On the face of it, the 1979 science fiction classic Alien doesn’t seem like a strong prospect for sequels — at least, not interesting ones. Much of the movie’s interest comes from the gradual revelation of the various horrific qualities of the initially mysterious creatures, but once you know their general modus operandi, they don’t make for particularly complex villains.
James Cameron, though, turned the film into a blockbuster franchise with the 1986 sequel Aliens, which demonstrated the potential expanse of the dystopian future Ridley Scott had imagined, and solidified the status of Sigourney Weaver’s character Ellen Ripley as one of the all-time great action movie icons. Some fumbles followed, but Scott himself reinvigorated the series starting in 2012 with a pair of prequels that explored the multi-mouthed monsters’ genesis.
In 2013-14, three authors penned a series marketed as the “Canonical Alien Trilogy,” picking up where 1997’s Alien Resurrection left off. Audible has adapted all three novels into audio dramas that have been released on Alien Day of each of the years 2016-18. Yes, there’s an Alien Day: April 26, inspired by LV-426, the designation for the planetoid on which the rotten eggs were discovered in the original movie.
The third and final of the adaptations is based on James A. Moore’s book Alien: Sea of Sorrows. I went into it cold, not having read or listened to either of the other two and having a level of franchise familiarity that probably exceeds the average joe’s — but not to the level of knowing what Alien Day was without looking it up.
The term “audio drama” connotes a story told through sound, but without the narrative text that you get in a conventional audiobook. Adapted for the format by Dirk Maggs, Sea of Sorrows is performed by a full cast that includes Stockard Channing as the cold-hearted Andrea Rollins and Rutger Hauer reprising his role as Ash, an artificial intelligence that starred in Out of the Shadows. The drama includes an original score and lots of special effects: don’t even try to count all the gunshots, screams, and Xenomorph drools.
There’s a huddle-round-the-radio charm to a format that requires characters to gasp in shock as they describe grotesque alien queens and hideously disfigured corpses. That said, the audio drama shares a challenge inherent in the material: Alien stories are prone to ironically sagging once the action starts, because by now we know with supreme confidence what’s going to happen once the aliens are afoot. Maybe there are some fans who live for those gory details, but I’ve always been more interested in the backstory, which is why I’m a defender of the sometimes-maligned prequels.
That said, Moore’s story is well-structured, and the audio drama is by and large a rip-roaring listen. Alan Decker, a descendant of Ripley, is an empath: he can feel the emotions and, to an extent, the thoughts of others. He’s recruited by the Weyland-Yutani Corporation (essentially, the entire military-industrial complex with one convenient hyphenated name) to descend into a mine on a distant planet where a long-buried spacecraft contains aliens the corporation would like to harvest for conversion to bioweapons.
Moore is accompanied by a crew of mercenaries right out of central casting, from the tough-as-nails commander to the silent hulk to the cutup. There’s no question that most of them will end up alien fodder: the only variables are how and when. Although Maggs does a nicely ominous job setting the scene (there’s a buried city down there too), once the team splits up and starts casing the joint, it can be tough to figure out who’s where and why.
Eh, does it really matter? Maybe if you celebrate Alien Day. The rest of us can just sit back and enjoy the vividly recorded carnage.