By Rob Stoakes. So over at the Battleship Potemkast, the finest podcast on the seas, we’ve been doing a few retro reviews of the mainline Alien franchise in celebration of Alien: Covenant, which to be honest is a bit of a rubbish name. It’s the Matrix syndrome of taking a cool sounding word that means nothing and pairing it with alien. Alien Synthesis. Alien Carbohydrate. Alien Titillation.
Anyway, Alien is very similar to Star Wars, in that it is the absolute king of its own genre, space opera for Star Wars and sci-fi horror for Alien, and one of the most popular multimedia franchises this side of Pokemon, and the highs of the franchise are so good that it somehow makes people forget that about 90% of it is absolutely terrible.
So, of course, I am a huge Alien fan, so I get to drop the pretense of professionalism and indulge in my inner child, which normally I lock in the shed, to find out which of the mainline Alien films is actually the best. Strap in, folks; this road is bumpy.
#5) Alien Resurrection
Speaking of professionalism, my professional critique of this film is that it is about as easy to stomach as a bloated rat carcass filled with spiders. A bewilderingly bad film considering the level of talent involved; we’ve got Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Sigourney Weaver, Ron Perlman and Brad Dourif… oh, and Joss Whedon is there too, I suppose.
My controversial stance towards Joss Whedon as being an overrated writer has been documented before, but I think this film that sums up a lot of my problems with him; namely that he bends and breaks his story just to fit in scenes or lines that he has taken a liking to, rather than organically connecting and building to them.
Why does Winona Ryder hate aliens one minute and chew Ripley out for killing one the next? To say a cool line! Why, when there’s a dead alien hanging off his boot while his friend climbs a ladder, does the black guy cut his belt and condemn himself to death when he could’ve just kicked it? To get a noble sacrifice! Why is Ripley into girls now? Because the director is French!
Every great talent has a dud, and with about five great talents, this is five times the dud. Blergh.
#4) Alien 3
If this wasn’t called Alien 3 but instead called Spookyplanet 3000, it would probably be remembered much more fondly.
Alien 3 is a film remembered as an outright travesty by fans less for the actual qualities of the film itself and more not being set on Earth like the marketing promised, not having Newt or Hicks and having rubbish CGI. Well, I say, the prison planet that the film creates is gorgeous, full of interesting characters and far more interesting than the Earth in Resurrection, Newt is wooden and Hicks is boring anyway, and the CGI…
… ok, I’ll give you the CGI, but as an ending for the trilogy, Alien 3 does a very good job of taking the series back to its horror roots even if it ends up more as a thriller than an out-and-out horror. Unlike…
Oh boy. This will cause some fights, and I’m on both sides.
Alien 3 and Prometheus is an interesting case study, because they could easily share a spot on this list for very different reasons. Overall, Alien 3 is better. The plot is more interesting, the characters more memorable, the visuals more interesting, but everything is just a polish or two more off of being good.
Prometheus, meanwhile, is for most of its runtime a paint-by-numbers philosophical sci-fi horror that has fortune cookie levels of philosophy, makes no sense and isn’t scary. But there’s one scene, the caesarean abortion, which ranks amongst the series’ high points. So the question is does one really good scene save a movie?
The answer is… no, Prometheus is still pretty disposable. But, and I want you to stick with me on this, but cards on the table the abortion scene is in my top five movie moments of all NO, SHUT UP, LET ME EXPLAIN!
Horror snobs will scoff, but I don’t remember ever having a more visceral reaction of horror and disgust in a cinema. Alien as a series is all about rape, and watching the abortion of a forcibly implanted being in grisly detail, intimately close, as the clean medical whites get coated in blood, hit so many of my ingrained nerves that it made me want to leave. And applaud. And vomit.
No cinema experience has matched that for me before or since, and that’s why this scene deserves to be in a much better movie than the one it’s in.
Another very difficult choice, whether this or the original Alien wins the overall list. Because to be honest, I could and probably will change my mind next week, and then change it again the week after that. These two are certainly in my top ten sci-fi films of all time each, and this one makes it into my top ten action films as well.
A true review of this film is really, really difficult because it’s so ingrained into the psyche of a particular age group that it’s difficult not to just devolve into a list of quotes.
“They mostly come out at night. Mostly.”
“Do you get mistaken for a man?” “I don’t know, do you?”
“Get away from her, you female dog!”
In many of you little tingles of joy have gone through your head just reading those words. As much of a horror show and a tragic tale of a mother adopting and saving a young girl as it is, Aliens is also just fun. And it’s not stupid, either, but treats its audience like smart adults rather than most action movies treating their audience like dullards.
Of course, the one that started it all. And I mean IT all. To say this film is influential would be doing it a disservice; there is possibly no sci-fi or horror film made in the West since that doesn’t owe something to Alien. Maybe even that’s an underestimation; is there not some of the xenomorph in Batman’s recent designs, or some of the Nostromo in Warhammer 40k?
There’s even plenty of Alien references in the book I’ve written, hint hint buy Mother and Monster, out soon.
But there are plenty of “classic” films that don’t really hold up to a modern viewing. 2001 A Space Odyssey is boring, Dracula isn’t scary, and rewatch Return of the Jedi some time and try not to cringe at the prequel-level dialogue. So, as much of a tosser as it makes me sound like to say it, but the fact that Alien is still better than most horror movies shows just how ahead of the curve it was.
I don’t need to say anything, do I? The tension, the acting, the set designs, the natural dialogue, the underlying themes of rape and sex, the Weyland Yutani plot twist, everything in this film is almost flawless. Outside of personal preference it’s difficult to name a true out-and-out problem with this film, and that’s why it is still the best in the series.