Alien

Alien is one of those movies you’re supposed to have seen. Up until now, I hadn’t seen it, and I only did because somebody strongly recommended Aliens to me, but I figured I should get some context first. That being said, I am also very aware of Alien, because of its impact on popular culture. I knew what the alien looked like, I knew who survived into the sequels, I knew about the chest-explody scene (largely thanks to Space Balls), and I had seen the last 15 minutes because, according to Professor Thy Phu from my “Reading Popular Culture” class, that was the best way to learn about strong female characters.

Now that I’ve actually seen it, it’s hard to differentiate between what I noticed and what I enjoyed. That being said, here’s what’s I thought.

There’s a lot of techno-jargon. Every time the ship moves, lands, scans, there’s about 10 minutes of convincing-sounding chatter about exactly what’s going on. Even if you don’t understand it, you really believe that these guys know what’s going on. The gadgets are also pretty cool, although in some cases, it really looks like things are spacy for the sake of being spacy. For instance, in the room with “Mother” (the ship’s computer) there are only about four small monitor screens. The rest is elaborate padding, made to look futuristic without serving any kind of purpose. One would figure that effeciency would be something to keep in mind with space travel.

Despite all of this techno-speak, I still got caught up in everything that was going on. For the first half-hour, nothing really happens, but I nonetheless couldn’t wait to see what happened next.

I’m not quite sure why a hospital gown in the future looks like a corset.

I am also highly suspicious of Ash’s machine for tracking the alien. He claims that it works by noticing movement based on changes in air density. If that were the case, would it not always be going off (since they’re on a moving ship)? Also, how is it able to read through a door? Even Ripley dismisses the machine: “changes in air density, my ass.” Come to think of it, how did the cat get into a locker in the first place?

While I’m on the subject, we are in a world where we can scan an unvisited planet and determine nearly everything about it, but the most sophisticated tools we have for catching an instrusive alien on a spaceship are a net and fire?

We see the alien shed its skin once. It was, at first, about a foot long upon birth. Then, it shed its skin once and became about 8 feet tall. Maybe alien physiology is different than what we’re used to on Earth, but that still seems like a pretty drastic growth for one day.

*spoiler paragraph* Once Brett dies, the crew holds something of a pow-wow to discuss how they’re going to deal with the situation. During this meeting, they discuss details of the alien (such as its size) that no one would know, since Brett was alone in the room when he was attacked.

I very much liked the twist with Ash. Sneaky Bilbo. I don’t want to ruin it, because it’s a unique twist that would be impossible for any other horror movie and it’s presented in a really original way.

That being said, the movie does fall backward into some horror cliches. For one, people wander away from the group when there’s a dangerous monster afoot. This is never a good idea, and those that do it suffer quickly. Secondly, there are a lot of jump scares that are based around a cat. In one instance, it even happens when Ripley is looking for the cat. This is a very screechy kitty, as is required for any horror flick.

No monster should drool THAT much. A bit of spittle implies hunger. A bit of dripping spit implies rabidity. A constant streaming is goofy.

Once Ripley’s onboard the escape pod, she flicks about three switches, which allows her to take off. This seems to fly in the face of the above-mentioned, well thought out sequence of actions that must take place in order for any kind of technological reaction to occur.
All of these things being said, I do agree with the general concensus about this movie. It takes the horror film to a new area and does a lot with it. There is a lot of originality to the treatment of the subject matter, including a few really unsettling scenes (face sucker/chest-explody). While I can understand Ridley Scott’s desire to rarely shoot the full alien in full (because it looks so damned much like a guy in a suit), the action sequences end up suffering from a frenetic vagueness where you’re left wondering exactly what happened, rather than being terrified by the violence.

It’s rare that I can see the influence that movies have on the ones that follow it. Generally, I prefer to give merit to the actual quality of the movie, rather than on the retroactive impact that it had on film in general, but watching this movie explains a lot about where so many space and horror cliches have come from. That being said, this is a pretty undisputably good movie, it just may not be as good as you remember.

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