Thoughts on the Alien Franchise

Posted: May 25, 2017 by patricksponaugle in Blogging, Movie Review, Opinion
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Alien: Covenant is now out in theaters, but I haven’t seen it yet. (So no worries about me spoiling that movie here.)

I noticed the other day that I was coming up on my blog’s 300th post.  Yay me!

I felt it would be appropriate to recognize that milestone with some thoughts on a movie series (since that’s why I started blogging in the first place) and since there was an Alien franchise movie in theaters, here are some of my observations with those movies.

Hey, as I alluded to above, this is my 300th post as a blogger. I’m sorry.

ALIEN (1979)

I am not sure if I’ve actually seen all of Alien, the first and best of the franchise. I will painfully hint at my advanced age by saying that the movie came out when I was in high school, but I was too young to see an R rated movie. So I read the novelization.

I don’t recall who wrote the novel (it was Alan Dean Foster, I just looked it up) but I know it satisfied me as a kid. Reading the sensationalist press coverage about the movie, particularly the infamous chest-bursting alien emergence scene, I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to see the movie. (I now know that I would have been okay, but younger me had his doubts.)

At some point a few years later, I saw most of Alien on broadcast TV, but if I recall correctly I never rented the theatrical release from a video store. (Kids, ask your parents about Blockbuster Video.)

Obviously, the version I saw on broadcast TV minimized the nastier gorier elements. I was eager to see Aliens when it came out; I didn’t want to miss the theater experience.

And the movie’s title promised more than one critter.

ALIENS (1986)

My reading the Alien novel adaptation in some ways limited my enjoyment of Aliens, when the movie introduced the element of a queen alien laying eggs.

Ripley: Don’t worry Newt, I’ll protect you.
Newt: History will prove you wrong.

In Aliens, at some point the team discussed what they could infer from the xenomorphs and their life cycle. The facehuggers came from large eggs, and they implanted chestburster embryos in living hosts. There was speculation that there had to be some other organism that had not yet been encountered, an egg-layer for the facehuggers, to fill in the missing details of their reproductive cycle.

Ellen Ripley, the survivor from Alien (as if you don’t know) agreed, which confused me since she had had an experience on the Nostromo that suggested something more complex. The original (to us in 1979) xenomorph loose on the ship had taken Dallas, the Nostromo’s captain, and had coccooned him in alien secretions.

Dallas: This is still better than politics.

In the novel, Ripley finds Captain Dallas, and he begs for death (“… kill … me … “) because alien parasitic larvae are visible feeding on him. (This is eerily reproduced in Aliens, when the marines find a coccooned colonist who also asks to be killed, right before a chestburster lives up to its name. The little aliens have their dramatic timing down.)

So, the chestburster as an organism has the ability to reproduce if host organisms were available, which made the xenomorph species extra terrifying.

This didn’t preclude the existence of a queen egg layer for the large facehugger eggs, but Ripley had first-hand experience seeing this other form of reproduction, but she did not mention it. Which bugged me. (Bugged! Get it? … I’m sorry, let’s just move on.)

Except, she didn’t truly have this experience as far as the movies go. The larval parasite reveal had been cut from the theatrical release, but had remained in the novel. It was canon to me, but never was movie-canon, and that’s not the movie franchise’s fault, but mine for being a smug book reader. That being said, I still have things to say about that.

The downside for me: with the individual xenomorphs more or less turned into drones in an ant-colony, I was less invested in the stakes of an alien making it to Earth. But, and I’ll own up to this again, that’s my problem, not anyone else’s.

Ripley: Get away from her, you bitch!
Queen: Might I remind you that you MURDERED ALL OF MY EGGS! YOU MONSTER!

The introduction of this egg-laying organism allowed for the dramatic showdown between Ripley and the queen at the tail end of Aliens. That fight was iconic, and Aliens is a thoroughly enjoyable movie.

I was ready for the next installment. But would it be ready for me?

ALIEN 3 – a version not made

If I was disappointed that the adult chestbursters were now asexual drones, an unused script by William Gibson that he’d pitched for Alien 3 went too far in the other direction: he envisioned that the aliens had some kind of reproductive spore ability that would turn humans into xenomorphs. That seemed rather over the top and unnecessary based on the relatively sober and rational approach to the creatures in the previous two movies.

I didn’t necessarily like Alien 3 too much, and it made a few weird choices (more on that in a moment), but the Gibson idea of the alien being able to convert/transform organisms, rather than reasonably using them as host food sources, would just go too far for me. I’m glad Gibson’s treatment was not picked up. So already Fincher’s Alien 3 was a step up.

ALIEN 3 (1992)

I’m not necessarily opposed to the story as presented in  Alien 3 – I was bummed by Hicks and Newt’s death at the time, but I’ve since gotten used to heroes having their triumphs (like Ripley saving Newt) undercut by tragedy or treachery. (Thank you Game of Thrones.)

But I was not a fan of the xenomorph in the movie taking on characteristics of the organism that was used as an incubator.

Mom! Mom! Look! Look at me! I kind of look like a dog! For no reason! I’m a good dog! 12/10 Would pet!

That seemed unnecessary, not all that adaptive a mechanism, and went contrary to android Ash’s statement from the first movie that the xenomorph was a perfect organism. (Also, a dog died and that’s not cool. Hicks, Newt, and a dog? That’s low, son.)

This wrinkle of the chestburster mutating based on the host organism just had this feel of “well, we have to do something different with the alien” – without really considering it. Was it as bad as the idea of the aliens being able to alien-ify people? No, at least it wasn’t that bad.

And Alien 3 was head and shoulders above Alien: Resurrection. I can consider Alien 3 actually part of the franchise, a tragic end game for Ripley and the last known queen organism, destroyed in molten metal. I can’t seriously consider Alien: Resurrection happening in the same universe though.

Alien: Resurrection (1997)

Alien: Resurrection, regardless of the perceived brilliance of the director, whoever he is, is not a good movie. Despite Joss Whedon’s involvement. It is just too full of odd moments, throughout.

(These might sound like nit-picks. That’s fair. But the movie made such a limited impression on me.)

A significant amount of minutes is devoted to the smuggler crew demonstrating how they are sneaking in their weapons past marine security, who are checking them for such items. And from then on, the crew freely move back and forth between their ship in the hangar and the secure spaces on the military vessel. Apparently no longer being checked, which defeats the purpose of the weapon check in the first place.

Marine: Okay, you’re clear. When you go back to your ship and start bringing in those miners you have in stasis for our mad science experiments, please don’t grab any guns. That would be uncool.

Smuggler: I promise. You can trust me. Smuggler’s honor!

Either the security scan scenes needed to go, or something less inconsistent needed to be happening.

The release of the xenomorphs into the military vessel leads to a general evacuation call through the ship. The smuggler crew (and Alien-hybrid-Ripley) wants to get the hell of the ship, wisely, but opts to take a circuitous and indirect route to the hangar in the hopes of avoiding aliens.

I know that people act dumb in Alien movies, and act dumb in Sci-Fi movies in general, and let’s be fair: in every single movie of any genre if I’m being honest, but this is very dumb.

In most cases involving emergency or stress, people react out of fear or make a bad call from lack of information. These smugglers are heavily armed and there is a direct route that they can take. They know the shortest way to their ship. Maybe they’ll run into xenomorphs, but shooting the aliens has minimal risks since if the acid blood damages the hull integrity, who cares? They are getting to their ship quicker.

There is no lack of information to justify this call, nor do they react in a flight or fight which can justify a bad decision. They deliberately choose delays which makes no sense. Which leads to many fights with xenomorphs. Sometimes underwater. Those idiots.

Wheeeeeee!

Can anyone explain their captain wandering off to die alone like a punk?

The stuff with Brad Dourif studying the aliens was great, but the idea that the military needed human subjects specifically to study the alien lifecycle is not justified, except for the shock value for the audience. If we examine that plot element just on the surface, having humans subjected to being hosts appears to be consistent with the earlier movies. The crew of the Nostromo were considered expendable by the company, and it was likely some of them would be killed or turned into hosts. The colonists who fell prey in Aliens were sent there, probably with company knowledge that they’d be at risk.

But those were efforts to obtain viable alien organisms. The human involvement was more as part of this goal, and in providing the company a cover-story for plausible deniability should things go wrong. In Alien: Resurrection, the company (I’ll conflate them with the military, since the company was clearly planning on having the aliens as a bio-weapon platform) actually had alien organisms. Advantage company! Their evil plans worked out. At that point, humans weren’t needed to study the xenomorphs. Almost anything else would do.

To restate, the likelihood of using humans as hosts in the first movie was established I admit, but that was more incidentally evil. The company suspected the crew could be hosts, but that wasn’t necessarily a goal. Once they had their study subject, a queen laying eggs, there was no reason why some domesticated animal (NOT DOGS PLEASE) couldn’t be used in this study, rather than employing outside contractors to supply miners as hosts. Why take those risks?

This pushed the entire concept of the movie out of the scope of the Aliens franchise for me. Your mileage may vary.

Predator Movies

I’ve seen Predator, which did not include any evidence of the xenomorphs I’ve been discussing, but Predator 2 included the image of an adult chestburster skull as a trophy on the Predator ship. That’s enough to tie the two universes together. Unfortunately, not much has been done to present the titular aliens and Predators together in an enjoyable way in the movies.

I have only seen the first Alien vs Predator – which is not a good movie. Maybe the sequel was better?

Like the other movies, even bad aliens movies can have good scenes, and the female lead using an xenomorph skull as a shield and a barbed tail as a weapon was quite badass.

I would have liked to have seen these two in a much, much better movie.

I was not interested in the alien-Predator hybrid popping out at the end of the movie, not just because I think this hybrid idea is dumb, but it also showed a dramatic lack of understanding from the Predator race in dealing with potentially compromised associates, when the Preds literally have centuries of experience in hunting xenomorphs for sport.

So, I didn’t really have a great feeling about where things were going with the Alien franchise. Until Prometheus.

Prometheus (2012)

I didn’t see Prometheus in the theaters, for a few reasons. Although the trailers looked great, it was getting not-so-stellar reviews. Some people seemed angry about it, which kind of made me interested in seeing it, really. But my wife and I just didn’t make a concerted effort to get out to the theaters for it. Eventually, I grabbed a DVD of Prometheus from the grocery store bargain bin.

I really enjoyed Prometheus.

Yes, I enjoyed the movie despite poor decisions from the scientists. Scientists often make bad calls in science fiction movies, so I give the movie some slack. Consistency can be a defense.

Go back and watch the Thing From Another World, the 1950s adaptation of the science fiction story Who Goes There. (John Carpenter nailed the plot and tone of the short story when he remade the movie as The Thing.) In the quaint black-and-white movie, with James Arness as the carrot-man alien, the scientists assigned to the Arctic research base were all on-board in trying to grow their own versions of the monstrous thing that they’d dug out of the ice. Because SCIENCE. It’s totally a thing. SCIENCE!

But how can I feel good about Charlize Theron’s character trying to run in a straight line from a spaceship rolling towards her? Especially in light of me busting on the smugglers in Alien: Resurrection?

Because she was scared.

People sometimes flee from danger and fail to run towards safety. Had Theron saw the approaching ship, but then decided to take a nap because she wanted to be well-rested which of course would be a positive in a general sense but not in this specific case and time… that would have been Alien: Resurrection levels of dumb.

So I embraced the fun Galaxy of Terror nature of the movie, and didn’t feel like sweating any complaints. I mean, it had a great cast, and looked fantastic. (Some people consider that a negative. We’ll have to disagree.)


Alright, if you came here for a long, rambly analysis of the Alien franchise, I’m sure I disappointed you. But I’m glad that I got these thoughts out, in preparation for seeing Alien: Covenant at some point in the future. (Hopefully the near future.)

A friend of mine already emailed me his review, without his seeing the movie. It was an amusingly snarky account of the things he expected to see in the movie, as if he’d seen them.

There would be a group of people, they’d do dumb things, they’d be eaten by aliens, there’s be a twist, etc. I appreciate that (and he knows this) that he’s generically describing all the movies with a xenomorph. But I don’t mind.

I don’t mind if there aren’t any real surprises. I know that Prometheus hinted at some bigger picture things, and probably Covenant follows up on that, but this is well-covered ground in science fiction. I’m just happy to have something that looks good.

And I’m fine with the universe being presented as a scary and dangerous place, and humans seem to be moving through it kind of blissfully unaware. Or unprepared for the challenge even when they are aware.

It is a good thing that the Alien franchise and Star Trek Voyager are two different universes. If the crew of the Voyager found a derelict ship filled with eggs, Neelix would want to bring an egg on board in the hopes of making a huge omelet, Harry Kim would definitely get face-hugged (because everything happened to Harry Kim) and Janeway would insist on trying to communicate with and extend diplomacy to the resultant xenomorphs. (I say xenomorphs plural, because even after Kim got facehugged, someone else would too, because that crew did not learn.)

The crew of the starship Voyager seemed to live charmed lives, in that they never encountered a truly inimical situation. Not even the Borg are as impressive to me as the horrifying extraterrestrials of the Aliens franchise.


Hey, I’ll wrap this up with a quick personal note. This is my 300th blog post, and although I don’t think this post is my best work of all time, I was happy to share my thoughts.

I’ve made a fair amount of friends though my blogging, it’s been a delight. Thanks to everyone who comes by, regularly or irregularly, accidentally or by design, to check out my posts. (Especially my endless Game of Thrones posting. Season Seven is soooooo close.)

I promise more monthly micro-story collections, and more pictures of my dogs. My writing will never be as popular as Chi Chi the pug, or Peanut the three-legged puggle.

The dogs are auditioning for a low-budget remake of Alien 3. Nooooo!

Thanks for reading, and as always, best regards!


Images are from the various Aliens movies: Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection, Alien vs Predator, and Prometheus. (Oh, I took the picture of my dogs and the cute face-hugger, so that’s my property, yo.)

I make no claims to the photos (except the one of my dogs) but some claims to the text. So there.

© Patrick Sponaugle 2017 Some Rights Reserved

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Comments
  1. It’s almost as if you’re talking about MY review of Alien: Covenant.

    Oh. You are.

    We disagree on Prometheus. But since it’s just a show, I will really just relax.

    As for Alien: Covenant, my current attitude is “if I go, I’ll see the same story for the 7th time; not sure I need to do that” (like you, I passed on AVPR).

    Oh, and the dog in Alien 3 didn’t die, because it was a rottweiler. It just walked away, annoyed, hungry, and mean. That’s why nobody ever found the corpse.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brook Monroe says:

    As a not-fan of horror in general, even when accompanied by blinking LEDs and zap guns, I did manage to get through the first two movies in the franchise, and then took a pass on the remainder. Just to reassure myself that I didn’t like horror–even when accompanied by blinking LEDs and zap guns–I (much) later watched “Event Horizon” in the theater. I was right. I don’t like horror. (Even when…etc.) The xenomorphs (literally, “foreign shapes”) have a highly-suspect biology, and no amount of Pale Space Guys (“Jim Gaffigan–in spaaaaaace!”) is going to make them believable for me.

    Now, there is one way the franchise could draw me back in, and that would be a complete rewrite into a sort of “Snakes on a Plane” approach with Sam Jackson stalking the corridors shouting “I am [elided] tired of these [elided] xenomorphs on/in this [elided] .” Because the owners of the intellectual (?) property take themselves so seriously, this will never happen. (Or is it “THAT will never happen?”)

    “Alien vs. Predator?” My brain immediately tagged AVP as MVA–“Movie vs. Audience,” and I went back to whatever I was doing. [Also, in the interests of semantics, shouldn’t that be “Movie vs. Vidience,” since an “audience” listens (e.g. “concert vs. audience”) except that we’d have to invent “vidience,” and I expect that–borrowing from my high-school days when I was one of the “audio-visual specialists” assigned to the “media center,” which was mostly comprised of books, by the way–that it would really be “Movie vs. Audiovidience” since we’d have to both watch and listen. We’d better get moving on that #audiovidience hash tag campaign pretty soon, I think. But first I have to go be disappointed by the latest “Pirates of the Caribbean” release.] Since that editorial insert was so long, I don’t have to do a recall on the first sentence of this paragraph and relate what it was I went back to doing. As it was 2004 at the time, I no longer remember.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d watch Xenomorphs on a Plane with Samuel L Jackson, certainly. I’d also watch Men in Black: Alien.

      I remember Event Horizon, a movie I only needed to see once.

      Thanks for your assessment of audience, and it’s dubious applicability in regards to viewing cinema.

      (Y’all, Brook here is one of my buds, and writes the best emails. I’m honored that he, along with my buddy Andy the Self-Absorbed Man, left feedback.)

      Like

  3. Brook Monroe says:

    Strangely enough, WordPress ate part of my response, probably because I used angle brackets. The Samuel L. Jackson bit was supposed to be: “I am [elided] tired of these [elided] xenomorphs on/in this [elided] [vehicle/building/region or location].”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This was an entertaining romp down memory lane and through the contemporary films. I also lived off the first novelization until my father got me in to see the movie. Thanks for a fun read!

    Liked by 1 person

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