As hard to fathom as it is, this year marks the 40th anniversary of the Ridley Scott masterpiece Alien. A truly revolutionary picture, both in terms of horror and science fiction, Alien was groundbreaking in so many ways that it has spawned multiple sequels, merchandising, games, and has generally influenced pop culture in all facets since the late ’70s that truly cannot be measured to this day. While the last film entry in the franchise, 2017’s Alien: Covenant, was a pretty good movie there has been little movement on the sequel front since due to licensing and script delays. But 20th Century Fox knew that they had to capitalize on this important moment as best they could, and keep the hardcore fans satiated.
A series of ideas were thrown around for a short-film contest, with up to 550 pitches being under consideration at one point. There were six that stood out, and would become a reality incorporating quick but effective story-lines from some of today’s rising writers and directors. Each had a task to bring the characters and ideas originally created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shurett back to life and continue the eternal struggle of man versus Xenomorph. As a whole, these short films are a success. Each has a big-budget feel and production value, though dealing with limited characters and scenery (most importantly.)
There is pervasive theme of despair and a sense of being trapped throughout the entries. It is obvious we are no match for the Xenomorphs and their unfortunately-unique reproductive cycle; these films let us know this fact like a punch to the head. All but one (Specimen) even presents a dark and ominous atmosphere throughout its entirety with no breakthrough for either light or levity. But in the end all of the lessons taught have been ongoing for the last 40 years, with no sign of reversing course.
Here is a brief synopsis of each of the six short films:
Alone: A woman has been left by herself on a ship, waiting for help to arrive that was promised months ago. An encounter with a Xenomorph creates a dangerous alliance, one that threatens the rescue effort. Noah Miller wrote and directed this one.
Containment: A ship in space, about 18 months from their last dock on Earth, takes in the survivors of an unknown attack. The deadly results lead to their quarantine as finger-pointing threatens their safe return, and endangers the lives of many thousands aboard the ship. This was written and directed by Chris Reading (2016’s Somnus), and contains both a Walking Dead-type ending and even a bonus scene!
Harvest: A ship on a collision course with a comet sees its final 4 crew members search frantically for an escape pod. It’s a race against both time and a deadly creature, as a Xenomorph doesn’t want to make their safe exit easy. This film also sees a bit of humans fighting each other as well. Harvest was written by Craig Dewey, and directed by Benjamin Howdeshell.
Nightshift: A crew has the mundane task of inventorying items down in the bowels of a ship, but of course the mundane quickly shifts to the terrifying in the Alien universe. An unknown (and unsuspected) guest begins wreaking havoc at the facility, and leaves one woman to fearlessly battle the creature under cover of night. The repercussions of their battle, however, are far greater than she knows. Aidan Michael Brezonick is the writer/director.
Ore: We have our first entry that does not take place on a ship, as Ore takes us to a distant mining planet where platinum ore is being harvested by conglomerates on Earth. Evidence of a bloody attack down in the mines leaves the workers attempting to decipher what’s going on while also fighting for their existence. A bit reminiscent of Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars, Ore packs just as much of a punch in a lot less screen time. This film also humanizes the characters to a greater degree than the other shorts, providing backstories and family details to make us invest in their survival that much more. The Spear Sisters (Kailey and Sam) co-wrote and co-directed this one.
Specimen: As mentioned, this short isn’t quite as dark as the other six. However, the presence (and lack) of light is a prevalent character here and does provide some cool moments. On a greenhouse located on a planet other than Earth, a botanist named Julie makes a discovery that pits her against one of these deadly aliens looking to reproduce. We all know how that story normally ends, but this time where humans fail man’s best friend can pick up the slack. Specimen was written by Federico Fracchia and directed by Kelsey Taylor.
Overall, these six short films are worthy entries into the Alien timeline and mythos. Seek them out if you can. With no cinematic sequel on the horizon, these appear to be the best way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of such an iconic horror/sci-fi franchise.