“Must-listen sci-fi drama!”
Alien: Out of the Shadows is an original audio drama from Audible. It’s written and produced by Dirk Maggs, who has previously adapted An American Werewolf in London and created original pieces set in the Independence Day universe, and it’s based on Tim Lebbon’s book of the same name. It runs for a decent four and a half hours and Audible are trailing it very, very heavily on their site, releasing it on Alien Day and advertising it across various online platforms. It’s a gamble, given how well-loved the Alien movies are and how much additional material already exists to expand the universe originally created by Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett and, of course, Ridley Scott: whether, among the plethora of Alien movies and games and comics and books that are already vying for space and attention, there’s room for an audio drama. The answer, on the showing of Alien: Out of the Shadows, is a resounding YES.
The first great strength is this adaptation is the source material. Lebbon’s story, which takes place between at a point between the action of Alien and Aliens, has Ripley rescued from deep space by the crew of the Marion just as the Marion’s drop ships are returning from a nearby planetoid with a very unwelcome set of stowaways… Purists may throw their hands in the air at Lebbon’s audacity (because, as we know, Ripley drifted for 57 years in deep space and nothing happened to her during that period), but they needn’t worry – his plotting is both respectful of the canon stories but smart enough and confident enough to play with them, and the solution he arrives at to fit his tale into the original films’ overall narrative is both elegant and believable. He neatly references much material from the Alien universe (including Prometheus) without ever coming across as too clever or too forced, and the story is both exciting and, at times, scary. There’s enough here that’s new to prevent the listener feeling cheated, but enough for them to recognise and feel grounded in an existing space and in a very real set of events. It’s to Lebbon’s credit that the story stands up well against the original movies, and makes perfect sense within their framework. His greatest coup, though, is the return of Ash, the homicidal android sent by the Company to retrieve an alien at all costs. In Lebbon’s capable hands, Ash’s continued existence is entirely rational and even logical, and he becomes the ghost at the centre of the machine, a puppetmaster whose character is one of the richest and complex in the whole story.
Taking Lebbon’s vision from page to ear is circus master Dirk Maggs, and a mostly excellent job he does of it. His script is fast and tense yet contains enough character development that the various crew of the Marion (and Ripley herself) are believable and distinct from each other, and the actions scenes are pleasingly kinetic and often edge of the seat tense. Magg’s dialogue manages to generally avoid a pitfall of audio dramas, where characters describe what they’re seeing even in moments of high terror (“Argh! It’s a monster and it’s running towards me! Look, it’s got teeth and claws!”), finding other ways to let the listener understand what’s happening, and the story has time to breath and the various scenes to expand to the right length without ever over-staying their welcome. The sound effects are good and the music (which uses cues from the original Alien but which is also often reminiscent of sparse, haunting isolation of The Thing) is excellent. The cast are also uniformly great, with everyone performing their parts well. Maggs’ masterstroke, though, is in the casting of Rutger Hauer (in his first audio role) as Ash, who brings a sinister menace to the proceedings. His Ash is a subtle, terrifying and yet surprisingly moving creation, providing a quiet space in the middle of all the chaos in which grand schemes are hatched and the characters’ lives controlled, directed and often ended. It is to be hoped that Hauer will do more audio work because he’s a revelation, and it is his presence that lifts Alien: Out of the Shadows from mere excellence and turns it into something close to must-listen sci-fi drama.
Highly, highly recommended.
SIMON KURT UNSWORTH
Publisher: An Audible Original
Length: 4hrs 28 mins
Release Date: 26 April 2016
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Alien Out of the Shadows