Alien

Alien. 20th Century Fox 1979.
Alien. 20th Century Fox 1979.

Before watching the movie:

This is definitely not part of the Movie Monster Month series. Because it’s a new month, of course.

I have the impression that this movie basically invented Sci-Fi-Action-Horror as a subgenre, or at least is why it’s so predominant. I don’t dislike that combination, but I do mind that it seems to have choked out the alternatives, at least through the 80s and 90s.

But anyway, this is very ingrained in culture, so the scariest part is that I haven’t seen it yet. Ripley is up there with Sarah Connor (in Terminator 2) for awesome female heroes, and John Hurt’s most famous role is as the guy who explodes. There’s a walking backhoe fight. (That’s Alien 2 I think) These are things it’s impossible not to know.

After watching the movie:

A corporate space mining ship on the way back home to Earth encounters a signal of some kind. Required by contract to investigate anything intelligent, they make landfall on an inhospitable world and go exploring. By the time the computer can work out that the signal is a warning, Kane has an acid-blooded alien wrapped around his head keeping him in a coma. The science officer wants to study the creature, the captain wants to save his teammate, and third officer Ripley just wants to keep the rest of the crew safe. And then a new alien explodes out of Kane and disappears into the air ducts.

The problem with doing such popular films is that so much of what there is to say has already been said. Ripley could easily have been a man, but isn’t, but neither is she a classic horror “final girl”. The aliens’ designs tap into sexual fears, but aside from the Facehugger it seems fairly subtle. If you can stand upright in your air duct, that’s not an air duct. Naming a horror movie Alien is exceedingly racist and probably makes Earth a target for invasions.

I note that this was released about a production cycle after Star Wars, but I couldn’t say how much that affected it, since the tones are so different, and I have to keep in mind that 2001 came first, by almost a decade. The original trailer for Star Wars actually does a better job conveying the tone of Alien. Perhaps the success of Star Wars only meant there was money to fully realize a movie helmed by a second-time director. If this is a response to Star Wars, it’s certainly a better attempt than jumping into production with a half-finished TV script and padding it out with budget-breaking effects.

One little detail I liked was that several story beats are advanced by there being a cat on board. I don’t recall if they said why the ship had a cat, and while I like the idea of it being smuggled aboard, that probably doesn’t work practically. It has a name though, so somebody’s been caring for it. Among a crew that’s entirely on surname-basis, of course the cat’s name is just “Jones”.

I like to see how franchise-launching movies end, because they usually have definitive ends that the first sequel is hard-pressed to follow on from. However, in this case I was a bit disappointed by how open it is. Considering what’s known about how adaptable the aliens are, it’s entirely plausible for this specific one to return. Even if not, the species is still out there. Weyland-Yutani still wants to harness their power. This is a story ideally suited to start a series, as hardly anything other than the immediate safety of the remainder of the crew is resolved. As probably befits a movie about fear of the unknown.

This film is more cohesive than the crew it depicts. It accomplishes what it’s meant to do, and does it enjoyably, or at least well, depending on how much fun dread is.

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