As we prepare to blast off to the Engineer’s homeworld in Ridley Scott’s upcoming Alien: Covenant, let’s look back on the franchise that the acclaimed director kickstarted in 1979. April 26 has been long-celebrated as “Alien Day,” where we bask in all things Xenomorph and the ill-fated trips to LV-426 (hence the date). Little did we know back in 1979 that Alien was just the beginning. After spawning a quadriology of “main films” and some lackluster Predator crossovers, Scott again returned to helm the prequel Prometheus in 2012.
While there have been four directors behind the scenes of the main series: Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, it has always been a competition between Scott and Cameron. Alien may have had our chests bursting with fright, but when Cameron took over the reins with Aliens in 1986, a whole new beast was born. So, what better way to celebrate Alien Day than settling the age-old argument once and for all – Alien vs. Aliens: Which is Better?
Alien introduced us to the rag-tag crew of the Nostromo – possibly one of the most memorable doomed crews in history. Headed up by Tom Skerrit’s bearded Captain Dallas, there was also the sympathetic Lambert, know-it-all Ash, and of course John Hurt’s Kane (more on him later). However, the jewel in the crown of Alien was the macho jumpsuit of Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Louise Ripley. With her flowing perm that was highly unsuitable for a horror film and her dogged desire to survive the alien menace, Ripley was one tough cookie. It is ironic to think that Scott didn’t know he was actually introducing us to an icon of the horror genre.
The recurring theme of Aliens was bigger is better. With a cast that ballooned, Aliens was chocked-full of acting talent and ’80s action stereotypes. Jenette Goldstein played the spunky Vasquez – a character that made even Ripley seem feminine, there was the standout performance from Bill Paxton’s chatterbox Hudson, and it was the first time in the series that we met Lance Henricksen – this time as the stoic android Bishop. Ripley was of course back, sporting a shorter hairdo and some snazzy Reebok Stompers. After losing everything, what’s going to keep her going? – oh yeah, revenge!
There is no denying that the Nostromo crew became icons in their own right, but with Hudson, Sgt. Apone, Bishop, Hicks, Burke, and most importantly Ripley, its an easy win. The development of the misfit troop in Aliens was more than cardboard cut-out and just clinches it!
In space, no one can hear you scream – an immortal tagline that will echo through the ages. Scott’s original found the crew of the Nostromo exploring a dark new world and we all know the moral of the story – don’t go poking around in foreign egg sacs and expect to make it out of the film alive. It doesn’t take long for the crew to bring an alien menace on board, someone’s chest cavity to be ripped open, and an adult Xenomorph to slowly tear through the ship and the crew with its acid blood and two mouths. It was a nail-biting runtime where you wondered if anyone would survive the unstoppable killing machine.
Picking up decades after Alien, Aliens became a rescue mission for all involved. Waking up 57 years into the future, Ripley’s family is gone and she is saddled with a team of marines to rescue a hapless colony, stranded on the planet from the first film. The ulterior motives of the Weyland-Yutani corporation also add a larger layer of villainy than Ash from Alien, but the Xenos are still the main event. With the characters soon realizing that the colonists on LV-426 were extinct, the mission became a tragic one to save themselves. More Xenomorphs, more gunfire, and more backstory to Ripley mean there’s certainly more bloodshed than the predecessor.
It was fresh, it was bold, and it harked back to the outer space horrors from the ’50s and ’60s. Aliens was by no means lacking in its storyline, but you always felt that Ripley was going to make it out alive while we waited for those around her to be picked off. In Alien, it was all bets are off and no one knew who would be making it to the shuttle alive.
Scott effectively reinvented the sci-fi horror genre, so it is no wonder that Alien is as celebrated as it is today. Crammed into the narrow corridors of the Nostromo, the Xenomorph spent 90% of the film lurking in the shadows. Just like the crew, we were left in the dark as to what was stalking them, and when it emerged, it was the glorious design of H. R. Giger surrealism. Then we have the immortal Kane scene. With John Hurt seemingly surviving his facehugger attack, he tucked into a jolly breakfast, not realizing that the tiny creature was about to burst from his chest. Alongside Janet Leigh’s Psycho scene, Kane’s death is one of the greatest horror moments ever and showcases misdirection at its greatest. Scott fully committed to scaring the living daylight out of us, and boy did he!
So, something bursts out of his chest, how can we beat that? Unfortunately, you can’t. Tooling up the marines with machine guns was a blessing and a hindrance to Aliens. The characters stood more of a chance and should’ve easily rescued LV-426 then headed for some brewskis. However, even highly-trained grunts couldn’t prevent themselves being served up like yesterday’s roast dinner. In terms of horror, we do get the glorious scene of Ripley’s nightmare where she bursts her own lil’ Xeno in the labs at Weyland-Yutani. There was still horror bubbling under the surface, and it took up to an hour until anyone actually fired a shot, but Aliens was definitely more on the action spectrum.
Aliens may have had the odd jump scare and the superb aquatics scene with Newt, but there is no denying that Alien is one of the best horror films ever. Simply for the Kane scene alone, Alien runs away with this round.
Ripley’s rant at the computer MU-TH-UR, Ash’s berserker reveal as the company robot, and Yaphet Kotto’s wisecracking one-liners. Scott’s dialogue came second in Alien to the atmospheric build of tension. Its not a bad thing, but it just means you can’t exactly have many quotes printed on a T-shirt. However, the poignant and ambiguous ending of Weaver’s “this is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off” was one hell of a way to end the film.
Hop over to Aliens and it is one pure meme machine. Instead of being a giant cheese-fest, the script of Aliens has actually held up well after all these years. As Cameron’s little jab at the Vietnam war, it balanced stereotypes and humor with ease by just about making its characters more than just cheap puns. From Hudson’s “Game Over” speech to Apone’s “Ok, people let’s move it; assholes and elbows!” it was 137-minutes of scripted gold dust that had a lot more fun than Alien. Finally, nothing will ever beat Ripley’s exo-suit scene for pure final-girl heroism.
This one is an easy one. There are some who can still nearly quote Aliens word for word. However, the clincher is Ripley’s defiant stance against the Xenomorph, spitting venom instead of acid and screaming, “Get away from her you b*tch.”
With Scott, you felt that every shot was carefully planned. While a lot was cut from the theatrical edit – including a harrowing demise for Captain Dallas – we were still left with a film that stuck with you long after you watched it. Whether or not Scott had planned to return to the franchise with Prometheus is unknown, however, it was a master stroke to remind us of just how important Alien was. Sure, Prometheus may have had mixed reviews, but as we gallop toward the apparent horror of Covenant, Scott is still very much in charge of the world of Xenomorphs.
If Scott is seen as understated, Cameron is the cousin in the red Ferrari. He effectively took the bones of Alien and completely reinvented it with a likable cast and a pushed toward a wider demographic with action. Had he filmed just another brooding spaceship hunt, it is unlikely fans would’ve stuck with the series, so you have to applaud Cameron for breaking the Alien mold and taking it his own way. Aliens managed to stand out on its own, and just like its cavalcade of characters, stick a middle finger to those who criticize it.
It became more than just a franchise, Alien became a legacy. From the very first trailer, Scott’s vision is stamped all over it. Cameron clearly made a Cameron-esque film that is so far removed from the Alien umbrella, it was likely to have alienated some. While there is no denying that Cameron’s sequel is equally good, when you hear Alien films, you immediately think Ridley Scott.
Entering this piece, many might expect a cut-and-dry win for Aliens. Cameron’s work and every single performance makes it one of many people’s all time favorites. The hopelessness of Ripley, and then the marines, it slowly broke down the cold exteriors of the characters and gave them a heart.
What you have to remember though – Alien is a horror/sci-fi, where Aliens is a sci-fi/horror, making the two are almost different creatures. However, when you look at Alien, Aliens, and beyond, where would we be without Scott’s classic? There is a very good reason Alien was entered into the BFI and why there is so much hype surrounding Covenant. Stuck back in the confines of a tin can in space, we know exactly what is coming our way when we prepare another crew for the slaughter.
Alien is easily one of the most parodied films out there and introduced one of cinema’s greatest monsters. You have to tip your hat to Ridley Scott for that one. Aliens may kick Xenomorph butt, but Alien gave a whole generation of kids nightmares and laid those slimy eggs into the minds of horror aficionados everywhere for the past 38 years.
And the winner is….Alien!
Which is your favorite, Alien or Aliens? Sound off in the comments below!