ALIEN: OUT OF THE SHADOWS (2016)
Audible Studios, April 26, 2016
Length: 4 hrs and 31 mins
The golden age of radio drama may be in the past, but audiobook subscription service Audible supplies an enthralling extension to the saga of Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley, and of creatures and memories that also refuse to be left behind. The play is approximately novel-length (indeed based a novel by Tim Lebbon) and divided into chapters of around 25-30 minutes long, complete with not merely dynamic voice performances, but also sound-effects and a score—by turns eerie, momentous and mournful—to bring the production to vivid, egg-opening life.
The narrative picks up after the events of the first film as Ripley’s escape pod is intercepted by the crew of a mining vessel, who begin having a xenomorph problem of their own. Consequently Ripley, here played with all the characteristic mannerisms by Lauren Lefkow, is on hand to tell them how fucked they are—before becoming the key adviser against the threat. Meanwhile, android Ash, played by (and dismembered as) Ian Holm in the original film and now performed by Rutger Hauer, is up to old tricks. Hell-bent on fulfilling his mission for the Company of transporting an intact alien specimen, Ash’s disembodied artificial intelligence infiltrates and contaminates various ship systems to sabotage this new team’s efforts. Conceptually and tonally, the film strikes a balance between the first and second films, combining the original’s focus on malignant AI and a crew under-prepared for the menace they face with plenty of action as the creatures close in.
This is a recorded drama, so there is no ‘narrator’ and the dialogue does an excellent job of signalling to listeners what’s occuring without seeming contrived. Only at one point, during a scene of high action, did this mode feel slightly remiss in terms of timely communication. A regular verbal log kept by Ash, for benefit of the Company, also helps clarify chapter events as well as providing a sinister counter-narrative to the trials faced by human characters.
This new story is thrilling and energetic, yet retains the technical flourishes that helped plausibly underpin the films. The only let-down here is that while the drama initially presents as an ‘alternative’ timeline, later turns of the narrative work to re-integrate what has happened into the existing Alien chronology in a manner that seems clunky and unnecessary. Nevertheless, this hardly makes much of an acid burn on such an gripping and gorgeous production. A must for fans of the franchise. 4.5 / 5