The Vern Vs The Alien Quadrilogy. Part 1

Aliens 1986 gifI know, I know I should be reviewing the Star Wars flicks because after all.  “May the 4th be with you” was only just yesterday.  Well you know what dear readers. I am getting pretty sick of that whole meme.  Yeah it was cute when it was mentioned on Facebook or some Youtube vid a while back.  But now it’s joke has been taken too far to the point of complete blandness.  So no I did not watch any Star Wars features(Including “Empire” or “Jedi“), but instead I watched another Science Fiction series that by all means should be considered a classic(well at least the first two)  The Alien Saga.  This post will focus mostly on Ridley Scott’s 1979 thriller  “Alien” and James Cameron’s 1986 Blockbuster “Aliens”  The other two will be saved for later this week.

Alien-1979-Original

Alien.

Cast: Tom Skerrit, Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt

Writers: Dan O’Bannon Ronald Shusset

Director: Ridley Scott

When released in 1979, The film “Alien” was the “R” rated counterpart to Fox’s family friendly space epic “Star Wars“(I’m assuming). There were no humorous sidekicks or exciting spaceship battles that thrilled the eye to the wonders of the new frontier.  No, “Alien” was a more frightening version of what it was like being up there in that endless vastness .  At the time it was only ten years since we put a man on the moon. Plus right around then too, Stanley Kubrick’s “2001 A Space Odyssey” came out and really revolutionized the look and feel of science fiction films.  Before that most Sci-Fi flicks were just B- rated Monster ones.  Flying saucers on strings while guys in monster suits chased people around.  It would have been very easy to turn this story into such a film, and if it wasn’t picked up by Alan Ladd and Fox it might have become just that.

There is a sense of uneasiness right from the very start of this picture. We see a slow tracking shot of Space while a very haunting combo of sound design and music play.  It’s both beautiful and scary.  We are then taken inside the spaceship called The Nostromo and the camera shows us a lot of that ship before we meet any of the characters   A lot of people have said that this opening is too slow and that nothing happens. While I will agree with them that it is slow.  I feel the point of it being showed this way is to get you to feel the coldness and somewhat emptiness of being in Space.    We then meet the crew of the Nostromo who are on their way back to earth. Dallas(Tom Skerrit), Lambert(Veronica Cartwright),Ash(Ian Holm), Kane(John Hurt),Ripley(Sigourney Weaver) Brett(Harry Dean Stanton) and Parker(Yaphet Kotto). What I liked best about this group vs most other ones you see in horror pictures is that they are likeable.  No one acts like they are above anybody else and for the most part they seem to get along pretty well.  When a distress signal is detected from a planet close by.  They move forward to investigate.

The actual planet they land on has some of the best set designs put on film. I wish I could have seen this on the big screen because it would have been epic to see larger versions of them.   Artist H.R. Giger  and art director Les Dilley has helped create some truely grotesque and beautiful pieces of work.  When Kane stumbles upon a group of large egg like items.  He is attacked and a creature attaches itself to his face.  With no way of removing it the crew becomes helpless.  When it finally detaches itself everything seems to be fine for the crew, but their nightmares have only just begun.

Yes I know it was kind of cheesy to end that last paragraph with that line. But there may be someone out there who has never seen this before and I don’t want to ruin the experience for them. Even though if you have seen “Aliens” you already know what happens.  What I do love best about the later half of this flick is that all of the scares are earned.  Even though you could complain that a few are short and sometimes action occurs off screen.   It’s still pretty effective.  The reason why those scenes work is because we have gotten to know and like these characters so well.  It was also great seeing that some of their problems were not only caused by the creature they bring on board. But also caused by someone else on the crew as well.

The direction by Ridley Scott is good because he knows how to take his time with each scene and let the suspense build in certain parts. The music by Jerry Goldsmith is really good and even though their was some tension between Scott and him.  The end result is a score that may not be memorable, but one you feel more from.  Yes compared to the sequel, this one is slower, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less enjoyable.  This is a classic horror picture and not just a basic monster movie.

Aliens-1986-Poster

Aliens

Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn

Writers: David Giler, Walter Hill, James Cameron

Director: James Cameron

The tone of this sequel is vastly different from the original and I like very much that it never tries to step on the toes of that one.  Instead it helps expand the story of this universe a little bit more.  While the first one was more of an atmospheric  horror feature.  “Aliens” is more of a popcorn action feature.  Yet there are a few scenes that pay homage to that one without being too obvious about it.  Director James Cameron has created a sequel that not only works along side the first one, but can also stand on it’s own too.

It’s been 57 years since the events on the Nostromo and sole survivor Ellen Ripley(Weaver) has been drifting in space for that long.  When she is picked up by a salvage crew.  She wakes up to discover that not only is she being accused of destroying that ship and not having any evidence of the creature on board.  But also discovers that the planet they once landed on is now being inhabited by humans.  When there is no contact from the residents of that region for several weeks.  Ripley is asked to help assist a group of marines with visiting that region.

There are some memorable characters in this including Corporal Dwayne Hicks(Michael Biehn) Private Jennette Vasquez(Jenette Goldstien) and Private Willam Hudson(Bill Paxton) “Game over man, Game over”.  You may also recognize the actress playing Vasquez as John Conner’s mom in “Terminator 2“(Thanks to Jeff for pointing that out for me) Also on board for this journey is a little girl they find named Newt(Carrie Henn) who has been surviving on this planet with little food and no weapons.  I know most people like to make fun of her performance and line delivery (“They mostly come out at night..Mostly”) But for being her first role ever she is actually quite good and can hold her own with everyone there including Weaver who she has great chemistry with.

Since we are dealing with more then one creature in this.  It can no longer look like a bunch of actors in rubber suits. Even though that’s what it is.  In the first one, they got around that issue because we barely see the creature and the puppet use was small.  For this one.  Cameron and his crew have to use a combo of both live actors and puppets and make it all appear seamless.  The Alien Queen designed by Stan Winston is one of the best creature designs ever put on film.  It looks so much like Giger’s work from the first “Alien“.  You would think that he helped work on this picture but he didn’t.    This is where practical effects are really shown to be their best.  Everything that you see in this movie was done in film.  Nothing was done with computers and that is really impressive compare to the films that James Cameron now makes.

The action that James Cameron directs is well paced and I like that he never shows to much of the aliens.  This makes the reveal of the queen that much more effective.  The tone of this is a bit more quicker then the first one, but there are still a few moments where suspense is build at a great pace.  Especially when Ripley goes back to rescue the girl.  Mr Cameron also knows how to direct some really heart felt moments from his cast and get some really great performances.  Sigourney Weaver was nominated for an Oscar for her
role in this and if you watch the special edition of this movie you can see why.  There is a scene where she finds out that her daughter died before her.  Which makes the scenes she has with Newt that much more dramatic.

If you have never seen “Alien” you can watch this sequel and enjoy it on it’s own terms.  It’s a very fun and enjoyable action picture.  Yet after watching both movies back to back.  You get more of an insight to the character of Ripley so that when she does take on the queen at the end of the second movie.  That scene has more meaning to it.    I can not recommend both movies enough and I really hope that everyone has a chance to watch them .  I don’t think I can say the same about the next two entries in this franchise.  David Fincher’s debut “Alien 3” and Joss Whedon’s script for “Alien Resurrection”  Stayed tuned dear readers.  Stay tuned.

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About The Vern

I love movies and I enjoy writing about them too. They both go pretty much hand in hand with each other and it's fun to discover new classics. I co host the podcasts The Film Pasture, ScreenTrax, and soon Cinema Recall. While also contributing reviews and articles to other great sites when I can.
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11 Responses to The Vern Vs The Alien Quadrilogy. Part 1

  1. Alien and its first sequel are indeed a helluva one-two punch. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection. Will you be watching the Theatrical or Assembly Cut of Alien 3? While the Assembly Cut isn’t a true director’s cut (David Fincher has disowned the movie) it will likely alter your opinion of Alien 3 a bit.

    I’ve long been an Alien Resurrection apologist, and I think it’s underrated. It actually does a fine job of visually portraying the more surreal and horrific tone of Ridley’s original, and it would, in my opinion, be a damn fine entry were it not for the woeful miscasting of Winona Ryder. The “Newborn” and what it represents freaks me the f*** out. Nightmarish.

    • The Vern says:

      My computer is now ruined due to a leak the apartment had above me, but I will get that review up by next week. I saw the assembly cut of Alien 3 and I thought it was too long. I actually liked Ressurection a lot more then many and though Ryder was OK. Yeah that new born was freaky. Thanks for reading man

  2. ninvoid99 says:

    I did a marathon of the Alien films 2 years ago. Aliens for me is the best of the bunch. It features what I think is one of the greatest leading performances ever as Sigourney Weaver just kicked ass in that film. She just became a badass in that film and you rooted for her and all of the other characters including Bill Paxton while you hoped for Paul Reiser to get killed or something.

    • The Vern says:

      Yes she was indeed more badass in the second one then she was in the first one. I always wanted to kill Paul Riser. After I saw him marry Helen Hunt in the show Mad About You(She was cute on there)

  3. Fab post Vern! Alien really has stood the test of time – mainly due its atmosphere I think. A lot of modern sci-fi thrillers seem to forget the importance of building suspense and mood, missing out on straightforward horrors. I hoped Alien’s atmosphere might be recaptured in Prometheus but to no avail 😦

  4. vinnieh says:

    Great post, love the character of Ripley, such a kick ass warrior.

  5. Chris says:

    Indeed, the uneasiness is what made the first Alien film so great. And those sets, amazing, no CGI bullshit, I really believed that the crew where in deep space.

  6. The Vern says:

    I agree Natalie I wished Prometheus had the same tone as Alien, but it didn’t Yes, Vinnieh Ripley is one of the best female characters ever put on screen. No CGI Bullshit. Well said Chris. I will have part two posted sometime this weekend or next week, but my computer is busted due to unforseen events. Thanks for commenting.

  7. I think Alien is timeless and can be appreciated by sci-fi fans forever. Aliens is firmly rooted in the 1980’s with its machoisms and all-guns-blazing attitude which makes it feel dated to that time period. Not that I don’t like it, it’s a fantastic film 🙂

  8. Pingback: The hills are alive when The Vern reviews The Sound of Music(1965) | The Vern's Video Vortex.

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