Alien: Out of the Shadows (Audio Drama)

      Publisher: Audible Original 
      Label: Audible Original
      Format: Digital
      RRP: £22.99
      Starring: Andrea Deck, Rutger Hauer, Laurel Lefkow, Matthew Lewis, Mac McDonald
      Directed By: Dirk Maggs
      Released:  2016-04-26

 

 


As a child, Chris Hooper dreamed of monsters. But in deep space, he found only darkness and isolation. Then, on planet LV178, he and his fellow miners discovered a storm-scoured, sand-blasted hell - and trimonite, the hardest material known to man.

When a shuttle crashes into the mining ship Marion, the miners learn that there was more than trimonite deep in the caverns. There was evil, hibernating and waiting for suitable prey. Hoop and his associates uncover a nest of Xenomorphs, and hell takes on a new meaning. Quickly they discover that their only hope lies with the unlikeliest of saviours....

Ellen Ripley, the last human survivor of the salvage ship Nostromo.


 

Essential for fans of the franchise.

 

The last 25 years have been incredibly tough for Alien fandom; numerous attempts have been made to make prequels and sequels to a story that, arguably, was completed to satisfaction with 1992’s Alien3, and most of them have fallen distinctly wide of the mark. As with most horror franchises – and it’s debatable whether the Alien series as a whole falls into this category, with only the original movie actually aiming for the genre – the titular menace has become less frightening and more complicated as time has gone on, forcing writers to work harder and harder to get any mileage out of the property. Alien Resurrection was a half-nonsensical mess, the AVP spinoff movies ended up a harmless monster mash, the licenced books started off well but ended up succumbing to diminishing returns and, most infamously of all, the canon-acknowledged video game sequel Colonial Marines – which aimed to fill the non-existent gap between Aliens and Alien3 – spent 12 years in development hell before being released to an almost universal critical panning.

In fact, of all of the attempts to expand the Alien universe, barring the increasingly rare Dark Horse comics, the only entry that hit the right notes was Sega’s celebrated survival horror video game Alien: Isolation, which not only perfectly captured the feeling and atmosphere of Ridley Scott’s original movie but also managed to add to that universe as well, so it’s little surprise that the latest run of original Alien novels, of which Out of the Shadows is the first, forms a direct sequel to that game’s events. In doing so, it capitalises on a grungy, hostile and terrifying universe which fits in perfectly with existing canon, so it seems crazy that it took even three years for somebody to adapt that universe for other media.

After more than 20 years of producing audiobooks, Audible Studios – now owned by Amazon – has decided to branch out in an apparent attempt to become the Netflix (or should that be Prime Video?) of audio drama, and there’s few franchises that would draw more attention to that effort than Alien. Produced by Dirk Maggs (The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy revival, An American Werewolf in London) and expertly adapted from the novel of the same name, Out of the Shadows sees series protagonist Ellen Ripley coming out of hypersleep after 37 years of drifting in deep space when her escape shuttle, the Narcissus, detects and locks on to a human distress signal. The signal in question is being transmitted from the Marion, a scuttled mining ship in a decaying orbit around planet LV-178; within a few days the ship will fall into the planet’s atmosphere and burn up, leaving its survivors in a bit of a bind. In order to escape destruction the crew must retrieve supplies from LV-178’s mine; unfortunately the only way to get down to the planet is by using the Marion’s one remaining shuttle to fly down to the planet surface, and that shuttle is currently infested with alien creatures and locked down tight to prevent them escaping.

Director James Cameron once described his own Alien sequel as “forty miles of bad road”, alluding to the tense and bumpy emotional ride taken by the audience, but never has that label been more appropriate than when referring to Out of the Shadows. Unrelenting, taut and dripping with atmosphere, it immediately and flawlessly evokes the feeling of the film that inspired it – due in no small part to Maggs’ on-point use of music and sound effects – and provides a horror tale that’s almost its equal. Whilst not perfect – in particular the explanation for Ripley surviving into Aliens without any memory of events surrounding the Marion is predictable, trite and at odds with the character – it nonetheless provides a fascinating expansion of the pre Aliens/post Alien: Isolation universe and in particular Weyland-Yutani’s part in it.

Voice actor Laurel Lefkow, previously of the Aliens vs. Predator video game, provides a spot-on impersonation of Sigourney Weaver. It could be argued that this is unnecessary, and that she could have made the part her own, but with a role so iconic and so indelibly linked to its original actor this runs the risk of breaking listeners’ immersion; likewise, it could also be argued that the character is not required at all, but the same could also be said of the various movie sequels. Joining Lefkow is a well-rounded cast firmly breaking type, including Harry Potter actor Matthew Lewis, Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps’ Kathryn Drysdale and former Aliens/Red Dwarf character actor Mac McDonald. The most notable inclusions, however, are Alien: Isolation star Andrea Deck and Blade Runner alum Rutger Hauer, here playing a delightfully scenery-chewing antagonist. All perform admirably, with no one feeling off-key or miscast; Hauer is, rather predictably, a particular delight.

At four and a half hours, Alien: Out of the Shadows provides pretty good value for money as an outright purchase and fantastic value if redeemed against an Audible subscription credit. Whilst shorter than a standard audiobook, it sports a full vocal cast and movie-level production values, and provides a worthy sequel to both Alien and Alien: Isolation, with only the former being required knowledge going into this new story (and even then only for background colour, as everything the listener needs to know is explained in pretty short order). Recommended for anybody who enjoys a nice, tense SF horror; essential for fans of the franchise.


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