Most movie lovers have been all of a flutter this year awaiting Prometheus. Most have been too impatient to wait, and we quelled this by indulging in Alien and Aliens. Both very different and brilliant films in their own right by two unique directors. Comparing these films is a bit of a challenge as they fit into completely different genres; even more so as they both exceed greatly within their own genre. So who has the upper hand in the sci-fi franchise - the fight is on! Ding Ding…
Round 1: Plot and Style
Alien: Ridley Scott's eerie, tense seventies thriller/horror Alien fused 2001: Space Odyssey influences against the dark, hostile and organic atmosphere of the alien's world. Humans being picked off one by one is a typical horror storyline but here it is achieved so stylishly; with a uniquely creative monster and an odd curveball thrown in here and there as they discover an android for a crew member, their own company deeming them expendable and the ever decreasing chances of survival. Scott took full advantage of building up the suspense wonderfully, merely teasing us with short snippets of horror.
Aliens: James Cameron's Aliens was right on the money for eighties action and more. Gun toting marines battled aliens by the thousands with pulse rifles, flame throwers, acid and face huggers everywhere. Watching this again re-affirmed what an action masterpiece this was. You can feel the pressure from of the never ending surge of alien warriors. Cameron successfully meshed the original’s themes with his own themes of war and Ripley's character development. The momentum of the plot and characters is constant, not relying on the action and special effects to carry the film. Aliens is a perfect example of why some of us have such a fondness for that era and genre and thoroughly recommend a revisit to Aliens and Terminator 2 to see how an action sequel is done.
Round 2: Protagonist
They're both Ellen Ripley so how can there be a successor?
Alien: The beauty of this film was casting recognised actors apart from Ripley, who initially appeared as a smaller character. As the film progressed, the stars being picked off meant all bets were off. Slowly Ripley's heroine emerged as did one of cinema’s strongest lead female roles.
Aliens: We’re given so much more from Ripley. From her isolation in a world fifty-seven years in the future, the Company's lack of support and the initial cockiness of the marines. Her strength determination and instinct pushes through as she must now battle against thousands of aliens. We even see her softer maternal protection towards orphaned Newt. Both of these result in Ripley's toughest battle against the alien queen.
Round 3: Alien
Alien: The sheer creation of the alien is amazing: Geiger's eerie design was perfect to portray a horrifying creature never before seen; now an iconic movie monster. Scott’s use of suspense and lighting slowly reveals the alien’s unravelling form bit by bit, rewarding the viewer with a full, yet brief, appearance at the end.
Aliens: Creating a successful sequel is such a challenge as you now have the audiences expectations to meet. Cameron knew what to deliver as he showed the effects if this species was allowed to thrive, a nest of thousands of relentless aliens and exactly where those hordes of eggs come from, reaching the climatic finale of Ripley's one-on-one battle with the monstrous alien queen.
Round 4: Shock Factor
Alien: Producing one of the most iconic movie scenes ever as chest burster lives up to his name and kills poor John Hurt’s chest, leaving everyone blood splattered and horrified - lunch will never be the same again. Ridley Scott cleverly shot this without the actor’s knowledge that large quantities of blood would also project out of the body and captured truly shocked reactions from the cast.
Aliens: The main shock factor came at the end with Ripley running right into the middle of the alien's nest thus revealing the terrifying queen. A great scene but it can’t compete with the iconic chest burster sequence.
Round 5: Special Effects
Both directors created amazing effects to tight budgets at the time that both directors admitted pushed their creativity.
Alien: From Ridley Scott’s vastly impressive and varied set pieces to all the disturbingly realistic stages of the alien (Egg, Face Hugger, Chest Burster and Alien) were flawless and horrifying at the time. All this elevated the movie to a slick and smooth suspenseful horror created to a budget of $8.4 million. Watching it now you can see the person in a suit hidden by shadows, but let’s not forget this is a thirty-two year-old film that still looks ahead of its time. I’m also a firm believer that, if delivered right, less is more.
Aliens: Cameron achieved an amazing special effects feat to a budget of $18 million (bearing in mind Terminator 2 cost $94 million and Avatar cost over $200 million). The subtle use of foreground miniatures, rear projection and mirrors to create vast looking set pieces worked so well that even the studio questioned why they had such expensive sets. These effects still stand today, obviously there is some dating but watching this twenty-five years later, it’s still a strong eighties action blockbuster.
Round 6: Influence
Alien: It created an iconic movie monster, protagonist and chest burster scene; all instantly recognisable in popular culture on top of such a great sci-fi and horror combo.
Aliens: The influence is more on the action genre and Cameron’s ability to create such a strong action film as well as a sequel; including Ripley’s famous line “Get away from her you...”
So, in our opinion, Alien wins but only just with Aliens a very close second place. This was a tough one; a movie sequel that gives the original a run for its money is rare, but the triumph goes to the original for creating such a realistic, scary and unique alien species that terrified us whilst leaving us wanting more - creating not only a movie franchise but a legend. Here’s hoping Prometheus can continue that legend…