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EXCLUSIVE REVIEW: ALIEN 40th Anniversary Shorts Series

We review the six short films created to celebrate ALIEN's 40th anniversary

April 26 is Alien Day.

I was first introduced to Aliens, the sophomore film in the epic franchise, in one of the film theory classes I took in undergrad. Yours truly usually tends to stay away from horror movies because I’m scared of everything, but I caved in for two reasons: 1) I’m a die-hard sci-fi fan and 2) watching Aliens was a class assignment. Then I realized Aliens featured some epic Sigourney Weaver and gleeful horror movie trope subversions, and I immediately became enamored with the Alien universe, particularly with the sinister intentions of Weyland Corp.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Ridley Scott’s iconic film: Alien (1979). The film was responsible for propelling Sigourney Weaver into the science-fiction limelight, as well as capturing the collective’s sci-fi and horror imaginations. The movie has birthed sequels, prequels, parodies, video games, and a plethora of extended universe spin-offs.

In celebration, 20th Century Fox partnered with Tongal, a global community of video content creators, to develop and produce several original short films set in the world of Alien. The anniversary initiative selected six emerging filmmaker pitches from a pool of more than 550 submissions. The filmmakers were given unprecedented access to franchise materials and sources, so that they could properly pay homage to the original films.  

And the short films absolutely did. All six are originals, but they all expanded on the themes of a parasitic violence attacking and brutalizing men, lone women fiercely battling the alien threat and foreign elements, and the pervasive, overwhelming feelings of anxiety.

The six short films are:

  • Alien: CONTAINMENT
  • Alien: SPECIMEN
  • Alien: NIGHT SHIFT
  • Alien: ORE
  • Alien: HARVEST
  • Alien: ALONE

Let’s discuss each tale (spoilers are indicated.)

ALIEN: CONTAINMENT (Written and Directed by Chris Reading)

Alien Containment 20th century fox

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Recap

At the beginning of the short, the viewers are informed that the colonial transfer vehicle “Borrowdale” is currently 16 months outbound from Earth and full of 23,282 souls. And then the Borrowdale destructs, and we see a small escape pod desperately zoom away from the exploding ship, desperately commandeered by Ward (Gaia Weiss). The pod holds four survivors, and one (Adam Loxley) is critically injured.

We find out that the Borrowdale had become overcome by an outbreak, of an organism with a “unique replication system,” according to Albrecht (Sharon Duncan Brewster), one of the survivors, a scientist. We discover that during the effort to reestablish containment of the organism, the unfortunate result was the blowing up of the ship.

Albrecht isn’t sure whether any or none of them have been exposed to the outbreak. Of all four, Gaia seems to be the most measured, particularly in comparison to Hass (Theo Barklem Biggs), who wakes up with a cut on his forehead and a belligerent attitude. While Albrecht may have observed the organism in containment, Hass has near PTSD, having seen the destructive, terrifying behavior of the xenomorph. Hass and Ward grapple with each other; he, trying to kill the unconscious survivor in case he’s a carrier, she, trying to stop him. Hass throws Ward to the floor,

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only to start exhibiting the same signs as Kane in ALIEN. Turns out it is Hass who is the host. Albrecht nervously backs away from Hass and Ward, throwing up a door, keeping her distance from them. From behind the door, she witnesses the xenomorph bursting from Hass’s chest. This sealed off portion of the escape pod has turned into another observation deck.  Albrecht turns out to be incredibly awestruck by the chestburster. She finds the creature “beautiful” and refuses to let Ward out. Meanwhile, a blood-drenched Ward is trapped in the pod with Hass’s dead body and the escaped chestburster, Hass’s knife the only method of self-defense she has. Albrecht gets her comeuppance, though, when she becomes trapped between the door and the floor, an unexpected disturbance causing the door to slide open. She becomes the next victim of the emerging creature. In the confusion, Ward manages to run towards the exit hatch. The viewers assume she’s running towards the exit, to greet the emergency unit that’s finally come to rescue the pod. However, instead of getting onto the emergency vessel, she writes, in her own blood “DO NOT OPEN” onto the window of the escape pod.

 

Takeaways

  • Grainy, gritty, shaky, full of color: that’s the vibe of this short.
  • The accents are interesting in this short: Albrecht has a very posh accent, and Hass has an Essex-esque accent, while Ward’s slightly Scandinavian accent is barely noticeable. Deliberate choices in accent always lend to effective character formation, especially in the short film format.
  • We only see the tail of the xenomorph in this short.
  • Viewers never see Albrecht’s wounds. Additionally,

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    the way she’s fascinated by and admiring of the creature echoes android Ash’s perception of the creature’s psychology. So viewers can only guess whether Albrecht is an android as well or simply an apathetic researcher.

     

  • The short ends by

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    showing that the emergency lifeboat ultimately does latch onto the escape pod, which makes the viewer nervous. Will the xenomorph infiltrate the lifeboat? Will the lifeboat pay attention to the bloodied warning and successfully contain the xenomorph in the escape pod? After the xenomorph takes all the lives of the four survivors on the pod, will it become strong enough to overtake the lifeboat?

     

ALIEN: Specimen (Directed by Kelsey Taylor)

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Recap

Maggie (Goose), a lab dog, is driven berserk by soil samples. Botanist Julie (Jolene Anderson), sole nightshift worker at the greenhouse, reports her concerns to her supervisor Dev (Aubrey Wakeling), who assures her that the soil is not an issue and to ignore Maggie’s behavior. Dev reminds her that Maggie is just doing her job; why isn’t Julie? She requests for the barrels to be marked as contaminated and taken away; she doesn’t want to, once again, start her research over from scratch.

Julie puts on her headphones, blasts on some female punk music, and gets to work, wrapping up the soil sample barrels and keeping busy with her other night shift tasks. She comes to a halt when she sees that the barrels have been unsealed and that one of the barrels has tipped over, its contents spilled everywhere. She hesitatingly takes off her headphones and finally hears the alarm blaring.

The greenhouse is on lockdown and she’s trapped inside. Maggie starts whining. When Julie tries to get Maggie’s attention, her attention is distracted by a burst of air that blasts into the greenhouse, and she loses track of Maggie. As she searches around the greenhouse for Maggie,

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she trips on a sticky, white substance that’s originated from the barrel.

Dev comes back online and informs Julie that the system is going to reboot; however, that means that all the lights in the greenhouse, even the emergency ones, turn off. And that’s when the xenomorph comes out to play.

Once the viewers start hearing the hissing and clicking of the xenomorph, Maggie starts barking again. Julie tries to wedge the door of the greenhouse open, to no avail. Moving her focus elsewhere, she picks up a shovel and looks for Maggie and the source of the noise. She finally finds Maggie, who’s freaking out much in the same way the dog had been freaking out over the soil samples in the barrels. This time, when Julie asks Maggie to be quiet, Maggie listens and just looks anxiously behind the botanist.

Some of the xenomorph’s fluid falls in front of Julie and she watches as it eats away at the gravel that lines the ground of the greenhouse. She looks up to see the xenomorph, perched on top of the rafters, waiting to pounce. Maggie wrestles with the xenomorph after Julie whacks at it with her shovel and runs away with the creature. The lights turn back on in the greenhouse and Julie triumphantly stabs at the tail of the xenomorph with her shovel.

Then the camera pans back and the viewers see that the xenomorph’s acidic blood has killed Maggie. Julie has no choice but to put Maggie out of her misery.

 

Takeaways

  • The viewers are left to wonder:

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    how and when did the xenomorph breach the greenhouse? Is the rest of the colony safe?

     

  • This is the first short that presents music that’s not just mood-setting music.
  • This short is by far the creepiest, but also the most barebones. We get zero backstory on Maggie, how she ended up on this greenhouse colony, and what her relationship is like with Dev and her lab dog. I recommend watching this short last, because the other five shorts create enough of an extended universe that by the time you settle in to watch this 10+ minute film, you’ll assume that all of these shorts exist in the same universe.
  • Throughout the short, all I could think was: “if the creature kills off Maggie…, WHERE IS JOHN WICK?!”

ALIEN: Night Shift (Written and Directed by Aidan Brezonick)

alien Nightshift 20th century fox

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Recap

In the High Lonesome Mining Colony, one of the space truckers, Welles (Terrance Keith Richardson) discovers his fellow trucker, Harper (Tanner Rittenhouse), in an alley, disoriented. He assumes Harper is hungover, but the viewers see the corpse of an infant alien further down the alley.

Colony supply worker Rolly (Amber Gaston) pokes at a video screen in the middle of her shift, and her supervisor Springer (Christopher Murray) teases her that the eerie whale sounds music she listens to simply drags out the length of her night shift. She teases him back about the baseball video recordings that he listens to on his shifts, which he defends as interacting with historical artifacts.

The two of them start to lock the supply depot up for the night, but reluctantly let in Harper and the silver-tongued Welles, who are looking for two last drinks before heading home for the night.

Welles annoys Rolly as she wraps up tracking inventory before closing for the night. Harper asks to use the bathroom but then staggers back out,

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frightened by whatever’s moving inside his stomach.

His stomach moves exactly the same way as Kane’s in ALIEN.

Rolly rushes off to get the medi-kit, and comes back to a horrific scene: Springer has a neck wound and Harper is lying face down in a pool of blood. Welles adds a creepy, tense mood to this scene, having haphazardly shot at the xenomorph, only managing to shoot out the lights. He tells Rolly to leave her supervisor, vowing to not die like this, and when she tells him to fuck off, he runs out. Springer dies in her arms.

Rolly closes the depot’s doors, determined to avenge Springer’s death by killing the creature. She beats the creature with a baseball bat (a little throwback to her scoffing “what good has baseball ever done?” at the beginning of the short), but stops when she hears an alert (“the compound has been compromised”) and the sounds of gunfire and screaming in the colony.

The viewers are left to wonder whether the xenomorph that had overtaken Harper was just one of several that landed on the colony. Did the xenomorph come in with the space truckers? What is Rolly’s backstory? Did Welles shoot Springer in the neck or did the xenomorph attack Springer? Will Rolly and the rest of the colonists survive the xenomorph invasion?

 

Takeaways

  • Rolly manages to keep alive and tend to a plant. The whale sounds she listens to seem to be nurturing sounds that she keeps on for the benefit of the plant.
  • Springer and Rolly have a very father-daughter like relationship. Are they the only supply depot workers or are they the only night shift workers?
  • Harper had been missing since the night before. Why

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    did it take over a day for the xenomorph to latch onto Harper and turn him into a host?

    Harper and Welles are space truckers who are regularly brought into the colony to drop off supplies and then leave the rock. Where do they reside when they’re not on the colony?

ALIEN: Ore (Written and Directed by the Spear Sisters)

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Recap

The viewers are told, at the beginning of this short, that the planet is a commercial mining colony, named Bowen’s Landing, and its primary export is platinum ore. We open with a miner, Kolton (Steven Stiller), finding an abandoned helmet in a mine. (We later find out that the abandoned helmet belongs to and the body is Al, a miner who regularly tries to pull triple shifts, most likely in an effort to reap the rewards of the finder’s fee.)

Lorraine (Mikela Jay) is an exhausted miner who wants her family off the colony and in a better situation; both she and her daughter, Anna (Julie Boersema), work in the mine. As Lorraine shift starts, her daughter’s ends. Everyone’s talking about a new deposit that will either revitalize the mining colony or make everyone remaining on the colony richer.

Lorraine is part of the last batch of miners who has remained on Bowen’s Landing; one of the miners, Clark (Ambrose Gardener), frets that they should have left with the others. Lorraine says none of them could have afforded to, and another miner said that the Company (WY Corp) won’t pull out of Bowen’s Landing until all the mines are completely dried out.

Kolton comes running up to Lorraine and company, mumbling about Al. They find Al,

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his stomach ruptured. Hanks (Tara Pratt), a safety officer who watches over the mining activities through a viewscreen, stutters: “it looks like something ripped out from inside him.”

The miners look around, trying to find whatever came from inside him and see multiple eggs, exactly like the ones Kane discovers in ALIEN, have taken root a little beyond Al. One is open.

Hanks orders to clear the mine, and tells Lorraine not to shoot the eggs. Something drips on one of the workers, Martin (Dalj Brar); then, a xenomorph attacks him. Hanks locks the control room after reporting to the Company that an organism has been detected in Sector M09. Lorraine begs Hanks to turn the lights back on but Hanks remains transfixed, watching the horror unfold in front of the video recorder.

The xenomorph continues to pick off the miners, one by one. Hanks does not turn the lights on and her co-worker bangs on the door, asking whether she’s “broken” or not. (The viewers soon find out that Hanks is a synthetic safety officer and her name is shorthand for the type of android she is.) The miners rush into the elevator, to leave, but Lorraine halts its upward trajectory. “Right now, that thing is sealed in. If we go up, it follows us to the colony. My family’s up there,” she explains. She refuses to put the colony in danger. Hanks tries to get Lorraine and everyone to come back up and says cryptically “come back up. They’ll give you the finder’s bonus, but only if it stays alive.” That makes Lorraine pause and ask whether the Company is more concerned about the safety of the miners or the creature. Hanks is unable to answer, but the viewers read the same message that Hanks receives from WY Corp: “Insure safety of organism. All other considerations secondary.”

Lorraine tells Hanks to fuck off and then turns off the video recorder. Lorraine opens the elevator shafts and arms herself. No one else follows her. The xenomorph unfolds itself from the bottom of the mine and stalks towards Lorraine.

The rest of the miners comes up behind Lorraine; they’re all armed.

 

Takeaways

  • Lorraine is definitely the mother hen of the miners.
  • Ore is the first short that discusses a community beyond the immediate protagonists. Bowen’s Landing is a blue-collared colony, and everyone is weathered.
  • There’s definitely a divide between the miners and overwatchers like Hanks. Even though Hanks and the other administrator seem to have a genuine relationship with the miners, the miners are the ones who work in the difficult environment, while Hanks has the luxury to drink warm milk and oversee logistics in a safe room.
  • This is the first short where we truly witness WY Corp working for their best interests, and having full knowledge about the xenomorph. The viewers are left to wonder whether the Company remains on Bowen’s Landing for the deposit or not —

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    the deposit discovery comes with a hefty finding fee, which Hanks has made clear will still be given to them should they let the xenomorph live.

     

ALIEN: Harvest (Directed by Benjamin Howdeshell)

Alien Harvest 20th Century Fox

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Recap

This short opens up with a distress signal, coming from The November, a comet plasma harvester that had collided with Comet X/3019. There are four surviving crew members at the beginning of this short; they’re still aboard the harvester, but they’re slowly making their way to the last escape shuttle before the harvester makes impact with the comet.

At this point, the creature has already turned into a full-fledged xenomorph and is intent on picking the survivors off one by one. The first to die is

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Sturgis (James C. Burns), an impatient man with a hatchet, the older of the four survivors. He wrenches the motion sensor from Mari (Agnes Albright), a blonde woman who is leading the group to the last remaining exit pod.

Two of the other survivors are a couple; Hannah (Jessica Clark), a pregnant British woman and Alec (Adam Sinclair), a terrified Irish man. After Sturgis dies, holding onto the sensor, Hannah runs to successfully grab the sensor and hatchet from him. As the remaining three continue to make their way around the harvester, Alec halts them and demands to know why they’ve ended up where they started.

Hannah realizes they’ve been walking around in circles.

Then the motion sensor starts to beep more rapidly as something stalks towards the group. When the motion sensor abruptly stops beeping, the xenomorph attacks Alec. Hannah and Mari manage to chop off one of the xenomorph’s limbs and drag Alec back to safety, but he’s all mauled up.

They arrive at the Shuttle A landing pad, where Mari realizes that the shuttle has been disabled. She manually re-enables the shuttle, overrides the maximum number of people per shuttle from 2, and safety belts the man in.

As Hannah belts herself in, she hears and sees the shuttle update the shuttle and announce: “foreign tissue detected.” Terrified, Hannah looks over to see a facehugger latch onto Alec’s face. Mari looks satisfied at imprisoning the couple in the shuttle with her as the xenomorph steps into the escape craft behind her. The xenomorph then stabs Mari and Hannah screams, realizing she’s trapped.

The escape shuttle successfully leaves the harvester. The short closes with an update: the shuttle is en route to the Company outermost probe, with an estimated arrival of 21 hours and 59 minutes. Two remaining survivors and two unknown organic specimens are on board.

 

Takeaways

  • This short is all shadows and light. The setting of the entire short is set in an industrial environment. Essentially, the only spots of color in the short are the blinking emergency lights and the incessantly beeping, green motion sensor.
  • The way that

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    Mari dies (spewing out silicone) implies that she is an android. Like Ash, the viewers assume she was created and stationed to ensure the xenomorph’s survival and arrival to Earth.

     

ALIEN: Alone (Written and Directed by Noah Miller)

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Recap

Hope (Taylor Lyons) is the last remaining crew member of the derelict chemical hauler Otranto. She is holding out onto the fact that her captain assured her that someone will come for her. Sadly, she explains that: “He promised I will not be forgotten, but I continue to be alone on this ship.”

The short is narrated by her as she documents the days that slowly pass her by. She has spent her days diligently maintaining and repairing the ship as she waits for rescue. At the beginning of the short, her focus is on breaching the one door that has remained restricted to her, the door to Lab B-11A. Hope explains that MOTHER has continually refused to grant her access even though, even though she bitterly thinks that, as the last remaining crew member, she should be granted special privileges.

One day, she decides enough is enough, and decides to break through the door using a fuse torch, and successfully makes her way through. A pair of creepy overhead voices inform Hope that Subjects A and B are deceased) but Subject C is in stasis, ready for revival. Without any fear,

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she triggers Subject C’s revival and ends up releasing a creature similar to the one that terrorized Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in the original ALIEN.

We soon find out why she has no fear: she isn’t human. She is a legacy android, who has survived the misfortune (she calls it “chemicals”) that overcame the rest of the crew members. The viewers discover that all of Hope’s internal systems are failing. She she informs the infant xenomorph — who has become her only companion on the abandoned ship — that her parts aren’t manufactured anymore. Now, her focus is on keeping the creature alive, because when the creature dies, so will Hope, a fate she refuses to allow to happen.

She gives the ship her last report, with the closing statement: “Neither of us deserve to die out here like this. So we’re going to take our fates into our own hands.” And off we go, to the frontier lines. She manages to successfully fly the ship and attach to some sort of station. A helpful crew member (James Paxton) boards Hope’s ship and becomes the unwilling host to the creature. When he awakens, he realizes he’s locked in a room. He begs to be let out but Hope refuses. She’s waiting for the xenomorph to arise.

 

Takeaways

  • At first, you simply assume Hope is bored out of her mind, who spends her days accounting for every aspect of the ship, finding mundane tasks to keep her mind occupied, whether that’s counting the rivets in the ship or putting out engine fires. The viewers soon find out she has other plans.
  • The short feels claustrophobic, which I wager was the filmmaker’s intention.
  • When Hope types in the action item to open the door to 11-Ba, MOTHER forbids her,

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    explaining that access is restricted to “science officer and command crew only.” This is an early clue to Hope’s true nature.

     

  • Hope is constantly drawing. She has a photogenic memory,

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    if you can call that function a memory.

     

  • Hope is very utilitarian;

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    however, she does cry silicone tears.

    She’s spent her entire lifecycle waiting and enduring her inevitable death. She doesn’t feel the need to give anyone else hope. At one point, she draws a portrait of herself, only to scribble and stab at the page, an outburst that she hasn’t shown before.

  • The viewer is left wondering:

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    was Hope the one who initially released the xenomorph in the 1979 film? In ALIEN, Ash was revealed to be an android, deployed by WY Corp to ensure the xenomorph’s survival. Is Hope like Ash? How is the revival of the xenomorph instrumental to her returning home? You see her dissecting another specimen, similar in its early stage of its lifecycle, that had probably died because it couldn’t find a host to attach to in enough time.

    What was Hope’s original function on the hauler?

Final thoughts

There’s no way that modern short films can hope to capture the same grittiness and levels of tension and surprise that Alien brought upon its viewers at the time of its original release. However, the filmmakers who created the six anniversary short films did a fantastic job at recreating the sense of dread and hopelessness that permeated the 1979 film. If you wanted to rewatch all of the Alien series to celebrate this year’s Alien Day, I recommend watching these shorts immediately after Alien but before Aliens. They fit very well within that timeline, and they add visceral levels of frustration and anger to the political machinations that Ripley must endure during the plot of Aliens.

Beginning May 3, all six short films will be available on the official AlienAnthology Twitter, Alien Anthology Facebook page, and AlienAnthology Instagram, in addition to AlienUniverse.com. IGN had slowly released the short films on its channel starting from March 29, but it’s much more fun watching all six in one fell swoop. Additionally, you can watch exclusive, behind-the-scenes content on AlienUniverse.com, which is neat.

How will you be celebrating Alien Day this year?

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Jasmine Lee

Jasmine is a coffee-swilling, movie and TV quote-dropping, social media-obsessive pop culture junkie. She's previously written for ScreenPrism, MuggleNet, and Audrey Magazine. She currently wields her research skills at a tech company in Chicago. She watches at least one episode of either Friends or Cheers every night before going to bed, and she loves physical DVDs and Blu-rays just as much as she loves actual, real books (read: a lot). Her happy place includes: lots of blankets, a mug of coffee as big as her face, dependable WiFi, and hours of parsing through her favorite televsion shows and movies. Her dream leading man would be a combination of John Wick, Rory Williams, Jason Walsh, Aladdin, Tristan Thorn, and Ron Weasley.

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