Friday, March 10, 2017

Franchise Run-Throughs - Alien

So, it's time for another one of these franchise write-ups, and this time we're choosing to honor the recent passing of one of my most beloved actors, Bill Paxton, with the franchise role that made him famous, the 'Alien' franchise. I would've gotten to the series eventually, but his death will instead spur the catalist to do this series now.

Now, like before we need to start the franchise at the beginning. After completion of the film Dark Star (1974), writer Dan O'Bannon thought to develop some of the ideas (especially the theme of "alien hunts crew through a spaceship") and create a science-fiction action film. Provisionally called 'Memory,' screenwriter Ronald Shusett collaborated with O'Bannon on the project, adding elements from a previous O'Bannon script, Gremlins, which featured gremlins causing mayhem aboard a World War II bomber and wreaking havoc with the crew. The duo finished the script, initially entitled Star Beast, which was later changed to Alien after O'Bannon noticed the number of times the word "alien" occurred in the script. Their script was sold to Brandywine Productions, a company formed by producers Gordon Carroll, David Giler and Walter Hill that had a distribution deal with 20th Century Fox. The writers imagined a low-budget film, but the success of Star Wars inclined 20th Century Fox to invest millions on the production.

In the original script, the ship has an all-male crew although the script's 'Cast of Characters' section explicitly stated that "The crew is unisex and all parts are interchangeable for men or women", including the Ripley character, who would be played by actor Tom Skerritt. Later, when Fox president Alan Ladd, Jr. and the producers at Brandywine heard rumors of Fox working on other titles with strong female leads, Sigourney Weaver was cast as Ripley and Skerritt became Captain Dallas. Shortly before filming began, Veronica Cartwright was set for the Ripley role, but Ridley Scott opted for Weaver following screentests.

Swiss painter and sculptor H. R. Giger designed the alien creature's adult form and the derelict ship, while French artist MÅ“bius created the look of the spacesuits and Ron Cobb provided most of the on-set design.

While the first film was successful, Fox did not consider a sequel until 1983 when James Cameron expressed his interest to producer David Giler in continuing the story. After Cameron's The Terminator became a box office hit, Cameron and partner Gale Anne Hurd were given approval to direct and produce the sequel scheduled for a 1986 release. Cameron wrote the screenplay from a story he developed with Giler and Walter Hill.

Following the second film, Weaver was not interested in returning to the series and so producers David Giler and Walter Hill commissioned a third film without the Ripley character. The premise was to return Ripley in a fourth installment, but Fox's president Joe Roth did not agree with Ripley's removal and Weaver was offered a $5 million salary and a producer credit to make 'Alien 3.' Released in 1992, the film was troubled from the start, with production beginning without even a finished script. Having already spent $1 million, music video director David Fincher, the third director considered for the film, was hired to helm the project. Giler, Hill and Larry Ferguson wrote the screenplay, based on a story from an earlier script by Vincent Ward. After production was completed in late 1991, the studio reworked the film without Fincher's involvement or consent. The death of Ripley was designed to bring closure to the franchise by killing off the principal character.

While fans and critics initially did not receive 'Alien 3' well, the film still did well at the box office worldwide and piqued Fox's interest in continuing the franchise. In 1996, production began on the fourth film, 'Alien: Resurrection.' Ripley was not in the script's first draft, and Weaver was not interested in reprising the role, although she later joined the project after being given a reported $11 million salary and more creative control, including being able to approve director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The script, set 200 years after 'Alien 3,' resurrected the Ripley character via human cloning. The film, released in 1997, experienced an extended production and was described by screenwriter Joss Whedon as having done "everything wrong" with his script.

And there we go with the full history of the series. Now, I would like to point out that I realize it's stopped at Resurrection rather than carrying on with not only the two Alien vs. Predator films but also the prequel series Prometheus and the upcoming Alien: Covenant. First, there's very little horror about either of the AvP films which are somewhat suspenseful Action/Sci-Fi films more than anything else and thus fall outside the scope of the purpose of the blog. The series as a whole does have a problem with this to begin with, and it's really exagerated in these films to the point of not being really pertinent in being here. As for Prometheus, there's even less horror elements here and it leans quite heavily in the sci-fi elements with a mystery about why they're there at the moon rather than dealing with any kind of horror elements. Covenent isn't out yet, so there's no way to have seen it. These here are what will keep them from being included.

Finally, one last big before we get to the films proper, my personal history with the series. There's not a really interesting story about the history of watching the series, as it's pretty much just straight on through in order. The first one came on TV when I was around 13 or 14, which prompted me to find the VHS of 2 and 3. It took a few years until I got the last one, and then the others were all seen shortly after they came to cable TV and home video. So, with that all done, let's get on with the films.

Alien


While this may be regarded as a legendary film, this one instead comes across as overrated. While it may have a countless number of influences from the different aspects surrounding it (the set-design, ship, the alien, etc) the fact remains that, if taken on as a singular film devoid of any of its influences, this one isn't all that great. Plus, for all the later imitations of the film, none of it is really important to the film itself and speaks far more to the reaction of the public rather than anything else to do with the film itself. It's so slowly paced and lifeless at times that it's a struggle to stay invested in what's going on, hardly inventive at all since these are where it's money-makers are spent, the building-up of the suspense in what's going to happen next. Giving a reason to remain in a state of suspense is just as important as the release, and this one forgets to do that constantly. You also have the fact that this one barely contains anything about the alien, either featuring scenes of it or getting to know it, that there's just such a dearth of knowledge about what it's doing that there's very little beyond the physical, which is pretty impressive admittedly, to really get worked up with this one over. As mentioned, the psychical appearance of the creature is really the film's best idea, suitably foreign and extraterrestrial in concept and execution and looking quite imposing when first viewed with some really nice features about it that make it something to be feared. It also has a few rather fun shock scenes that are quite impressive, which are well-known and won't be repeated and the stalking scenes in the later half are really suspenseful, so there is some good stuff here, but overall this is still somewhat overrated. (7.75/10)



Aliens

This is an almost-flawless film, with tons of stuff to really love and very little to dislike. In fact, the only parts not to like here result from the film's near gargantuan running time, which is tempered by the continuous action but still has a lot of extras in it that are wholly unnecessary and don't really serve much purpose beyond character development, which is quite extended in the later half with the surrogate-mother storyline being the main culprit that really hampers the action. In fact, that alone is really the film's main shining quality, it's stupendous and utterly thrilling action scenes which are some of the best filmed in the genre, and among the top in many other genres altogether. From the initial swarming shot in the colony to the encounters in the infirmary and the numerous shoot-outs with them, its pace is nearly frenetic and nonstop by giving off so many impressive scenes that there's a real sense of thrills to come from them. That also includes the aliens themselves getting more screen-time, and the extra exposure does them good as they come across, in all their stages, as a really imposing and fantastic life-form, and the extra knowledge acquired about them doesn't hurt either. The gore is ratcheted up with some more bodies to get ripped apart, the locations much more suspenseful and the film as a whole doesn't have a lot wrong with it, leaving this as a fantastic sequel that is far better than the original. (10/10)



Alien 3

This wasn't all that bad of an entry and is a surprisingly underrated effort. One of the better efforts here is that it's got some really decent stalking scenes among the prison set, including the fabulous set-ups in the ventilator shaft after finding skin on the ground before being attacked, a pretty tense altercation in the infirmary before an attack and a real rousing sequence where it escapes a trap and starts a massive chain reaction of explosions and fireballs through the facility that takes out most of the group being among the highlights here. Also helped along is a series of good stalking scenes, nicely done from the start through the intimidating, foreboding locations in the prison and the final plan to deal with the creature is great fun, with the corridor chases through the alien viewpoints, great kills and tense confrontations that are highly enjoyable, despite the few flaws present. The CGI for the alien is really embarrassing and makes no sense to be included, the prisoners are made so unknown they're barely worth remembering and their inclusion into the fighting stages in the second half is rather weak. The main weakness, though, comes from the fact that, against the others before it, it's really weak and doesn't really hold up with them. Still, overall, this one isn't bad if it's not measured up against the others. (7/10)



Alien: Resurrection

This here is an unjustly maligned sequel and actually has a lot of good stuff going for it. One of the better areas in the film is the high-intensity action that permeates the surroundings, really from the start and manages to get in a lot of great stuff from it. There's a multitude of chases here that are a ton of fun and really high-energy, from the walk-through of the flooded corridor and the swim through the underwater section all the way through to the trap with the eggs and the resulting shoot-out there, as well as other scenes from the rampage through the ship and taking out the evacuees in the escape process as well as the rather impressive attack in the escape pod at the end which contains a lot of great parts to it and really works well. This is helped by a rather well-designed ship location that allows for these tension-packed scenes to take place and generate a lot of fun. Another good plus is the high gore on display, from scarred faces, jaws ripped open and other extremely graphic kills that give off a great feel, and as usual the aliens are incredible. The only real flaw to this one is the rather inane segment that keeps a dead crewmember around for no reason than to keep a big-name member more involved in the film at that point. Also problematic is the early scenes of the clone interacting with the crew which goes nowhere, but overall this one is a lot of fun. (6.75/10)



So, there we go with the original franchise. Now, lets see where they rank:
1. Aliens (10)
2. Alien (7.75)
3. Alien 3 (7)
4. Alien: Resurrection (6.75)

And before we leave, yes there's a whole section of franchise tie-ins and expanding done here which not only features the films listed above in the two Alien vs. Predator films but also the prequel Prometheus and that sequel Alien: Covenant but also we got tons upon tons of comics, graphic novels and other write-ups that carries on the world established in these films. I know next to nothing about these except for their existence so I can't say anything about what they're about and how well they carry on the series, so if that's something that appeals to you then by all means carry on with it. Otherwise, see you next time and once again, RIP Mr. Paxton.