Here’s the Thing is where Rob dumps his random thoughts and strong opinions on all manner of nerdy subjects – from videogames and movies to board games and toys.
Ridley Scott’s Alien is without a doubt a pinnacle of science fiction horror (or technically thrillers I guess?), and sure, it’s been shamelessly replicated over the decades with varying degrees of success. From subtle nods to obvious homages, formulaic retreads, low budget knock-offs and even its own somewhat rocky (to put it mildly) series of sequels – what came after Aliens, I mean. Here’s the thing, though: As influential as Alien may have become since 1979, people need to stop comparing all sci-fi horror monster movies to it.
Yes, okay, in the 80s there were several films that very obviously tried to capitalize on Alien’s popularity. Often mimicking its “handful of people in an isolated location getting picked off one-by-one” vibe and sometimes attempting to revisit its other themes (unfamiliar alien life cycles, body horror-adjacent ickiness, the feeling of being violated by a literal monster and so on). But for fuck’s sake, it’s been over 40 years at this point, and we need to stop saying every sci-fi movie with a monster picking people off slowly is somehow “ripping off” its concepts.
The reason I’m so irritated about this comes down to the reductive (and outright incorrect) takes I’ve been seeing about 2020’s Underwater. It’s not the only movie that I’ve seen being unfairly referred to as an “Alien clone,” but it irritates me the most because 1) the suits looking similar to what we saw on the Nostromo and alien-like monsters on the prowl does not an Alien clone make, and 2) it’s a damn good movie that deserves to be appreciated for what it is rather than what it’s not.
Human intervention – namely The Company’s interest in the organism and Captain Dallas ignoring quarantine protocol – is what set things in motion in Alien. In Underwater, it’s heavily implied that Tian Industries has intentionally unleashed these deep-sea monsters – possibly even purposely destroying the drilling station as a sort of sacrifice. Alien’s survivors need to figure out how to get the monster off their ship so they can safely return home. Underwater’s survivors need to find a way to get to the surface, with no idea that there are creatures lurking in the darkness of the trench until a fair bit into the runtime.
I’ve seen people compare the discovery of a baby creature nestled inside a corpse as an “obvious” Alien thing, but in context it’s more like it was burrowing into meat if found and eating the body rather than being implanted like a Xenomorph. Also, the creatures in Underwater are definitely not nigh un-killable. In fact, the Kepler crew manages to kill a couple of them relatively easily, all things considered.
More than anything though, Alien focuses on a single alien creature that’s not only dangerous because of its size, appetite and acid blood, but because nobody knows or understands anything about it at first. Underwater, by contrast, has something larger (figuratively and literally) in store – and once you know the big reveal at the end it casts a very different light on the rest of the movie.
I’ll rewatch both because I enjoy them immensely, but when I go back to Alien I’m playing “spot the Xenomorph,” while Underwater has me questioning why everyone is carrying around a stuffed animal bunny the whole time; why so many crew had gone missing well before the events of the movie kicked off; why the captain was found sitting silently in the escape pod bay with no remaining escape pods; and why that mosaic in the dive suit room looked so… wrong.
Mimicry and creative thievery will regrettably always be a part of any creative pursuit, and film is no exception. But sometimes we need to take a step back and remember that, just because two things may appear similar on a surface level, it doesn’t mean they’re the same. Calling something “Alien, but ___” is about as ridiculous as saying a game is “the Dark Souls of ___.”
Rob Rich is a guy who’s loved nerdy stuff since the 80s, from videogames to anime to Godzilla to Power Rangers toys to Transformers, and has had the good fortune of being able to write about them all. He’s also editor for the Games section of Exploits! You can still find him on Twitter, Instagram and Mastodon.