Tuesday, October 28, 2014


When I made the impulse decision to re-watch Ridley Scott's Alien for the first time in a long time, I thought I'd be able to admire a few shots, see some cool aliens, and just generally enjoy a nice, classic horror film before Halloween.

Ha. Nope.

The scene that haunted my childhood
Somehow, I found some theories that claim that Alien is about feminist views, anti-feminist views, rape, Freud, parasitism, and how the facehugger acts as "payback for the many horror films in which sexually vulnerable women are attacked by male monsters. Wow. Scott, however, has a much more simple view on the matter: "...It's only point is terror, and more terror. It has absolutely no message." So, what's one to make of this weird, scary, possibly hyper-sexualized film? In my opinion... not a whole lot. Call it a cop-out, but I'm going to go ahead and say - others may disagree, but whatever - that we can take a lot of things away from Alien, but deep meanings and hidden messages are not a major part of this film.

This is H.R. Giger, the guy who
made the alien costume. I don't
want to talk about him, just
point out how creepy he is.
Alien has a lot good things going on: minimal dialogue, a convincing cast, and special effects that - for the most part - really stand the test of time. Seeing that little baby alien squirm around inside it's egg was getting me grossed out like no other, and some of the alien-planet shots, with Kane and the other members donning their spacesuit/headlamp combo, were almost indistinguishable from the same type of shots done in Prometheus (Scott's 2012 sequel/prequel that I think is unjustifiably underrated). The film is beautifully shot, and I can honestly say it's been one of the first movies I've seen where I could really say "ok, yeah, now I understand how important and badass set design can be." The combination of the close camera angles, long takes, and general claustrophobic atmosphere of the spaceship Nostromos really gives the whole film a sense of immediacy and tension, which only gets worse when a freaking alien is let loose on board.

The Alien itself is - ok, here's one of the only places I'll give in to the theory; his head looks like a dick - iconic. Scott crafted the film so that you would never see the full alien until the very end of the movie. Instead, he reveals it in different stages (egg, facehugger, coming out of John Hurt's chest) before slowly showing different bits and pieces of the fully grown thing. There were no special effects involved in the making of the alien, apart from the obvious practical effects, and there was actually an actor inside the costume of the full-grown adult. Now that I mention it, there was only ever one shot done on a bluescreen; the rest of the film - including many of the space scenes, were done with scaled-down models of the spaceships "flying' over a purely black background. Stars were later added in with double exposure.

All of the cinematography and effects aside, however, the thing that stood out the most to me was the combination of the dialogue and the lack thereof. I had never realized how profoundly quiet the whole movie really was. There's practically no dialogue at all for the last 20-30 minutes of the film, but unless you're really stopping to think about it (as I was. Thanks Arturo, you've ruined movies for me) it's not something that would ever stand out to you since so much else is going on. According to somewhere in this Wikipedia article, Scott encouraged his actors to improvise their lines, and he liked their improvisations so much that he decided to keep them in the film. As a result, the film feels much more gritty and realistic, without any unnecessary rants or monologuing that this type of movie might fall victim to. For a science-fiction/horror movie, I think it's the perfect balance of giving exposition through dialogue and simultaneously telling a very visual story.

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