Giger’s original alien design is fairly well recognized as the pinnacle of the art, so sequel decay was inevitable. Once you have something perfect, anything you add to that perfection will alter it and by definition make it imperfect. The further the Alien films diverge from the design above, the worse the designs get, sometimes by fractions, sometimes by great leaps. This is not a comprehensive list of all changes made to the design over the years, but a look at the directions other artists took. Essentially, a brief Fall of the Roman Empire for alien design.
Giger’s only “hands-on” involvement with the series to make the final cut was on the first film. His most impressive creation for that movie is, in my opinion, the Space Jockey, the truest fusion of flesh and machine, literally grown into the ship despite what unbelievably horrible ideas future movies would try to retcon into the series. But the alien itself is the most enduring work. The elongated head, the inner toothed tongue, the mechanical components within the meat of the creature, its ribs, its inexplicable back-pipes, it all manifests as a symphony of disturbing elements that, when combined into a humanoid figure, speak of pain, wounds, death, cruelty and danger. This is widely known.
What fewer people (including future creature designers) realize is that one of the most critical features of the alien is that it is aesthetically displeasing. It is not sleek. It is not cool. It is ugly. It doesn’t fit together right. It is not streamlined not conventional in color or form. Where Giger designed the Space Jockey to be oddly beautiful, he went for something in the alien itself that makes it hard to look at. Some consider this “cheap” or “incomplete.” I’d argue that it was not only intentional but one of the most critical features of the design.
The original alien was never meant to appeal to us. It was made to scare and disgust us. The original film is the only time it did so successfully. Commentaries on the series suggest that the repetition of the design in further movies made it less impressive, that it was done to death. This is not true because the original design only appeared in one film. Though that design too is demystified by now, the films did not need to suffer from any inevitable decrease in horror. That decrease is intentional.
James Cameron didn’t want to make a horror film, he wanted to make an action thriller with some horror elements. His alteration of Giger’s designs helps elucidate this. The design of the aliens from Aliens is close to Giger’s with three critical embellishments: The arms now have bony protrusions at the elbows, the dome has been removed revealing the ridged head, and the design has been normalized and streamlined. The alien is no longer grotesque, it is awesome.
The original alien looks dirty and ragged by comparison. This was not a mistake by any means. Aliens is not about hurting the audience like its predecessor, it’s an action movie and the turn from horror to action was extremely successful.
Cameron then took Giger’s aesthetic, more or less, and designed his own super-alien, the Queen. Little attempt at horror remains, if any. This is an epic beast made to appeal to the eye with smooth curved structures and spines that follow the form naturally and elegantly. It has less of a mechanical influence, and no sign at all of Giger’s ugliness. Its use in the film is similarly unhorrifying, it’s an intense escape followed by one of the greatest fight scenes in movie history. Cameron diverged from Giger and Scott, but what he made was a new expansion of the universe that was all his own, and in typical fashion for the director, it amazed audiences and proved highly influential ever after.
Giger was invited back to design a new iteration of the alien for the third film. He set out to perfect his original design, and did so artistically but not cinematically. His new design introduced an even more horrifying tongue that would enter the victim’s throat, and with shark-tooth-like barbs, come back out bringing their guts with it. It had a visible, moving brain under its dome, and it lost the back tubes in favor of a more animal-like structure. It also had new artsy elements that brought it further into Giger’s developing aesthetic. The filmmakers elected not to use it.
Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis took over. Students of Stan Winston who had implemented Cameron’s concepts, they redesigned the alien into a near-fully organic beast. The only remainder of its mechanical elements are the repeated flutes on the side of the head. The rest is all animal, with inhuman legs and feet. Its cheeks are no longer messes of visible mechanisms, but rumpled skin. And it is sleek. It’s streamlined. It is, in essence, what the alien would look like had it been originally designed by someone other than Giger.
Alien 3 attempted to bring the series back to horror. That might have been a mistake but we can give the creators the benefit of the doubt and instead of criticizing the aspects of the film that have already been criticized ad nauseam, focus only on the design. Basically, it’s meatier and meaner and although it has lost Giger’s surface, it does retain his basic concepts and yields an appropriate movie monster for a very dark film. It would be brilliant had it not followed such vastly superior works.
Gillis and Woodruff returned for the fourth film and further organicized the creature. They took the Alien 3 design and regained the tubes, and made the back of the head a little less round. While the alien from 3 was alternately red or black depending on the lighting, the Resurrection beasts were generally greenish-brown or grey depending on whether they were computer generated.
But look at its cheeks and neck. The region on the sides behind its mouth. The clumpy skin of the third alien is now a total ugly mess, and not ugly in Giger’s way. Just a mess of blotchy crud. Its arm has little trace of the underlying tubes and mechanics, it’s just a bumpy human arm. Alien 3 took the creature into animalistic design, but 4 began to turn it into a mess.
The newborn has no mechanical elements whatsoever, or even any trace of them. It bears only the slightest resemblance to Giger’s design and that’s okay. It had a new purpose- To be gross. Not grotesque, necessarily, but icky. There it succeeded. Its face was also more expressive, at times almost human. Its sunken eyes, its bat-nose, the bloated filigree on the sides of its head, all contribute to something appropriate to the film this creature was designed for.
Notably, the creature was designed with genitals, which were censored from the film for being too much, the director said, “even for a Frenchman.” The Newborn represents the end of the series. The alien has gone everywhere it can go, and retains nothing of what made the original what it was. Evolution is inevitable but I can’t help but wonder what might have happened had the ADI team that handled the latter two films honored Giger’s new designs, or kept his originals, or designed new works of their own along his guidelines instead of simply making the aliens closer and closer to blobby animals.
Prometheus provides another succinct view of what happened- Giger’s original derelict ship was a misshapen bony surrealist sculpture. It had no visible means of flight, it had nothing to even compare to any vehicle ever designed. It made no sense. It hurt the brain to think of as a spaceship. Prometheus featured a similar ship- But made it work. It was streamlined and curved naturally instead of bent and ugly, it was a mechanical ship and not something that might have been grown. That’s what happened to the alien over the years. It was cleaned up, made sense of, and turned into something normal. But the final insult was yet to come.
That’s the finale of Prometheus. Look at it.
Now look at the original:
Now back to deacon:
How did anyone, especially Ridley freaking Scott, think this was acceptable? It’s a god damn cartoon. I mean literally! It’s what Gary Larson spoofed the aliens into!
It has no surface detail, just some bumps like what a child might push into a lump of clay. Its pointy head is a joke. And its inner jaw is based on the goblin shark’s:
The goblin shark is notable in two ways- One, its jaws are horrifying. Good. Reason two- It looks like Jerry Lewis.
It’s goofy! It’s silly! The prominent upper maxilla looks absurd and funny despite its sharp spiny teeth. The goblin shark is certainly bizarre and bizarre is often good, but in this case it turned the iconic alien, the greatest design in the history of creature effects, into an absolute total JOKE.
Never mind the squid. Never mind the plain white tentacled blob that replaced the chestburster. Never mind the idea that the brilliant concept of a pilot grown into its ship was made into a white guy in a suit. Never mind the dull serpents or the atrocious uncreative bumpy makeup on Fifield. Ignore all the problems with Prometheus because this is about the design of the adult form alien. Look what they did to it.
Resurrection ended the alien’s tenure as the greatest monster. But it did not make it into a joke. The deacon is a poorly sculpted, plainly painted, uncreatively applied, horribly conceived, silly, pathetic, absolute low point of creature design in cinema. That’s where the alien ended up.
This is one of the greatest plummets in art. From the pinnacle to the nadir. So what comes next? Alien: Covenant, appears from its trailer, to be even more of a remake of the original than Prometheus. The same plot, slightly different specifics. Of its true story and creatures, only time will tell. But I have the lowest expectations. I expect the worst, for the alien to go from joke to insult. Or further insult, all things considered.
The trend in cinema (among other things) right now is to take whatever was good once and ram it into the ground as hard as possible. I don’t know what more they can do to the alien after the pointy headed atrocity above, but I have a feeling we’ll find out.
But I also have hope. Worst expectations but a glimmer of hope that we’ll see the redemption of this creature. Giger is dead, and the world is poorer for it. I hope Scott has found someone new, an unknown artist as Giger was in the 70s to come to fame as the next great surrealist. I hope we’ll see the birth of a new form of horror cinema. I hope a great many things every time an alien movie comes out.
My mother was pregnant with me when she saw Alien. I drew it over and over as a child. I studied it above all other films and designs as an adult. I grew up with the alien on every level. I don’t know what will come next, and I will go in with an open mind.
But I can’t help but feel that the iconic monster has hit rock bottom, and it’s about to crash through the stones down into hell.
My dwarf fortress adventure mode experience so far:
Im a weasel woman. Spawned in a fortress, got lost for 6 hours.
Random dwarves would come up to tell me how much they enjoyed an argument they just had, but no one would join my quest
Except a goblin diagnostician and a human fighting lady
Stole oversized clothes, pig cheeses and 40 wine.
Finally escape but becauae i stole stuff, i cant fast travel
immeadiately get lost in the mountains.
try to share wine with goblin. He refuses to give it back and we squabble, eventually i trade him a dagger a gem and a lobster for it. Oh, awkward, i was carrying goblin teeth…
We travel for ages, lost once again, unable to find a fort.
I attack a wolverine and the goblin ignores the dagger i gave him to WHACK the animal with A LOBSTER
and injures it
Finally i lick the blood off my everything and carry on
kind of cheating since most of these were in my last pixel face roundup, but that one’s lopsidedness bothered me too much. the downside is that this one now exceeds 256 colors which means i can’t make it a gif. sorry angler goblin.
I should save this for Strange Magic Week but I need immediate validation. Also a shout out to @deluxetrashqueen for giving me all the best lines for this.
jar had been set on the kitchen counter next to the sink after
Marianne had shoved a scattering of disposable plates and dirty
coffee mugs into the sink. This had raised up a clatter that had the
goblin covering his ears and growling until it died away and he was
able to make his demands heard.
A goblin is a legendary evil or mischievous creature. They are attributed with various (sometimes conflicting) abilities, temperaments and appearances depending on the story and country of origin. In some cases, goblins have been classified as constantly annoying little creatures somewhat related to the brownie or gnome. They are usually depicted as small, sometimes only a few inches tall, sometimes the size of a dwarf. They also often are said to possess various magical abilities. They are also very greedy and love money.
English goblin is first recorded in the 14th century and is probably from unattested Anglo-Norman gobelin, similar to Old French gobelin, already attested around 1195 in Ambroise of Normandy's Guerre sainte, and to Medieval latin gobelinus in Orderic Vitalis, before 1141,which was the name of a devil or a daemon haunting the country around Évreux, Normandy.
There is no consensus on the origin of goblin myths. Since goblins are similar to faeries and other spirits of Europe, it is possible that they share a similar origin. Many scholars believe that such creatures came out of an interest in Paganism and its mysticism, especially the belief in nature spirits and magic. Goblins could possibly come from the belief that, along with virtuous pagans, there were evil ones that became evil spirits.
Goblins soon became a subject in works of literature, including the famous poem Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti:
“We must not look at goblin men, We must not buy their fruits: Who knows upon what soil they fed Their hungry thirsty roots?”
Some accounts claim they are mostly invisible to the human eye, and thus act as phantoms. However, even in traditions where they are invisible, it is still widely known (although how remains mysterious) what they look like underneath their invisibility.
They are usually believed to be shorter than human beings; depending upon the source, they can either be stout or thin; their brow is fully covered with thick hair and their mouth is filled with yellowed, crooked teeth.
Goblins are often depicted as possessing a coarse, raspy sounding, and slightly high-pitched voice, speaking human languages along with their own, and possessing a cunning intellect.
In recent depictions, goblins have been portrayed as green in color, but this is only a modern tradition.
In some cultures, they are more tricksters, who steal horses to ride at night, hide small objects, tip over pails of milk, and alter signposts.
Some believe that goblins are more malevolent, weaving nightmares out of gossamer and inserting them into the ear of a sleeping human, stealing human women and children and hiding them away underground, or even stealing human babies and replacing them with ugly goblin babies (changelings).
A goblin smile is said to curdle blood and a laugh to sour milk and cause fruit to fall from trees.
Goblins are often believed to be nomadic, never staying too long in one place.
They said the miniature skull was just agate, just agate and nothing more. They said the gold was the lucky Galleon of an ancestor who had had it forged into a ring after it deflected a curse. They said the stones were fragments of Thestral bone.
The last was true. The small sparkling crystals were Thestral bone. But the gold had been stolen from the corpse of a Goblin who had vexed the mysterious ancestor and the agate skull was one of the goblins teeth.