Devised as a unique and creative way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking sci-fi horror film, Twentieth Century Fox Film partnered with global creative community Tongal to offer the most hardcore fans an opportunity to develop and produce six entirely original short films set in the Alien universe. From over 550 pitches, six individual stories were chosen and, according to Fox, the filmmakers (Noah Miller, Chris Reading, Benjamin Howdeshell, Aidan Breznick, Kailey and Sam Spear, and Kelsey Taylor) were given “unprecedented access to the franchise, including storytelling elements, creatures, and characters to bring a new, terrifying experience to life for audiences.”
Fanbase Press was lucky enough to be invited to the Twentieth Century Fox Studio Lot for an advance screening of all six Alien shorts followed by an IGN panel discussion with the filmmakers behind these new contributions to the franchises’ mythos. While even the casual Alien fan will definitely want to check out these binge-worthy mini-movies themselves upon release, below are some initial reactions to these Alien 40th Anniversary Shorts, followed by a short, spoiler-free synopsis of each film in order to whet your appetite.
Watching all six Alien shorts back to back in a darkened theater is the cinematic equivalent of tearing through an anthology series focused on Swiss artist H.R. Giger’s frightening creations and the universe they inhabit. While the films range in regards to quality of script, acting, and scares, seeing them in a legitimate theater is, undeniably, quite the thrill. There’s some disappointment that most won’t share this experience, given that they’ll first view these films on their computer or mobile device. Overall, the strength of these stories being seen on the big screen most likely speaks to the quality of the filmmakers chosen for this experiment in giving talented and creative fans the reigns of such a powerful and popular property. This was further highlighted in the Q&A session with the filmmakers, when they explained that the studio was very trusting in regards to their creative processes, essentially just approving scripts and storyboards, and then waiting to see what each team would deliver in their first cut. While both Fox and the Alien franchise are in a unique place given the recent merger, one wonders if our social media and crowdfunding-stuffed world has greased the wheels for this kind of fan/franchise team up going forward. Audiences and fans continue to desire more and more interaction with the franchises and brands they love (Heck, in a few months, we’ll literally be able step inside the Star Wars universe courtesy of Disney theme parks.), so perhaps these shorts represent just the tip of a yet-to-be-revealed iceberg.
One thing that was absolutely clear from the screening was how the shorts directed by women ("Alien: Ore" and "Alien: Specimen") noticeably stood out from the pack. Both shorts smartly focused on quickly connecting us with grounded, relatable characters, made great use of the “Cassette Futurism” aesthetic Scott established in Alien and show us people and places that we have yet to see in the franchise. Both shorts are “must sees” for any passionate Alien fan and make it undeniably apparent that it’s long past due that we hear a female filmmaker’s voice in the franchise. Six feature films have been released in the series over the last four decades, all directed by men, all featuring a lead female protagonist, but we have yet to cross this barrier. This is, in no way, an excuse to set unnecessarily high standards or an assertion that a women leading the next Alien film will automatically become some sort of savior for the series or the conflicted fandom, but the Spear Sisters ("Alien: Ore") and Kelsey Taylor ("Alien: Specimen") are clear examples that passionate and talented female filmmakers are eager, ready, and waiting to be given the opportunity to help lead the Alien mythos through the next 40 years in fresh and exciting ways.
While, clearly, "Ore" and "Specimen" were the highlight of the evening, each of the Alien 40th Anniversary Shorts was a chance to step back into the universe that fans seem to never get enough of. While, admittedly, many of the shorts struggle with the obvious budgetary constraints and limitations faced by most low-budget shoots, the final products were quite impressive for this type of venture. That's not to say that these shorts or their narratives seamlessly fit into the Alien universe that fans know and love. Many do succumb to the pitfalls of being too derivative (Although, a special shout out goes to "Alien: Alone" and its creator Noah Miller for his originality. You'll never look at a facehugger the same again.), and a critical eye will clearly be able to tell the difference between the production levels of the shorts versus the feature films. Still, every now and then, one of these shorts will surprise with a certain shot, concept, or reveal that will send viewers' imaginations racing with potential possibilities for future stories where no one can hear you scream.
The future of the franchise was a topic that was touched on during the filmmaker Q&A, with many of the creators behind the shorts expressing a desire to see the franchise continue in a multitude of forms and media, including film and television (something that's long been rumored for the Alien series, but never officially confirmed). No matter what one's opinion may be regarding the shorts or the recent Alien prequel films by Scott, the consensus with fans and creators seems to be that new stories and new voices are needed. Additionally, Kailey and Sam Spear both expressed a longing for characters similar to Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley that the audience could relate to, bond with, and follow their progression over the course of several films.
As mentioned previously, the Alien 40th Anniversary Shorts will be released weekly on IGN, starting on March 29th. Beginning on May 3rd, they will be available on the official @AlienAnthology social channels and AlienUniverse.com, along with exclusive behind-the-scenes content. Additional, Fanbase Press received confirmation from some of the filmmakers that the shorts will also be included as bonus content on the Alien 40th Anniversary Blu-ray.
The official synopsis of each Alien 40th Anniversary Short is provided below:
"Alien: Alone" - 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. Written and Directed by Noah Miller
"Alien: Containment" - 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. Written and Directed by Chris Reading
"Alien: Harvest" - 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. Directed by Benjamin Howdeshell
"Alien: Night Shift" - 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. Written and Directed by Aidan Breznick
"Alien: Ore" - 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. Written and Directed by the Spear Sisters
"Alien: Specimen" - 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. Directed by Kelsey Taylor
Photos (above) include:
Cover Image: Kelsey Taylor, Kailey and Sam Spear, Aidan Breznick, Benjamin Howdeshell, Chris Reading, and Noah Miller
Image 2: Kelsey Taylor, Kailey and Sam Spear
Image 3: Chris Reading, and Noah Miller