The Alien franchise is by far one of the most beloved in sci-fi cinema history. With Ridley Scott adding a sixth instalment to the Xenomorph saga, it feels like the perfect time to go back and have a look at the films that have led up to Alien: Covenant.
Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)
It’s difficult to re-watch Alien now without looking at it as a product of its time. Not in the sense that the effects don’t hold up (because they do), but because it’s gone on to inspire so many other films that the techniques used in it feel old. Most recently, Life (2017) essentially ripped off Alien and slapped another name on it. Even now though, despite it seeming old, Alien still gives you the creeps as Ellen Ripley sneaks down corridors in search of perhaps the most nightmare-inducing creature design of all time.
The film is often described as a horror, which doesn’t quite feel right; it fits more into the ‘sci-fi thriller that’ll make you squirm as you have your primal fears exploited on screen’ category. It’s by far the scariest film in the franchise and although no-one can hear you scream in space, your neighbours certainly can when you watch this at home.
Aliens (James Cameron, 1986)
Aliens is a completely different kettle of fish. Alien is very much meant to scare you, and although Aliens does have creepy moments it’s much more of an action movie. Picking up from where Alien left off, Ellen Ripley is forced to go hunt a group of Xenomorphs with a troop of marines. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Cameron creates a very different tone to Alien, not by making it lighter as it’s still a hard 18, but by making you punch the air when Ripley goes up against the alien queen in the power loader. It’s perhaps one of the most iconic sequences in ’80s cinema, let alone the franchise itself. Aliens perhaps isn’t quite as good a film as Alien in terms of sheer filmmaking, but it’s twice the fun.
Alien 3 (David Fincher, 1992)
This one is a difficult film to look at now because you can see that it could have been great; it could have been the follow-up that fans wanted and deserved, but it just wasn’t. It certainly didn’t help killing off two popular characters from Aliens, off-screen, within the opening few minutes. It’s by no means a bad film and gets more negative comments than it deserves, but is frankly a bit of a mess. It was David Fincher’s first feature film and show’s promise from him with interesting ideas like: what would happen if a Xenomorph laid its eggs inside a dog? Unfortunately, the film never manages to live up to its ideas due to clear signs of studio interference. Fincher has distanced himself from the film, with good reason, and so there isn’t even a director’s cut that fans would be able to see give life to Fincher’s vision. However, if you want to see a thoroughly improved cut of the film go check out the ‘assembly cut’ as it provides much more for you to sink your teeth into.
Alien: Resurrection (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 1997)
There isn’t a lot that can be said about Alien: Resurrection other than after all these years it’s still terrible. Unlike Alien 3, there are little to no redeeming factors. The main issue is a complete mismatch of tone between script and director. Rather confusingly, the script was penned by acclaimed writer Joss Whedon who attempts to create a fun space romp with classic Whedon dialogue. Director Jeunet disregards this and makes a dark and gritty Alien movie (as Alien movies should be), but although well-intended, it just doesn’t work and makes the film feel directionless. The film is full of awful choices, the main one being the ridiculous design of the ‘newborn’ alien which is a hybrid of both human and Xenomorph DNA; Google it if you need a chuckle. The film is a mess and, rightly so, put a pin in the franchise for a while.
Prometheus (Ridley Scott, 2012)
Prometheus is like that person you date regardless of the fact they don’t have a lot going on upstairs but sure are pretty to look at. Ridley Scott decided he wanted to return to the Alien franchise without actually returning to the Alien franchise, and so we’re left with a film that asks so many questions, and from the look of Alien: Covenant, they’re questions Scott has very little intention of answering. It’s actually best watched when not considered part of the franchise at all and is looked at as a stand-alone sci-fi film that asks some big questions but doesn’t really go anywhere. As a film, Prometheus is the definition of ‘meh’, but who knows? Maybe after seeing Alien: Covenant it will be looked back at as a science fiction masterpiece. Until then, it’s just the film with perhaps the greatest teaser trailer in history.
Alien: Covenant is in cinemas across the UK now. Image source: Evilgeeks.com