We’re less than a day away from the UK release of Alien: Covenant, with the latest instalment of this legendary franchise set to further explore the origin that was touched upon in Prometheus. So with that in mind, it seems only natural to take a look over the evolution of this beloved series, what made it great, and the decisions that almost killed it off entirely.
The first instalment of the franchise made its way into US cinemas on May 27, 1979, having been produced on a budget of $11 million. Giving us a gripping tale that sees the crew of Nostromo respond to an unknown transmission, the film quickly takes a massive twist, seeing the crew fight for their lives once a vicious alien makes its way onto the ship. What follows this may very well be history, but the tale that screenwriters, Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, director Ridley Scott, and the cast and crew told was nonetheless sensational, enthralling audiences from start to finish.
It is this that makes the fact that no sequel was considered until 1983 rather peculiar, with Aliens not making it’s way to cinema until July 19, 1986. Written and directed by James Cameron, this second instalment was what truly turned this franchise into what it is today, with the introduction of the alien queen and the story he told being truly magnificent. Taking place 57 years after the events of the first film, Aliens sees sole survivor of the Nostromo, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), reluctantly joins a crew of Elite Colonial Marines to investigate a loss of contact at the now terraforming colony, LV-426 (where they found the alien eggs). Not only did this new narrative allow for an expansion on the Xenomorph species, but it also allowed Ripley to grow as a character, being much more strong and determined than she was in the first film.
These first two instalments may very well have been the core reasons why Alien is still such a beloved franchise today, but what followed was a lot murkier. Having went into production without a finished script, the third instalment, Alien 3, was apparently a nightmare from day one, with director, David Fincher, having since disowned the film. Finally coming out on May 22, 1992, the story would see Ripley’s ship crash land on prison planet Fiorina “Fury” 161, with her once again being the sole survivor. Unbeknownst to Ripley, however, a couple of facehuggers were onboard, with one having impregnated her during cryostasis and another latching onto a dog in the prison, creating the dog alien. Despite having a rather uninspired script, there were some positive aspects about this movie, with the performances of the cast and twist involving Ripley being generally quite enticing. Unfortunately, there was just too many issues in the story, with the film ultimately becoming very forgettable.
The final instalment of the main franchise, Alien: Resurrection, was released on November 26, 1997, with Jean-Pierre Jeunet directing from a script written by Buffy creator, Joss Whedon. Despite being a slim improvement over Alien 3, this fourth outing for Ripley was still miles away from the quality of storytelling we got in the first two movies. Set 200 years after the events of the third movie, Resurrection sees a team of military scientists clone Ripley, in the hopes of creating an alien queen (which was growing in her when she died). Having eventually succeeded in doing this, the film quickly starts to take on familiar attributes, with multiple aliens hunting the inhabitants of the space vesile they’re being transported in. Despite repetition and some questionable story choices yet again being what let this movie down, the decision to create a connection between the Ripley clone and the Xenomorph did entice. That said, the creation of the Newborn did leave me scratching my head, with the concept being somewhat intriguing, whilst the final product did little to amaze.
Having teased a possible fifth instalment, 20th Century Fox would eventually decide to focus on a crossover with their Predator franchise, with Alien vs. Predator hitting cinemas August 12, 2004 and it’s sequel, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, December 25, 2007. Despite many considering these films as nothing more than an abomination to both franchises, I actually found myself quite enjoying the first movie, being intrigued to see the Predalien hybrid in the sequel. That said, there was a lot that the creators got wrong between the two movies, with the second being almost unbearable to watch.
Thankfully Fox decided enough was enough for the crossover, opting to create a prequel story instead. Thus Prometheus was born, hitting cinemas June 1, 2012, being directed by original Alien director, Ridley Scott. Set roughly 28 years prior to the events of Alien, the film sees scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a star map that could lead to the origins of humanity and their makers. This leads the crew of the spaceship Prometheus to a distant world in the Zeta2 Reticuli system (the same region of space as LV-462), where they discover the remnants of an advanced civilisation and the biological weapons they were designing to wipe out the human race. Now if I’m being honest, when I left the cinema following my first viewing of this film, I thought that Prometheus was good sci-fi movie, but not the Alien prequel we deserve. Since then, however, the film has somewhat grown on me, with the way the story incorporates aspects of the mythos being rather quite intriguing.
As for Alien: Covenant, I find myself quite excited to see where Ridley Scott will take this tale next, with the introduction of new characters and return of the Prometheus survivors sure to take this franchise in a bold new direction.