Alien 40th Anniversary Short Films Review
This year sees the 40th anniversary of Ridley Scott’s science-fiction/horror masterpiece Alien. To celebrate 20th Century Fox have announced several projects across multiple mediums. The main one is six short standalone films they have specially commissioned which are available to watch online for free right now.
Possible minor spoilers ahead:
Containment - 9 mins 30 secs
Synopsis - The first short sees four people stranded in a lifeboat as it jettisons from their rapidly destructing ship. One of the survivors appears to be in some sort of coma. Another crew member who worked in the ship’s laboratory seems to know more than they are letting on. When the inevitable happens are the passengers going to put their personal safety ahead of keeping a deadly organism contained?
Verdict - This first episode is very enjoyable and a good indicator of what to expect from the other shorts. A small cast placed in a claustrophobic space with an alien threat but also paranoia fuelled divisions within their own group. These are the quintessential elements of the original classic Alien movie. The characters are quickly sketched in and all fulfil the roles assigned to them from the stressed out nervy crew member to the aloof lab worker who is well aware of what has been unleashed. Like all the shorts the effects work is excellent for what most be relatively small budgets. Sets and costumes are also very accurate and inline with the Alien universe. This episode also contains a scene after the credits so make sure you check that out.
Specimen - 10 mins 17 secs
Synopsis - In a greenhouse on planet LV-492 botanist Julie goes about her business accompanied by her dog Maggie. When a new shipment of soil samples arrives a containment lockdown goes into effect. Julie is isolated and must use all her wits to survive as Maggie becomes incredibly agitated at one of the new sample containers and whatever may be inside.
Verdict - This is absolutely my favourite of the short films. Jolene Andersen, the actress who portrays Julie, is fantastic in the role of the resourceful botanist. She admirably carries the weight of the whole story and definitely channels her inner Ripley when faced with the alien horror. The stylish direction is assured and makes for a very engrossing story. Our old friend the facehugger makes an appearance here and makes for an effective and creepy menace. The effects work on the facehugger is very good and absolutely in line with its cinematic counterparts. There is a very effective twist at the end of this story which for once does not feel forced at all. The greatest compliment I can give this short film is that I would love to see it expanded and would welcome a chance to see the continuing adventures of the plucky botanist.
Night Shift - 9 mins 19 sec
Synopsis - When a colony worker discover his friend disoriented he suggests they go for one last drink. Stopping off at a supply depot things quickly deteriorate as his condition worsens. Something is moving inside him and it’s up to a young colonist to take matters into her own hands if she hopes to see another dawn.
Verdict - For me this is definitely the weakest of the films. The characters are barely defined and motivations are only vaguely sketched in. After watching the other episodes where you can see how much has been crammed into a short running time this part feels very lacking. Essentially two workers enter a small shed where one suddenly convulses and a chestburster erupts. The other then fires indiscriminately managing to compete miss the target but accidentally shooting an innocent bystander in the neck. Outside we can hear that all hell has broken loose. And fade to black. The female colony worker is the highlight of the piece but unfortunately doesn’t really get a lot to work with. On a side note the gun that is used appears to be the same model Deckard uses in Blade Runner. That was about the most interesting part.
Ore - 10 mins 39 secs
Synopsis - Set on the commercial mining colony of Bowen’s Landing, grandmother Lorraine is trying to provide for her daughter and grandchildren. Seeking for one last deposit to turn the fortunes of the mine around Lorraine and her team end up searching for a missing miner and find much more than they bargained for. Torn between fleeing or protecting their loved ones the miners soon realise the company android may not entirely be acting in their best interests.
Verdict - Ore is another solid episode featuring the largest cast of these shorts. With the short running time obviously we don’t get to know the miners all that well but as an ensemble they are very effective. The main character Lorraine is excellent as a frightened but determined grandmother and grizzled mining veteran who is brave enough to make the hard decisions to save her family. This is actually the first short in which we see a full grown alien in all its glory and although only glimpsed fleetingly it is very well executed. H. R. Giger’s design has lost none of its ability to cause genuine feelings of dread. This film also brings back the idea that androids are most certainly not to be trusted and will nearly always be working under covert company orders.
Harvest - 9 mins 17 secs
Synopsis - The plasma harvesting ship “November” is damaged and heading for destruction. Only minutes remain before it impacts the comet it’s been trailing. What’s left of its crew battle to reach the evacuation pods. An unreliable motion tracker is all they have to help them avoid the creature lurking in the shadows. With time running out and desperation setting in it seems not everyone is working to the same agenda.
Verdict - Harvest is probably the nastiest of the shorts and more in keeping with the horror aspects of the original movie. Quick cuts and jarring sound effects create a more visceral effect. The use of the motion tracker is effective in creating suspense much like it was in the original movie. Once again we are taught you really should not trust androids in the Alien universe. The ending of this short is a downer very much in keeping with the feel of the whole thing. Considering one of the crew members is pregnant it’s particularly unnerving. This short also contains some of the best visual effects with its depiction of the deep space harvester trailing the comet.
Alone - 12 mins 17 secs
Synopsis - The deep space hauler “Otranto” has been drifting aimlessly for over a year. Abandoned by all but one of its crew. Hope is the sole passenger, bored and resorting to counting the rivets as she walks the corridors alone. One day a fire aboard the slowly malfunctioning ship gives her access to a previously restricted lab where she revives a specimen from hibernation. Now with her new friend Hope has something to live for and decides to take the ailing ship back to civilisation regardless of the outcome.
Verdict - Very similar to Specimen in that we have mostly one character to carry the story Alone is also one of the best entries in this series. It’s quite remarkable that in a very short running length we get the definite feeling that Hope has been on her own for some considerable time. This isolation has not been good on Hope, and Taylor Lyons the actress portraying her, does a very good job of conveying a growing sense of madness and desperation. The idea of a lone space traveller and their “pet” facehugger who provide long needed company for one another is a quirky idea and very refreshing. Again, like Specimen, I would be very happy to see the continuing misadventures of Hope and her unlikely companion.
The filmmakers were obviously given a brief to stay true to the themes of Alien and all six shorts capture the tone and spirit very well. It could be argued that this leads to a lot of ideas being copied wholesale. There are a lot of renegade androids following shadowy company orders. People are generally fleeing destructing ships and looking for escape pods whilst being pursued by creatures. Yes this is all very familiar but I’m going to be charitable and call them homages. With only a short time to establish plot and characters we can forgive the filmmakers for using shortcuts and giving us familiar elements. All the shorts do an excellent job of conveying the atmosphere and universe we’ve come to know and love. Ripley is one of the all time great film heroines and strong female characters are abundant in these anniversary films. Interestingly the two best shorts are the ones that are slightly different and feature solo characters interacting with the alien in new and exciting ways. If the long rumoured Alien television show ever comes to fruition they could do worse than to follow this example.