The Alien franchise is unusual for several reasons. It started with a highly successful, even visionary, film from an almost unknown director (Ridley Scott’s The Duellists had been a modest success in England, but it was Alien that boosted him to international fame). Seven years later came a sequel from a different director, set in the same universe but with a decidedly different tone and approach. Both Alien and Aliens are excellent films in their own right, and James Cameron (in only his third feature film) managed to build his own unique niche which expanded the original mythology, rather than simply trying to clone the first film.
It would be six more years before the third film in the series followed, and Alien3 was again the work of a newcomer director. David Fincher had only directed music videos up to the time he was hired to carry on the Alien franchise, and thanks to script issues and studio interference, it was not a great experience. Thankfully, Fincher has gone on to ever-greater things, but as you’ll see in our write-up, perhaps the third entry is undeservedly maligned. Still, despite lukewarm reception from fans and critics, Alien3 was successful enough for a fourth film to be made five years later, the also-coolly-received Alien: Resurrection, helmed by French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet in his only American film to date. Four films, made over a span of almost twenty years, all directed by different people, each of whom happened to be relative newcomers to Hollywood. We repeat: this franchise is unusual.
Despite the popular lack of enthusiasm for the last two films in the franchise (and we’re not even getting into the crossover Alien vs. Predator films), Alien has left its mark on the cinematic landscape for all time, combining a fantastically original visual design with a genre-mashing sci-fi/horror (and in Aliens, sci-fi/horror/action) story that set a lasting tone for science fiction which has persisted to the present day. In visual terms, the pristine and sterile spaceships of 2001: A Space Odyssey are gone. In their place is a rough-and-tumble spacecraft and a species of sentient (?) aliens bent on destruction and their own procreation, dripping with sexualized imagery. The themes in Alien run deep, hitting us with our most primal fears. And it’s not unremarkable that the hero of all this is a woman – the quintessential Final Girl who didn’t ask to be brought into all this, but has the smarts, the willpower, and (eventually) the skills to withstand all that gets thrown at her – not just by the aliens, but by the patriarchal society that continually tries to refuse her voice. Ellen Ripley remains an iconic figure, but an icon who is deeply and viscerally human, one of the greatest gifts that the many legacies of Alien have left us.
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