Alien [retro review]

ralien“It’s got a wonderful defense mechanism: you don’t dare kill it.”

The Scoop: 1979 R, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver and Harry Dean Stanton

Tagline: In space no one can hear you scream.

Summary Capsule: The universe’s most badass nasty chews up a spacecraft full of extremely reluctant heroes

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Justin’s Rating: Ummm… OUCH!

Justin’s Review: The entire Alien series really boils down to one critical scene, which takes place about forty minutes into the first movie. You know it — you were probably traumatized the first time you saw it (and then quickly ran out to find other friends to expose it to as well). A group of space miners are enjoying a last meal before hypersleep when one of their number starts coughing at a joke… coughing too loudly. His coughs turn into shakes, his shakes into convulsions, his convulsions into rictus screams. Then a small geyser of blood bursts forth from the poor guy’s chest, spraying everyone around the table… and they witness the birth of the alien, that most ugly of space varmits, poking his head out and laughing at the puny earthlings. In space, we are told, no one can hear you scream. Well, unless there happens to be a movie crew shooting it all, in which case we get screams in 5.1 Dolby Digital.

I love this series because each Alien movie has a style, story, and theme all its own. Ridley Scott’s first major hit, Alien, is a slow buildup of quiet horror, bursting into loud shrieks machinery, animals, humans and Mr. Chrome Dome. It’s not just the space beast that’s meant to freak us out: Alien concerns itself with setting up an eerie atmosphere not only on the hostile planet the ship lands on, but in the ship itself, with its chains and claustrophobic hallways and impersonal computers.

Very soon into the movie we realize that the humans are outclassed, but we get reminded again and again of by what vast margin they are the underdogs. The crew loses its first and second officers, leaving third officer Lt. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in a near helpless situation. Weaponless, and with a traitor in their midst, the crew must defeat an alien being that not only likes to pop in via someone’s abdomen, but has acid for blood, sharp fangs and claws, a wicked tail, and TWO sets of mouths. Oh yeah, and it can survive in space for a period of time. And it can crawl pretty much anywhere. And it’s completely silent until it strikes.

Ya gotta feel pity for the poor humans, who are in an inescapable position aboard a lonely spacecraft light-years from Earth. We really need for someone to kick butt, but we don’t get that until the sequel. Instead, our desperate heroes practice their hyperventilation and saying, “No… no… NOOOOO! ARGGHHH!” while following the cardinal rule of ALWAYS SPLITTING UP WHEN A KILLER IS ON THE LOOSE. Because that’s the best way to confuse the bad guy, dontcha know? I swear, when I make a horror movie all of my characters will form a permanent conga line and move around the haunted house that way. I’d like to see Jason or Mike Meyers try to take on 15 teens all at once, yes I would.

Even twenty odd years later, this nice piece of suspense, science fiction, and horror stands up admirably. I like the raw feel of the spaceship, as if it’s always two minutes from completely falling apart. And any ship that comes equipped with strobe lights during an emergency is always welcome. Ripley as the unlikely heroine is just awesome. From the start she’s the only one with a real dose of common sense. Scared as she is, she doesn’t come apart during the crisis, unraveling a conspiracy among the crew as she battles the alien and prepares for escape. The final sequence of Ripley vs. the alien on a small shuttle is as nail-biting as they come. Plus, we get to see the world’s smallest underwear (not quite a thong, not quite a strand of dental floss) make its large screen debut. Alien needs to be seen at night, with lights down, sound way up, and a few friends to freak out along side of you.

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Kyle’s Rating: The origin of my claustrophobia

Kyle’s Review: It’s impossible to think or talk about Alien without immediately thinking about how cool Aliens is and how much we all wanted to be a Colonial Marine and ran around our house with our plastic laser guns shooting at aliens in the bushes and screaming “Game over, man! Game over!” Or maybe it’s just me.

Regardless, Alien is where this all started and although Aliens is where it’s at, the first installment is really moody and even frightening and definitely worth a first, second, or trillionth look if you’ve got the time.

You can probably guess the story based off the title alone: an alien terrorizes people and eventually it comes down to one survivor and it will take a lot of guile and inner toughitude to take that alien out. It’s a cliché, thanks to the hundreds and hundreds of Alien clones that passed the “begging for funding” stage based solely on the guys pitching the movie being able to say “It’s just like Alien, and look how cool that was.”

But I digress. This movie gave us lots of visual Goth madness (you go, H.R. Giger!), an incredible alien design and one hot mama-jama in Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). Who wouldn’t want to date an alien-trashing prototype riot grrl like Ripley, as long as you never made her angry? “No roses for me? You son of a @#%&*!!” [sound of machine gun fire roasted your hide]. Could be fun, I guess. But what’s really fun is the movie Alien! You’ve seen countless low-quality knockoffs. Now see the one that really started it all and is arguably responsible for 60% of the movies clogging the shelves at your local Blockbuster! But don’t forget to view Aliens as well! It’s the coolest!

ralien2

"It's Norm!" "HEY NORM!"

Intermission!

  • The computer screens are reflected in the helmet visor
  • The main computer is named “Mother”; in Alien Resurrection, the main computer is named “Father”
  • The alien’s habit of laying eggs in the stomach (which then burst out) is similar to the life-cycle of the tsetse fly.
  • Much of the dialogue was ad-libbed.
  • In the scene where Dallas, Kane and Lambert are leaving the ship, the actual actors walking past the Nostromo’s landing struts are 3 children (two of whom were Scott’s children dressed in scaled down spacesuits. This has the effect of making the ship look bigger.
  • The front (face) part of the alien costume’s head is made from a cast of a real human skull.
  • “Nostromo” is the title of a Joseph Conrad book. The shuttle that Ripley escapes on is called the “Narcissus”, a reference to another Conrad book.
  • The vector graphics that appear on Ripley’s screen showing the undocking sequence for the Nostromo was also used for the aircar launch sequence in Blade Runner (another Ridley Scott movie).
  • Mother’s two 30 second countdowns take 36 and 37 seconds respectively.
  • The Spanish version of the title translates as “Alien: The 8th Passenger.” This was originally to be directed by Walter Hill, but he pulled out and gave the job to Ridley Scott. An early draft of the script had a male Ripley. Veronica Cartwright was originally to play Ripley, but producers opted for Sigourney Weaver. Scott is reportedly quoted as saying that originally he wanted a much darker ending. He planned on having the alien bite off Ripley’s head in the escape shuttle, sit in her chair, and then start speaking with her voice in a message to Earth. Apparently, 20th Century Fox wasn’t too pleased with such a dark ending.

Groovy Quotes

Parker: It’s got a wonderful defense mechanism: you don’t dare kill it.

Kane: Quit griping!
Lambert: I like griping.

Ripley: Whenever he says *anything* you say “right,” Brett, you know that?
Brett: Right!
Ripley: Parker, what do you think? Your staff just follows you around and says “right”? Looks like a regular parrot.
Parker: [laughs] Yes… What, are you some kind of parrot?
Brett: Right!

Ripley: What was your special order twenty-four?
Ash: You read it, I thought it was clear.
Ripley: What was it?
Ash: Return alien life form, all other priorities rescinded.

Ash: One more word. I can’t speak for your chances, but… you have my sympathies.

Kane: Oh, I feel dead.
Parker: Anybody ever tell you you look dead?

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22 Comments

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