The explosion of computer-generated imagery (CGI) and 3D has become nauseating. Sometimes you just have to travel back in time before any of these things existed. Baseball fans rejoice over Hank Aaron, music lovers play Earth, Wind and Fire, Tupac or maybe Led Zeppelin. When it comes to movies, and specifically science fiction ones, Alien illustrates you don’t need special effects. Ridley Scott’s Alien is one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever.
Before the release of Alien, Ridley Scott had only directed one feature-length film, The Duellists, which follows two French officers in the Napoleonic age, fencing each other in a life-long feud. Scott followed that with two of the greatest science fiction movies in history, Alien in 1979 and Blade Runner in 1982. Only a legendary storyteller such as Ridley Scott could make a bizarre transition look so effortless.
The fact Scott was able to tell the story of this crew, fighting an alien creature in outer space, in 1979, is absolutely incredible. The way he uses the setting of the “Nostromo” ship to create this eerie and borderline terrifying atmosphere is what sets this movie apart from modern sci-fi.
The movie is truly timeless, which can’t be said for many films created 37 years ago. From that tiny little monster bursting out of Kane’s midsection to the reveal of the real and very robotic Ash, Alien gave viewers the chills in 1979, still does so now and will in 20 years.
Even the demonic alien itself is barely seen, but surely felt. It’s concealed in the shadows where fear often hides, and only strikes at the perfect moment. Ridley Scott didn’t parade this antagonist around. If he had, its allure would have been lost. The combination of Scott’s directing and the respective script and soundtrack of the late Dan O’Bannon and Jerry Goldsmith give Alien more punch than any special effects could.
Ridley Scott and his team knew their limits and played to their strengths. Scott told a dark, creepy story and left the over-the-top action and mindless violence at the door, or in this case, the hatch. The movie is unmatched in its ability to create fear out of the unknown.
It’s 1984. Five years have passed since Ridley Scott’s Alien grabbed audiences by the collar and thrusted them into outer space. For science fiction fans, an alien has been traded in for a buff, Austrian cyborg. 1984’s The Terminator changed the sci-fi game, and director James Cameron reaped the benefits. Ridley Scott had just finished directing Blade Runner and was moving into the fantasy genre. Another science fiction giant, Steven Spielberg, was working on his series of adventure films starring an archeologist named Indiana Jones. It was James Cameron’s time to shine, and the sci-fi genre was poised to see the rise of a new king.
If Ridley Scott’s Alien can be defined by its storytelling, Cameron’s work is, in the words of former NFL running back Marshawn Lynch, about that action. After 20th Century Fox got a hold of Cameron’s script for The Terminator, they knew he was their director for the overdue follow-up to Alien. Cameron was given a relatively small budget of around $18-million and the daunting task of creating a sequel to perhaps the most celebrated sci-fi movie to date.
The greatest strength of James Cameron’s Aliens is that it’s unlike Scott’s film in its tone and overall theme. Cameron is best known for writing and directing some of the greatest action films in history. Movies such as Terminator 2: Judgement Day, True Lies, Avatar and even a romantic drama such as Titanic contain iconic action sequences. Naturally, he took the pacing of Scott’s Alien and shot it with adrenaline. However, Cameron was given monstrous budgets to complete each of those films. His greatest challenge in directing Aliens would be achieving that legendary level of action on a limited budget.
Just as he did with The Terminator (approximately $6-million budget), Cameron maximized every dollar he had to spend on Aliens. The movie was primarily filmed at a decommissioned power plant in London, England. Cameron would also use the relationships he built directing The Terminator in casting. Michael Biehn, fresh from playing Kyle Reese in The Terminator, stepped in as Corporal Dwayne Hicks in Aliens. Along with Biehn, Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen also appear in both movies.
It’s Cameron’s familiarity with these actors and their characters that give the viewer that similar experience they shared with Scott’s previous film. By the end of the film, you’re completely invested in their stories. You may find yourself constantly inching forward in your seat, until you’ve gone as far as you can and are firmly planted on your toes.
Aliens grossed around $130-million dollars worldwide in theatres. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won two for Best Effects – Sound Effects Editing and Best Effects – Visual Effects. It was the second movie in a string of massive hits for James Cameron. After his success with The Terminator and Aliens, Cameron was given a budget of over $100-million for his next film, Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
James Cameron is perhaps best known today for his box-office titans Avatar and Titantic, but he made his mark with his 1986 classic. Aliens celebrates its 30th anniversary this July and is still considered one of the greatest science fiction films of all-time.
David Fincher has probably directed some of your favourite movies. Fight Club, The Social Network and Gone Girl are just a few highlights from his resume. In 1992, Fincher was best known for directing music videos for Madonna and Paula Abdul. Then 20th Century Fox came knocking on his door. With not a single feature-film under his belt, Fincher was picked to direct the third installment in the Alien franchise. With no film experience, a big budget, bigger expectations and little time to prepare, Fincher’s Alien 3 fell flat. 1992’s Alien 3 is the only thing stopping the Alien trilogy from being the best in movie history, despite featuring one of the great directors of our time.
A 30-year-old Fincher was thrown to the wolves when Fox chose him as the director of Alien 3. Vincent Ward was initially picked to direct the film, but the project broke down during pre-production. Fincher was then handed the reins, but Fox made sure they had a tight grip on his wrists.
The original concept featured a very limited to non-existent role for Sigourney Weaver’s character Ripley. Joe Roth, president of Fox at the time, didn’t agree and reportedly offered Weaver $5-million and a producer credit to appear in a full capacity. Tension then grew between Weaver and the movie’s writers. Weaver wanted to control the character of Ripley and was repeatedly unhappy with her character’s portrayal.
The common theme in the long list of problems with Alien 3 is control. The only person without any control was Fincher himself. He was denied permission to shoot various scenes and was forced to make the film Fox wanted to release. Seven-million dollars was spent on sets that were never used because the script was continuously changed throughout filming. Fincher eventually walked out during production, before the final edits even began.
The movie’s greatest weakness is the lack of direction. Alien 3 feels like it didn’t have anyone leading it, or all of the wrong people were leading it. It’s rushed, messy and convoluted, and doesn’t fit within the original two Alien films.
David Fincher has since disowned Alien 3. Fox reached out to Fincher during the release of the Alien Quadrilogy in 2004, asking him to assemble and comment on his own director’s cut of Alien 3. Fincher was the only director of the four Alien films to decline that offer.
Alien 3 is widely recognized as an embarrassment for the franchise. The budget landed around $65-million and the film only made around $55-million at the domestic box office. However, the movie went on to make over $100-million outside of North America and spawned 20th Century Fox to continue throwing dirt on the Alien name.