Alien: In Space No One Can Hear You Scream 40 Years Later

This month marks the 40th anniversary of one of the most influential sci-fi/horror films, Alien. Directed by Ridley Scott and written by Dan O’Bannon from a story by O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, the film shocked and thrilled unsuspecting audiences in theaters and continues to scare us to this day.

Alien is still regarded as a landmark film that successfully merged two of the best genres in cinema, science fiction and horror. Its success is evident in the way that it showcases a universe that seems real and almost used up in a way and draws us in with its terrifying premise. The movie starts with a crew of interesting characters that are in basically an outer space version of a tug ship called the Nostromo carrying ore back to Earth. Their journey is interrupted by a signal from a planet along their path that gets them to stop at a desolate world that houses what turns out to be a parasitic alien life form that impregnates one of their crew and then kills him as it bursts out of his chest in one of the most iconic and horrifying scenes in movie history.

The claustrophobic atmosphere of the ship gives off the vibe of a haunted house in outer space that builds tension as the crew is killed off one by one until only Lt. Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) is left to fend off the creature. The death of Captain Dallas (played by Tom Skerritt) earlier in the film was shocking and let audiences know that no one was safe and ratcheted up the tension even more.

The setting of the movie is also interesting from a sci-fi standpoint. It is very different from previous films that came before it such as 2001, which had a very clean, almost sterile look to it. Alien basically features a group of truckers in space flying what looks like an oil rig, trying to make a living hauling fuel for a faceless corporation that ultimately sees them as expendable.

Alien is set in the near future (early 22nd century), but still has a somewhat familiar feel with the bridge and living quarters having a lived-in look. The tension and mistrust between the crew members, caused by things like pay disputes and later on the threat of the alien, is also realistic and puts the characters in a relatable light. This universe would be expanded in subsequent sequels, some more successful than others, that further explored this unique take on our future that featured colonial marines and prison planets that always had humans facing off against the insidious aliens trying to wipe them out.

Another landmark of Alien is the design of the creature itself. Designed by H.R. Giger, it is both hideous and beautiful at the same time as well as incredibly original. Its dual mouth and razor sharp teeth and skeletal appearance is the stuff of nightmares and stands with any other horror icon.

The slow but methodical way in which the alien kills off the crew of the Nostromo builds the suspense of the film until the very end. The design of the crab-like creature that plants the alien xenomorph in unfortunate crew member Kane is also something that is instinctively unnerving to the audience, as well its brutal way of giving birth to its offspring. Later movies would add some wrinkles to the xenomorph design but the basic look of the creature is still based on Giger’s incredibly unique design.

All of these unique qualities resulted in a new genre of film, sci-fi/horror, which led to such films like Event Horizon, and Life and even influenced other mediums like video games such as popular fare like Doom and Dead Space that also feature humans in space facing off against similar alien threats. Alien’s success also inevitable led to a veritable industry of cheaper knockoffs that has the same basic plot of space crew finding an alien that wipes them out. Obviously none of them could match the seemingly perfect combination of chills, mystery and monsters in space that makes the original Alien still a classic film four decades after its release.

Weaver’s portrayal of Ripley is iconic as well and served as the blueprint for subsequent strong female leads in movies such as Linda Hamilton’s role of Sarah Connor in the Terminator series, Katniss Everdeen, Kira Nerys, Furiosa, and most recently the film version of Alita.

Needless to say, Ripley is one of the many influential aspects of Alien and among the greatest on-screen heroines that re-shaped the role of the female protagonist in cinema.

The franchise spawned by this movie is still ongoing as well, all these years later. The first sequel Aliens is a classic sci-fi action movie. Subsequent entries and spinoffs such as Alien 3, Alien: Covenant, Prometheus, and Alien vs. Predator were not as well received, but I have enjoyed all of them and look forward to more movies that take us back to this rich universe populated by arguably the scariest creatures in space ever imagined.

C.S. Link

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The Martian Survival Tale

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Director Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi offering, The Martian, is a sometimes riveting, but always entertaining survival tale taking place on the red planet.

Based on the novel by Andy Weir, It stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney a botanist who is part of an exploratory mission on Mars. A sudden sandstorm causes the mission to be aborted, but Watney is struck by debris and lost in the storm. Presumed dead, Watney is left behind Mars as his fellow astronauts leave the planet.

watney on mars

Miraculously, Watney survives the storm and makes his way back to his expedition’s habitat. From there he uses his skills and training to live on Mars by growing food, creating water, etc. His dilemma is how to stretch out his limited supplies long enough for an eventual rescue mission that won’t happen for four years. In the meantime, NASA discovers that he is alive and is able to establish communications. With the world now aware that Watney is marooned, all attention and resources are devoted to find a way to rescue the stranded astronaut.

ares 3 crewThe Martian is a well-put together, hard sci-fi yarn that thankfully uses real science to come up with plausible means for a human to survive on Mars. The film is bolstered by a smart script by Drew Goddard and heartfelt performances not just from Matt Damon, who is the centerpiece, but by the entire cast. The Martian literally has an all-star cast which includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Jeff Daniels and many more. They all turn in solid work and inject The Martian with needed humanity. This film unexpectedly has a human heart at its core, it isn’t dry or lifeless, and that is what makes it stand out. We see this many times with the scenes back on Earth and in the return vehicle as everyone scrambles and makes sacrifices to bring Watney home. The altruistic efforts certainly give one a pause to hope for humanity. Watney’s plight is shown to be in the film as some kind of unifying event for the world as seen by the large crowd scenes that hark back to the early Apollo missions.

It does have its issues though. It’s heart and emotion are assets, but sometimes they take away from other needed aspects. Many critics are praising its use of humor, but this colonistfilm isn’t some slapstick comedy nor is it that funny. For the most part, the humor works, but it also undercuts the tension that a film like this requires. This doesn’t mean that The Martian is without any thrills, several scenes are captivating and makes audiences curl in theater seats, especially the final act. However, it could’ve used more of a gritty survival aspect that was sometimes glossed over. While audiences saw how underweight he got from lack of food and detailing his efforts to create water, it should’ve have dwelled on his isolation and boredom a lot more. It would have been a bonus to see Watney act as an explorer and let us witness the barren beauty of the red planet. Perhaps he would’ve discovered the flowing water that NASA recently discovered in real life.

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Complaints aside, The Martian is an enjoyable adventure that can be enjoyed not just by sci-fi fans but by general audiences.

Lewis T. Grove

Polarizing Views On Prometheus

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ridley Scott’s film Prometheus brought out significant debate among our writers who fell into two differing camps. Presented are two separate viewpoints on the film, both pro and con. Warning: Spoilers ahead.

PRO: This is an excellent movie!

According to the folks behind the film, it’s supposedly “not-an-Alien-prequel” set in Ridley Scott’s Alien universe. The story revolves around the Weyland Corporation crew of the spaceship Prometheus searching for life on a far away planet. Not just any life, but searching for ones who may have created the human race.

Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron both did a great job in Prometheus portraying scientist Elizabeth Shaw and Weyland administrator Meredith Vickers respectively. Also, I should mention the acting of Guy Pearce (as Peter Weyland ) and Michael (X-Men: First Class’ Magneto) in another great role as the android David. Good casting all around.

The first Alien movie creeped me out for years. Jim Cameron’s Aliens was more action and suspense. Prometheus is more about discovery, revelations of the origin or mankind, alien biohazards and questioning religious faith in the disturbing world of the Alien universe. Fans of the original film were begging for Scott to return to the Alien Universe. After a few false starts, he finally was able to get the greenlight to direct Prometheus.

It should be noted that 1979’s Alien was a co-creation of a core team of brilliant filmmakers. Directed by Ridley Scott; alien designs by H.R. Giger; interior spaceship designs by Ron Cobb; spacesuits by comic book artist Moebius; produced by Walter Hill and David Giler and written by Dan’O Bannon and Ron Schusset. But no one individual could have produced the first movie on their own. There was no singular vision from one of them. It was a dynamically active collaboration between all of them during the production of the movie. It’s like they all have shared creative custody to the dreaded Alien creation.

After plenty of sequels which were not directed by Scott, it was nice to see many of Alien’s original founding fathers return—with plenty of ideas– Scott, producer Walter Hill, Giger and his designs. Many unexplored concepts that those original Alien founding fathers had are readily extrapolated in this movie.

The settings of the first Alien movie are there, like the space jockey’s horseshoe-shaped ship; the Weyland Corporation; a seemingly psychotic android; a relief sculpture inside the horseshoe spaceship, seen in darkness when a character points the flashlight on the wall that looks like Giger’s alien; human victims unwillingly hosting alien parasites (plenty of those). Also, all the ancillary Giger grey, bony biomechanical structures of the alien ship and tech are very well recreated. It’s got plenty of elements from the Alien universe.

The bio menaces in the movie are built up to show it’s not-the-face-hugger, not Giger’s alien, not-the-eggs, so there’s a whole new set of bio menaces in Prometheus. Believe it or not (can’t help it), Scott’s movie appears to take it in a new direction. Set-in-the-Alien-universe-but-seemingly-not-Alien this new movie proves that Scott is a sly guy. The final seconds of the movie reveal how this movie ties into Alien. Not to spoil it too much, but during the final seconds, the audience in my theatre expressed their approval by uttering, “wowwww”, “nice”, Oh, ok!”

The production design & CGI are truly well done, kudos to the crew. I’m ordering the book Art of Prometheus and the Cinefex issue with the article on the movie.

Thumbs up. Go see Prometheus in theatres. There’s nothing like being spooked by these master storytellers who helped create the Alien franchise. And finally, don’t believe the “not-an-Alien-prequel” marketing campaign. It’s a great addition to the franchise and stay to the end.

GEO

Con: While I do agree with GEO on many of Prometheus’ technical merits (production design, effects, acting), I had many problems with the film.

The first half of the movie was fine, good buildup and all. It begins with humanoid Engineers seeding a planet with their DNA, then Earth scientists in 2089 discover ancient clues leading to the Engineers’ planet. The film jumps ahead a few years later to a spaceship called Prometheus arriving at an Engineer planet with a scientific crew. At this point, I give the filmmakers credit for trying to do more than just a prequel to Alien and the approach was different. Instead of a grungy, beat-up and cramped spaceship like the Nostromo, we get a spacious, state-of-the-art explorer craft with eye-popping holographics (one of the best reasons to see Prometheus in 3D).

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But in the second half of the film, after the crew awaken things that should be left alone, then the film just fell apart thanks to the sloppy writing that left plot holes larger than those organic looking entryways into the Engineers’ ships.

Characters do dumb, illogical things, plot points are brought up, dropped without warning then taken up again; seriously how rushed were writers Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts? No one in production or in the editing room brought up these glaring mistakes?

Let’s go over some of them. During an expedition into the Engineers’ deserted pyramid, two scientist freak out and decide to leave the main expedition, but get stranded inside the structure when a storm approaches. So what do they do? They camp out in a chamber that holds countless vases with mysterious goo and after seeing a hammerhead slug-like creature they act like it’s a puppy, approach it and get attacked! Weren’t they scared by the entire place? Where did their scientific training go? Why not back away instead of leaving yourself open to attack? All of this could have been taken care of if the creature attacked them by surprise.

Later, the Prometheus crew goes back to look for them, finds only one body, make a comment about needing to find the other scientist and the matter is dropped for the next plot development. Of course, the other scientist shows up later and attacks the crew when a few thrills were needed.

Then there’s Elizabeth Shaw’s unexpected pregnancy. That entire plot development was chilling and worked well until after she has the alien fetus removed surgically. Shaw gets up and runs around afterwards after having major surgery! Any woman will tell you who had a cesarean, that running and even walking are impossible. That surgery slices open abdominal muscles that are needed for just walking. The film could’ve thrown in some line about advanced healing therapy in the form of an injection (as was shown later when a paraplegic Weyland was able to walk), something real quick could’ve been shown. But no, this glaring plot hole eluded the production team.

Another problem stemming from this sequence is that nothing is done about the alien fetus by the rest of the crew! No one really pays much mind to Shaw, despite the fact that by this point she’s running around all bloodied and that earlier she was treated as someone who was contagious! The list just goes on, but the point is that these glaring plot holes just took me out of the film.

Ordinarily, minor quibbles can be glossed over and forgotten but when a film just piles one shoddy mistake after another then that’s a problem. I can forgive the fact that the film never answers why the Engineers are so hostile to humans and so on. Those are valid questions set up for a sequel. But when characters lose all common sense and behave irrationally or plot developments don’t make sense, well then it’s time to admit that the film is flawed. Prometheus has many things to admire about it, but sadly too many detractions as well.

José Soto

‘Tis The Week For Trailers!

As this year winds to a close and the anticipation rises for next year’s film offerings one thing to whet our collective appetites are the trailers. This week it seems as if Hollywood as decided to send some gifts to us fans by releasing trailers for some of the most anticipated flicks for 2012.

Moviegoers who watch The Adventures of Tintin on Wednesday will be able to see a trailer for Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which will be enough to fill the seats the same way those Star Wars: Episode I trailers filled then emptied movie houses once those trailers ended. In the same fantasy genre, there is another new trailer for Wrath Of The Titans the followup to Clash Of The Titans.

Released this week exclusively on iTunes and certain to be embedded soon is the official trailer for The Dark Knight Rises, and it looks just as badassery as the previous Batman film.

In addition to a new German trailer for The Avengers, a trailer was released today for another trailer due in three days: Ridley Scott’s supposed Alien prequel Prometheus. (Technically it isn’t a prequel since Ridley Scott just confirmed the Xenomorphs don’t appear in this film but it supposedly takes place in the same universe.) It sounds absurd, a trailer for a trailer, but after such a long wait and with so little to go on, it’s a terrific appetizer for the main course! And it’s really great hearing that eerie Alien music last heard waaaay back in 1979 during previews for the first Alien.

Waldermann Rivera

UPDATE: Well, here it is, the official trailer for Prometheus, and it’s pretty obvious that it’s a prequel to Alien. Frankly, the countdown teasers for this has been worth the wait!

Forget Summer 2011, Bring on Next Summer’s Films!

Well the summer 2011 movie season is drawing to a close. Yes, August isn’t even here yet, but almost all of the big guns from the studios have been fired. There are just a handful of anticipated, genre flicks that haven’t been released yet. They include Rise of the Planet of the ApesConan the Barbarian, Fright Night, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and Final Destination 5. With this year’s Comic-Con, all the buzz is still about next year’s, and more specifically, next summer’s film releases. Here’s a list of what to look forward to:

May 2012

May 4–The Avengers–What better way to kick off the summer movie season (and Free Comic Book Day) than with a Marvel superhero film? Continuing a years’-long tradition, Marvel Studios is releasing its most anticipated film that teams up its A-list superheroes; Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Hulk. Plus, it’s directed by fan favorite Joss Whedon so expect it to make some moolah.

May 11–Dark Shadows–Tim Burton directs Johnny Depp (again!) in this remake of the popular 1960s soap opera about the vampire Barnabas Collins which predates True Blood, Twilight and all the other hot vampire shows and films.

May 18–Battleship–The Internet’s been percolating with a newly released teaser trailer. At first people were scratching their heads over the idea that Universal Studios canceled Ron Howard’s production of The Dark Tower saga in lieu of this reportedly $200 million sci-fi film directed by Peter Berg (who’s last film Hancock didn’t exactly thrill audiences). But the sight of U.S. Navy ships getting ready to square off against Transformer-like alien ships won over many doubters.

May 25–Men In Black III–Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and director Barry Sonnenfeld reteam for the third outing of Earth-based illegal alien hunting agents. Little is known about the film, only that it involves time travel which is impossible according to some scientists in Hong Kong.

June 2012

June 1–Snow White and the Huntsman–Starring Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron, this reimaging of the classic fairy tale is supposedly more action packed and darker. Already people are clamoring for it or dismissing this as another Twilight clone. Given Stewart’s popularity with Twihards it may do well at the box office.

June 8–Prometheus–Perhaps the most anticipated sci-fi film of 2012 as Ridley Scott returns to the director’s chair to helm this prequel (?) to the Alien franchise. Little has been revealed about this film that might be about the alien space jockey whose skeleton was seen in the first Alien film. This veil of secrecy hasn’t been seen in a film for a while and its whipping up interest among fans burned out by the awful Aliens vs. Predators films.

June 8–Madagascar 3–Dreamworks Animation’s big offering for the summer brings us the further adventures of Alex the lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo as they try yet again to find their way back to New York’s Central Park Zoo. Reportedly the gang winds up in Europe and a traveling circus; the kids already can’t wait!

June 15–Jack the Giant Killer–Bryan Singer directs this fantasy epic about a young farmhand who battles against a race of giants. Described as an adult take of the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale this film features Ewan MacGregor and Stanley Tucci.

June 22-Brave–Pixar’s latest film has many firsts for the acclaimed animation studio; its first fairy tale, its first film directed by a woman and the first one to feature a girl protagonist. Its appeal to young girls who favor Disney films and Pixar’s brand for putting out animated masterpieces  should make a killing at the box office.  

June 22-Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter–Based on the popular novel of the same name it’s directed by  Timur Bekmambetov (his last film was the action-packed Wanted). It’s an interesting alternative for moviegoers who may not be into the month’s fairy tale releases.

June 29–G.I. Joe 2–The first film wasn’t exactly beloved even by those who swear by the Transformers films. But it made enough money to warrant a sequel. The question is how will it hold up to the heavy hitters released around the same time? It has got to have a killer trailer or word of mouth to get some momentum.

July 2012

July 3–The Amazing Spider-Man–Sony’s reboot of the Spider-Man film series has many Spider-fans torn over the need for a re-imaging so recently after Sam Raimi’s flicks. Yet again maybe the studio wants to get rid of the ill will the last film generated. Still no matter what critics say about Andrew Garfield looking like an emo, he does resemble Peter Parker and the mechanical web shooters will be used!

July 13–Ice Age: Continental Drift–The prehistoric mammals (featuring a wooly mammoth, a saber-tooth cat and a ground sloth) from the kid-friendly movie series return in this story that has them trapped on an iceberg and off on a seagoing adventure.

July 13–TedFamily Guy’s Seth MacFarlane makes his live-action directorial debut about a man (Mark Wahlberg) and his childhood teddy bear that comes to life. Sounds like a combo of Harvey and the recent TV show Wilfred. If Mike Judge could make the live-action transition then so could MacFarlane.

July 20–The Dark Knight Rises–OK hands down this is the BIG ONE for moviegoers. Whether or not you are a Batman fan you can’t deny the phenomenon of the last Christopher Nolan-directed Batman film. Touted as his last film and with Catwoman and Bane as the villains it might be the year’s biggest hit. In fact it’s expected to be so successful that it seems as if the rest of the summer season is drawing to a close afterwards.

August 2012

August 3–Total Recall–Colin Farrell and Bryan Cranston star in the remake of the Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi movie that was based on a Philip K. Dick short story. Farrell stated recently that the film, like the original, will differ from the author’s tale.

August 17–ParaNorman–A stop-motion animated film that takes place in a town besieged by zombies. The citizens then call upon the services of a boy who is a sort of zombie whisperer to take care of the problem.

Of course, these release dates are subject to change and will most likely do so. Already, the new Star Trek film that was scheduled for the summer has been pushed back, so it won’t be surprising to learn that one of the above films has been removed from the schedule or another will join the list. No matter what, it’s good to know that there are plenty of films to choose from for next summer.

José Soto