Thirty-eight years since its release, the Alien franchise has drawn a large number of horror and sci-fi fans and has also inspired multiple movies within the genre. That said, the franchise itself has been on a downward slide after Cameron's #Aliens. After multiple spin-offs and video games, #RidleyScott returned to the director's chair with Prometheus, only to receive more flak because of unanswered questions.
Ultimately, this year's #AlienCovenant will decide the fate of the franchise. In order to answer why, we have to see what the classics brought to the table and how Covenant must avoid the flaws seen in later installments.
(Note: I'll be considering the Director's Cut for the movies and the Assembly Cut of Alien 3 because most fans say that it is the better of the two editions.)
The Rise And Fall Of The Alien Franchise
Alien and Aliens paved the way for the space horror genre. Without these two, there wouldn't have been any Event Horizon, Riddick, Pandorum or Life. While Alien introduced the world to this visceral monster, Aliens expanded on the intelligence and perfection of this organism. Giger's brilliance embodied the fear of hostile takeover and, to be honest, the replacement for the Xenomorph is yet to be found.
From a technical point of view, both Cameron and Scott gave LV-426 and the Nostromo a sense of place. They both used the slow pace of the '80s to imprint the locations in our minds, so that when the situation went haywire, we would have a good idea of where the characters were heading. Brilliant cinematography, practical effects and the now iconic chestburster scene made these movies an instant classic.
The main feature of the franchise was obviously Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley. In Alien, she was the odd one out because of her administrative position, whereas in Aliens she remained so because of her previous experience. That might have been a requirement of the script, but Ripley became the medium through which the audience became involved in this extraterrestrial story. When Ripley was scared, we were scared; when Ripley was angry, we were angry. After suffering through a slew of personal losses that lead to her bonding with Newt, we felt that she had found the mother-daughter relationship she never got the chance to experience.
However, Aliens would mark the last truly great addition to the franchise. Fox's disregard for the franchise began with the misleading Alien 3 teasers and ended by trashing the legacy of Giger in the form of the Newborn.
While Scott introduced us to this other-worldly being, and Cameron fleshed out its mechanics and intelligence, Fincher and Jean-Pierre turned it into some sort of a run-of-the-mill slasher monster.
The tone of Scott's simmering horror and Cameron's adrenaline-pumping action set-pieces formed the backbone of their respective movies. In complete contrast to that, Fincher's Alien 3 and Jean-Pierre's Resurrection suffered from the lack of a definitive tone. Fincher's philosophical prisoners made for some over-the-top performances while Jean-Pierre's ragtag group of smugglers gave way for some cartoonish characters rather than the well-developed and memorable ones of its predecessor.
Despite a runtime of over two hours, neither Fiorina "Fury" 161 nor USM Auriga had a sense of place. On top of that, the action sequences were poorly choreographed and had no tension. While Aliens will be remembered for Ripley taking on the Xenomorph Queen, Alien 3 will probably be remembered for the skewed Xeno-P.O.V. chase scene.
Fincher also managed to kill off Hicks, Newt and even Ripley herself, while Jean-Pierre made her into a human-Xeno hybrid. Ripley went from being relatable to an expendable, emotionless character. For many, this was the point where the franchise had fully lose its way. But in the spirit of Ripley herself, the franchise wasn't going to go down without a fight.
Scott's Attempt At Making Amends
After a massive gap of 15 years, Ridley Scott finally took matters into his own hand and took things back to the beginning. By doing so, Scott not only managed to go back so far into the past that it didn't affect the originals, but also managed to introduce a new lore for the next generation to explore.
In this day and age, as most of us are accustomed to getting instant answers, the movie was panned for leaving too many loose ends. In Scott's defense, that wasn't the actual reason why the movie failed to reinvigorate the franchise. One of the initial problems was the shiny and over-polished set design. The Nostromo and Hadley's Hope had an used-up and organic look to them that the Prometheus certainly lacked.
Prometheus continued the shortage of organic dialogues and relatable characters that helped build the interpersonal dynamics in both Alien and Aliens despite a cast that included Idris Elba and Charlize Theron. It also lacked a teamwork dynamic and a central character we could rally around. Everyone had a quip up their sleeves and seemed way too stupid to be space-hopping scientists.
What Prometheus did do right was re-introduce practical effects (the Cesarean sequence) and debut one of the most sinister androids in the history of cinema, David, portrayed by the talented Michael Fassbender.
Prometheus not only increased the scale of the franchise with its brilliant use of special effects, but it also expanded upon the origin of the Xenomorphs and an alternate theory about the creation of mankind. It may not have been the film fans were hoping for, but it did give Scott a platform for Alien: Covenant, a film that could very well be the "final straw" for some fans.
Will Covenant Return To Its Roots Or Play It Safe?
With the official Alien name in its title, here's a breakdown of the deciding factors of Alien: Covenant:
As suggested from the prologues, we will probably get to know about the origin of the Engineers, the face-huggers and why they wanted to kill us at the end of Prometheus. This is one of the most important aspects because it was one of the dominant complaints of its predecessor. Judging from "The Crossing," Covenant will confidently tackle the questions from both Prometheus and Alien.
Unlike Prometheus, "The Last Supper" prologue suggests that the movie will focus on interpersonal dynamics just like the original movies. Even though it looks like there are some expendable characters, I am fairly optimistic that Scott will not make the same mistake twice. Every trailer looks to be focusing on Katherine Waterston's Daniels. I consider this to be a positive because it is a sign of returning to the roots of the first movie, giving us a protagonist that the audience can easily relate to.
So far, it looks like the Xenos have been used frugally and with practical effects thanks to Javier Botet. The two things that worry me are the Xenomorph on the ship in broad daylight and the white Neomorph. Even though they are done with motion-capture, the CGI could turn out to be a bit off-putting as audiences have now become hyper aware of rubbery special effects.
It looks like Covenant will be a perfect amalgamation of the claustrophobic sequences of Alien and the gun-pumping action of Aliens. Some of the scenes are very reminiscent of the previous movies and that is a really good sign. Most of the action set-pieces in the Alien 3, Resurrection and Prometheus had little to no consequence. Even though the emotional factor of the action relies on how the characters have been utilized, the use of claustrophobic corridors and real-life explosions does look promising.
The best thing about these prequels is Michael Fassbender, and Covenant showcases him twice. I don't have any reservations about his acting and I am pretty sure that the sinister David and the updated Walter will make for some pretty sick scenarios.
Prometheus had already begun to revisit Giger's legacy, but it looks like we will be spending a long time aboard the Engineers' ship and basking in Giger's hypnotic set-design. Covenant also marks the return of the iconic chest-burster, the original Xenomorph, the Xenomorph Queen and will introduce us to the Neomorph.
The movie has a significant amount of ground to cover in telling the story of Shaw and David and how David operates without Peter Weyland. The film is also tasked with the origin of the Engineers and how the ship ended at LV-426. Unless Scott plans to take on another installment, it is all on Covenant to bridge the gap between Prometheus and Alien.
The trailers of Alien: Covenant hint at the overuse of the CGI Xenomorph and a plethora of forgettable characters. However, the gritty setup, realistic set-pieces, solid protagonist in the form of Daniels, and a whole lot of Michael Fassbender is a sign of revival of this classic franchise. With the scales of the franchise hanging in the balance, I think the positives will finally outweigh the negatives and subsequently, Covenant will pave the way for future Alien movies to come.
Do you think Ridley Scott will be able to revive the franchise?
(Poll Image Courtesy: Fox)