11 May 2016

FWS Broken Promises: The ALIENS Sequels


In the wide wild world of science fiction, there are films that come along and alter the entire genre forever, and leads to a new understanding of science fiction. We have that with Star Trek. Star Wars, and then in 1979, we got ALIEN. This dark sci-fi/horror film reset the entire genre and and forged millions of fans to the dark vision of the alien and its prey humans. It was nothing short of an revolution. Then in 1986 came one of the best sequels in science fiction of all time: ALIENS. That film became the favorite film of millions and the best military sci-fi of all time.Truly, these two films were masterworks of science fiction. There was nosebleed high hopes for the 3rd ALIENS  film in 1992...but then we got ALIEN 3...and then ALIENS: Resurrection  happened. After this, the once promising world of ALIENS became a cold, stale landscape of broken promises and bewildered fans.  In this installment of Broken Promises, FWS will be attempting to explain what the hell happened to the ALIENS franchise.

The Gold Standard: ALIEN (1979) & ALIENS (1986)
In 1979, an unlikely film altered the course of the entire genre of science fiction forever. Much like Star Trek in the 1960's, and Star Wars in 1977, 1979's ALIEN combined genres to form something unique. ALIEN fused horror with a dose of sci-fi, form a serious sci-fi horror film the likes that had not been seen since 1956's Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Every element of Ridley Scott's masterpiece would be dissected, studied, honored, and ripped-off as seen in such films like Forbidden World (1982) and Alien Contamination (1980). Every sci-fi horror film that came after 1979's ALIEN has been compared to ALIEN because it became the gold standard and rightly so. 
That film is packed with a dark looming atmosphere, tense mood, creepy sets, broken dysfunctional characters, an evil corporation, and one hell of a well-designed hostile alien monster species birthed by the dark mind of H.R. Giger. It all worked, and it reminds a giant in the world of horror and science fiction and still has not yet been matched. Unlike other films of the time, a sequel to ALIEN would hibernate for seven years as rumors flew about in the pre-internet days of what an sequel to ALIEN would look like. But no one suspected the twist and turn that 1986's ALIENS would be. Much like the first film, the sequel would alter the direction of science fiction as a whole forever, and become the masterwork of military science fiction cinema. Terminator's James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd would be tapped for the job based on that 1984 film and script by the ALIEN producers, and Cameron and Hurd would take the dark world established by Ridley Scott and H.R. Giger and give it teeth and gunfire. This "combat film" is near perfect in its extending the world of ALIEN and further the development of the creatures and Ellen Ripley. 
Since its release, ALIENS has been a source for creators since (like me!), and is groundbreaking in different ways than it predecessor, but both films became gold standards in sci-fi cinema that may have been copied countless times, but never surpassed. It is the high standard that ALIEN and ALIENS forged in the minds of fans and the studio that made the string of broken sequels such a bitter disappointment to swallow.    

The Promise of the Dark Science Fiction Universe of ALIENS
Prior to 1979's ALIEN, there was nothing really like this dark universe in science fiction and it was in direct contrast to the bright-and-happy Trek universe and the space-fantasy of Star Wars. There was something dark and compelling about ALIEN and ALIENS that attracted fans by the millions. It was not just the hostile alien species, but the way the human universe worked, the realistic nature of human beings and their society that was more grounded and honest than Trek or Wars. For me, the first time I saw ALIENS on CBS, I bothered me in a way I'd never experienced with sci-fi before...and I wanted more. ALIENS was the first time I bought an movie on VHS and I hunted down any comics, models, and information I could. It became a part of me and my mental universe. My first book, Endangered Species, is a love letter to ALIENS. To me, the dark seduction of the ALIENS universe was a promise of something beyond the normal of mainstream sci-fi and horror that compelled you to look into the cold heart of the darkness of outer space and humanity.

The First Blow: ALIEN 3 (1992)
ALIEN 3 is not an easy film for fans, and many are conflicted on if the 3rd film is good, bad, or just a broken promise. The studio and the powers behind the third film were also confused. For years, we fans heard of rewrites, directors come and go, and a massive paycheck to get Sigourney Weaver to come back. When filming began, the script was not yet complete. This chaos, the studio intervention, and the newbie director all added up to a stumbling beginning. Some regard it has a beautiful dark failure that brought the series and the character arch of Ripley to an end...sort of. But the actress wanted the story of Ripley to end once for all once she had heard about an ALIENS vs. Predator film in development. She wanted to distance herself and her career away from the original films.
All that had been taken from her by the company and the aliens was over with her selfless act of sacrifice of ending the dream of the company for a queen and the desire of the aliens to take Earth as a breeding colony. Others see it as a failed, depressing, broken sequel to the powerhouse that is ALIENS, and the legacy of the 1992 film is proof along with the box office returns. Either way, I think that this film is a broken promise. Even if you are fan of the 3rd film, it is not the film that most of the public or some of the fan base wanted. It broke the promise of the ALIENS sequels and halted the franchise to wonder on it path after the death of Ripley for years. One of the ways I regard ALIEN 3 has a broken promise is that it allowed ALIENS: Resurrection to come into existence. Another way I call this an broken promise is that it killed off Newt and Hicks. One wonders if the "Assembly Cut" of the film had been shown, would the ALIENS community have the mixed opinion about this 1992 film?

The Second Blow: ALIEN: Resurrection (1997)
While fans are divided on Prometheus and ALIEN 3, they are not divided on ALIEN: Resurrection...because it is shit. Pure stupid shit that Skynet should travel back in time to abort. It tells you something when to bring back Sigourney Weaver, it cost them $11 million dollars...that is a big pound of flesh! When I've watched this 1997 film, I just cannot help but think I am seeing a project that should have been a comic book, fan-fiction, or failed video game, because the basic plot and concept are just wrong...so horribly wrong.
There are some wrong casting choices, wasted talent (Michael Wincott), Brad Dourif being Brad Dourif, and basic storytelling elements fucked up. The idea to recycle Ripley and combine her with xenomorph DNA was okay, and Sigourney Weaver is clearly having fun with her role, but the alien/human hybrid baby was against nature...it haunts my nights. Anyway, the real broken promise of ALIEN: Resurrection is that has prevented any more ALIENS films from being made until Prometheus...maybe that was a good thing?!
Honestly, this is not a film that should exist, it is DUNE-weird, ugly, boring, and unholy. One of the interesting promise breakers of ALIEN: Resurrection was the switch in tone. An Youtuber by the name of LittleJimmy835 discussed how the previous films were an survival-horror genre mixed with dark sci-fi or military sci-fi or both. However, ALIEN: Resurrection was a parody of itself...and fans of the franchise do not wanting a parody of their dark murderous xenomorph alien species. Needlessly to say, it was a bomb at the box-office, with fans, and critics. This piece of shit shows how wrong and twisted things can get. I don't have enough middle fingers for this film and the people who made it.


Then the Dark Horse Comics Begin to Slide...

After ALIENS in 1986, we fans did not know when or even if there would be sequel to continue the ALIENS franchise. Then in 1988, Chicago independent comic publisher Dark Horse secured the rights to ALIENS and Predator from 20th Century Fox. The original six part limited black-&-white series in 1988-1989 picked up the story of Newt and Hicks about a decade later, and it was awesome, dark, interesting, and disturbing. It was everything we could have asked for in the next installment of the ALIENS franchise. Dark Horse Comics lead that with an airbrushed colored series from 1989-1990 detailing the aftermath of the xenomorphs take-over Earth and the misadventures of Newt and Hicks on a colonial world. This was even better than the 1988 series and it was the highpoint of the Dark Horse ALIENS comics. But, as physics tells us, what goes up must come down...way down. After the first two amazing series, Dark Horse led that up with one of the worst ALIENS comics of all time: ALIENS: Earth War
The art is a war crime, the story is pure shit, and it ruins the momentum of the entire comic line. After this 1990 abortion, the comics became hit-or-miss. Some, like ALIENS: Genocide, ALIENS: Hive, and ALIENS: Tribes were very good and advanced the entire dark universe of ALIENS. But, comics like Colonial MarinesLabyrinth, and Salvation were just plain bad. I stopped collecting the Dark Horse ALIENS comics after this and never looked back especially when they reworked the original two comic serials to fit within the ALIEN 3 storyline. This was a giant middle finger to the fans. In the late 1980's and very early 1990's, the Dark Horse ALIENS comics really set the bar high for us fans, and it was that dark vision that we expected with the 3rd film in 1992...sadly, the promise of the comics made the broken promise of the 3rd and 4th ALIENS films that much more of a jagged pill to swallow.  

Then SEGA/Gearbox ALIENS: Colonial Marines Video Game Failed...
There is a long line of attempted ALIENS video games that began in 1982 and continues today. Sadly, most are just plain bad and don't live up to the hallowed name of ALIENS. A few years ago, FWS cataloged all of the ALIENS video games here. But, back in 2012/2013, there were high hopes for the SEGA/Gearbox ALIENS: Colonial Marines first-person shooter that would be set on LV-426 and involve a detachment of USCM. But, it went all wrong...very wrong and the resulting product was one of the most disappointing ALIENS video games of all time, causing more broken promises and shockwaves through the ALIENS fan community. How could they fuck this up so badly?! Gearbox studios, based here in Dallas, are huge ALIENS fan-nerds and they still allowed the video game to be listed among one of the most disappointing moments of ALIENS history.

Prometheus...Step in the Right Direction Or Just Another Broken Promise?!
When it was announced that Ridley "God" Scott would be stepping back into the dark world of ALIENS, it was the best news we fans could have heard. Maybe, just maybe, Ridley would get the franchise back on track with something that the fans could be proud of and not make excuses for. That 2012 film was a prequel set in 2093/2094 and it was called Prometheus. The misadventures of the team funded by Wyland Corporation to an moon called LV223 in the Zeta Reticuli star system (39.17 LYs) was not the film we fans thought we were getting in an prequel to 1979's masterpiece ALIEN...but is Prometheus another broken promise? The fan community is deeply divided on this issue.
 I honestly really like Prometheus and it is still one of the best 3D IMAX films I've ever seen, and it was a creepy, beautiful film that was misguided in parts. It may be the best ancient astronaut theory film of all time, however, plot holes, maddening characters, and loose connections to the wider ALIENS universe did not give us the complete film that the franchise needed. Instead we got this oddball hybrid film that answered nearly nothing and left us with more questions that still are not answered. To me and others I've talked to, Prometheus is a small step in the right direction, but it is too muddied to be the messiah of the wider ALIENS franchise. Some feel betrayed by Ridley making the Space Jockeys into the Engineers, other feel that it was an original solution to the derelict alien spaceship in ALIEN. Prometheus may be one of those films that is debated by fans for years to come. Will the 2017 sequel, ALIEN: Covenant prove the vitality of Prometheus? I guess we will have to wait until 2017 for the answers...

Step in the Right Direction: 2014's ALIEN ISOLATION
Soon after the hurricane of pain and tears that was ALIENS: Colonial Marines by SEGA/Gearbox, another video game came out: ALIEN: Isolation, and it would take us fans by surprise and by the balls, and demonstrate to us how an good ALIENS game could be done. Unlike most ALIENS video games, this 2014 SEGA/Creative Assembly survival-horror game pit Amanda Ripley against a single xenomorph warrior drone. It is more in-line with 1979's ALIEN than 1986's ALIENS. Less combat, and more survival and stealth. It is the game we fans have been waiting for, and it is finally a great ALIENS video game that gives the respect to the xenomorph species that they deserve and demand. Maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel?

Why the Hell Can't They Make an Good Fucking ALIENS Movie?!
Since 1986, we fans have been waiting for an "good" sequel to ALIENS, and despite Prometheus, we are still waiting. There has yet to be a film to rival or extend the ALIENS dark universe in a positive and honest way. Hell, there has not been a film even half as good as either ALIENS or ALIEN! While there was one good video game and a handful of comics, there has been a great drought of creativity in the ALIENS cinema universe, and appears that is not going to change anytime soon unless ALIEN: Covenant is good. While there is no concrete reason why there has not been a good fucking sequel to ALIENS, I do have a theory. At its heart, the ALIENS franchise is an survival-horror film set in outer space with an the aliens in place of the monsters or zombies.
We have to remember that the central story of the ALIENS universe is constructed around the journey of our hero Warrant Flight Officer Ellen Ripley. In the original film, set in 2122, Ripley is a single mother, pilot, and employee of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. She is attempting to get back to Earth for her daughter Amanda's tenth birthday and take time off from the long-haul cargo runs. When the encounter at LV426 takes place, it rips Ripley's life apart, and steals her future, altering Ripley's destiny forever. The first film is the transformative event that alters the path of our hero. Her crew and daughter are taken away from her by the alien species and the machiavellian actions of the company. By the end of the time, Ripley is a drift in hypersleep with just her cat and her luck. Fifty-seven years later, our hero is awakened to find everything that she knows gone and LV426 colonized by the company. Her journey to LV426 with the Colonial Marines is her redemption, to take back what was taken from her by the aliens and the company, to find a foster daughter in Newt and a possible love interest in Hicks.
By the end of the second film, Ripley has destroyed the Engineer cargo ship, killed the queen, and rescued her new family. The journey of Ellen Ripley is complete in a two-act story arch. That should have been it, and the Ripley character exits gracefully out of the ALIENS universe...but the studio and creators could not somehow imagine the ALIENS universe without her, and twice more, Ripley is brought back into the ALIENS sequel films that betrays the organic original stories in the first two films. ALIEN 3 twists the fate of Ripley in a Christ-like messiah story and ALIEN: Resurrection is just wrong...so wrong. That is my best theory on why the ALIENS sequels have been a shitty mess since 1986: they cannot let the character of Ellen Ripley go. Her story was done in the second film, any sequel should have taken a different path with new characters or shown the path of Newt or Hicks, as Dark Horse did in the original 1988 series. Of course, Dark Horse injected Ripley in the very end panel of the second ALIENS comic 1990 series, but I think everyone knew that was coming....and I didn't like that either at the time.
But, these are just one fan's theories and honestly, I just don't know why the studio has not made a solid sequel to the original holy two films. There is just so much promise and opportunity in the dark universe of ALIENS that it deeply vexes me on why the promise cannot be delivered to the silver screen. It seems like the writers and creators pushing the ALIENS universe forward with quality stories are not being considered by the studio when it comes to mainstream releases and projects. The same can be said of the Predator and ALIENS vs. Predator stories and projects. Why didn't FOX make the 1990 Dark Horse ALIENS vs. Predator comic series into a film instead of those piece of shit films that destroyed the promise of ALIENS vs. Predator? I don't want to be Fox Mulder, but maybe there is a conspiracy to keep down good ALIENS sequels?


What Could be Done to Save ALIENS Franchise?

While Ridley Scott is working on his side-universe to the ALIENS universe with Prometheus and ALIEN: Covenant, we fans need a solid ALIENS film to give the franchise a win and set the tone for the future...if there to be one. To me, if I was in charge of the studio, I would get the amazing dark and fulfilling 1992 Dark Horse ALIENS: Tribes graphic novel made into a film. This is one of the finest ALIENS comics or even stories ever made, and it could make one hell of a film that would transform the ab used and battered ALIENS franchise anew with an hardcore survival-horror film that deals with the humans as well as the aliens. If you have not read 1992's ALIENS: Tribes...then do yourself a favor read it today!

Will Neil Blomkamp's ALIENS Project Succeed Where Others have Failed?
At the moment, there is debate about if Neil Blomkamp ALIENS 5 movie will move forward or die on the vine. Both stars have signed on to reprise their roles, and fans want the script to move forward with the promising concept art that has been released....but the real question is the his vision of ALIENS 5 what should happen to the abused franchise? I am not sure, Neil Blomkamp is undoubtable talented, and most of his films are great...well, not CHAPPiE, but in everyone's life, some rain must fall. Anyways, we know so little of the story of ALIENS 5 and some rumors say that Neil will reject the 3rd and 4th films to "free up" some room to tell his story of Ripley, Hicks, and Newt in the post-ALIENS 22nd century. Some say that Ripley and Hicks are attempting to destroy the last samples that the company has during a backdrop of Earth being overrun by the xenomorphs. Michael Biehn has been quoting has saying that they will handing over the ALIENS universe to Newt and other new characters as they exist stage left. Will even be made? Will Neil success where others have failed? Stay tuned...

Next Time on FWS...
Let us travel back in time to the 1990's, when science fiction television shows were being greenlit by the major American networks, Dr. Who was still for geeks, and "real" Star Trek was being made. It is during this interesting time in small-screen sci-fi that NBC boldly journeyed to not outer space, but under the seas to set their near-future show SeaQuest DSV. In the next installment of Military Sci-Fi Oddities, FWS will be exploring and explaining the nearly three year run of SeaQuest DSV. 









9 comments:

  1. The reason the first two films are so good is because they are two different types of films. The first was a standard horror film; the protagonists are trapped in an isolated environment, wile being stalked by a killer. the second is a war film; a military unit engaged with superior force. The third was an attempt to make a film like the first. It was a good horror film, but didn't continue the story, this film should have been a disaster film, but the company didn't have the budget for it.

    (I don't care what you've been told, but alien 4 never happened.)

    I rather enjoyed "Prometheus," but it was not an "Alien" film. We will have to wait and see how "Covenant" does.

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  2. So what you need in an aliens film is raw recruits dropped into an active combat zone where we find out the aliens they fight are 'sterile' and this is a training mission. Only to find there is a half dozen face huggers infesting the ship as they return to base. The ship arrives having suffered depressurization so the crew is dead. Next thing you know you have aliens...everywhere.

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  3. I'm surprised that you didn't mention the hand of Joss Whedon when bringing up Resurrection. I think nowadays people see it as less of an Alien movie and more of a proto-Firefly, with the Ripley clone taking the place of River Tam.

    As much as I like the bastard stepchild of the series that is Alien 3, the William Gibson script for it would have been amazing. I had wanted to bring it up in your Top Ten Most Interesting Wars (that remain unseen) article, since the Gibson script was centered on Cold War paranoia, with another superpower called the Union Of Progressive Peoples, i.e. space Soviets, hijacking the Sulaco and retrieving alien samples they eventually develop into a weaponized spore that transforms infected into hosts for the xenomorphs (which predictably screws up containment), similar to Luigi Cozzi's Alien "ripoff" Contamination. Meanwhile, Hicks is dealing with an outbreak on Gateway station following being recovered and soon the two plotlines meet up with Hicks teaming up with Vietnamese commandos and shooting aliens on the hull of the ship.

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  4. Two things:

    1. You state that the biggest problem with the Alien films after Aliens was the producers' refusal to let Ripley go. But can you honestly blame them? She became as much an iconic character to the story as the Xenomorphs themselves and a kind of feminist icon (the reveal of Samus as a woman at the end of Metroid is unsurprising given how much the game and its sequels were influenced by Alien(s)). I've read William Gibson's script for Alien 3 and much as I like his writing for the most part, I don't like his story because it marginalizes Ripley and moves the focus to Hicks. It just feels wrong. I think one of the things that makes Alien: Isolation feel like it could be a canonical part of the Alien timeline is that the main character is Ripley's daughter. The producers may want to make a note of that.

    2. While I understand why Alien: Resurrection gets so widely panned, I simply cannot bring myself to outright hate the film. Yes, yes, the CGI effects haven't aged well at all, the failed experiments room is disturbing, and the everything about the Newborn from its conception to its appearance and even its death is gross, I get it. But it had Winona Ryder and Ron Perlman, plus I've always thought it's really cool that Sigourney Weaver actually made the basketball hoop with her back turned (it took multiple takes, but she actually did that). I can forgive it for being a bit of a self parody because the over-the-top nature of sci-fi action horror made it easily prone to 90s irony. As far as Alien 3 goes, it was depressing in many ways but it did have some good points...the climax with the Xenomorph POV was good, the cinematography was artfully done, and without it we wouldn't have the saying, "this is rumour control, here are the facts"...

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  5. There are parts of ALIEN: Resurrection I like as well, and Sigourney Weaver is clearly having a good time with her role, and she is the best part of the film.
    I still maintain the Ripley character needs to be retired (not in the Blade Runner sense) in order for the series to move on.
    Thanks for the comments!

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  6. Your article isn't too bad, but I have some issues with it. Like, you keep on referring to the ALIENS franchise...ALIENS is just the 2nd film. Correctly, it's the ALIEN franchise! Another issue is that though yes, Ellen Ripley is a groundbreaking character, the aliens ARE the actual protagonists. You see, the main issue with having just Ellen Ripley as an ongoing repeater is that you really take away the creepiness from the creatures. What? she is some sort of magical being that can always survive against them. It really damages her real role as a unfortunate yet strong woman that lost all thanks to greed. And yes, I meant greed cause the creatures are what they are, and it was unfortunate for anyone whom encounter them based on their nature that makes them a threat to all known life (and some unknown as well as we & the Space jockey found out). And though I love the design of the Alien Queen, I hated her role as the commanding force of the creature that just demeans them into big stupid bugs. Completely eradicating the ALIEN aspect of the creatures and just making them cannon fodder(Fast running Zombies, anyone?). This is why Alien Isolation was perfect, the alien was unkillable, fast and slow, intelligent, menacing, eerie...not like gigantic fire ants with acid blood. I believe there should be a common ground to be made with the Aliens and help them be scary, noghtmarish, creepy and...ALIEN again. Remember the great words of late Dan O'Bannon for his baby creation "Alien...it's a noun & an Adjective" it was a perfect title, with all the ALIEN on it in the film and script.

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  7. The reason that I refer to the entire realm of this universe by the name of "ALIENS" instead of "ALIEN" is that until 1986's ALIENS, the universe wasn't that developed in the same way. ALIEN was about the ship, the crew, and their guest. To me, ALIENS broadened the dark world of the 23rd century, and it should get the credit with the naming rights.
    Thanks for the comment and the interesting theory on the aliens.

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  8. Great article as always, but Captain is the language truly necessary?

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  9. the failure of an good ALIENS sequel film after 1986 just makes me so mad and disappointed!

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