The Alien Anthology (1979-2012) – The Formal Review

With Alien: Covenant coming out this week, I thought I’d go back and look at the entire series involving the Xenomorphs. There may be spoilers in this review however some of these films have been out for over 30 years so you have had time.

In this review, I will be covering all of the films including the two Alien vs. Predator films but not the solo Predator films. I will look at those films when Shane Black‘s The Predator comes out next year. In addition, there were multiple alternate versions of the films that were released of which I will cover in this review. I watched them as they were released (aside from the alternate versions of the AvP films) but I will provide my thoughts on them in sub-categories of originals. In addition, it goes without saying that Sigourney Weaver does a great job. Her performances as Ellen Ripley are fantastic even in the films where she isn’t given much to go with. 

Alien (1979)

Firstly, it is hard for me to believe that this film has been out for almost 40 years and that this film was only Ridley Scott‘s second film. This movie has the technique and skill of seasoned veterans. Watching this film again really made me appreciate the gracefulness of the film. Even with this film being almost 40 years old, it still holds up as being one of the best sci-fi films ever made. This film also looks fantastic on bluray as the film looks like it was made today minus the scene of the Xenomorph dangling from the spaceship.

The story is basically a survival story between the crew and the Xenomorph. Here’s the great thing about it though you rarely see the Xenomorph and it scares you. You are only shown glimpses of it and you don’t know exactly what it can do you. There are a lot of quick cuts and surprise reveals that will have you glued to your seat the entire film. There is also this underlying tone of rape and sexuality to this film that makes the film even more horrifying. I won’t go into too much detail but I will say think of the how the Xenomorph’s reproduce in humans. They inject themselves and give you “a baby” without your consent. Also when you re-watch the film, keep an eye out for the amount of phallic designs. There are a lot.

Director’s Cut (2003) – This version interestingly runs a little shorter but contains five minutes of different footage. Its not really an entire different film. Rather, it is just another cut. It’s not like Scott’s many versions of Blade Runner. It doesn’t improve the film in anyway but neither does it diminish it. He changes things up to add a little more plot to the film but its not anything huge.

Either cuts of this film are classic for all of these reasons and more. Though I will say watch the theatrical version first. This film displays fascinating imagery and metaphor that sets it apart from other conventional science-fiction horror film. It is very similar to what Jordan Peele did in Get Out. Both films give you a fear that of not only scary creatures/people but also an underlying fear that is just uncomfortable to think of or more so terrible to experience.

Rating: 5.0/5.0 bowties

Aliens (1986)

The second film took the Xenomorph from the first film and multiplied the amount. It was directed by James Cameron and it could be debated that this is his best film. Some would say Titanic and The Terminator as well but I personally enjoy Terminator 2: Judgment Day the most. Anyway, this was his first big budget film. It essentially the epitome of action sci-fi films.

Cameron takes some inspiration from Scott in not showing us the multiple Xenomorphs for a while. But that does not make the film boring at all. Cameron actually takes the time to build and develop his cast. I will say the marines are very stereotypical but hey are written and played with enough charm and sophistication that they are very engaging as well. Everyone knows the “power loader” scene with Ripley fighting off the Queen Xenomorph but this is set up extremely well through the film. After watching the entire film, you are extremely satisfied with the payoff of Ripley taking the helm to fight the Queen instead of running.  That’s where this film really succeeds. It has some great action scenes that made it one of the best ever made.

There are a lot of themes in this film that Cameron would use later on in Avatar, such of that of corporate greed. However, in this film the themes are shown better. When Ripley is found to be alive from the previous film, the corporation behind it all asks her how much was lost from the previous film, financially speaking. In case you’re wondering…. its 42 million dollars. This greed is shown throughout the film comparing the humans’ incentives versus the Xenomorphs.

There is a huge debate on which film between this and the first one is the better movie. I personally think the first one is the better film, however if someone said this film was better, I would not have a problem with it. It all comes down to preference between a well executed “Vietnam in Space” film and a well executed horror film in space.

Director’s Cut (1992)- This cut is the best example on how to enhance a great film with adding new material. The additional 17 minutes don’t change the film but rather add depth and development. It adds a stronger connection between Ripley and Newt that adds to the motherhood theme. You learn about the child that Ripley lost due to her time travel and adds more resonance to their relationship. It also adds something else to the relationship between Ripley and the Queen. When Ripley torches the hive, is she doing this because she blames the Queen for taking her from daughter and now she’s taking the Queen’s children away.  Their showdown is between two mothers who have lost their offspring to one another but now Ripley is fighting for her new daughter.

Overall, both cuts are brilliant examples of to successfully how to make a sequel to an established film. It has all its core themes and characters developed to an extent that you care for them. Aliens: The Director’s Cut is best way to watch this classic and it’s Cameron at the top of his film making career.

Rating: 5.0/5.0 bowties

Alien 3 (1992)

Unfortunately, we have now reached the film that started the downfall of this series. It is one of the films in David Fincher‘s career that is not that good. After the events of Aliens, Ripley lands on a prison and an Alien is born in the prison and goes on a rampage. In addition, Ripley later there is also an Alien growing inside her. This film had a bad production history that ultimately made the film suffer because of it.

While this film is chronologically the third film in the series, it is similar to the first film. The sexuality theme, while executed not nearly as well as the first time, is brought back. Ripley is the only woman in this prison and perhaps the first one that men have seen in over 20 years. Even the Xenomorph’s phallic design is back. The supporting cast is fairly decent with standout of Charles Dance before his Tywin Lannister days in HBO‘s “Game of Thrones” You also get a few scenes with Pete Postlethwaite. However the characters are not developed extremely well aside from Dance but that might just be my liking of his acting ability.
However, there are a lot of pacing issues with this film. There were a bunch of times where I thought, “Can I fast forward this part?” The answer is technically “yes” if I didn’t want to provide a full review of the film. The film also does not decide whether to focus on the Xenomorph more or the inmates. I couldn’t find myself caring for them aside from those mentioned above. The filmmakers also decided in this film to use CGI for the creature at certain points in the film and it looks bad. I know its the 90s and the technology was not there to do this but still I feel there are better films that executed the CGI better.

The Assembly Cut (2003)- The difference between this cut and the alternative versions of the prior films is that the latter were the respective director’s cut. This however is not. It was a compiled version from the editor of the film. You do get the feeling that some bits of this film are only scraped together. However this version is better than the prior. Its not a classic by any means but it adds plot that makes it feel closer to a Fincher film and an overall Alien film. There are even more developed themes of religion, violence and sex.

Overall, this film does bring the films to an end quite well at least until the next film. The ending is great, while getting there was excruciating. Its nowhere close to the prior two films but it can be somewhat entertaining at times. However, it ultimately is quite a mess. The Assembly Cut is definitely the superior film

Rating: 2.0/5.0 bowties

Alien Resurrection (1997)

Its always interesting to re-watch a film that you did not like when you first watch it. You want to hope you were mistaken that something may have changed and the film may be redeemed. So I gave it a shot and….its just as bad as I remember.

The movie is about a clone of Ripley (yeah…this starts of extremely strong right?), which honestly represents this film as a whole. It is a unreal attempt to recreate the prior films. The company that found her somehow found her DNA to clone her to recreate the Alien that was growing inside of her. Its not even the same company from the prior films. Its a separate organization.  I feel my IQ is dropping while writing this…

Unlike any of the prior films, the film feels extremely generic. The CGI is horrendous and the film’s director Jean-Pierre Jeunet overuses it extremely to even create a grenade rolling on the ground. The plot has a lot of inconsistencies that either never pay off or are completely forgotten. Jeunet also creates an extremely blood and gory film. While the creatures look great, the film really feels its being violent and bloody for no reason. The prior films weren’t this, chest bursting aside. The fear was driven from a sense of unease rather than a graphic display. This is also then mismatched with the dialogue written by Joss Whedon. Whedon has stated that they delivered it wrong and it was supposed to be more sarcastic. However even with this knowledge, it still clashes with the graphic action. And do I need to even talk about the stupidities that is a human/Xenomorph hybrid and the window make out scene?

However, this film isn’t without some good moments. There are some impressive sequences such as the underwater chase and the ambush in the alien “nest.” Both are effective and thrilling set pieces but aren’t tied together by the overall plot.

Special Edition (2003) – As with the third film, this is not a director’s cut but rather an alternate cut. It does add some better moments but not enough to save it at all. The plot is still confused between sarcastic parody and a graphic action film. There is some better development though with Call (Winona Ryder) that gives her a more clear motivation.

However neither cut is really good and honestly they are a mess and an extended mess. It really kicked the Alien franchise when it was down. Both films are unnecessary but the first cut is awful.

Rating: 1.0/5.0 bowties

Alien vs. Predator (2004)

And now we have reached the cross-over part of this franchise. AvP is about a bland group of characters that are trapped in this pyramid that was constructed thousands of years ago by the Predators to test their soldiers. Each 100 years, they would ask the humans to sacrifice themselves to become Xenomorphs so that they could hunt them. Not the worst premise for a cross-over that I’ve heard of.  I remember being excited for this film as a kid when I saw it in the theatres.

Now is it a good film? No, not really. Its average and cheesy. It is a fairly stereotypical B-movie. Paul W.S. Anderson probably most known for his Mortal KombatResident Evil, and Death Race films. does really all he can with the premise: “Let’s put these two iconic alien races up against each other.” He tries to add some cool bits like a Matrix-like facehugger and a “suit up” scene for the Predators.  When the two races fight each other, this film succeeds. Its what I paid my ticket for years ago and what makes me keep my DVD copy of it. Its exhilarating to see them fight. Is the fight choreography that of Jet Li fighting Jackie Chan in The Forbidden Kingdom or Jet Li fighting Donnie Yen in Hero? Definitely not but I found it still fun to see on screen.

Here’s what still annoys me about this film: the people. Though they tried to give them more development that Alien: Resurrection, you still don’t care about them. There are a few you may care for because they are either connected to the prior films or they are clearly the hero you’re supposed to root for. They are all cliche. You got your military goons, smart guys, and your hero. The title is “Alien vs. Predator,” and you don’t get to see as much of it as you want. You get the humans learning about “Alien vs. Predator.”

With a film like this you honestly want essentially a monster fighting film. Its supposed to be like Frankenstein fighting Dracula and you only get a small portion of that. The monsters are only there to move the plot along instead of being threatening which is what they did so well in their solo franchises. You don’t care about the humans dying because they don’t serve a purpose aside from being a viewpoint of the film. In the solo films, they were the people trying to survive which you wanted them to, aside from a few baddies. Here, the humans are “in the middle of a war and [they] have to pick a side.” Blah blah blah. Ah well…at least get to see a Predator have compassion and become friends with a human..right? ….Nah, I’d rather have the survival story.

I also did love some of the ideas that this film put forth. The history of these two races is cool to learn and the pyramid itself is a cool connection to that. The pyramid changes it’s orientation every 10 minutes because of the metric system which really makes sense based on it its history.  They also do a lot of homages to the previous films, though obvious, which I liked. They even connect it to the Alien films with Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen) who was in Aliens and Aliens 3. 

This film honestly is made for teenagers hence the PG-13 rating which is maybe why I liked it intially. However on this re-watch, I do see the flaws in the film. But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the parts of it that it does well.

Rating: 2.5/5.0 bowties

Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)

This film picks up right where the previous film finishes: a Predalien emerges from a dead Predator. It kills all the other Predators on the ship and goes down to Earth. Then a Predator is sent to Earth to clean up and kill the Aliens. That’s pretty much it. There are three pointless plots that overlap but they barely connect to each other.

The film is not as bad as Alien: Resurrection but its still pretty bad. Somehow this film was able to take the pointlessness of the characters in that film and take away more character. We somehow end up with a teenager story in a small town. Our “hero” is the nice looking nice guy who never gets the girl who is into the jocks who is a pizza delivery. Because that’s what I want when I see a film that is about space races fighting: teenage angst. Who cares? The rest of the characters are terrible and you care about them less as the film goes on, if you cared about them at all. The dialogue between them is same as any other horror film.

The only character that I relatively cared for was the Predalien but even then I didn’t really. I only liked the idea of it. The Predalien is apparently turning into a Queen Xenomorph which attacks pregnant women to inject 5 embryos into them. This is apparently what young Queens do to grow their hive before setting up an egg laying station. It is kind of a good idea but then why the Predator half?

This film is not completely pointless, it does give you some awesome action like when the Predator has two of his guns attached and lines up to kill two Xenomorphs that he has in his grip. The action, when occurring, was cool to see overall. That’s something that the entire series has done well. I also enjoyed seeing, though briefly, the Predator planet. The action is fun and violet if you’re into that sort of thing. But it doesn’t save the film.

Overall, this film did not do either franchise justice and required both of them to be rebooted in Predators and Prometheus. Maybe now with the fascination of these franchises and shared universe films growing again they could try again with the two races. But I am not for it completely right now.

Rating: 1.5/5.0 bowties.

Prometheus (2012)

Here we get the return of Ridley Scott to the franchise. It is a prequel to the original film exploring the story of the Engineers that were briefly featured in Alien. In this film, they are shown to be the reason for why humans exist. Our hero is Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) who is attempting to understand the Engineers and question humanity’s purpose. This film is a exploration of faith, either religious or scientific. It discusses the risks of attempting to understand a universe that is incomprehensible. If you could speak to your maker, would he/she be happy with you? In this case, the maker is not.

What adds to this film is its excellent cast. You have Idris Elba as Janek, a guy who accepts things the way they are. Another great cast member is Charlize Theron as Meredith Vickers who is a Weyland Corporation employee who is sent to monitor the expedition. Another standout is Guy Pierce as Peter Wayland who is a distant relative of the mentioned Charles Bishop Wayland.

The last but certainly not least cast member is Michael Fassbender as David the android. In comparison to the other films, the robot is known front and center. He is perhaps one of the most interesting characters as he is relatively less intelligent than the past androids. He is the innocent mind that is exploring the universe and honestly could be thought as the most “human” of the characters. His character is very similar to the Replicants in Scott’s Blade Runner. He however is not looked as such by the other crew mates being called “boy.” He is the slave of the crew and is used as such. There is no care for him and he returns the sentiment, aside from Shaw. This is an interesting idea as it demonstrates an idea of how we develop flaws. His flaws are from his human parents, just larger. Flaws are given to us by our creators/parents. The concept is fantastic to think about.

Each cast member all are superb in their roles. But even with their towering acting ability and statures, they all feel small in this universe. The scale of this film is humongous and it looks amazing. This is what Scott does best. He creates an immense universe with its vast caverns and corridors and tower over the cast as they walk through it. It makes a statement on how small humanity actually is in the big and potentially hostile universe. Scott has taken control over CGI and created this futuristic environment that looks fantastic.

The film is amazing when it doesn’t try to connect to the prior films. It seems awkward and forced such as the showing of a Xenomorph-like creature at the end of the film to tease it. It also has a fairly conventional third act ending that happens really quickly. There are also a lot of questions that are not answered that I hope will be answered in Alien: Covenant. That’s what you get when the writer is the same that did the TV show “Lost.”

Overall, its flaws are only slightly distracting from the rest of the film. Aside from them, it is wonderfully executed film that has a lot compelling ideas. It is not as good as Alien or Aliens but its right behind them.

Rating: 4.0/5.0 bowties

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Going into this, the average score is 3.0/5.0 bowties which means the series is  good in my book. As with Prometheus, Ridley Scott returns to direct and it is written by the screenplay is by the writer of The Aviator, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Skyfall so I am excited to see this film. My only concern is James Franco and Danny McBride in this. Its hard for me to take them 100% seriously normally and this series (for the most part) has been dark and intense and they seem miscast. But I will see it either way and let you know what I think.

Here is my review of Alien: Covenant!

What did you all think of the films? 

Let me know in the comments section.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Mr. Bobinsky says:

    Good analysis! Although I think Alien3 and Ressurection weren’t as bad. There’re countless, literally countless sci-fi movies much worse than that.

    Liked by 1 person

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