On May 25th, 1979, the science fiction horror film Alien premiered. Nowadays, it is regarded as both a science fiction and horror film classic, but it premiered to mixed reviews. It was called everything from “deeply dislikable” to “…a horrid film, skillful and studied in its nastiness…” to the quite stinging denouncement of “..an overblown B-movie… technically impressive but awfully portentous and as difficult to sit through as a Black Mass sung in Latin…Alien, like Dawn of the Dead, only scares you away from the movies.” (Alien Anti-Reviews 1)
Despite these condemnations, the film was a box-office success. The success of Alien spawned another acclaimed box-office winner sequel, as well as a less impressive deluge of sequels, prequels, and overall franchise. The first two films have been subject to analysis and critical study, engendering fascinating discussions of sexual fear. The film’s screenwriter, Dan O’Bannon admitted that this was quite intentional, stating, “’That’s how I’m going to attack the audience; I’m going to attack them sexually. And I’m not going to go after the women in the audience, I’m going to attack the men. I am going to put in every image I can think of to make the men in the audience cross their legs. Homosexual oral rape, birth. The thing lays its eggs down your throat, the whole number.'” (The ‘Alien’ Saga)
But not only that, the Aliens franchise represents a complete lack of control towards the horrors of the unknown—typified by space. In the first film, the commercial spaceship Nostromo halts its journey in order to investigate a distress signal from an unexplored moon. The crew of the Nostromo, through words and actions, make it clear that this investigation is hardly a charity rescue mission, but rather an opportunity to double their paychecks and obtain bonuses from their company. It does not occur to them that whatever is sending the distress signal might be beyond their capabilities. Indeed, even when the character Ellen Ripley starts to suspect danger, after decoding the distress signal and refusing to allow her alien-implanted crewmember onboard, she is overruled by the captain, who believes that this is nothing they can’t handle.
This theme of control vs. lack of control continues in the sequel. Ripley is the only survivor of the alien attack and she tries to warn her former employers the danger of this moon. They coolly tell her that they have already colonized this moon and utterly dismiss her as mentally ill. Not long after, the colony is decimated and Ripley is called on to assist the Colonial Marines in investigating the massacre. The Marines are cocky and arrogant, believing that fighting the aliens is well within their capabilities. They are soon proven wrong.
Therefore, the main themes of both films are about humanity and how utterly powerless we are in the face of the unknown. No amount of money, corporate control, or military action can assert control over the infinite unknown. The aliens are representative of the cosmos; they are without morality. They are neither good nor bad, they simply exist to reproduce. Unfortunately, the third film and the franchise’s subsequent sequels fall from this theme. In an incredibly petty and poorly thought out move, the third film unceremoniously kills off two of the best characters in Aliens: Newt, the little girl Ripley forges a maternal relationship with and Hicks, a roughneck marine who is the only survivor of the Colonial Marines. The rest of the film focuses on Ripley and a prison camp planet, which is attacked by the aliens. It has more in common with a slasher film than the original two; it has less to do with space and how little control we have over it and more to do with extraneous gore and female trauma porn. Furthermore, the films Prometheus and Alien: Covenant allude to the idea that we created the xenomorphs. (Or our earlier alien ancestors) It turns the themes into a shallow version of the Frankenstein lesson, that our control has horrifying consequences. An important moral, certainly, but one that is overdone and overused. The Aliens franchise has always been about our lack of control, not our over control.
Given this disconnect of themes, for my final project, I would like to creatively return to those themes of engagement with the horrors of the unknown. I would like to devise my own Aliens script, centering around the character of Newt as an adult, reimagine where the xenomorphs came from, and return to creature and practical effects rather than CGI.
I have only seen the Alien films, but I know there is a dearth of alternate timelines, stories, and imaginings involving several of these dynamic characters. I would like to delve deep into these alternate stories—the comic books, the video games, even the unproduced script by William Gibson. I would also like to explore such questions as: “Where is the xenomorphs homeworld? Considering the xenomorph’s unique features (no eyes, insectile, etc.), what might this planet look like? And most importantly—what drove the xenomorphs off their world?”
My workplan will consist of the following:
- To write a screenplay involving an adult Newt and exploring her adventures on the alien homeworld and coming to terms with her hatred and rage towards the creatures that killed her family.
- To film a few short scenes from the screenplay as a series of “vlogs”—Newt explaining to Ripley where she is and why she has gone there, Hitchcockian interruptions in the middle, etc. I would like to explore using a web series format similar to “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” or “Emma Approved”. (Filming may be difficult to do in light of COVID and my own lack of filmmaking experience, but at the very least, storyboards could be created.)
- To create a visual representation of what the alien homeworld might look like and how it could be built using practical effects.
- To research some of Geiger’s unused monstrous concepts for other types of dangerous aliens that might inhabit and prey on the xenomorphs in this homeworld.
The Aliens franchise is something of a mixed bag. I believe part of the issues with recent films is a lack of understanding towards what made the original two films frightening, an overreliance on CGI instead of creature effects, and a dismissal of truly fantastic and dynamic characters. While my project may never come to full fruition due to my own grad student limitations and copyright boundaries, I would at least like to explore what made the first two films so fun, frightening, and well-constructed and pay homage to a series that profoundly affected my tastes in horror and SF.
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