After watching Life – a new movie about an alien wrecking havoc aboard the International Space Station – I sensed so many nods to the original Alien that it inspired me to watch the original Alien in its entirety for the first time in I don’t remember how many years. (And I bought my Alien Blu-ray out of a $5.99 chain store discount bin. Physical media is now inexpensive.) And there are a lot of similar beats. But, to be completely fair, if a movie is made about an aggressive alien people killing people one by one on a spaceship, it’s going to be compared to Alien. There’s just no way around that.
If you haven’t seen the original Alien lately, it’s worth your valuable time to refresh your memory – if, for nothing else, to just get all the subsequent Alien properties out of your head. Not to say they are all bad, but they are certainly complicated. The original Alien is so simple it’s genius. There’s barely any exposition. All we need to know is that there’s an alien on the spaceship and he’s mean. Everything that matters is, for the most part, contained right there on the Nostromo.
It was only later that the whole mythos about Weyland Industries became a central plot point, which was the driving force behind Prometheus. What started as such a simple premise is, today, a complicated universe. I guess that’s normal. It’s what seems to happen to anything that becomes a franchise. And that’s not even mentioning the times that the Alien crossed over into another intellectual property and fought the Predator. (This makes me wonder what other life forms that the Alien fought during its journeys. I wonder if he ever fought Watto? If he did, I’d probably watch that movie.)
But the original Alien is such a condensed world and it’s about as perfect as a movie like that can be done, so I suspect a lot of filmmakers have been a bit tepid when it comes to the whole “a mean alien is loose on a spaceship” genre. Who wants the comparisons?
Having said all that, I actually enjoyed Life. (Well, at least as much as I allow myself to enjoy horror movies. It’s so scary I had to turn my face away from the screen a few times. Full disclosure: I scare easily.) Directed by Daniel Espinosa (who directed the underrated Safe House), Life at least captures the spirit of Alien. Not Alien The Franchise, but the spirit of the 1979 movie called Alien: It’s small in scope, it doesn’t have a lot of exposition, and the alien kills a crew member from the inside out.
The alien in question this time is named Calvin. Calvin – who is given his or her name from a young girl back on Earth who won a naming contest – starts as a single cell organism that was discovered by a probe that had been on Mars. The probe docks with the International Space Station and the crew on board are charged with studying Calvin.