The recent release of Alien: Covenant has allowed us to look back through our old files, dusting off and reworking one of our more popular pieces from the early days of Fake Geeks.
In 2012 Ridley Scott unveiled Prometheus to the world. It was the first proper Alien release for 15 years, and marked his return to the franchise he kicked off 33 years earlier. As a Fake Geeks Halowe’en Special we posted a round-up review (similar to our Just the Verdict pieces) giving quick take reviews of each of the principal Alien films to date.
Five years on, we have brought the piece back. We’ve tweaked a few bits here for the early releases, as well as producing our Prometheus notes from scratch. Read on to see our thoughts on one of the most popular franchises in film history.
The film that started it all off. The Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett penned suspense fest laid the groundwork for the features that followed.
The plot is simple enough – the crew of commercial towing ship Nostromo are awakened from stasis upon them receiving a transmission from a nearby planetoid. Standard orders dictate that they have to check it out, with obviously dire consequences.
Without the presence of convoluted sub-plots (all too frequently seen today), Ridley Scott was given the freedom to produce a patiently built horror/thriller hybrid, that pretty much delivers the pay off it promises early on.
In most ways, Alien stands the test of time. You don’t need fancy effects to scare an audience, just good direction, delivery, sound and lighting. Of particular note are the tense scenes with Dallas (Skerritt) in the ventilation shafts – suspenseful filmmaking of the highest order.
However, if there is one aspect of the film that could do with a digital makeover, it is the creature itself, especially in the final showdown, where it is painstakingly obviously a bloke in a rubber suit.
This is but a minor gripe. With acting ranging from solid to excellent, great pacing and good direction, Alien is a pretty darn good film. With a better ending, this could have been close to getting top marks, but this is still well worth your time and the majority of sci-fi/horror/thriller buffs should definitely
4 / 5
Seven years after the original, the first of the sequels arrived. With another marquee director at the helm, Aliens promised much – and it delivered on just about every front.
In typical 70’s/80’s dystopian sci-fi film fashion, sole survivor Ripley (Weaver) is not believed by the corporate bigwigs, who only have dollar signs in their eyes about potentially terraforming LV-426 (the planet where the eggs are found in Alien). When transmissions from the colony suddenly cease, Ripley is convinced to return (with a group of space marines) to investigate the ruins. Cue more action, suspense and death.
The pace is picked up a bit from the first one, as less groundwork needs to be done with the Xenomorphs. There are still plenty of nail-biting moments, just with plenty of action mixed in too.
The characters are as good as the ones in the original, with a couple of standout performances from Lance Henriksen as Bishop, and Al Matthews as Apone. Company man Burke is a great antagonist too, and the creatures look much more impressive than last time out.
Cameron does well to build some character with the troops, so you actually care what happens to (some of) them; it would have been all too easy to drop a bunch of generic military types in there (which, in fairness, they do for the early casualties). The core six or seven characters are built well.
The pacing of the film is very, very good. The ending may be slightly stretched out, but that’s not a bad thing when the cast and director put in such a good team performance.
Obviously the film wouldn’t be much cop if it’s lead wasn’t up to scratch. Fear not, as Weaver puts in another strong, commanding performance which is complemented nicely by Carrie Henn’s portrayal as ‘Newt’ – a child only survivor of the attacks that bring the marines down to the planet.
Best sequel ever? I dunno, The Empire Strikes Back might have something to say about that, but this is right up there and, whilst they are not exactly the same genres, this is the first film I’ve seen that could give Die Hard a run for it’s money in the ‘awesome blatantly macho film’ stakes.
5 / 5
Alien 3 (1992)
The third offering in the Alien series has been seen as quite divisive, but it is actually a pretty good effort. It is not in the same league as it’s predecessors, but is a fine stand alone film.
The story continues (virtually) straight on from Aliens. Basically, an Alien managed to get on board, a fire breaks out and the escape pods crash into a prison planet. Ripley is the only known survivor, and she is nursed back to health by the on site doctor. However, it becomes apparent that a xenomorph also made it, and the fun ensues.
Subtle changes have been made from director to director, with this instalment being more thriller and less horror. It doesn’t do it badly at all, however you do feel that this detracts somewhat from the franchise, as the series was previously built upon the spine-tingling nervousness portrayed throughout. This doesn’t really have that.
I am also not entirely sold on the redesigned xenomorph – I think I prefer the ones in Aliens more in all honesty. There seems to be two different ways of showing the xeno in this one – one being a man in a suit/some kind of prosthetics, which look okay in short flashes. The other via computer graphics. Unfortunately, the latter does looks really dated by today’s standards.
Moving on, Sigourney Weaver is – again – really good, as are Charles S. Dutton and Charles Dance. Lans Henriksen’s cameo was a nice touch too. Everyone else is perfectly fine.
The directing is fine, the script is fine, the action is fine. Alien 3 is a perfectly fine thriller – I just wish it had been made into a horror film.
3 / 5
Alien: Resurrection (1997)
As the Chuckle Brother might say: “Oh dear, oh dear”. The fourth instalment in the series saw the franchise hit rock bottom. Where Alien 3 moved away from the suspenseful horror, into darkened thriller territory, at least it did it quite well. Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s interpretation of Joss Whedon’s screenplay is very shiny, very ‘Hollywood’, and very poor.
By ditching the low-fi, darkened corridors for an ultra bright, super-futuristic look, the film loses almost all connection to the original that birthed it. There’s little suspense, some generic action, and odd sub-plots that make this a convoluted mess.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t as bad as Birdemic, Catwoman, or Teeth (three horrendous films), but this is generally poor-to-average fare, and a sleight on the franchise as a whole. It features Weaver’s weakest performance of the series (though, she’s still one of the better things about this), and the usually dependable ensemble support from the likes of Ron Perlman and Brad Dourif generally miss the spot more than hitting it.
Joss Whedon famously said that the execution of his script was entirely wrong, rendering the film “almost unwatchable”. Harsh words, though not far wrong.
There is no real saving grace, but some of the action is done quite well, and the odd line is not bad. Still, this is definitely a ‘clutching-at-straws’ situation, and certainly the exception rather than the rule.
2 / 5
A fifteen year break was probably needed to distance the next film from the franchise’s poorest entry. Whilst there was some skepticism surrounding the revival of the franchise, and the fact that this was a Ripley-free prequel, Ridley Scott’s return to the franchise led fans to harbour some optimism.
Prometheus is the first of a multi-part prequel story arc that tells of the history and early development of the xenomorphs. Specifically this deals with what is considered to be the first contact humans had with any form of the species. Predictably, it doesn’t end well.
Upon release we really liked Prometheus. It’s visually stunning, there’s some nice action set pieces and it’s a pretty philosophically deep film. The acting ranged from decent, to the downright excellent (Michael Fassbender) too and, as it’s own film, it’s pretty satisfying (barring the non-resolution of certain plot-lines, to be explored in future sequels).
With hindsight, and as an Alien franchise film, it doesn’t quite hold up as well as the absolute best. The script is hit and miss in places, and the run time feels a little padded. Whilst there’s some nice action set pieces, it doesn’t really nail the bleaker nature of the earlier films and, on the whole, it feels a little bit too ‘Hollywood’.
Still, it’s a good film and sits closer to the original duo in terms of quality.
3.5 / 5
Alien: Covenant (2017)
Ridley Scott’s third entry in the series picks up approximately ten years after the events of Prometheus. It follows the story of a colony space vessel, the titular Covenant, which diverts from its originally intended destination after receiving a strange signal from a nearby system (sound familiar?).
Whilst Covenant is certainly a sequel to Prometheus, it is evident that some of the critical feedback from fans has been taken on board. The intellectual musings from Prometheus do remain (and, probably, take up a little too much of the first half of the film). Crucially though, tonally, Covenant probably sits at the intersections of Alien and Alien 3. If you thought Prometheus had strayed a little too far from what Alien was, this may just tempt you back in. In fact, the plot itself is relatively simple, harkening back to the simpler, earlier films.
As with the earlier entries in the franchise, Covenant does a decent job and trying to give the ensemble cast some character and backstory. Whilst it doesn’t reach the heady heights of the opening two films, it’s probably on a par or better than any other release in the franchise in this respect. Of the cast, Michael Fassbender is an obvious standout. However, there’s also some good turns from the likes of co-lead Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup and Danny McBride.
The relationships between the characters are built and reinforced by a solid, if workmanlike script. There’s some clunky exposition between crew members to let us know which ones are married to each other. Elsewhere, whilst a lot of the cerebral dialogue is pretty smart, there’s a scene with David and Walter with truly cringe worthy dialogue.
The above criticism aside, Covenant is otherwise entertaining and actually very good. Waterston’s Dany is a likeable protagonist that, whilst toughened across the film by her experience, is different enough to Ripley to not seem like a carbon copy or cheap throwback. Fassbender knocks it out of the park with everything he’s given too. Whilst there’s few actual jump scares in the film, there is palpable tension in the build towards the more violent scenes.
Covenant is slated to get one or two more sequels to bring it up to the events of the original movie. We’re more than happy to get more of the same. This supplants Prometheus as third best film in the franchise, and makes a darn good run at second.
4 / 5