By Matthew Rosbury (Houston, TX)
“In space, no one can hear you scream”, A tagline that has been scorched into the memories of people all over the world. If you are looking for a great cinematic experience with colossal build up, artery bursting-shock, and a strangely sexually symbolic monster jumping out of the dark to kill you, then the film Alien by the amazing Ridley Scott is the movie for you. This massively successful motion picture, released in theaters in 1979, horrified audiences around the world and was almost banned in the UK because of the prevalent sexual imagery. Although well-received by most, Alien was very criticized. According to an article on Propstore.com, during the first showing at the Graumans Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, religious zealots set fire to a model of the Space Jockey on display to promote the movie, believing it to be the work of the devil. I guess they did not know a good movie from a Baboon’s bottom. Rottentomatoes.com called the film, “A modern classic, Alien blends science fiction, horror, and bleak poetry into a seamless whole.” Alien has an enormous list of points that make it great, but only a select few really stand out: the atmosphere, the Alien, and the heroine.
The plot of the movie is actually pretty basic at its core. Seven people, who work for “The Company” aboard the commercial spacecraft Nostromo on a return trip back to Earth, are awaken from stasis to investigate a distress signal coming from a nearby planet. They land on the planet LV-426. Captain Dallas (Tom Skerrit), Officer Kane (John Hurt), and Navigator Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) set out find the origin of the signal only to find a massive derelict alien spacecraft. Kane stumbles across some very odd creature that attaches to his face. The crew brings it back to the ship, and are faced with a monster that is elusive and ever growing. It ends up bursting out of Kane’s chest and hiding about the ship where the crew is picked off one by one from the shadows.
Ridley Scott created a world that was in a sense, very familiar, but also very foreign and mysterious. He relied on ominous scenes that reflected the heavy isolation from civilization and the feeling of being alone with no one coming to help. Scott called upon the Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger to create the bio mechanical structure of the derelict ship and the Alien composition. The combination of Giger, Scott, and the effects team resulted in a confined space that responds to the restless anxiety, obsessive close-ups, and practical effects.
Techniques inspired from Alfred Hitchcock were used in a way that did not allow you to see everything, so the imagination became a tool to navigate the visuals. In an interview with the cast on Empireonline.com, Ridley Scott said, “The reactions were going to be the most difficult thing. If an actor is just acting terrified, you can’t get the genuine look of raw, animal fear. What I wanted was a hardcore reaction.” How can it be expected of the audience to be scared if the characters in the film are not convincingly terrified? The answer is simple. Let loose a horrifying creature among them and watch them crumble from the inside out. In this, it was achieved, and the brilliance that planted the seed of fear of something in the dark will live in the hearts of movie goers for years to come. But, this could not have been done without some Swiss artistic expression of creature creation.
Created by the Swiss surrealist and bio-mechanical visionary H. R. Giger, the monster that is often parodied, copied, and embedded in pop culture, Alien, is the base for all monster films to stand upon. The Alien, in retrospect, is genius in its creation. Its phallic imagery, mechanically organic elements, and feminine prowess form together to create a hellish creature. But do not think that it’s going to allow itself to be seen too much right away. The terror lies in how little we actually see any details of the creature. It waits in the shadows, lurks in the dark corners, and remains barely visible as it plucks each one of the crew members from their personal life bubbles. Director Ridley Scott never thought that the audience would imagine things more horrid or ghastly than he could ever portray. It is no wonder that people are so afraid of what could be lurking in the darkness under their beds at night or in the blackness of their closets. If only there were someone who could save them from their nightmares.
In 1979, one would think that a movie containing a small cast with a formidable villain or creature would bring about a white, male hero to shine amongst the rest. But, oh no, the writers and Ridley Scott had a new direction in mind. What if the hero in the story was in fact the heroine? Enter actress Sigourney Weaver who portrays Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley. In the film, she is young, newly recruited, and by the books. In fact, there seems to be quite a lot of tension between her and the rest of the crew because of her policy biding personality. So, she stands out a bit, but not much at first. We do not think much of her character during most of the first half of the story, but when Captain Dallas bites it, she steps up and forcefully gains command. By the time the Alien has killed most of the crew, Ripley becomes a woman with a purpose. She throws out the policy book and goes with her gut, deciding that instead of trying to kill it with conventional means, why not just destroy the ship? Weaver’s character blows away audiences with a spectacular performance and stunned us all as a well-balanced and sexually modest (at one point) heroine that changed the way movies favored men as heroes and let the woman be just as bad ass as the next hero.
Fans of the “Alien Universe” have since, continued to support any plans or already made Alien movies. Of course, I do not blame the fans for wanting more. The sheer tension of the storyline induced a type of cerebral fear that would plague the mightiest person. It had a very cynical sense of values that allowed the viewer to leave the comfort of their reality box and enter into the realm of pure science fiction. These days, horror movies depend on a shock factor where they just pop out and say, “Gotcha!” It is just mind numbing. We need more of the cinematic eeriness and daunting feelings of inevitable demise. So, having inspired many successful films like Predator and The Thing, books on symbology and feminism, and pop culture, Alien is a slow roasting buildup of suspense and anxiety that leaves you forgetting to breathe easy and is by far the most visually rewarding piece of cinematic art ever constructed.