Tuesday, September 24, 2019

You Used to Be Soooooo Good: The Alien Franchise


Welcome to another edition of You Used to Be Sooooo Good, where Dan Moore (@SouthieDanimal) and I put on our crotchety old man hats and grumble about how much better stuff used to be before you damn millennials took over the world.  

Anywho, today's topic is the Alien franchise - a once mighty sci-fi/horror series that began with two amazing films and then somehow lost its way.  Dan, what's your take?

DAN: The first Alien movie is one that scared the ever-loving shit out of me. It may seem simplistic now to place a horror movie in space (In fact, most failing horror franchises just chuck their super-bad up into the stars to try to grab some box office gold), but at the time, this was a novel concept. Sure, there were tons of B-movies in space, but this was a big budget flick with some well-known actors in it. And it was scary as hell to me. I saw it on VHS around 1990 when I was 12. The set design, the gore, the monster itself, all nightmare fuel for little ol' me. And I watched it repeatedly. I loved it. Loved the monster, loved all the characters and loved the epic, scary silence of the space universe that director Ridley Scott created. And of course loved Ripley. Sigourney Weaver was known to me at the time as Dana Barrett from Ghostbusters so to see her in this flick, evading and eventually killing a rampaging monster of death was quite a shock. But nothing was as shocking as what this franchise would become with the second film in the series.

JUSTIN: I actually saw Aliens first, in 1986, at the age of eleven.  I'd obviously heard of the original Alien, heard that it was just about the scariest movie ever made, and knew of the now-iconic chestburster scene.  But going into Aliens I was so utterly terrified of what I was about to witness, and for about the first ten minutes of the movie I was on the verge of a panic attack, thinking to myself "I can't do this.......I can't do this...."  But once that initial fear settled down and I simply let the movie unfold in front of me, it was to this day one of my all-time favorite cinematic experiences.  That movie kicked my ass for 137 minutes, ratcheting up the intensity to an unfathomable level.  The final hour is almost non-stop action-horror, and the climactic battle with the alien queen (one of the greatest puppet effects in movie history) stuck with me for weeks.

Mind.  Fucking.  Blown.

It actually wasn't until a year or two later that I finally watched the first movie, and initially I was underwhelmed by it.  Considering the frenetic pace and unrelenting pitch of Aliens, the first movie seemed so simple and frankly quaint to me on the first viewing.  This was at an age when I didn't appreciate things like psychological dread or claustrophobia, which is what the experience of the first film is all about (not to mention a movie as visually rich as Alien loses a lot on pan-and-scan VHS).  The first film grew on me after repeated viewings, and of course now I fully grasp what an understated sci-fi/horror masterpiece it is.  I saw an interview with one of the producers, who rightly pointed out that Alien is the haunted house, while Aliens is the roller coaster.  And from a purely visual standpoint, Ridley Scott's film is superior to James Cameron's.  Alien is one of the most visually stunning films ever made, while Aliens is less about atmosphere and more about the story.  Regardless, the first two films of this franchise are like an all-time great double album.  Both are amazing achievements for very different reasons.

DAN: Aliens blew my Goddamn mind because it was NOTHING like the original. I recall being all set to watch another scary space movie and instead I watched a kick ass, alien MASSACRE. James Cameron took two characters from the original, Ripley and the alien, and decided "Let's make the world's greatest action movie from these horror movie characters". The man's a genius.

We had Reese from Terminator, Chet from Weird Science and Jeffrey from Beverly Hills Cop all teaming up with Ripley to save a colony of schmucks from being devoured by not one alien, MILLIONS of em. Weaver was back as a broken Ripley who heads back to kill some more aliens, and finds a purpose as surrogate mom to Newt, the little girl left behind cause her parents were digested. A tale as old as time. And obviously a completely different flick than the original. This was damn near a perfect movie. How could this franchise possibly go wrong?

JUSTIN: And Dark Horse Comics followed up Aliens with three excellent series, eventually climaxing with Aliens: Earth War, where the company finally gets their hands on a bunch of specimens, and all hell breaks loose.  The human characters then have to band together and make use of the loader machines to fight the creatures.  If you're gonna follow up Aliens, that's the way to do it, and I figured a movie version of that story was inevitable.

1,000,000% better than Alien 3

Buuut no.  Fox decided such a script would be too expensive to shoot and instead opted for a total retread of the first movie except without interesting sets or characters.  Oh, and let's kill off Ripley's two remaining companions during the opening credits.  So all the emotional investment we put into Aliens was for nothing.  Alien 3 was the worst kind of reset.  From the opening minute I stopped caring about the story because of that betrayal.  Had the story played out in an interesting way, killing off Newt and Hicks could've been forgiven, but it didn't.  It was the same Ten Little Indians crap we'd already seen countless times since the original Alien.  What was the point?  Then it turns out Ripley has an alien inside her, and at the end she chucks herself into the furnace.  So this iconic hero never makes it back to Earth.  Jeezus Grampa, what'd you read me this thing for??

DAN: I was also super pissed about this movie because it was not the promised version we saw in the trailer. The original premise, as Justin mentioned, was to have the aliens invade Earth. BOSS. And they even made a teaser for it. Which had me excited. But then…not.

This woulda been AWESOME.

I saw Alien 3 in the theater and ten minutes in, much like Justin, I checked out. They bumped off 66% of the cast we came to love in the second one. And then set the movie on a grimy, dark planet full of unlikable convicts that were all scumbags except for like two of them. And then killed off the one likable person they had left. Brilliant.

So where did the franchise go? I didn’t think it could get worse…but then Alien: Resurrection appeared. Jesus, what a useless trainwreck of a film this thing was.

JUSTIN: Yeah I remember that teaser.  "On Earth, everyone can hear you scream."  Pretty fucking clear where they wanted us to think they were going with this movie, and it turned out to be a sleazy bit of false advertising.  I want my goddamn money back, Fox!

As bad as Resurrection was, I still liked it better than Alien 3.  For one thing they actually took the story somewhere else.  Ripley was now a clone with alien DNA, the company had finally gotten some aliens to experiment on, making for some interesting scenes, there was a handful of somewhat relatable characters, the movie was unapologetically graphic.  Unfortunately, the second half of the film still degenerated into the haunted house nonsense.  If the filmmakers had simply explored the ideas they'd set up in the first half, this could've been a good film.  I was also pissed because at the end Ripley and Call (a terrible performance by Winona Ryder) finally make it back to Earth....and then the movie's over.  I was like "Ummm, can we for Chrissake finally see what Earth looks like in this futuristic universe??  Seriously guys???"

DAN: Ugh, I hated Resurrection. I think I prefer 3. But that’s like picking a pile of shit over a puddle of puke. No one wins.

And then they went completely off the rails with the Alien vs Predator movies. These two mashup movies are TERRIBLE…but the first one is enjoyable terrible. It’s just throwing the aliens and the predators in a building and letting them fight it out. I’m a sucker for monsters fighting each other. Cliché characters be damned, I didn’t mind the first of the AvP movies. It’s not good, but there’s some cool visuals and some bad ass fights between the monsters.

Plus they gave the alien leader, called Grid by fans,
a cool scar from his acid and the Predator’s net weapon. 

The second one is tripe of the highest order. It’s essentially a Friday the 13th movie with two sets of killers offing characters’ no one cares about and then the government just nukes 'em all. We finally get the aliens to invade Earth, and this is the best movie they could come up? GOD AWFUL.

JUSTIN: I haven't seen either AvP movie.  Nor am I terribly interested in doing so.
Of course those are at least unabashedly schlock, where as the Alien sorta-prequel Prometheus attempts to be lofty and conceptual but was instead convoluted and confusing.  I'm not sure why Ridley Scott thought we cared about the backstory of the Space Jockey.  It was a nice piece of window-dressing in the first movie, and not much more.  Do we need a story explaining how the Space Jockeys created human life and then tried to destroy it for some reason?

DAN: Yeah, I never really gave a second thought to the Space Jockey or its story. It was always a cool-looking set piece and a nondescript humanoid that was a plot device in the original. End of story. I didn't care who he was nor where he came from. That being said, I was looking forward to Prometheus. It looked badass, had some great actors in it, and the visuals looked awesome. And instead we got a bunch of supposedly brilliant characters doing things kids on Elm Street would deem stupid. This was the biggest bunch of moron doctors I've ever seen assembled in a movie. The movie looks incredible. The plot and the dogshit dumb characters? Not so much.

Wait, why'd he do that?  I guess we'll find out in the sequel?

JUSTIN: Yeah, the trailers made that movie look amazing.  And how could you go wrong with that cast?  Fassbender, Elba, Theron, Pearce, Rapace?  Yet somehow the filmmakers (particularly the screenwriters) porked the donkey.  The story made zero sense and raised literally dozens of questions it wasn't prepared to answer.  It's like they said, "Eh, fuck it, we'll figure it out for the sequel."  Visually it's a gorgeous movie, like the original Alien.  But as Zack Snyder learned, a movie can't just look great for it to work.

And now we have the Prometheus sequel/Alien prequel coming next year.  Alien: Covenant.  What's with these generic subheadings?  Independence Day: Resurgence, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.  None of these names are evocative of anything.  Anywho, hopefully Covenant has a lot more to do with the Alien franchise and less with Prometheus.

DAN: I've heard positive things about this new Alien movie. That it's darker. That the plot is straightforward. That it harkens back to the original two masterpieces. And oh yeah, this guy's in it.

The mind of a fucking scientist

Like a fool, I'm gonna go see this movie, wishing for the best. Hopefully, this film rights the ship and brings back what made the first two movies great. But the track record doesn't help. It ain't lookin' good.

JUSTIN: I gotta say at this point I'd be more interested in Neil Blomkamp's Alien sequel than another Scott prequel.  But hopefully Ridley gets it right this time.

UPDATE: Ummmm, nope.

Well that wraps up this week's bitch session.  We've literally solved nothing, but we both feel a whole lot better.  How 'bout you?

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