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Revisiting Alien

Submitted by Matt Sills on June 7, 2012 – 10:02 pmNo Comment

by Matt Sills

Like most of the geeks I know, I’ve been looking forward to “Prometheus” since I first heard that Ridley Scott was creating what has been classified as an “Alien” prequel.  I happen to believe that “Alien” and its sequel, “Aliens”, are two of the best sci-fi films ever not named “Star Wars”.  While I’ve watched “Aliens” many times since its release, I realized that it had been years since I had seen the original.  I remembered bits and pieces,  but I couldn’t really remember details, and if I was going to go into “Prometheus”, a film which Scott described as sharing “strands of ‘Alien’s’ DNA”, I needed to revisit the original movie.  For my filmic journey, I decided to bring along my girlfriend, though it was hard not to when she’s the one with the awesome Blu-Ray player and plasma TV.  From here on out, she will be referred to as The Girl, partly because she’s a private person, but mostly because even she’s embarrassed by the fact that “Alien” is completely antithetical to her favorite movie of all time, “Bring It On”.  Sometimes, even I wonder why I date her.  It took a little coaxing to get her to agree to watch “Alien”.  She doesn’t like horror films, doesn’t really like science fiction, and was completely put off by there not being any battling teams of cheerleaders in this movie.  Luckily, I know her weakness, so I went to the market, got a bag of cheddar bacon popcorn, and she stopped protesting.

I made sure the apartment was set up for optimal scariness.  I turned off most of the lights, though The Girl made me leave one on in the kitchen so we would be able to see the alien just in case he decided to attack us while we were watching his movie.  Normally, I’d put our cats in the bedroom so they didn’t bug us, but I decided to leave them out, hoping sadistically that they would jump on The Girl at a particularly tense moment and scare the crap out of her.  SPOILER ALERT:  They just laid there like they normally do.  I turned off both of our cell phones, because I didn’t want one of them going off at a particularly tense moment and scaring the crap out of me.  I sat down on the couch, pressed play, and the movie started.

After an incredibly creepy title sequence where the word “Alien” slowly builds across the top of the screen, we’re presented with what might be the most unusual looking space ship in movie history, the Nostromo.  Mind you, it’s a mining ship, but it’s huge, looking more like a castle than a spacecraft, and I’m reminded of what made this movie so different when it was first released with the tag line, “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream.”  The design of the Nostromo’s interior and exterior are on purpose.  This is a haunted house movie, a horror film that just happens to take place in space.

The crew of the ship, on their way back to Earth, are awoken from deep sleep by Nostromo’s computer, which has intercepted a distress signal.  The crew set down on a toxic planet, where they encounter an alien ship, and a fossilized alien pilot whose ribcage is inexplicably blown outwards.  They soon discover a room filled with what look like hundreds of eggs, and it not long before one of those eggs has hatched, and the creepy scorpion like alien inside has attached itself to John Hurt’s face.

You remember what happens next.  They take Hurt’s character back to the ship, the face sucker comes off on its own, and one of the most famous scenes in movie history takes place.  Maybe I’m spoiled by modern technology, or I’ve just seen “Spaceballs” too many times, but what I remember being incredibly gross and scary was actually pretty cheesy and funny.  I was half expecting the alien to start singing.  The Girl was just as unimpressed.  She asked me when The Predator is going to show up.  I told her that’s a different movie, then proceeded to answer the question a couple more times during the movie before I realized she was messing with me.

The rest of the movie was much simpler than I remembered it.  Small alien grows into giant alien, and picks off the crew members one by one until only one lives, the bad ass Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver.  Ripley destroys the Nostromo, but has little time to relax when she finds the alien has hitched a ride on the escape pod she’s flying.  It takes blowing the door open and sucking the Alien out into space for Ripley to finally be safe.  Like I said, horror film in space, but when I was younger, I didn’t understand the subtlety of what Ridley Scott had pulled off.  Only now as an adult do I understand that “Alien”, above all else, is a marvel of pacing.

Ridley Scott, directing his first big movie, really knew how to ratchet up the tension.  I started to get up and pace the room.  I blamed it on The Girl’s ancient couch and its lack of support, but really, the movie was just making me tense in the best way possible.  The scene that stands out to me is when Harry Dean Stanton’s Brett searches for the Alien.  He walks into a room with chains dangling from the ceiling and water dripping down.  He searches…then stops to dip his head in the water.  It’s interminable, lasting for at least a minute, and you’re expecting something to jump out at you.  Forgetting how this scene ended, I started concocting scenarios in my head, but nothing happened.  Brett’s demise is quite tame compared to a lot of the slasher pics of today, but the slow build up to it makes his death seem that much more violent.

The other thing I really paid attention to in this movie were the details about the Alien, because if “Prometheus” is a prequel of sorts, I wanted to know as much about the Alien as possible.  Surprisingly, I learned very little about it, other than its life cycle, the fact that it adapts well to its environment, that it has acid for blood,  and looks like a beetle, a dog and a venus fly trap were combined.  In fact, it doesn’t appear in the movie very much.  But again, that’s the brilliance of this movie.  The scenes featuring the different incarnations of the Alien, whether it be the facehugger, the chestbuster, or the Alien itself killing off the crew of the Nostromo are so iconic and so well thought out that I didn’t really need any more information than I got.  Scott let me know everything I needed to know:  the Alien is one bad killing machine, and the only way to destroy it is to blow it out into space.

The movie ended, The Girl got off the couch, and walked into the kitchen, letting out a yawn as she went.  Well, I knew her feelings about the movie.  Me, on the other hand, I needed to watch the “Prometheus” trailer again, to see if re-watching “Alien” would give me some insights into this new movie.  Guess what?  Not really.  There are a couple of things in the trailer that I recognized:  the alien ship and alien pilot the crew discovers, and urns that look a lot like the Alien eggs.  But that’s it.  My journey to the far reaches of space with the crew of the Nostromo hadn’t really given me any clues into what I might expect from “Prometheus”, but it did reintroduce me to a movie that has been ripped off for years, but never duplicated.  It still stands up as one of the scariest sci-fi films ever.  If “Prometheus” is half the movie “Alien” is, I’m in for a treat, and I can’t wait to see it, even if The Girl refuses to join me.

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