A review of the Audible Original drama “River of Pain.”

“River of Pain is the second Audible Original Original adaptation of a novel expanding the Alien franchise.  The first, “Out of the Shadows,” was gripping enough and an effective drama.  This, skipping the second in the novel trilogy, “Sea of Sorrows,” is better, boosted by closer and better continuity to the movie it’s most closely linked to, ‘Aliens.’  This film was James Cameron’s big screen stand off between Ellen Ripley and a band of colonial marines, and an army of Xenomorphs and their Queen.  This is a direct prologue to that film, and skillfully weaves in key early scenes from the movie, as well as sometimes expending them a little (watch out for how they riff off “There goes our salvage guys”).  This is fascinating and very well done.  Kudos to the cast who brilliantly step into the skin of the originals, especially Laurel Lefkow as Ripley.  You get some of the ‘Aliens’ original cast returning as well, including Mac MacDonal as unfortunate Colony administrator Al Simpson, and William Hope as Lt. Gorman (“you always were an asshole, Gorman”).
The action, flashing between early scenes from the film and parallel events on the terra-forming colony Hadley’s Hope on the planet Archeron (the mythical original of the titular “River of Pain”), leads to events starting with Ripley’s rescue by the salvage team, the arrival on Archeron on a new troop of marines led by the tough but principled Captain Damian Bracket (superbly portrayed by Colin Salmon) and up to no good Weyland Yutani scientists.  The population of Hadley’s Hope are worn down and beleaguered by the grind of colony life, and are fighting amongst themselves.  Newt’s mom and Dad are fighting (Anne Jordan is sympathetically played by Anna Friel), and when news come of a big mysterious site to explore that could prove lucrative, the Jordan’s seize on it as their possible salvation.  Unfortunately the fate of the colony is rapidly being sealed.  The first 2 hours effectively build up the tension and atmosphere of the world of Aliens.  Fans will be delighted by familiar sounds, the distinctive whirring of the colony doors, the bleeping of trackers, and so on.  Scientists, military, administrators all clash, and Ripley slowly works through the chain of events that slowly lead her to Archeron.  It isn’t long before face-huggers, chest-bursters and warrior adults all do their violent thing and start munching through the colonists, or worse.  It’s good drama when you know the colony’s fate and the fate of key characters, dread getting to that point but are behind them and rooting for them nevertheless   I was expecting a very down-beat finale, and yes the horror of dreaded events is there, but there’s also an unexpected shot of hope and redemption at the end that will make you cheer.  In fact there’s two, when we get to a first meeting between certain characters that the drama has been building up to.
Brilliant and recommended.
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A review of the Audible Original audio-drama ‘Out of the Shadows.’

This is a fast paced, massively entertaining treat for ‘Alien’ fans, part of the ‘Audible Original’ range.   It’s an audio drama production as opposed to an audio book (so different cast parts, music, sound effects) based on the novel of the same name by Tim Lebbon.  You can read my review of the novel here.  The Audible Original sequel ‘River of Pain’  is due soon (26/04/2017).
In terms of the story, it’s based on-board the mining ship Marion, which in the opening chapters is devastated by a collision with a shuttle.  Chris Hooper, engineer, and his horrified colleagues watch on the shuttles security cameras as the surviving crew is decimated by a handful of Xenomorphs.  As they watch, the pilot’s chest explodes as she births an Alien infant.  The shuttle has been on planet LV178 where they have been mining Trimonite, a rare mineral harder than diamonds.  There they have made the discovery which causes their deaths.  The shuttle ‘Samson’ docks and it’s only a matter of time before the station itself is infested. Meanwhile, another ship hoves into view.  It’s the Narcissus, and on board is one Ellen Ripley and her pet cat Jones, in hyper-sleep decades after the destruction of the Nostromo and it’s one terrifying Alien.  In terms of continuity this is between the first and second films.  If you are wondering how Ripley never mentions this phase of her adventure, I won’t spoil the reason, but it works better here than it did in the novel (where I think the convenience of this particular contrivance felt rather forced) because you are carried along by the faster pace and you don’t dwell on the contrivance as you may if reading.   If you are asking how the Narcissus found the space station, then it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that one homicidal android from Alien chapter one has downloaded his programme /consciousness onto the Narcissus, and that consciousness has steered the Narcissus to the Marion’s distress call, which contained details of the Aliens.  You see, Ash is still intent on fulfilling his ‘special order’ to bring an Alien back to Earth and the ruthless company, Weyland Yutani.
Ripley is revived and is understandably none too pleased that her nightmare on the Nostromo is not over.  The stage is set for a battle between human crew, Aliens, and Ash…
The production works very well and is full of sound effects recalling the world of ‘Alien.’  The hum and beep of the computer on the Narcissus and it’s clicking of its retro keyboard, the, clanking and rumbling of industrial vessels, the hissing and chilling Alien cries.  And Laurel Lefkow’s reading of Ripley made me wonder if they had Sigourney Weaver on board as I first started to listen, so accurate is she to the weary, bitter heroism of that character.  The other standout is Rutger Hauer.  He’s superb as Ash, distinctive from Ian Holm but still capturing the cold, ruthless analytical character of Ash, inhumanly human.  And the rest of the ensemble cast complement each other well, keeping things moving at a cracking pace under the able direction of Dirk Maggs.
At 4 hours 31 minutes it compresses and follows the contours of Tim Lebbon’s novel closely.  It’s a recommended listen for those who can’t wait for Alien: Covenant (or the Neil Blokaamp re-boot).

“Alien: Out of the Shadows” by Tim Lebbon; a review.

Someone said recently, was it Richard Dawkins, that the universe is not hostile, only indifferent.  Ridley Scott’s initial terrifying vision with his film ‘Alien’ was to give us a universe that was both hostile and indifferent to man.  A supreme expression of such a universe was the evolutionary apex of a hunter-killer, as designed by H R Giger, a nightmare poster child of the horror in the dark.

Since that film several different directors have given us their various takes on this nightmare, battling studio interference and the law of diminishing returns.  We’ve also had novelisations, novels and graphic novels, all seeking to expand this nightmare universe and its protagonists, and take it in new directions.

Tim Lebbon’s novel ‘Out of the Shadows’ is a direct sequel to Scott’s first film, and is reasonably close to the vision and ascetic of that film.  It has huge, grimy industrial ships, and a crew that seem to be more ‘truckers in space’ rather than Han Solo heroes.   Other echoes to the original include an awe inspiring alien space-craft, artefacts and remains of another alien race, a rocky, wind-blasted planet, and the machinations of ‘the Company,’ Weyland Yutani.  And, of course, it has those terrifying Xenomorphs.  It also nods to the universe of the sequels, with references to the Marines, and even some of the “what Gods made these” philosophising the oddly misfiring Prometheus gave us. 

But it’s also, thankfully and most importantly, a rattling good story and read in its own right.

Ship’s engineer Chris Hooper, aboard the deep space mining orbital ‘the Marion,’ is jolted from his workaday routine when two shuttles from the surface make a frantic dash back for the Marion, pursued apparently by something that terrifies them.  This ends with a violent crash, and the lives of the Marion’s crew are now plunged into the horror of an alien infestation, as they also struggle to work out the fate of the miners on the planet’s surface, and the trajectory of their ruined, falling space-station.  They then rescue a life-boat, the Narcissus, containing the sleeping form of one Ellen Ripley, and the true horror of their situation begins to dawn.

The story is well paced, using cinematic set pieces and suspenseful build-ups to violent confrontation as the crew unravel the mystery, and Ripley’s story joins theirs.  I enjoyed particularly the feeling that all the sequels were being forgotten, and the whole Alien story was being reset to the point that ‘Alien’ finished.  It certainly has the tighter, grimier focus of the first film.  However, connivances towards the end point at efforts to slot this into the franchise, which felt a disappointment.  The sequels got so stupid in the forced continuity of their story arc; a big refresh would have been welcome.

I also enjoyed the reintroduction of Ash, as a homicidal AI programme bent on the continuation of his ‘find and return’ mission of the first film.  Peering out balefully from cctv cameras and monitors, he outdoes 2001’s HAL as the omnipresent psycho computer with a cultured and mannered voice.  His transmissions to the Company punctuating the narrative are well done.

There is real tension, jarring shocks and the merciless ‘offing’ of characters you would expect from an Alien story.  The other alien race is interesting, and there are similarities to the ‘Space jockeys’ of the first film, before Prometheus muddied the waters.  The mines are an effective setting, both claustrophobic, with dark corridors, and agoraphobic, opening up into massive chambers containing derelict spacecraft (and lots of Aliens).

What doesn’t work so well?  A few of the ‘set pieces’ seem weirdly ineffective, like the perspective is too distant. The initial crash is like this, being viewed through a scanner that in turn looks through a ship’s window.  Some of the Alien attacks also feel rushed.  Also as mentioned, the contrivances at the end of the story that force it into the wider movie franchise are clever but unconvincing.  I was so hoping for the boldness of an approach that would reimagine the whole sequel-scape.

But these gripes aside (as someone says in original movie “quit griping”), this is an above par Alien story that re-introduces the sub-space chills of that very first encounter.

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