I love the feeling of the Alien universe as originally laid out by Ridley Scott in 1979. I really enjoy the idea that the universe is cold, dark, and empty except for creatures so unlike us that we can do nothing but kill each other. The question “Are we alone?” is answered very quickly, but the consequences of that answer are horrifying. Instead of just being a monster movie in space, Alien aims to be so much more than that. The main character (Ripley) is beset on all sides; not only by an incompetent crew who does not want to follow basic quarantine procedures, but also by the profit-driven motivations of a faceless corporation that views her life and the lives of her fellow crewmembers as expendable. This premise is what informs the base template for the Alien movies.
Every sequel of the original Alien to some degree has diminished or tarnished the purity of the original because of their story structure. The unknown nature of everything around us is what makes the original so good to this day. At the start of Aliens (1986) we already know that Weyland-Yutani is shady and profit-driven, with no regard for life or morals, and we already know that the aliens themselves are going to be involved. It is the best kind of re-tread, and is the most pure and least offensive to the original because of its plot. Ripley awakens from hyper-sleep, and the whole adventure begins again. It is a direct continuation and exploration of the Alien world, and because of that it retains much in common with the first film. However, some of the magic is lost and it cannot be replaced.
As we continue through the franchise, we begin to drift into the unfamiliar for better or worse. Alien3 is barely an Alien movie. It feels more like a religious drama with the backdrop of a slasher film. The characters are alive and vibrant, but the suspense is barely there, and Weyland-Yutani has even less involvement than before. In Alien3 the company that provided a great deal of conflict in the first and second films serves as a backdrop at best and minor reference at worst. The factors that make up the concept of an Alien movie are either warped or faded, sometimes for the better and sometimes to the detriment of the film’s structure.
Alien: Resurrection is set so far into the future that it is disposable and unimportant to the story as a whole, and I feel like this film has almost more in common with the AVP series than with the mainline franchise. Conversely, some of the plot and tone make Resurrection feel more like Aliens (1986) on LSD than AVP, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s a bad film that reminds me of a direct-to-DVD spinoff in the worst possible way. It abandons the isolation horror for an ensemble action tone.
The interesting thing about the Alien franchise is that it doesn’t stop at Resurrection. The prequel series that began with Prometheus is now in full swing with the release of Alien: Covenant. The series is going in an interesting direction, with less focus on the cosmic horror, and more focus on the search for God and meaning. The nature of creation and life are discussed and explored throughout the majority of Prometheus, with very little attention given to the alien species. I was disappointed with the supposed concessions that Covenant made to appease the fan boys, I would have prefered more focus on Shaw and David, and less focus on the alien in the third act (which is where the movie fell apart btw). There is so much right with the prequels that I hate to hate on them, but they deserve a lot of hate. The characters do dumb things, the inclusion of the xenomorph detracts from the entire film, and the story hasn't explained anything.
I'm not entirely pessimistic, however. I really enjoy the cinematography, the actors are top-notch, and the story is genuinely interesting. The android David has stolen the show for two movies now, and I'm looking forward to seeing what creepy thing he does next.
Whatever the Alien franchise does in the future, I will watch pretty much whatever they make.