Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Rank the Films: Alien series

As any regular reader of feeling fuzzier will know, lists are pretty darn nifty. We have a profound appreciation for straight-up lists. This is the thinking behind Rank the Films, a regular feature that pulls apart the pros and cons of a series of films, ranking them in order of bad to good. 

In this edition, I put the Alien franchise under the microscope - from Ridley Scott's original classic, to David Fincher's divisive Alien 3 and Paul W. S. Anderson's god-awful Alien vs. Predator, the series has certainly see-sawed through its fair share of ups and downs. 

So, let's put this one to rest; the Alien series in order from worst to best.

6th - Alien vs. Predator (2004)/Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)

Rotten Tomatoes: 21% (Alien vs. Predator), 12% (Alien vs. Predator: Requiem)

I'm going to kick things off by lumping these two together; the two AVP films (a cross-over of the Alien and Predator franchises) are not worth wasting time writing out entries for individually. 

That is, they are such a colossal waste of time, money and effort, that they bare mentioning all together. 

The first movie, released in 2004 and directed by W.S. Anderson, actually has some redeeming qualities; the central premise, despite being half-baked, isn't an uninteresting one. The only thing is, this is the only positive element the movie has going for it. 

Both movies have dull, uninteresting cardboard cut-out characters lumbered with flat dialogue - the action is messy, lacking in tension and littered with gore, and at the end of the day, an absolute disaster. Don't even consider approaching these films; steer very clear. 

5th - Alien 3 (1992)

A couple of years ago, Alien 3 turned 20 and wrote an opinion piece proclaiming the film, directed by David Fincher, to be a misunderstood masterpiece.

Could the premise of that article be any more misleading? If anything, Alien 3 is the absolute opposite.

Stranded on a maximum security prison full of rapists and murderers, Ellen Ripley is once again faced with fighting a deadly xenomorph which she herself brought aboard.

The big issue with Alien 3 is this; all those characters from the previous film, James Cameron's Aliens, that we came to care about and became invested in, are struck from the record after five minutes. Not even that, but Newt, Bishop and Hicks, are essentially killed off-screen, without any warning, something which even James Cameron himself described as a "slap in the face".

Another big fault with this third instalment, is that of the plot. Is there one? I literally couldn't tell you, even if someone had a gun pointed to my temple. I watched Alien 3 along with Alien Resurrection more recently than any of the other films on this list, and I can't remember very much about the former at all. The final bait-and-chase sequence through a labyrinth of tunnels felt like it went on for half the film.

Therefore, it's also inherently forgettable to go along with being bland, morose and needlessly dark. As you can probably tell, I did not enjoy this film. The characters that Ripley is made to team up with are all very uninteresting and flat, meaning you care about none of them.

4th - Alien Resurrection (1997)

A lot more action-packed and interesting than its predecessor, Alien Resurrection is by no means perfect, but still a slight return to form for the series.

Penned by nerd hero Joss Whedon, Alien Resurrection is set a lot further in the future and sees Ripley reborn as a clone that has both human and alien DNA.

The film also stars Winona Ryder and Ron Perlman - what's great about this fourth film, is that you can tell the writer (Whedon) and the director (Jean-Pierre Jeunet) strived to strip it back to basics, much like the original two. It's fairly simplistic in plot, with the Military once again hoping to breed xenomorphs and research their potential - only this time, they have to contend with a hybrid-alien Ripley clone who is determined, along with a band of mercs, to kill the aliens before the ship reaches its destination, Earth.

It's still a muddled film though, with Ripley robbed of the majority of her initial humanity and likeability. I found myself siding more with Winona Ryder's oddly emotive android, Call. Beyond that however, the rest of the cast are pretty forgettable and weak.

Something that can be praised about Resurrection is the decision to up-the-ante in terms of blood and gore. At the end of the day, Resurrection is an okay, if unspectacular entry that can at least be half-entertaining at times. Which is more than can be said for everything below it on this list.

3rd - Prometheus (2012)

A highly divisive pseudo-spin-off from original director Ridley Scott, Prometheus hit cinemas in 2012 to heavily mixed reviews.

Some liked the impressive visuals, Michael Fassbender's performance as the android, David, as well as the suitably icky monsters that slowly pick off the fated crew.

Others hated the jumbled narrative, the cookie-cutter secondary characters and the pervading sense of the film just being a stepping-stone for a wider franchise.

Personally, I quite enjoy Prometheus. Sure, it isn't amazing, and the crew sure do make some horribly stupid decisions for a bunch of supposedly hand-picked scientists. It's a weird alien worm/snake thing; for the love of God,  DO NOT POKE IT.

On the whole, Prometheus is a good enough film that ties in with the Alien canon without retreading territory that had already been covered, which is a plus. Noomi Rapace is great in the lead role, and Charlize Theron was also good. If only the actual plot had been easier to follow...

2nd - Alien (1979)

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%

The immortal original. The perennial classic. Ridley Scott's Alien is a cinema icon that spawned almost as many imitators as a xenomorph itself. For me however, it is the thrilling war movie that is Aliens that pips the original to the top spot. But only just however.

Gooey, terrifying and an intense nail-biter from start to finish, Alien still holds up against modern day sci-fi splurge-fests.

For starters, the pacing is a master-stroke. Things start out achingly slowly, with the tempo of shots and on-screen action building into a frenetic chase through darkened hallways.

Finally, that final scene where we all breathe a sigh of relief only to find the alien still lurking aboard Ripley's escape pod is simply terrifying. Stripped both emotionally and physically, Ripley doesn't dare take her eyes off the monster before blowing it out the air-lock, screeching and wailing into the black void of space.

Unlike space however, in the theatre, everyone can hear you scream.

1st - Aliens (1986)

There are two kinds of people in this world; those who prefer Alien, and those who prefer Aliens. Clearly, I fall into the latter category.

Whilst there is very little I can fault the original Alien film on, the second film, which is directed by James Cameron, somehow manages to up-the-ante and generally improve upon a classic in aspects across the board.

Set fifty years after Alien, we pick up with Ellen Ripley being awoken from stasis. Her initial testimony regarding the deaths of everyone aboard the Nostromo are met with scepticism to say the least, and it isn't long before she is dragged into hell once again, this time with a team of Marines at her side.

In crafting one of the best sequels of all time, Cameron took the terrifying formula laid about by Scott and dialled it up to 11. Rather than simply copy recreate another skin-crawling corridor horror-in-space film, Cameron decided to inject a double dose of testosterone and turn this into a war movie.

From start to finish, the film is wall-to-wall action and intense drama - the film surpasses the vast majority of action films released today, let alone at the time. With a whole horde of xenomorph's to contend with, the team of Marines surrounding Ripley picked off one by one pretty quickly.

But it's that iconic finale where Ripley dons the exo-suit cargo-loader to fight the xenomorph queen head-on that sticks long in the memory, as well as the string of memorable lines the whole cast machine-gun across the film - all together now "game over man, game over!"

So there we have it, my take on Alien; the good, the bad and the ugly. Let me know what your favourite Alien movie is in comments section below. Thanks!

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