Report Card - 'Alien' Franchise
Still one of the pinnacles of Science Fiction and Horror, Alien displays beautiful cinematography, great acting, realistic characters, articulately designed sets, and H.R. Giger's titular creature in all of its glory. The slow burn of the film to this day still adds to the world building and tension, and while you could say some of the special effects don't hold up as well, particularly the cut between Ash's puppet head and the real one, there's no mistaking that what little they had, they made up for it tenfold by making the film feel ultimately timeless.
Alien didn't need a sequel. Ripley defeated the creature and drifted back to space, her story basically finished, but there were still so many questions left about the creature and the derelict spacecraft carrying the eggs. Aliens explores that but to an explosive degree. Toning down the horror and ramping up the action, James Cameron did what most directors couldn't: He made a sequel equal to, if not better than the first film. Expanding the lore of Alien and adding a memorable supporting cast, Cameron made Aliens into an epic with a script exploring the hubris of a brash military overestimating its enemy as well as cementing Ellen Ripley as one of the greatest heroes in all of film.
Alien 3 (Assembly Cut) (1992)
I hate Alien 3 but to the contrary, I really like the Assembly Cut of the film, which has twenty minutes of additional footage, adding more depth to the story and characters. I would probably give the theatrical cut of Alien 3 an ‘F,’ but the Assembly Cut really makes it a completely different film which is why I thought I'd include it rather than the Theatrical. Killing Hicks and Newt will always be a disappointment to me as well as hoping the film would take place on Earth but there's no denying that David Fincher's first foray into film isn't something to behold, albeit he's only involved with the Assembly Cut by proxy as it was put together by documentary filmmaker Charles de Lauzirika. Everyone's probably heard the stories of how the studio interfered with the production of this film including multiple scripts and directors attached and by the time Fincher got a hold of the project, it was still a mess but he did what could. Today he regards it as if it were his bastard son that he wants nothing to do with but I really do think the film is well made. I particularly like the gritty nihilism clashing with religious faith, which is absent from the Theatrical Cut, certainly a lot of the cinematography and landscape shots, as well as the return to the series' horror roots but the special effects are mediocre, and don't hold a candle to the previous films.
Alien: Resurrection (1997)
Resurrection is possibly the worst of the entire Alien series (I’m still juggling between this and Covenant in my head) but it is full of interesting ideas (such as hybrids) and genuinely good special effects. Where the film fails though is in its tone, characters and the choice to bring back Ripley through cloning even though Alien 3 capped off her story in a well deserved ending. Resurrection also takes place two hundred years following the third film, making it feel even more disconnected from the series than it already was; however, I think it works in its favor. It is a really dumb movie but it feels so separate from the first three, it’s hard to hate it when there are some fun moments to be had with its incredibly goofy characters and cheesy action.
Probably the most ambitious of the franchise, Prometheus pondered the question who created humankind. While we all know the film didn’t answer that question nor exactly what the black goo was, why there’s a statue of a Xenomorph in the room filled with the black goo, how we get the Deacon creature from an Engineer, why the Engineers created humanity, why they wanted to destroy us, why a zoologist would try touching the first alien species we come across, how a geographer gets lost in the cave he mapped, and why nobody questions why Elizabeth Shaw is covered in blood having just cut out an alien squid from her body. Man, Prometheus is nothing but questions and plot holes but I really like the setup for the film, Elizabeth Shaw as a character, the story’s courage to venture away from Alien and explore the Space Jockey and the mischievous antics of artificial life. It is also one of the most visually breathtaking films with a fantastic score. The ending made me hopeful that all of those questions would be answered in the sequel. Sadly, they were not.
You can read my full spoiler review here.
“Wait, whoa, Alien: Covenant has the same rating as Resurrection? You’re full of yourself, Johnson.”
No. Resurrection is a stupid film through and through. There isn’t one serious moment in Resurrection while Covenant takes itself so seriously and tries to disguise itself as a smart film, when it in fact is quite dumb, that I find it more disappointing than Resurrection. At every turn, I kept asking new questions while the film doesn’t answer any of the previous questions from Prometheus. But hey, look, the Xenomorph is here! Yay! Wait, no, why am I getting it so soon and why has its origin been reduced to only a few sentences? You haven’t even answered any of the questions about the Engineers and now you’re making me ask even more questions about the Xenomorph! Full of dumb characters that make dumb decisions and relying too heavily on the nostalgia of the original Alien, Alien: Covenant is what happens when none of the writers from the previous film are on board and the current writers have no idea where to go.
Much like the Terminator Franchise, Alien stopped being great after the second film and has been on a downhill slope ever since. While none of the films have been outright terrible, there are mostly certainly disappointments. While each film has their merits and usually great special effects, the latter films still haven't been able to recapture what made the first two touchstones to Science Fiction fans and film fans alike.
Overall Score: C