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Alien 40th Anniversary Shorts Review

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Written by Decs (Daniel Castillo S.)14,962 Reads2 Comments2019-06-13 21:13:35

The Alien’s 40th Anniversary was celebrated last april and to commemorate the occasion Twentieth Century Fox and Tongal released a slew of shorts to the public as a gift to the fans of the franchise, starting on March 29th all through “Alien Day” on April 26th.

Ever since I heard the news I thought it was an incredibly exciting announcement, although I tried to keep my expectations in check given that it was stated that the shorts were made as part of a fan contest where people could submit their stories ideas for an “Alien” related short and then Fox would choose six to produce, which means the shorts were made by fans and emerging filmmakers, not by professional or renowned directors. Even then I thought it was really a cool concept, I mean most famous directors began their careers doing small short films, commercials or music videos, so who knows if out of these shorts the next Ridley Scott or James Cameron could come out?

The shorts were released every Friday on IGN´s YouTube channel, culminating with the last two shorts on Alien Day, Friday 26th. So, I’m here to give my review as a longtime fan of the franchise (and as a passionate movie buff) of the six short films, in the order they were released. I will try to not spoil all the surprises within the shorts but still, if you haven’t seen them and want to experience them going in absolutely blank , I would recommend to skip reading these reviews until after you have seen them (even so I will put spoiler warnings, just in case). So, without further ado, let’s get started:

 

Alien: Containment

Official synopsis: "Four survivors find themselves stranded aboard a small escape pod in deep space. Trying to piece together the details around the outbreak that led to their ship's destruction, they find themselves unsure to trust whether or not one of them might be infected."

The first entry fell more or less where I thought the shorts were going to be in terms of general quality, meaning that I assumed the shorts were not going to be super high budget with incredible production values and impeccable acting and cinematography, but they were also not going to look like amateur film school projects.

The overall setting of this one is fairly simple, it revolves around a small group of people in an enclosed space and it doesn’t feature a lot of action or elaborated sequences. The short does a good job at setting a feeling of paranoia and danger, even if some of what transpires is fairly predictable. I liked some small details like the windows of the ship shaped in the form of the Weyland-Yutani logo.

I enjoyed the short, even though I noticed some problems, for example some weird blocking of the characters in some shots. For those who don’t know, blocking is the way the characters move in relation to the camera on a specific scene, in other words, what exactly do they do as they recite their lines… Do they move, do they sit, do they stand still? In professionally made projects blocking should be invisible, just like acting, editing and lighting should generally be, but in amateur projects there are often problems in that regard, with characters moving in unnatural and weird ways as they say their lines and interact with each other. There were a couple of instances of that in this short, for example when a character exits the room and lock the other two characters behind, the female protagonist shouts desperately “You f&$%cking bitch!”, but I found it really weird that she said that while standing still without even attempting to get to the door. It’s kind of a nitpicky criticism but it was noticeable for me.

All in all though I thought it was a cool entry and a nice way to start the stream of shorts, cause it’s a competent effort but it also doesn’t set the expectations way too high for the next ones.

6 out of 10.

 

Alien: Specimen

Official synopsis: "It's the night shift in a colony greenhouse, and Julie, a botanist, does her best to contain suspicious soil samples that have triggered her sensitive lab dog. Despite her best efforts the lab unexpectedly goes into full shutdown and she is trapped inside. Little does she know, an alien specimen has escaped the mysterious cargo, and a game of cat and mouse ensues as the creature searches for a host."

Well, this one really blew me away. I thought almost everything about this short was really superb, the acting, the lighting, the cinematography, the production design and the visual effects, really top quality stuff. From all of the shorts this was the one that felt the most professional and well made for me.

I really REALLY loved the protagonist, played by Jolene Anderson, I thought she carried herself incredibly well; for me she gave by far the best performance out of everyone from all of the shorts. I really appreciate that she looked like a normal woman, not a super model. In general I liked Noomi Rapace´s and Katherine Waterstone´s turns in “Prometheus” and “Alien: Covenant” respectively, they both had some cool moments, but looking back their characters feel a little bit… bland I guess, they weren´t all that memorable. If this short was to be turned into a full length feature I think this character could be way more badass and memorable than those two.

The suspense in the short was done really really well. There were some very memorable moments, such as the scene where she´s working while listening to loud music, and she suddenly sees something wrong and takes out her headphones and realize that all of the alarms were ringing, or the final scene with the twist ending. The special effects of the creature I thought were done rather well.

I noticed some small continuity errors though (and I’m really not one of those people who are constantly looking for mistakes like that while watching movies or shorts). For example there was a scene where she falls to the ground and we can see both of her arms get really dirty, but when she stood up only her hands were, and then a couple of shots later her arms were completely clean again. These kinds of mistakes are not at all uncommon, even in big budget Hollywood movies or TV series, so to me this didn’t do much harm to the short.

I thought this was exactly what a great short film based on the “Alien” universe should be. Huge props to the team behind this film.

9 out of 10.

 

Alien: Night Shift

Official synopsis: "When a missing space trucker is discovered hungover and disoriented, his co-worker suggests a nightcap as a remedy. Near closing time, they are reluctantly allowed inside the colony supply depot where the trucker's condition worsens, leaving a young supply worker alone to take matters into her own hands."

 

Well, this one just didn´t do it for me, at all. It really feels kind of icky to criticize a project of this nature, in part because as stated before, it wasn’t done by professional filmmakers, and in part because it’s obvious that this short, just like the others, were made by people incredibly in love with the “Alien” franchise, but despite that, I got to say I found this effort really uninspired. There just wasn’t anything really memorable about it; the interaction between the characters felt kind of wooden and unnatural, the sets and production values felt much more low budget than most of the other shorts, the acting wasn’t anything to write home about, and the general premise just didn’t felt interesting or original enough to me.

From the very first scene there was something I thought it was really unnecessary and inelegant in its execution… So you have this static shot where you can see the silhouette of two characters talking, and almost right at the center of the screen you can clearly see a dead facehugger… In that moment I thought that it would have been cool if the filmmakers hadn’t made it SO obvious, if it was way more hidden, for example, if you could just see it for a second when the ship hovers above the characters and illuminates the whole trench. Now, to make matters worse, at the end of that sequence, as if the filmmakers weren’t sure if the audience already noticed the thing, they actually sort of zoom in on the creature… Talking about subtlety.

Just like I said about “Contaiment”, here too I saw some weird blocking and moments where the characters moved in weird ways. SPOILERS AHEAD. In one scene, after the creature breaks free and some really farfetched and illogical stuff happens, the protagonist yells “"All right you little bastard!”, which I found really weird and unwarranted given that she hadn’t even properly seen the thing, the Xeno hadn’t actually tried to attack her up to that point, and that it wasn´t even responsible for the death of her friend, the guy with the storm trooper aim was. END OF SPOILERS

The acting from the female protagonist was fine I guess, but I wasn’t very convinced by the guys

There´s also something really weird going on with the sound design; for example during the scene when SPOILERS she was crushing the creature, the sound was totally off, it seemed like she was hitting the floor, not a flesh and blood organism. END OF SPOILERS

The ending was fine I guess, but nothing too memorable.

4 out of 10.

 

Alien: Ore

Official synopsis: "As a hard-working miner of a planet mining colony, Lorraine longs to make a better life for her daughter and grandchildren. When her shift uncovers the death of a fellow miner under mysterious circumstances, Lorraine is forced to choose between escape or defying management orders and facing her fears to fight for the safety of her family."

 

This one was my second favorite after “Specimen”. In this entry, the suspense is really well handled, the interaction between the characters felt genuine and natural for the most part, and the creature was really menacing and ominous. I really liked the aspect of the characters who rebel against their superiors in an effort to prevent their loved ones from getting killed by the Xeno, it felt really heroic in the way a lot of characters in the original “Alien” and especially in “Aliens” were.

There were just a couple of moments where I thought the acting was a little wonky, as when the protagonist repeatedly makes exaggeratedly panicked expressions while running from the creature (although you could argue, with some reason, that anyone would react exaggeratedly panicked in front of a Xenomorph), and also the reactions of the Weyland-Yutani manager as she was seeing the video feed of what was happening to the workers; I thought she could have been a little bit more subtle and nuanced in that scene. But all in all it was a really solid effort, and I really liked how badass and cool the ending felt. The little glimpses of the creature looked really cool and menacing. Top notch work.

8 out of 10.

 

Alien: Alone

Official synopsis: "Hope, an abandoned crew member aboard the derelict chemical hauler Otranto, has spent a year trying to keep her ship and herself alive as both slowly fall apart. After discovering hidden cargo, she risks it all to power up the broken ship in search of human life."

Well, this was a weird one. I give credit to the team who make this one for trying something really different, risky, original and interesting, but sadly for me, it didn’t quite work in the end. The principal flaw of this short for me is simple: a complete lack of tension. All of the other shorts tried to create a sense of dread and suspense, which was probably the main ingredient of the original classic, but this one doesn’t have any of that, instead we just follow a character having a very weird relationship with one of the titular creatures of the franchise. Again, its novel stuff, but it didn’t do it for me.

I also found the overbearing musical score to be quite distracting and even cheesy at times, and the editing in some scenes was really weird and annoying for me. The acting was so-so in my opinion. The protagonist went for a sort of cold distant approach to her character, which sort of makes sense given her revealed nature, but it all just felt kind of… well, acted. In the end a lot of weird and illogical stuff happens (for example –SPOILER ALERT- why would a huge space ship send just one guy to inspect the little freighter they just recovered, and then never check up on him again? –END OF SPOILERS-). The whole short had a pretentious air to it I wasn't fond of, but assume others might get a kick out of it.

5 out of 10.

 

Alien: Harvest

Official synopsis: "The surviving crew of a damaged deep-space harvester have minutes to reach the emergency evacuation shuttle. A motion sensor is their only navigation tool leading them to safety while a creature in the shadows terrorizes the crew. However, the greatest threat might have been hiding in plain sight all along."

This is probably the one that has the highest production values of the bunch. The setting and plot is really straightforward “Alien” stuff, nothing too original, but the execution is good enough to maintain the interest; I really liked the set design and the lighting, the way the shadows and streaks of light bounced and traveled across the spaces and corridors of the ship.

I found some weird unbalances though regarding the general production values and special effects of the short, as in some shots looked really great (the beginning with the ship heading towards the comet and the Xenomorph) but others looked kind of fake and low budget for me (for example -SPOILER ALERT - the guy's burnt face and the facehugger at the end – END OF SPOILERS-).

The twist in the end is very similar to the twist ending of another one of the shorts, but I guess it works here too. All in all a solid effort.

7 out of 10.

So, those were my views on the 40th Anniversary “Alien” shorts. I thought they were really cool and it was a great way to give the fans something to enjoy and hold on to until a new project comes alone. Sadly it might take a while, because as was reported in this article Disney officially unveiled their upcoming movie release schedule for their recently acquired Fox film assets and there wasn’t any “Alien” projects on display all through 2027. However, Disney did confirm that they were committed to making more “Alien” movies at their CinemaCon panel this year. I hope that, if indeed there aren´t any movies planned for the next few years, that at least Disney do more stuff like this which I think it would be a cool way to keep fans engaged until a new feature length project comes alone.

On that note, for some reason I kept thinking it would be incredibly cool to have another initiative like this one but with animated “Alien” related shorts instead of live action, something along the lines of “Love, Death & Robots”… Would anyone would be interested in a “Xenos, Death & Robots” animated shorts compilation? I know I would, although given the incredibly high production cost of animation I see it somewhat unlikely that anything like that would actually happen.

So, what was your favorite short of the bunch? Leave your thoughts and comments below!

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2 Comments

dk

MemberTrilobiteJul-02-2019 12:25 AM

I enjoyed all the shorts although the varied in quality- but that is OK considering time and budget. I enjoyed all of them combined more than Covenant or Prometheus tbh. The shorts reminded me of what the Alien franchise originally was about- Sci Fi Horror- stuff that was suspenseful or could really scare with different twists. I can agree on much of what you wrote but I would rate the episodes higher. The characters in all episodes alone were way better than the last two Scott movies. The franchise needs to get back to basics like these episodes demonstrated.

dk

MemberTrilobiteJul-02-2019 12:27 AM

I enjoyed all the shorts although they varied in quality- but that is OK considering time and budget. I enjoyed all of them combined more than Covenant or Prometheus tbh. The shorts reminded me of what the Alien franchise originally was about- Sci Fi Horror- stuff that was suspenseful or could really scare with different twists. I can agree on much of what you wrote but I would rate the episodes higher. The characters in all episodes alone were way better than the last two Scott movies. The franchise needs to get back to basics like these episodes demonstrated.

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