A Brief History of the Alien Films in Honor of the Release of "Alien: Covenant"

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, September 19, 2017 05:47pm | Post a Comment

Aliens CovenantBy Jon Longhi

The newest Alien movie, Alien: Covenant, came out on DVDBlu-Ray, and 4K-Ultra HD this month and is available at Amoeba Music, so now is as good a time as any to revisit the history of the Alien franchise. First, it’s important to point out that if it weren’t for the cracked phantasmagorical genius of Alejandro Jodorowsky there would never have been an Alien franchise.

Back in the mid-1970s, he assembled one of the greatest creative teams in history to make a film version of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune. Jodorowsky’s movie was going to be a loose interpretation of Herbert’s novel that used the book as a springboard for Jodorowsky’s own psychedelically cosmic ideas. Even though he had lined up Pink Floyd to do the soundtrack; H.R. Giger and Moebius to do do the visual and costume designs; Dan O’Bannon to do the effects; and Mick Jagger, Orson Wells, and Salvador Dali to star in it, Jodorowsky still couldn’t get the film green-lighted. The studios saw the director as too outlandish to be marketable. The great irony of all this was that Jodorowsky took his Dune material and turned it into some of the most successful graphic novels in history. The creative team he assembled went on to be some of the biggest movers and shakers in pop culture. The first cinematic collaboration that came out of the wreckage of Jodorowsky’s Dune was a couple years later when H. R. Giger teamed up with Dan O’Bannon to make the first Alien movie. The film became an instant classic and the iconic monster Giger created fuels the franchise to this day. All this is wonderfully explained in the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune.

The first Alien movie was one of the best sci-fi movies of the '70s. In the years since its release it’s even Alienmade a lot of critics top ten best picture of all time lists. Giger’s creature was a work of art and the film is filled with pitch perfect set pieces such as the initial discovery of the alien ship and the chestburster scene. Even the film’s slogan ("In space no one can hear you scream") was a great pop culture confection. The first time I ever showed the movie to my daughter she turned to me and said, “Now I know what so many Simpsons parodies are about.” It’s almost a perfect monster movie.

The second film, Aliens, really kicked things into overdrive. The film became one of the biggest blockbusters in history and made James Cameron a household name. Maybe there would have never been a Titanic unless Aliens came first. Aliens took all the great elements of the first movie and put them on steroids. It took the original’s woman-verses-monster theme and expanded it into one of the greatest maternal cat fights in cinematic history. In Aliens, Sigourney Weaver turns the character of Ripley into a feminist icon for the ages; she’s sexy without being sexualized, compassionate without being weak. It’s her personal energy that carries the first few films.

Alien 3 is where the franchise stalls. It’s a perfectly adequate sci-fi movie but nothing great. After the spectacular excitements of the second film, this movie feels like a massive let down and the series went dark for a few years until Alien Resurrection brought it back to life. This film has always been one of my favorites because of its fantastic steampunk visual style. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet used this same visual style in his surreal classic The City Of Lost Children and his direction reboots the Alien saga perfectly and remains one of the strongest entrants in the franchise. Joss Whedon’s script is snappy and fun, and a sign of the greatness that was to come for him.

The next two sequels were kind of moronic, but boy did they make bank. These were the hugely Alien Vs. Predatorsuccessful Alien Vs. Predator and Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem. When you crossbreed two monster franchises the end result is hundreds of millions of dollars worth of box office. These two films are big on action and low on intelligence. They’re lots of fun, but from a literary standpoint they’re just fluff. They certainly succeeded at putting asses in movie seats. I used to work at a comic book distributor and once at a comic book convention I asked the publisher of Dark Horse Comics how they could afford to put out such beautiful graphic novels. “All the good stuff, the arty stuff, we put out is paid for by the Alien Vs Predator titles,” the publisher told me. “They’re what pays the bills around here and bankrolls everything else.” The Aliens Vs. Predators movies made Giger’s monster into one of the most mainstream properties in pop culture history.

Finally in 2012, Ridley Scott, the director of the first Alien movie, decided he’d reclaim his lost child. He directed Prometheus, which was a prequel to the first Alien film. While Prometheus has great style and atmosphere, Scott’s direction is kind of muddied and the film raises more questions than it answers. I’ve seen it two or three times and I’m still not sure what the heck is happening in some of the scenes. The newestfilm, Alien: Covenant, is a sequel to Prometheus. It clears up some Prometheus of the questions from its predecessor and takes the story in new directions. In the advertising they claim Covenant is the best movie since the original, but that’s simply not the case. It’s a good movie and a worthy addition to the franchise, but the original as well as Aliens and Alien Resurrection are still better. It might take the number four spot. That being said, there’s still enough action, aliens, and plot twists in the new one to keep any fan of the series happy.

My friend Joe Donohoe said that the basic plot of the Alien movies is: dumb people get eaten but smart people survive. Survival of the fittest is also survival of the smartest. I think this is a good message for all of us. If you study hard and do well in school then maybe, just maybe, if you find yourself on a strange world with a swarm of acid-blooded aliens, you might have the brains to stay among the living. It’s like earning your degree in Darwin Studies.

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Jon Longhi (33), Alien (5), Aliens (12), Film (199), Dune (2), Alejandro Jodorowsky (4), James Cameron (2), Sigourney Weaver (3), Jean-pierre Jeunet (1), Joss Whedon (3), Ridley Scott (4)