Written by: Tim Lebbon
Directed by: Dirk Maggs
Narrated by: Rutger Hauer, Corey Johnson, Matthew Lewis, Kathryn Drysdale, Laurel Lefkow, Andrea Deck, Mac McDonald
Length: 4 hrs and 31 mins
April 26, 2016
An alien lived at the bottom of the steps at my parents’ house. My childhood home has since been sold, but even now, at almost 40 years old, I’m certain that alien remains, lurking at night, waiting for someone to venture into the darkness. I take consolation in knowing that I am not alone in the influence Xenomorph XX121 has had on my life. This year marks the 30th anniversary of James Cameron’s Aliens, the sequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), and with it comes Fox’s proclamation that April 26th shall hence forth be known as “Alien Day,” in memory of those lost on the planet designated LV426. With this celebration comes much merchandise and novelty releases, as well as the release of this audio-drama, which is adapted from Leddon’s 2014 book of the same name.
Taking place over three decades after the destruction of the Nostromo and the xenomorph that plagued it, this story initially centres on Chris Hooper, an engineer who is part of a mining expedition on LV178 where the miners have discovered trimonite, the hardest metal known to humanity—but that’s not all they found. Those pesky aliens are everywhere, just waiting for hapless explorers to go digging where they shouldn’t. These miners are not equipped to handle the relentless menace, but boy are they in luck when Ellen Ripley shows up—except she’s brought even more trouble with her in the form of Ash, the synthetic science officer from the Nostromo, who is still hellbent on completing his mission to return an alien specimen to his employers, Weyland-Yutani, on earth. The aliens are a species without remorse that dominate this series, but Ash is a cold reminder that the true enemy is, and always has been, the corporation that utterly disregards human life for the sake of capturing an alien for research and profit.
The cast turns in a worthy performance. Lefkow has much to live up to, voicing Ripley, who was originally played by Sigourney Weaver. She does a stellar job capturing Ripley’s personality as the character pivots between the pain of all that she has lost, both on the Nostromo and in the realization that she has missed more than 30 years of her daughter’s life, and her determination to survive the reality of waking up back in the nightmare she thought she’d left behind. Rutger Hauer, in his first voiceover performance, is chilling as Ash, the disembodied android. This role harkens back to his stunning role as the android Roy Batty in Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner, thus fueling the speculation that the Alien and Bladerunner universes are one and the same.
“I’m everywhere, Chief Engineer Hooper. I’m in the Narcissus, deeper and more entrenched than any of its former programs. I’m in the Samson and the Marion. Do you really think a third rate virus program can affect me?” —Ash
Though well-performed by all the cast members, within the limited time frame of events and the intensity of the action and imminent destruction, the format does not allow for the background material that the written word provides. The audio-drama, with its sound effects and the casts dramatic performances, does capture the feel perfectly, but there’s no time to get to know or care about anyone but Ripley, who quickly takes over as the lead once she’s awakened, leaving Hooper in the dust. The rest of the cast is obvious fodder for the aliens’ and Ash’s machinations. Moreover, since this book is specifically labelled as canon, I found it difficult to sink myself into a story that I knew would have to end with a cop-out involving Ripley’s memories being conveniently wiped back to her exit from the Nostromo and Ash’s frequent transmissions drifting into nothingness.
Perhaps this would work for someone new to the saga, but for me—who just recently finished reading the Aliens novelization by Alan Dean Foster and then spending the next few hours poring over the Xenopedia—Out of the Shadows let me down. Perhaps if the story had only involved Ash as the ghost in the machine, still intent on completing Special Order 937, it would have been easier to swallow. Instead, despite being a good book and a great performance by all, I was disappointed in the reality of the story erasing itself, even before it had begun.