The movie Alien changed the cinematic landscape forever by changing the landscape of space from an adventure frontier to a threatening waste. There had been plenty of films that blended the science fiction and horror genres before, but most of them were campy drive-in monster movies. What Alien did so well was to create an oppressive atmosphere of terror out of the solitude of space. Spaceships weren’t sleek white-walled convertibles of the sky but cluttered industrial-looking barges. Aliens weren’t hyper-intelligent beings with laser pistols but animalistic hunters and parasites more vicious than anything found on earth. And space itself was the ultimate force keeping you alone, keeping you from safety.
Countless movies afterwards have mimicked the success of Alien, and it would be impossible to list all of the films that it has influenced in some way. But Alien’s greatest copycat may well lie within the realm of videogames. No, I’m not talking about Dead Space (though that’s certainly debatable); I’m referring to the Metroid series. Specifically, both Super Metroid and Metroid Prime owe a hell of a lot to Aliens. It’s not just that both works are eerily atmospheric space shooters with a strong female lead who explores a largely desolate (and previously inhabited) planet. I was rewatching the first two Alien movies recently and at every turn another similarity struck me.
This isn’t meant to be revelatory, of course. I have no doubt that people have made the connection before. Rather I find it interesting to note just how much seems to be taken from the movies. So let’s begin: a strong female lead who has a penchant for losing clothes at the end of the story, and plays mother figure in one instance (Ripley to Newt, and Samus to a Metroid baby). Critters (often contained in glass tubes) who emit a creepy screech as they try to latch onto their victims’ faces. Countdown timers to self-destruct mechanisms that seem to be everywhere, and always feature klaxons and flashing lights. A big baddie who likes to skewer people on its huge barbed tail (Ridley and the Alien Queen). How about the names? Metroid has a reoccurring boss named Ridley, and Alien was directed by Ridley Scott. One of Samus’s greatest adversaries is Mother Brain, and the Hal-esque computer that sends the damning message to the original Alien crew is named Mother. Speaking of enemies, Ridley even looks a bit like one of the Aliens.
All of this brings up a trend in the videogame industry that, if anything, has become more prevalent in recent years: that of copying the film industry. Uncharted tries to be Indiana Jones, Dead Space harkens back to Alien just like Metroid does, Modern Warfare 2 delights in being a conflation of Red Dawn and The Rock. And that’s just off the top of my head. Perhaps as videogames mature as a medium, they look to an older format for guidelines. Or maybe movies and videogames often share a lack of originality, opting instead for endless rehashes and remakes. How many times has Zelda told the same story with slight variations? Who can argue that games like Darksiders and Dante’s Inferno don’t copy God of War with almost plagiaristic reverence? Maybe there’s something about being a game that makes us care less about such things: I know I enjoyed Darksiders even though it brought very little originality to the table. As long as the game is more fun than the competition, does this justify blatantly copying others? What do you think?