'In space no one can hear you scream', so the tagline to Ridley Scott's seminal 1979 Alien informed us. Well there's plenty of screaming to be heard in Audible's Alien: Out of the Shadows full cast audio dramatization, written, produced and directed by the legendary Dirk Maggs. Adapted from Tim Lebbon's 2014 novel, which has been confirmed as canon by 20th Century Fox, this is the official sequel to Alien.
In fact the drama opens with Ripley narrating her final log entry before she and Jonesy enter hypersleep at the end of Alien. Then some 37 years later Ripley is inadvertently picked up by the orbital mining freighter 'The Marion' just as two of its drop ships appear, in which the on-board cameras reveal the crew being attacked by the iconic xenomorphs. When the captain is killed, Chief Engineer Hooper finds himself in command and responsible for not just the lives of his crew, but also for the survivor of the only previous alien encounter. Ripley and the Marion's crew find themselves in a life and death struggle not only against the alien infestation but also against Ash, the Artificial Intelligence that will stop at nothing to secure an alien specimen alive.
It is truly astonishing how Maggs has managed to convey the ascetic of the original film. Although you can't see the huge, grimy industrial ship, you just know that The Marion is a huge, grimy industrial ship through the sounds, the echoes, and the apathetic way in which the crew conduct themselves. The mine scenes are also hugely effective, with the sound design stunningly effective in creating a sense of claustrophobia in the long dark tunnels before opening into huge chambers that contain derelict spacecraft. The use of the movies sound effects also add much to this audio drama, which really helps to ground this story within the Alien universe.
The cast is outstanding but Laurel Lefkow's performance as Ripley is just perfect. Her vocal mannerisms and inflection are practically identical to that of Sigourney Weaver. This reviewer had to check the cast list just to be sure that it wasn't actually Weaver. In what must be called an inspired piece of casting, Rutger Hauer plays Ash the homicidal AI programme, hell bent on completing his mission as programmed by his Weyland Yutani masters. The fact that Hauer sounds nothing like Ian Holm, whom played Ash in Scott's movie, is amusingly addressed. Indeed it is Ash that provides the humour, albeit in a very dry, laconic manner, in what would otherwise be a relentlessly grim and brutal drama. James Hannigan's music also echoes that of Jerry Goldsmith (Alien) and James Horner (Aliens) and he would be a welcome return, should Audible produce more of these adaptations.
The only criticisms that can be levied on Alien: Out of the Shadows is not on the vocal performances or sound design but rather the story itself. As this story is set between Alien and Aliens there is little sense of Ripley in jeopardy and the other characters are essentially alien fodder. And we know what you're asking yourselves, "How come Ripley has no recollection of these events in Aliens?", Well rest assured that is explained too in a plausible if somewhat contrived manner. These are minor niggles in what is otherwise a tight, tense, roll-a-coaster of a ride, and although the characters, other than Ripley, are expendable when they do meet their inevitable demise it is shocking and, dare we say, tinged with an element of sadness, which is a testament to the entire casts performance.
At its near five hours running time, not once does Alien: Out of the Shadows lose momentum. It's as cinematic in scope and sound as any of its silver screen brethren, and a darn sight better and more enjoyable than anything post Aliens. Yes, that includes you too Prometheus! Happy Alien Day!
ALIEN: OUT OF THE SHADOWS / AUTHOR: TIM LEBBON / DIRECTOR: DIRK MAGGS / STARRING: MATTHEW LEWIS, LAUREL LEFKOW, COREY JOHNSON, RUTGER HAUER / PUBLISHER: AUDIBLE STUDIOS / RELEASE DATE: 26TH APRIL