THE HORROR JAR: The ALIEN Movies

alien-movie-posterTHE HORROR JAR: The ALIEN Movies
By Michael Arruda

We finish off the 2014 year with THE HORROR JAR, the column that lists odds and ends about horror movies. Up today in the midst of frigid winter we look at the terrors of cold space, as seen in the ALIEN franchise.

The original ALIEN took moviegoers by storm in the summer of 1979, and I remember when I first saw this one at the movies upon its initial release being disappointed it wasn’t scarier. Of course, I was just fifteen years old back then. ALIEN is one of those movies that I have enjoyed more with each successive viewing, and for me, it’s the best of the series.

Here’s a look at that series:

ALIEN (1979)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Screenplay by Dan O’Bannon
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Ripley: Sigourney Weaver
Dallas: Tom Skerritt
Lambert: Veronica Cartwright
Brett: Harry Dean Stanton
Kane: John Hurt
Ash: Ian Holm
Parker: Yaphet Kotto
Running Time: 117 minutes

Iconic horror movie with famous tagline “In space no one can hear you scream” is one of the best shockers ever made. Deftly directed by Ridley Scott, this one is not a gross-out shocker— although there are some very graphic scenes— but a cleverly composed thriller with creative touches throughout. The intensely frightening Alien creature is hardly shown at all yet director Scott uses this to his advantage as the beast is there one moment, gone the next. My favorite scene when Dallas searches for the creature in the dark ducts with a blow torch simply uses a blip on a video screen to generate suspense.

Features a fantastic cast led by Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, a role she’d reprise three more times. Infamous scene where the baby alien bursts from John Hurt’s chest is now the stuff of horror film lore. Won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects. A classic of the genre, it was followed by five sequels and as of this writing one prequel.

ALIENS (1986)
Directed by James Cameron
Screenplay by James Cameron
Music by James Horner
Ripley: Sigourney Weaver
“Newt”: Carrie Henn
Hicks: Michael Biehn
Burke: Paul Reiser
Bishop: Lance Henriksen
Hudson: Bill Paxton
Running Time: 137 minutes

James Cameron’s big budget blockbuster is for many the best film of the series. It’s certainly the most ambitious and the most fun, as it features an army of the Alien monsters rather than just one, and in true James Cameron style it’s flawlessly made. That being said, I prefer the cold chilling style of the original over this high flying sequel ever so slightly.

The cast while still very good isn’t as impressive as the one in the original, although Sigourney Weaver is back and is arguably even better here in this sequel than she was in the original- heck, she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress. Lance Henriksen impresses as Bishop, Bill Paxton chews up the scenery as the big mouthed emotional Hudson, and young Carrie Henn is memorable as “Newt” the little girl who Ripley rescues. The film won two Oscars, one for Sound Effects Editing and the other for Visual Effects.

ALIEN 3 (1992)
Directed by David Fincher
Screenplay by David Giler, Walter Hill, and Larry Ferguson
Music by Elliot Goldenthal
Ripley: Sigourney Weaver
Dillon: Charles S. Dutton
Clemens: Charles Dance
Bishop: Lance Henriksen
Running Time: 114 minutes

OK third film in the ALIEN series pales in comparison to the first two, and after the rousing spectacle of ALIENS, this one really falls flat. It’s sufficient to say that director David Fincher’s best work lay ahead of him, as he’s gone on to make some terrific movies since, including 2014’s GONE GIRL.

The setting of a space prison planet where Ripley lands after the events of ALIENS is a good one, and this film tries to return to the cold scary style of the original, but it ultimately falls short as none of the scares are noteworthy, nor is the story anything to brag about. Suffers from the “been there done that” phenomenon throughout.

ALIEN: RESURRECTION (1997)
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Screenplay by Joss Whedon
Music by John Frizzell
Ripley: Sigourney Weaver
Annalee: Winona Ryder
Johner: Ron Perlman
Running Time: 109 minutes

More of the same, and none of it as good as what has been done before. ALIEN: RESURRECTION is probably my least favorite of the ALIEN movies starring Sigourney Weaver. It’s certainly the least memorable of the series. Screenwriter Joss Whedon, who would go on to write CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012), and write and direct Marvel’s THE AVENGERS (2012) must have had an off day when he wrote this.

AVP: ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004)
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
Screenplay by Paul W.S. Anderson
Music by Harald Kloser
Alexa Woods: Sanaa Latham
Sebastian de Rosa: Raoul Bova
Charles Bishop Weyland: Lance Henriksen
Running Time: 101 minutes

First ALIEN movie without Sigourney Weaver is certainly the goofiest and the most contrived. It’s saved only by its crossover gimmick with the PREDATOR series. Absolutely ridiculous story makes little sense. Still, the Alien vs. Predator battles are a lot of fun and provide a guilty pleasure in this otherwise lame-brained movie. By far the weakest of the series.

ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM (2007)
Directed by The Brothers Strause
Screenplay by Shane Salerno
Music by Brian Tyler
Dallas: Steven Pasquale
Kelly: Reiko Aylesworth
Morales: John Ortiz
Running Time: 94 minutes

This second “Alien vs. Predator” flick takes place in a small town and ditches the ridiculous storyline of the previous installment. Keeping things simpler this time around makes this film slightly better than the last as small town folks find themselves in the middle of a war between the Predators and the Aliens. I actually enjoyed this one, and the fact that it has some frightening moments helps.

PROMETHEUS (2012)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Screenplay by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof
Music by Marc Streitenfeld
Elizabeth Shaw: Noomi Rapace
David: Michael Fassbender
Meredith Vickers: Charlize Theron
Janek: Idris Elba
Running Time: 124 minutes

Ambitious science fiction film by original ALIEN director Ridley Scott takes place in the same universe as the ALIEN movies, and so serves as a sort of ALIEN prequel, but the film is much more than just an ALIEN tie-in. I wanted to like this one so much more than I ultimately did, as it is full of big ideas and some very interesting science fiction concepts; however, it doesn’t quite make good on its promises and falls short of its lofty goals. It does have a fantastic cast and it’s certainly very well made, but the story doesn’t always hold water. Based on the premise and set-up for this one, I wanted and expected more.

In terms of the ALIEN tie-in, it is a prequel to the first film, but only on the most peripheral level, as it’s more a case of both films taking place within the same setting, with the events of PROMETHEUS having little to do with the events in ALIEN other than taking place on the same planet.

Back in 1979, when I first saw ALIEN at the movies, I was disappointed, and then over the years with each successive viewing I liked the film more and more. Perhaps the same will happen with PROMETHEUS, that over time, I’ll like it better. We’ll see. I’m about due to watch it again.

So, there you have it, the ALIEN movies. In a nutshell, the franchise begins with two classics of the genre, ALIEN and ALIENS, both outstanding movies, moves on through two mediocre redundant entries ALIEN 3 and ALIEN: RESURRECTION, bottoms out with the lowly ALIEN VS. PREDATOR movies, although the last one ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM was actually rather enjoyable in a B monster movie sort of way, before being reborn in a prequel of sorts, the highly imaginative science fiction movie PROMETHEUS which takes place years before the events of the first film on the same planet where the crew of the Nostromo first discovered the Alien creature.

And that wraps things up for today and for the year

I hope you enjoyed reading my posts here at This Is My Creation: The Blog of Michael Arruda throughout 2014, and I look forward to your joining me in 2015 for more articles about movies, the horror genre, science fiction, and more as we move on to another exciting year.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

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