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The Best Film Writing About the 'Alien' Franchise on the Internet

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by Matt Singer
June 6, 2012 12:48 PM
5 Comments
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"Aliens."

If you believe the film's creators, "Prometheus" isn't really a prequel to "Alien" -- more of a totally new story set in the same universe of xenomorphs and evil corporations created thirty years ago by writers Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett. Let's give them their semantic argument while noting that if a movie takes place in the same universe -- even with totally different characters, even on totally different planets -- it's still kinda sorta a sequel. Not quite apples and oranges -- more like Red Delicious and Granny Smith.

But whatever. The creators can claim "Prometheus" is a distinct entity, but it has clear connections -- visually, stylistically, creatively -- to "Alien" and as a result it's got all of us thinking and reflecting about the series this week. To satisfy your curiosity about the franchise and its meaning, I've assembled this list of ten outstanding articles that are available online for you to peruse and ponder as you prepare for your journey on Prometheus.  f you've got more great "Alien" writing you want to share, please do so in the comments below. Oh, and make sure you go through the whole list for a special bonus entry at the end -- it's sort of the chestburster in the punch bowl, as it were.

The Best Film Writing About the 'Alien' Franchise on the Internet

1. Damon Smith on The Power of "Alien" on the Big Screen

"'Alien' is a film about space, quite literally -- not only the ingenious way that Scott deploys his camera in the cramped air shafts and passageways of the doomed crew’s star flyer, where something unimaginably Other has hitched a ride and lurks predatorily, but also how the double-jawed menace accosts the travelers in the grim, lonely vacuum of the cosmos, a vastness that only intensifies the inescapable feeling of claustrophobia and entombment."

2. Ben Simington on the Level of Detail in "Alien"'s Mise-en-scène

"I’d noticed the pin-ups plastered on the bathroom wall several viewings ago, appropriate for a movie already filled with symbolism about reproductive and sexual politics, but the casual misogyny of a cherry pie placed over one model’s crotch and gendered genital violence implied by an otherwise inexplicable photo of fried eggs speak volumes as Ash attempts to kill Ripley by choking her with a pornographic magazine."

3. Andrew O'Hehir on "Alien" as an Example of Film Noir

"Although it has often been described as being a haunted-house movie set in space, 'Alien' also has a profoundly existentialist undertow that makes it feel like a film noir -- the other genre to feature a slithery, sexualized monster as its classic villain."

4. Jim Naureckas, Comparing the Representation of Women and Womanhood in "Alien" and "Aliens"

"A more important difference in 'Aliens' becomes the enemy's gender. To be sure, the film has plenty of iconographically male forms around, but the true horror in Cameron's film is his own Queen Alien. Huge, bloated, and spawning, she represents a grotesque parody of maternity. Furthermore, the creature's goal is not nutritive (or possibly erotic), as in the first film, but rather to use humans as incubators for baby Aliens. The primal terror here is becoming a mother."

 5. Rhona Berenstein on "Aliens"' Representation of Motherhood and Monster"

"The film also can be said to explore some current issues regarding technological and professional intervention in reproduction e.g. the analogous relationships between the life-support systems, test-tube babies and the rapidly developing technology in the treatment of premies. Ripley's participation and inundation into this overtly technological world is suggested by the importance of the mechanical fork lift in which she is 'embraced' at the end of the film i.e. its importance not only in signifying her role as a worker at the mercy of technology, but also as a maternal warrior who can dispatch the monster only through technological (read cultural) intervention."

6. Russ Fischer on "Aliens" as an "Explosive Ode to Motherhood"

"The idea emerges right in the title screen, when the ‘I’ in 'Aliens' emits light in a graphic designer’s minimalist representation of celestial birth. 'Alien' was characterized by H.R. Giger‘s gooey vaginal visions, and this title card promises a blinding counter-argument. Then the second shot of Ripley’s sleeping profile fades into a shot of Earth, defining the heroine as Gaia/Earth Mother and establishing the motherhood theme within minutes."

7. James Cameron Responds to Nitpicking "Aliens" Critics 

"Thus, even with the Queen's vast egglaying capacity, the Aliens are still a parasitic form, requiring a host from a different species to create the warrior or Queen stages of the life cycle. Since the warriors are bipedal with two arms (H.R. Giger's original design), it may be inferred that the facehugger is an indifferentiated parasite, which lays an egg inside a host, but that the resulting form (chestburster through adult) has taken on certain biological characteristics of its host. This would account for the degree of anthropomorphism in the design."

8. John Kenneth Muir on "Alien 3" as a Sequel That Upends Expectations

"Appropriately, the film's dialogue echoes the decision to make a surprising, dangerous sequel. The film's lead convict, Dillon (Charles Dutton), gives voice to the film's overall philosophy during a funeral service for the early casualties of 'Alien 3.' Eulogizing the dead, he declares for the benefit of Ripley and, no doubt, the audience that "there aren't any promises. Nothing's certain. Only that some get called, some get saved." It was this application of cruel, random -- but realistic -- fate, not some kind of 'loyalty' to franchise stock characters, that would dominate Fincher's challenging sequel."

9. Dan Jolin on the Version of "Alien 3" That Never Was

"It was a weird situation to find myself in," reflects [one-time 'Alien 3' director Vincent] Ward. "I'm one of those people who like to see things through. I don't mind compromising if it will improve the story. But you're dealing with people where it's not known as a 'film' -- it's called a 'franchise'. So you don't want your Kentucky Fried Chicken or your McDonald's to look different. You gotta have the same colored walls, and the doors in the right place..." He pauses. "There's only so much you can say, really. It just comes down to creative differences."

10. The Art of the Title Examines All Four 'Alien' Title Sequences

"Crossing over an eclipsing planet with the title appearing in non-linear, segmented letters. From the outer letters inwards (even the middle swath of the letter "E" is last to appear). Everything pointing to the center because the center is where the parasitic pupae of the Alien comes from; the middle of you. Steady, dark tension."

PLUS: A Compilation of Negative Reviews of the Original "Alien"

"It would be very convincing to say that there’s no hope for movies -- that audiences have been so corrupted by television and have become so jaded that all they want are noisy thrills and dumb jokes and images that move along in an undemanding way, so they can sit and react at the simplest motor level. And there’s plenty of evidence, such as the success of 'Alien.'" -- Pauline Kael.

5 Comments

  • K H Brown | June 8, 2012 9:13 AMReply

    Interesting how the John Kenneth Muir review emphasises the surprise of killing off the other survivors from Aliens except Ripley and mentions how the film proved conditional on having Sigourney Weaver in it. So the greater surprise of having Ripley being casually disposed of at the start of the film and having a new point of identification was never a possibility.

  • devendra | June 7, 2012 1:53 AMReply

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  • Zinjo | June 6, 2012 4:27 PMReply

    I believe the "Spin-Off" film is the next wave we can expect to see after audiences get sick and tired of seeing the same stories rehashed over and over every 5 years. If you have a successful film, you can do a spin off and save a lot of screentime by NOT having to establish the universe. It would be a non-related sequel to an existing franchise and all it takes is one hit at the box office to get the ball rolling. Those Hollywood accountants will be lining up for that bandwagon as well.

    Perhaps Prometheus will be the "One"...

  • Kenji Fujishima | June 6, 2012 1:06 PMReply

    Don't forget Dave Kehr's capsule pan of the original "Alien"! http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/alien/Film?oid=1192011

  • Matt Singer | June 6, 2012 2:18 PM

    Kenji-

    I definitely chuckled at Dave's review when I found it during my research -- it's actually excerpted in that final link at the bottom, which also includes Vincent Canby's original review in its entirety. That page is a great read.

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