caretakers comprised solely from the dregs of society. The devout prisoners are swept away in a religious fervor as Ripley's arrival along with the alien is interpreted as their final judgement. This drastic shift in tone and overall design can be a bit jarring at first, but repeat viewings create a newfound appreciation for the film when looking at it as a sort of alternate universe or split timeline from the original series. Given the production hell that David Fincher was cast into, it is a surprise the film even came out as well as it did. Studio interference both during and after filming resulted in bad blood and a complete reworking of the film, although the original "Assembly Cut," which is widely considered to be the definitive version, is now available. This version restores over thirty-minutes of vital character development and improved story structure that are missing from the theatrical release. Underappreciated and often overlooked, ALIEN 3 is a unique but welcomed entry into the series.
Alien Resurrection (1997)
What do you do when your main character is dead and you are out of originality? Start cloning, of course! ALIEN RESURRECTION marks the unfortunate return of Lieutenant Ellen Ripley; Unfortunate, in this case, because of the ridiculous direction in which the filmmakers have taken the character, and the poor scripting that makes her a shell of her former self. 200 years after sacrificing herself to protect the human race from utter annihilation, Ripley has been cloned with unexpected results: The DNA of the Queen Alien that she is harboring within her has fused with her own. Military scientists have successfully managed to remove the Queen while keeping both alive, but it isn't long before a new breed of aliens are unleashed upon the vessel. Like AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS and DEEP BLUE SEA, ALIEN RESURRECTION was tailored specifically for the MTV Generation. Acclaimed director Jean-Pierre Jeunet gives us a flashy, gore-filled spectacle, but one that is agonizingly boring and entirely without substance. RESURRECTION pastes together bits and pieces from the previous films without achieving a single success of its own. It just goes to show that the series should have died with Ripley at the end of the third film.
Alien Vs Predator (2004)
The prospect of an ALIEN VS PREDATOR movie pitting two of Science Fiction's greatest foes against one another is a dream come true for Horror fans. With decades of video games and comic books from which to draw upon, coming up with a thrilling new concept to bring these two franchises together should have been easy. The project had one fatal flaw, however: Paul W.S. Anderson. A talentless hack that had already single-handedly destroyed the RESIDENT EVIL franchise. Perhaps he was chosen to direct specifically for his hatred of plot and character development, with producers hoping he could recreate the same mindless action of his previous films in a blockbuster battle between the two species. Well, he accomplished half of that...
An ancient temple is found buried deep beneath icy Antarctica, bringing Charles Bishop Weyland and a group of experts in to explore the architectural anomaly. In a brilliant feat of contrived storytelling, the group discovers that the temple is used as a proving ground for a race of advanced hunters from another galaxy, who use human hosts to breed a deadly form of prey. The complexity ends here, as the plot is only used as an excuse to get the humans into the temple. From there, it must be non-stop action and suspense, right? Wrong. For all of the tedious exploring and pseudo-scientific jargon that the audience is subjected to, there is only one five-minute melee between the Predators and aliens. Despite a flashback depicting three Predators fending off thousands of the aliens atop a pyramid, it only takes a single alien to kill two of the Predators in this small amount of time. By staging the battle on Earth, the threat of the aliens reaching the planet that served as the overriding theme in the ALIEN series is completely diminished. Even more shameful is the lack of dignity given to the Predators. Rather than reserving his self-destruct mechanism as a final act of Sepuku, the Predator removes the device and casually tosses it in the chamber to destroy the temple, an act that goes against the creature's very nature of honor and nobility. Anderson couldn't have found a more unconvincing cast, either. Sanaa Lathan can never be taken seriously, especially not in her transitions from scientist to she-warrior in just a few simple steps. She is only given the worst throwaway lines, like "We're in the middle of a war. It's time to pick a side." Only Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. allow the film any credibility at all by bringing along more of their incredible costume designs for both species.
What could have been the greatest Science Fiction spectacle of all-time was revealed to be a complete flop, garnishing nothing but negative feedback from fans and the filmmakers who helped establish both series to begin with. You are honestly better off watching fan films like BATMAN: DEAD END or AVP: REDEMPTION any day.
Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem (2007)
Everything Science Fiction fans ever wanted in an ALIENS VS PREDATOR movie can be found in ALIENS VS PREDATOR: REQUIEM -- You just can't see it. AVP:R suffers from the absolute worst lighting of any Horror/Science Fiction film ever made. The only scenes that count are so abysmally dark that it becomes tiring and frustrating to watch, despite the incredible gory action that is occurring somewhere on screen. Following the conclusion of the previous film, a fallen Predator warrior gives birth to a Predalien hybrid, which destroys the remaining crew and causes the Predator craft to come careening back down to Earth along with its payload of alien facehuggers. Before long, the small mountain town of Gunnison, Colorado is overrun by the menacing aliens, and one of the Predator's most elite warriors is sent to clean up the mess. The Strauss Brothers come as close as they can to recreating many of the most successful scenes from either series in this failure of a film, with visual and audio cues dating back to the original PREDATOR and ALIENS. If it were left strictly to the battle sequences, AVP:R would have been an awesome, action-packed sequel, but if anything is worse than the lighting, it is the ridiculous human element that adds unnecessary clutter to the script. The awful characters are supplanted straight out of a bad teen serial, and contribute nothing to the plot. It is all the more enraging that these scenes are the only ones that are visible. The killer costume designs of Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. cannot even be admired for more than a second between the blackness, the shaking camera, and the choppy editing. Complaining about story continuity is really irrelevant with all else that is wrong in AVP:R, so suffice it to say that the film is a lost cause with a few really cool looking aliens and explosions (which can't be seen).
See Also: Planet of the Vampires, Queen of Blood, Parasite, The Forbidden World, Galaxy of Terror, Creature.