The commercial vessel Nostromo receives a distress call from an unexplored planet. After searching for survivors, the crew heads home only to realize that a deadly bioform has joined them. (IMDB synopsis)
Good old, er… who directed this? Never mind, it’s probably no-one important. Everybody and their dog has seen Alien, but let’s look at it again from a horror perspective, rather than an action or sci-fi perspective. Besides, that airlock scene’s always reminded me of this time I tried to poke a cranefly out of my bedroom window… except I was wearing a lot more clothes than Ripley. I imagine facing an horrific monster in your undercrackers does a lot to ramp up the fear factor.
My DVD asked me if I wanted to watch the original theatrical release or the 2003 director’s cut. I went for the former; I hope that’s OK with everybody.
We see a bit of screen text telling us that the ship Nostromo is on her way back from a mining trip. (Funny, the Event Horizon was a mining ship too. And Red Dwarf.) The Nostromo crew wake up from statis and have some food and coffee. The reason they’re out of bed is because of ‘a transmission of unknown origin’, and they’re obligated to go and check it out. So, down they go to the planetoid to have a looksee, even though it looks like it’s blasting glass shards out there, and after that, well, you know what happens. Something wraps itself around Kane’s face, Ripley wants him quarantined but is ignored, and then Kane births an alien out of his chest cavity and it gets loose on the ship.
First of all, I feel it pertinent to mention that I saw the chestburster scenes yeeeeeeeeears before I saw the film. This might have taken some of the shock and terror out of that scene for me. But I can see why it’s scary, as it’s a parallel of the agony of childbirth, and no bloke wants to go through that. I also became acquainted with the image of the full-grown alien before I saw Alien, and it was scary to me then. Look at that massive eyeless head! Look at that acid blood and acid saliva! And later on, I recognised a resemblance to something machine-like – sleek and streamlined, but also corrupted and oil-drenched. I guess that’s the point, as Ash describes it as the ‘perfect organism’. Blame H. R. Geiger.
But in fact, it’s mostly the threat of the alien that perturbs the crew – we don‘t see it that much in this film. I think often in horror films, this happens because they don’t have the budget or the means to create a realistic monster, but here it’s highly effective. In fact, I think Alien uses more horror elements than its sequels, but that’s to be expected, as Ripley slowly blossoms into a badass as the series goes on. She’s certainly more of an action protagonist in the second film, which some people tell me they prefer.
What other horror elements are there, I hear you ask? Well, there’s a subtle variation on the old ‘group of teens in a cabin in the woods’. This set-up echoes that one, with a mixture of guys and gals, including the final girl, Ripley, and the sense of isolation is even stronger, as there’s a lot more than a faulty car separating them from a place of safety. They’re in space, where no-one can hear you etc. Speaking of which, in the spirit of pitching these sorts of films as Something In Space, this was apparently ‘Jaws In Space’. I can see why, except for the fact that the shark was confined to the water, whereas the alien does its best to invade your environment.
There’s also the fact that amongst them is an artificial intelligence, whom I’m going to call Ashdroid, who betrays the crew and treats them as expendable – because he’s been programmed to do so. I mentioned in the last review that “Sci-Fi Horror, when it doesn’t involve aliens, is supposed to make us think of the boundaries of scientific discovery which should not be crossed”. This applies to any instance of robots, androids, cyborgs, mechas and/or terminators going doolally and killing people, since they are a human creation, and so ultimately, it’s the fault of humans. WHAT HAVE WE BECOME…?
I do appreciate that one of the female characters in this is determined, logical and level-headed (maybe because Ripley was originally intended to be male). So it’s interesting that they make her seem more vulnerable in her final confrontation with the alien – putting her in her knickers, f’rinstance. This may just be something else they’ve borrowed from horror, like the bimbo who wanders into the woods in scanty panties.
And the moral of the story is… don’t ignore ship protocol.
This is a really decent film, especially for the time, that includes elements of both sci-fi and horror, creating tension through the concepts of isolation and invasion, and we should probably all agree not to think too hard about the whole being impregnated by an alien thing and the shape of its head and that the slime it produced was actually KY jelly.
7 jam sandwiches.