Exploring the Alien franchise and its return to the formula derived from the iconic 1958 classic: IT! The Terror From Beyond Space…
When legendary director Ridley Scott unleashed the terrifying chronicle of Alien upon the world, little did he know he was creating a sandbox of opportunity for some of the finest Hollywood directors to play in. His terrifying space adventure preyed upon our deepest darkest fears and ushered in a reign of terror that has propagated several sequels, some of which found themselves regarded as some of the finest films ever created. The formula for Scott’s movie relied upon a dark and isolated space vessel that had inadvertently acquired an unknown alien life form that once released, began to stalk and murder the entire crew. The movie made its star, Sigourney Weaver, a household name and served as the perfect platform to launch the iconic Xenomorph creature into a revered cult status amongst the fans.
Many directors have tampered with the formula with varying degrees of success, with James Cameron being the most notable visionary to break the mould and bring us the finest entry into the franchise to date with his direct sequel…Aliens. Since that time, several follow-ups have been commissioned by 20th Century Fox but none have been able to replicate the mastery of the Cameron and Scott. A crossover with the Predator franchise propagated a reasonable financial return, but with the release of each sequel, the message began to dilute and the fans voted with their feet prompting Fox to call upon Scott to return to the franchise he had created and solidified its foundations once again.
However, as incredible as the original Alien was, and still is, many fans are unaware that the film is in fact, a soft reboot of a 1958 black and white classic that terrified a generation and inspired the franchise we know and love. The story involves Earth’s second manned mission to Mars to discover the fate of its predecessor. The valiant crew find a sole survivor of that doomed mission and bring him aboard. The survivor, the expedition’s former commander, claims that his crew were killed by a hostile alien life form. No one believes him until the creature, now a stowaway and hiding in the bowels of the titanic vessel begin to hunt the rescue ship’s crew as they return to the safety of Earth.
IT! The Terror From Beyond Space
The film’s premise was the direct inspiration for screenwriter Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay for Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien and lifted a great many of the plot points we regard as exclusive to the franchise. The iconic monster, hiding in the depths of the spacecraft and stalking the crew from the shadows being the most obvious, but even the monster’s demise is a direct replication of the original’s brilliance. Utilizing the vessels air ducts and maintenance hatches, (a trait the Alien Xenomorph is renowned for) the creature from IT! drags its victim inside and discards them once it has extracted the oxygen from their bodies. Instead of using a human host to propagate their brethren, the creature from the 1958 masterpiece stalks the crew and uses the rich oxygen, hidden within their blood cells to compensate for the thinner atmosphere aboard ship. Instead of having acid for blood like the Xenomorph, the creature employs an incredible exoskeleton evolved to be capable of withstanding almost every weapon conceived by mankind.
Upon the time of its release, IT! The Terror from Beyond Space was regarded as a standard “programmer” of the era. Despite its B film platform, the film received better than expected reviews and received special recognition for the creature and its horrifying nature, a trait Ridley Scott was desperate to replicate some twenty years later. In truth, almost every part of the original Alien is borrowed from previous science fiction movies, all re-tuned to bring us a movie that is renowned for launching the sci-fi horror genre. Planet of the Vampires (1965) contains a scene in which the heroes discover a giant alien skeleton; a sequence that is replicated by the Nostromo crew’s discovery of the “Space Jockey” in the derelict spacecraft. The 1953 short story “Junkyard” by Clifford D. Simak used the concept of an asteroid being home to a chamber full of eggs. This idea was also replicated as the template for the compartment below the Space Jockey’s pilot seat housing the Queen Xenomorph’s horde of Face-Hugger gestating eggs.
These incredible sequences, once under the creative brilliance of Ridley Scott were expertly re-tuned to create his masterpiece, a masterpiece that set-in motion the wheels of iconic imagery that served to spark the imaginations of millions of fans around the world. His successful return to the franchise in 2012 spawned Prometheus, an origin story set amidst the backstory of the Alien mythology focussing upon the creative nonconformity of the Space Jockey’s, a humanoid master race responsible for spawning mankind. Prolonged experimentation had propagated all human life on earth, but that paled in comparison to the monstrosity they were harbouring within the bowels of their ecology…the first concept of the Xenomorph. Without a recognised governing body to regulate their genetic manipulations, the consequences finally caught up with them and in the aftermath of a confrontation with the starship Prometheus, the first alien life was brought into existence.
Fast forward to today and we await the arrival of the final chapter in the prequel story which is yet to go into production following the lukewarm reception to the most recent entry, Alien Covenant. Once again directed by Ridley Scott, Alien: Covenant explored the misfortune of the starship Covenant. Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, the crew of the colony ship Covenant, which includes Walter, an android similar to David who was the sole survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition, find what they believe to be an uncharted paradise. It quickly revealed itself to be a dangerous world inhabited by the original David and a plethora of monstrous creatures that begin to hunt them.
For his part, Michael Fassbender performs his role with unswerving ability and leads the cast with his usual brilliance, but that cannot hide the fact that Alien: Covenant swiftly established itself as a story detailing David’s quest to create the perfect organism, with the conception of the classic and adored Xenomorph being a fortuitous by-product. As a result, Covenant is an Alien film in the loosest sense of the term and has oversimplified the origins of the Alien species to the point where the mysticism crumbles away with disheartening results. The mystery of the Alien franchise has been the bedrock of its mythology for almost forty years, but it has been irreparably eroded by the revelations of Covenant which results in the film being somewhat of a disappointment. For years, the fans have dreamt of a fantastical lineage for the Xenomorph species and now, when all is said and done, it all boils down to them being a side-effect to the breakthrough of human creation.
Whether you enjoyed Alien: Covenant or not, the future seems uncertain for the Alien franchise. Covenant marked a return to the origins reproduced so fantastically from IT! The Terror From Beyond Space and it pitted the crew of a doomed expedition against the most fearsome creature Hollywood has ever known. However, with the movies subpar performance at the worldwide box office all plans for the another Alien movie either with or without Ridley Scott at the helm are facing an uncertain future.
But when the opening logos appear on the next incarnation of the Alien franchise think back to the “REAL” origin story that spawned the franchise we all adore. The legacy of IT! The Terror From Beyond Space transcends cinematic history in a way never thought possible and when the suspense of the next Alien movie takes hold and the Xenomorph begins its hunt, it will all be thanks to the best film many of us have either never seen or even knew existed. Hunt down your copy of IT! The Terror From Beyond Space and immerse yourself in the true brilliance that started the ball rolling for cinematic giants Ridley Scott and James Cameron to build upon.
My preferences will always lean towards James Cameron’s stunning sequel. Complete with colonial marines like Hicks, Vasquez and Hudson, the Queen Alien, James Horner’s sublime score and a genius behind the camera, it is a true Hollywood masterpiece, but every now and then I yearn for the originator and my IT! The Terror From Beyond Space Blu-Ray is never too far away.
I urge you to watch it for yourself. After all, the journey to LV-426 is a long and arduous one…one that started way back in 1958.
Until then, remember…in space, nobody can hear you scream!
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