I’m sure everyone agrees that Alien3 and Alien: Resurrection are not the best films of David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, respectively. But there are probably plenty of people who would argue that Alien and Aliens are the best films of Ridley Scott and James Cameron, respectively. I mean no disrespect to any of these filmmakers, but in truth the Alien films were all just a test of their fledgling directorial abilities, not their magnum opus. I better have a good explanation to back that up, and I do. So let’s find out why for every director in the Alien series, their best work was yet to come.
The original Alien was intended to be the best B-movie ever made, and it certainly made good on that promise. In fact, it was so good that it rose above its pulpy roots to actually become an instant classic. But watching it today, I can notice a repetitive formula to the film as it goes along: someone goes into a scary place all alone and gets attacked or killed. This happens all through the film until the very end when Parker and Lambert get killed instead of Ripley. I’m not complaining; I just find myself noticing the film’s seams more and more the older I get. It’s packed with great scenes and memorable performances, but Scott’s later films proved to be even greater.
Blade Runner and Black Hawk Down are superior to Alien in many ways, and we can’t forget his best film: Gladiator. Alien is a small movie hinting at a much bigger story. It was never really necessary for Scott to return to the Alien series because he had already proved that he could tell a truly epic story with Gladiator. And, in my opinion, it would have been better to preserve the mystery of the Space Jockey and the Alien’s origin.
I said earlier that Alien was meant to be the best B-movie ever made. Well, The Terminator deserves that honor more than Alien. The Terminator was James Cameron’s first true test as a director, and he made one of the leanest, most efficient films possible on a razor-thin budget of $6.4 million. It’s quite a wonder to behold. While some would say that it transcended its genre, I don’t think it quite rises above being exactly what it is: a solid ‘80s action flick with several touches of brilliance. Cameron was handicapped by a low budget, so when he finally got to work with a decent amount of money on Aliens (three times the budget of The Terminator), he made every dollar count. The film looks like it cost much more to make than it actually did. It offers an exceptional buildup that leads to a thrilling second half that rarely lets up. It proved that Cameron was capable of doing so much more if given half the chance. And he really showed his limitless talent with his next film.
As I have noted previously, The Abyss is Cameron’s best film. It has grand ambitions that it realizes in epic fashion. Special effects took a giant leap forward with the water-tentacle scene, and he also managed to tell a more emotionally compelling love story than he has managed to do before or since. Cameron would go on to astonishing success with his next four films, culminating in two of the highest grossing films of all time. Aliens hinted at amazing things to come from its talented young director.
David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet
I don’t have as much to say about these two directors because it’s obvious that their best work lay ahead of them. Alien3 was not a fair test. Any director would have struggled with it. David Fincher famously fought to get his film made in spite of studio interference. That he persevered and went on to become a renowned filmmaker is a testament to his talent. Every one of his later movies is better than his first. Fight Club is arguably his best, but Seven, The Game, and his more recent movies are also excellent. He hasn’t had a single misstep since he stumbled out of the gate.
Alien: Resurrection is a messy film that offers a few new interesting ideas, but it’s ultimately an unsatisfying end to the overarching story, even if the Alien series lives on today in spinoffs and prequels. Just four years after releasing Alien: Resurrection, Jean-Pierre Jeunet made the film he is most famous for: Amelie. I haven’t heard much from him since then, but I’m sure he’s still working and just as creative as ever.
Saving the Best for Last
I’m glad that each of these filmmakers got to put their own unique spin on the tale of Ellen Ripley. It’s fun to see how many unique ways the same basic story can be told. But I think it’s safe to say that each of these filmmakers had much more potential than they were able to show off in these early films. The Alien series should be revered as the proving ground for future greatness, not necessarily as perfection in and of itself.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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