Friday, May 18, 2012

Nostalgia Theater: Alien Action Figures -- "They're Unstoppable!"

With the debut of Prometheus, director Ridley Scott's long-in-coming return visit to the Alien universe that he first brought to the screen, just two short weeks away, I've got several Alien-related features in the works to carry us right up to the new film's release. Getting the ball rolling for us is today's Nostalgia Theater, yet another entry in my already-lengthy catalogue of questionable kiddie fare derived from hugely inappropriate, R-rated source material.

While this trend usually manifested as cartoon shows that in turn led to merchandising, every once in awhile they'd cut out the middle man entirely and go straight for the toys. The jugular, if you will. The Alien franchise is one such example. To understand this, it's helpful to realize that Alien was released in 1979 by Twentieth Century Fox, the same studio that cashed out with the Star Wars licensing bonanza just two years earlier.

Thus, given how well both Fox and toymaker Kenner did after boarding the Star Wars gravy train (with a little help from George Lucas, natch), it's easy to figure the thinking here: It's set in outer space...just like Star Wars! There are lots of cool spaceships...just like Star Wars! It's got new and different space creatures...just like Star Wars! The space creatures forcibly impregnate humans with their seed and brutally murder everyone onboard...just like Star W--wait, what?

Bear in mind, this is a movie that carries the tagline, "In space, no one can hear you scream." In other words: "Death! Death! Bloody, horrible, death!" Not exactly, "May the Force be with you," that. It's almost like the Fox marketing folks started drawing up their big plans for action figures, vehicles, and accessories as soon as they heard the word "Alien," before they had a chance to look at the script and realize they were talking about selling what was essentially a giant serial killer to little kids.

The result was as predictable as it was hilarious. One toy made it out the gate, but the combination of terrified children and outraged parents quickly squelched the big marketing onslaught. So, no action figures, no vehicles, no accessories. Here's a TV spot for the one and only Alien action figure to hit shelves, a 12-inch monstrosity (with extending inner jaw!) that goes for big bucks online now that all the kids it scarred for life are old enough to manifest that damage via their PayPal accounts:

After that embarrassing start, Alien merchandise lay fallow for the entirety of the '80s, but the success of the Dark Horse comic books tied in with the James Cameron-directed 1986 sequel Aliens prompted a renewed interested in the marketing possibilities of the brand. That, coupled with loosened restrictions on the kind of content that could be marketed to kids, prompted both Fox and Kenner to take another bite at the apple in the early '90s.

By this time, Kenner had long made a rep turning R-rated movies into action figure gold, whether with RoboCop in 1988 or Terminator 2 in 1992. Thus, the notion of little plastic Aliens figures didn't prompt quite the reflexive blanche the second time around as it did in '79. And with the sequel film's perfectly toyetic roster of "space marines" married with the third film's concept of alien creatures taking on the characteristics of their respective hosts, all the pieces were in place for...this:

(I'm pretty sure that's not actor Michael Biehn, who played the role of Hicks in Cameron's film, voicing the role here, but hey, you never know...)

I remember that commercial from the very first time I saw it, and the many levels of inappropriateness never fail to crack me up. This time they got their action figures, vehicles, accessories, and aliens. Lots and lots of aliens. Bull alien! Scorpion alien! Gorilla alien! Whatever animal-alien combo you can think of, it's a good bet the Kenner folks beat you to it, enough so for the line to last a fairly-impressive three years -- and that without any kind of media tie-in to wrap itself around.

In fact, there's something just so weird about that fact -- more weird, that is, than the run-of-the-mill weirdness of taking a property so clearly not intended for kiddies and turning it into a Christmas-time treat -- that I had to do some digging into why Kenner would bother giving a flick that was already six-years-old by then -- practically an eternity! -- the plastic treatment (which eventually expanded to include Fox's other perfect-for-kids alien franchise: Predator). And the story behind the toys is even more bizarre than the toys themselves.

It turns out Fox had a lot more licensing than comics and toys in mind when it came to Aliens. They were actually orchestrating a full-court press centering on a planned Saturday morning cartoon show (presumably to air on Fox) entitled Operation: Aliens, which would have featured the various marines from Aliens (all of whom died horribly, by the way -- either in that flick or the one after). A pilot/test short was even produced, but somewhere along the daisy chain of approvals, sanity prevailed and the idea was scotched.

I have to say, the notion of an Aliens cartoon is so batcrap insane that I desperately wish there was some footage out there, but sadly all we have is a few stills and some background info that you can check out over here. In the years since then, the Alien franchise has continued along, as has the Alien merchandising, but never again have we seen the madcap attempts by Fox and its various licensors to rope the kiddies into purchasing a creature that's come alive from the pits of their deepest nightmares. Whether Prometheus will spawn similar such attempts, only time will tell!

1 comment:

MooseNinja said...

Man! I remember how lame those were. I was like "when the hell did Apone wear a tanktop and a backwards baseball cap?!?!?!"

Can't believe they were going to make a cartoon series.

Why stop there? Why not Leviathan: The Animated Series? Or Freddy Kruger & Friends?!?!