Mothers, Daughters, and Loss: A New Way to Watch the Alien Saga

Back in 2015, it was revealed that Neill Blomkamp was working on ‘Alien 5’, a new installment in Fox’s ‘Alien’ franchise that would be a direct sequel to ‘Aliens,’ ignoring both ‘Alien 3’ and ‘Alien: Resurrection.’ As time passed, news came that both Sigourney Weaver and Michael Biehn would come back as both Ripley and Hicks, along with a now-grown up Newt and, presumably, Lance Henriksen as Bishop.

As a fan of the series, this was one of the most exciting movie news I had seen in years; the thought of seeing Ellen Ripley on the big screen again for the first time since 1997 was a dream come true, and I eagerly followed every scrap of news, every piece of concept art, and even makeup tests. My dream sequel was finally coming together!

And then the movie was canceled.

While there’s still the faintest hope that the movie could be resurrected (if James Cameron’s words are any indication), it seems that, for now, Ellen Ripley’s story still ends with her sacrifice on Fiorina 161.

But what if it doesn’t?

Back in 2011, writer Rod Hilton proposed watching the Star Wars saga (which, at the time, was still only six movies) in what he called, ‘machete order.’ While his post explains it best, the basic gist is that you watch episodes 4 and 5, then 2 and 3, and then 6, which starts with the best film, includes (two) prequels, while also preserving the twist that Darth Vader is Luke’s dad. While musing if ‘Alien 5’ will ever be made, it recently dawned on me that the Alien franchise could be viewed in a similar manner; one of the biggest draws of ‘Alien 5’ was the idea that Ellen could get a happier ending than she did in the canon timeline, but thanks to this new viewing order, which takes the stories that work and – in keeping with current Hollywood trends – pretending that the ones that don’t never happened, she does.

So, what is this new viewing experience? It has two of the films and one of the videogames, experienced in this order:

  1. Alien

  2. Alien: Isolation

  3. Aliens.

For those who don’t know, ‘Alien: Isolation’ is a 2014 video game that follows Ellen’s daughter, Amanda, as she goes in search of the Nostromo’s flight recorder to find out what happened to her mother, only to be trapped aboard a space station that’s been decimated by a single Xenomorph, turning her quest into a fight for survival. It’s a tense, frightening experience, and after playing through it over a dozen times, I’ve come to regard it as a sequel to ‘Alien,’ hence its inclusion in this list. Thus, the saga begins with the first film, continues with the video game (which can be further enhanced by reading the novelization, which adds more history to Amanda and Ellen’s history together) and ends with the second film, pretending that ‘Alien 3’ and ‘Alien: Resurrection’ never happened.

While this fan-version of the saga is shorter, and ends with Ellen still alive, there’s a more subtle change that I didn’t realize until I had gone through these three tales again one after another: The ‘Alien’ saga has been about Ellen and her adventures with phallic aliens from beyond the furthest stars, but it’s also a parable about the dangers of greed, corrupt corporations, and those corporations doing anything and everything to increase their profits, no matter the cost in human suffering. The original four film saga was about Weyland-Yutani (and the military) trying and failing to get the Alien for their own purposes, and Ellen foiling them time and time again. In this new trilogy, the story arc is about Weyland-Yutani tearing a family apart in a blind pursuit of profit, and then that family successfully denying said corporation what it so desperately wants while healing and moving on with their lives: Amanda learns what happened to her mother and gets closure, while Ellen, having lost Amanda to cancer before waking up from stasis, manages to stop Weyland-Yutani for good, and saves a little girl from having to grow up without a mother, as Amanda did.

Of course, this isn’t official in any way; it’s just one fan’s version of the Alien saga that has a more hopeful, upbeat ending that lets us imagine all the good times ahead for Ellen. If Alien 5 is never made, this is a way for fans to still have a happy ending, free to decide for themselves what happens next. In my headcanon, Ellen officially adopts Newt, marries Hicks, Bishop is repaired and becomes the family’s robot-butler, Jones continues to be a little s*** head, and they all live happily ever after! Of course, there’s still Weyland-Yutani to deal with, but they’re soon bought out by Disney. And, in my opinion, that’s a far happier ending than seeing one of sci-fi’s greatest heroes being burnt to a crisp.

Favorite Moments: A Balrog Talks

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Video

Why it’s great

One of the biggest advantages licensed video games, books, and comics have is the ability to expand upon a fictional universe, to fill in gaps, holes, or just explore unseen parts of a mythology. Sometimes, though, they can also clarify and add onto that mythology in small, but meaningful ways. With no new books in JRR. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth set to come anytime soon, video games based upon both the films and books have stepped up to allow fans of Tolkien’s universe to continue exploring Arda and uncover its secrets (though how these secrets fit into the established cannon varies considerably).

‘Middle-earth: Shadow of War’ follows Talion, a Gondorian warrior who, after becoming best buddies with a long-dead Elf king out for revenge against Sauron, becomes an half-dead zombie lich thingy after sharing his… oh, whatever. It’s an excuse to run around in Mordor and troll Sauron by killing as many of his orcs as possible. Because this particular game (and it’s predecessor, ‘Shadow of Mordor’) take a loose interpretation of Middle-earth lore (and that’s putting it lightly!), it lets the player fight a balrog. While such moments happen in other Tolkien-licensed games, what sets this encounter apart  is that, for the first time in any piece of Tolkien media – licensed or original – we hear a balrog talk.

For those who are unaware, balrogs are ancient demons who existed before the creation of the physical world in Tolkien’s mythology. But these aren’t mindless brutes: They’re intelligent spirits who joined with Melkor (Tolkien’s Satan) in an attempt to corrupt and destroy everything for the lulz (presumably). However, while they can make noises, such as roars, screams, and yells, the only intelligent speech they give is described in vague terms, such as them giving commands or mocking enemies. ‘Shadow of War’ is the first time where we actually hear one of these demons talking, and while we get subtitles, they’re not translated, leading us to wonder what on earth it’s saying, as best embodied at 8:42 in the video above:

Balrog: Onguk nakhân

Talion: What did he say?!

Celebrimbor: Does it matter?

It’s moments like these that make me appreciate how much expanded universe material can add to a franchise: Here, we get a moment that humanizes (for lack of a better word) a demonic being; in the books and movies, balrogs are incredibly dangerous demons who excell at killing things. Here, one is given a voice, showing that they’re sentient beings who can think, plan, tell knock-knock jokes (unconfirmed), and, presumably, have personalities. That allows us to see balrogs in Tolkien’s works in a new light by letting us imagine what their personalities might be like, adding more depth and layers to Tolkien’s world, as all great expanded universe material does: It doesn’t replace or supersede what’s come before, but adds to it, and makes it more enjoyable than before.

And all of this from a demonic spirit talking. Not bad!

By the way, if you’re curious as to what the balrog is actually saying, one of the game’s developers posted all of its translated speech here. If you’d like to read some debates about Balrogs and their vocal traits, click here.

Great Quotes About Writing: The Difference between Scary and Gory

There are a lot of great quotes about writing out there; these are some of the most insightful, thought-provoking, or ‘ah ha!’ ones I’ve come across.

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‘To any director given that assignment (directing a remake of ‘It’), here’s my advice: Maintain clarity about the difference between “Scary” and “Gory.” Do all you can of the former, and not too much of the latter. Keep your eye on the ball: First and foremost, It is about an evil assault on a group of kids, and how they respond to this epic crisis. Don’t get lost in special effects, gimmicks ‘n’ gore, stunts and fancy camera work — it’s always gonna be about the people, and that’s what counts.’

Tommy Lee Wallace, in a retrospective of 1990’s ‘It’, Emphasis mine.

This is a fantastic quote that summarizes what so many horror stories seem to miss: Horror is not about how much blood, guts, and gore you can cram into a story; it’s about characters dealing with forces far more powerful than they are who want to harm them or those they love, and who are nearly impossible to harm or kill, if they can even be killed at all.

Furthermore, perhaps more than any other genre, caring about people in a horror story is vital. If we don’t care about them, then they’re just cannon fodder. Visual effects will inevitably become dated in horror movies, but great characters and a great story are timeless.

A Tale of Two Abes: The Importance of Using Historical Figures In their Prime in Fiction

Pop quiz time! Read these titles of movies too awesome to actually exist:

King Arthur vs Godzilla

Napoleon Bonaparte vs A Really Big Alligator

George Washington vs Dinosaurs

Teddy Roosevelt vs Bigfoot (Oh, wait: This actually exists!)

Amelia Earhart vs Killer Crabs

Jimmy Carter vs Killer Robots from Neptune

When you read each of those sentences, how did you imagine these famous people? Probably how they’re best remembered in pop culture, such as Napoleon in his field gear and bicorn hat, Washington in his presidential outfit, and Amelia Earhart in a flight jacket.

Now, read these next two sentences:

Abraham Lincoln vs Zombies

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

When you imagined Mr. Lincoln in these movies, you probably visualized him in his 50’s while wearing his presidential outfit and famous top hat, correct? Anyone would, as these style of stories rely on using historical people when they’re at their most famous. However, trying to subvert the formula can lead to disappointment from our audiences.

If you were like me back in 2012, you probably heard of ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,’ a big screen adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel of the same name, and were very curious to see how such a silly premise would work.

If you were like me, you were probably disappointed to find that most of the movie didn’t feature Abe fighting off vampires in the White House, or on the battlefields of the Civil War for an hour and a half, but instead got an overly-serious film that followed Abe as a young adult learning his axe-chopping trade. While we do get a spectacular climax where President Lincoln does fight vampires on a train, by that point it’s too little, too late.

Disappointed at how such a silly idea turned into a big disappointment, I sought solace in The Asylum’s mockbuster, Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies.’

While the film’s storyline, effects, and acting are… not A grade material (save Bill Oberst Jr.’s performance as Mr. Lincoln), and the budget is only 1/1,000th the size of its big-screen counterpart, the one virtue that cannot be denied is that ‘Zombies’ gives the audience what we came to see: President Lincoln fighting the undead from beginning to end (save a brief prologue where little-kid Abe has to kill his undead mother).

As another example, if we were going to write a story about, say, Jesus defending Earth from invaders from Mars, audiences would expect to see Jesus in his 30’s, with his classic robe, sandals, long hair, beard, and mustache. They would want to see classic Jesus hopping into a UFO to blast off into outer space, not teenage Jesus or child Jesus.

As a final example, imagine that you’ve seen a trailer for a movie where every single US president, living or dead, teams up to save the world when Hell invades Earth, featuring a spectacular climax where Obama, Lincoln, Coolidge, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Fillmore, Nixon, and every other president shoot millions of machine gun rounds into Satan’s face. Sounds awesome, right? That’s what audiences would want to see. They wouldn’t want to see the presidents when they were kids or young adults: They would want to see them as they were in office.

The takeaway from all this? When using historical people in fiction, use them when they were at the peak of their fame and influence. Avoid following them as a child, a young adult, or any other age when they hadn’t accomplished their greatest feats (though Presidental Babies would be an… interesting way of bringing all the US’ presidents together). If you want some awesome examples of this, check out this gentleman’s Deviantart page for US presidents in action-packed, ‘What if?’ scenarios.

Favorite Moments: IT Recut as a Family Film

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Video

Why it’s great

In honor of “It: Chapter Two’ being released tomorrow, I thought I’d share one of my favorite trailer recuts, which changes the 1990 miniseries ‘IT’ into a heartwarming tale of a concerned citizen dressing up as a clown to bring hope and joy to a town on the verge of bankruptcy and failure.

There are many trailer recuts out there, but ‘IT’ remains one of my favorites for its stellar use of uplifting music, corny taglines (Do you believe in magic?), and turning one of the most memorable monsters of the early 90’s into a being who only wants to save his community and bring happiness and hope to others.

Favorite Moments: Jurassic World Battle Royale

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Video

Why it’s great

Here’s an interesting mental exercise to try when you’ve finished your next book or screenplay: If all the characters in your story were put into an enclosed area and forced to fight to the death, who would win?

That’s the premise behind this video, which features every dinosaur in the game, ‘Jurassic World Evolution’ (up to that point) released into a single, large enclosure to fight for survival, and see who would come out on top. As you might imagine, it’s… well, it gets pretty chaotic as herbivores and carnivores duke it out to see who wins the privilege of being the last one standing, to have the privilege of being lord of all they survey, to stand tall on Isla Nublar and bellow forth their call of triumph as they’re pelted with popcorn by gawking tourists for the rest of their lives.

While I’ve always found massive free-for all battles fascinating, it wasn’t until this video that I realized why: The fewer contestants there are, the higher the drama gets, and if one of your favorite characters is among the last few standing, you’ll hope against hope that they’ll survive (I was rotting for the Spinosaurus and the T-rex), even though fortunes can turn in an instant, and death is only one mistake away.

Great Quotes About Writing: The Mundane and Everyday Things

There are a lot of great quotes about writing out there; these are some of the most insightful, thought-provoking, or ‘ah ha!’ ones I’ve come across.

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‘I’ve always liked how in Star Wars, they’d just show you the mundane, everyday things peppered in with the fantastic. It just gave it a believability that most sci-fi movies never can get across.’

-Phraggle, from this picture (emphasis mine)

Before reading this quote, I mainly thought about the things in Star Wars that most fans do: The lightsabers, the battles, the wars, and the Force. But thanks to this insight, I realized that, for all the futuristic things we see in Star Wars, we also see a lot of ordinary, everyday things:

*Political struggles of a struggling democracy

*50’s style diners

*Ordinary, boring jobs (moisture farmers, bartenders, and the like)

*Recreation (podracing, Colosseum fights, holographic chess, etc.)

*Repairing old, beat-up, spacefaring technology that, contrary to most science fiction, does indeed wear down and break.

All these things, while minor, and background details for the most part, give the Star Wars universe a feel of being lived in, of existing beyond the main conflict, and that the characters who inhabit this world have the same issues we face, as well as enjoyments. When applied to other stories, whether they’re set in the reality, the future, the past, or in alternate dimensions, it lets writers create a living, breathing place that invites the audience to imagine what’s happening beyond what’s presented to us.