With ‘Alien’ Ridley Scott turned horror and science fiction on its head

Ian Holm, Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt and John Hurt encounter an unstoppable creature in 'Alien'
Ian Holm, Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt and John Hurt encounter an unstoppable creature in ‘Alien’

[rating=3]Starring: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto
Director(s): Ridley Scott
Writer(s): Story by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, Screenplay by Dan O’Bannon

I first saw Alien when I was a young child. It was on television late one night. I don’t recall being particularly scared, but I did enjoy the film. It was exciting, with cool special effects — for the time — and a great creature.

I couldn’t tell you when the first time was that I finally saw it unedited, or how I felt about it when I was old enough to begin to really appreciate film, character, story and so forth. But, as I watched it recently — restored with a few new scenes put in — I’m still impressed by it.

In the end, Alien is simple a horror movie. Ridley Scott has often compared it to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and he is basically correct. You start out with a collection of people, all but one of whom are carefully picked off by the creature. Plus, the main survivor is a woman. So, on that level, it shares much with the other horror classic.

The crew of the Nostromo awakens at the beginning of 'Alien'
The crew of the Nostromo awakens at the beginning of ‘Alien’

However, Alien differs from that film — and pretty much all others — in its style. The visuals presented to us were drastically different than anything else at the time. Sure, the darkness and style has since been replicated and destroyed since, but at the time it was very much unique.

But is it really scarey? I don’t find anything particularly frightening about any of it. But, of course, I was only four years old when it first came out, and but the time I’d gotten around to viewing it my mind was long since corrupted. That’s one of the interesting parts of viewing a film like this. You can’t simply watch it, you also need to keep in mind the time period in which it was released. Forget the advances in effects and the other kinds of violence you’ve seen on screen since. Remember the innocence of the audience that witnessed this film for the very first time. If you can get yourself into that mind set, you can easily see why Alien is so respected.

The one element of the film that I’ve always enjoyed the most is not the horror elements. What I enjoyed most was the interaction between the characters. Chiefly, the scenes around the dining table. Characters all talking all at once, carrying about in conversations, and we being left to simply watch as if we were sitting in the room with them but not participating. The overlapping dialogue gave this film a very simple sense of realism that was very unique. The way Yaphet Kotto’s character, Parker, rambles on about shares and renegotiating his contract. This is something that we can easily relate to, forgetting that he’s an engineer on a space ship decades from now. With that very brief scene, he and the others are made into regular people that could have easily been sitting on an ocean freighter or sitting around a counter at a truck stop.

Sigourney Weaver is sexy and dangerous in 'Alien'
Sigourney Weaver is sexy and dangerous in ‘Alien’

These weren’t fancy space pirates like Han Solo or heroes like Flash Gordon. They were normal, average, blue collar types just trying to make their way in the galaxy. This allows us, the audience, to instantly like them. To relate to them. To feel for them when the horror that is the creature falls upon them.

Ridley Scott scored with this film. He offered people a different view of aliens which had mostly been treated as friendly and misunderstood, like with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. However, I find myself wondering if a film like this could have been made today. It does have a bit of a slow pace, and many scenes are comprised of single shots with little or no coverage. In a world where these films fly by in a span of 90 minutes with commercial-like editing; dialogue that cares more about promoting a tag-line than it does about detailing a character; and effects that may be photorealistic but still don’t look quite as real as a man in a suit, I find it hard to believe.

The “director’s cut” offers a few little tidbits, but is not terribly different from the original version. The biggest alteration is the addition of the Dallas scene at the end of the film. I found this to be rather interesting because it offers a completely different take on the Aliens developed later by Cameron. Instead of a Queen, we learn that the Alien captures people and does something to them causing them to transform into the eggs. The added Dallas scene shows him halfway through his transformation, yet still alive. Ripley discovers him and torches him.

The behind-the-scenes documentary is outstanding. It offers a detailed look at how the film was developed, how Scott came on board the project, how the film was made and the experiences of the actors. It was, by far, one of the finest DVD documentaries out there — right behind the “Beginning” documentary from Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace.

Rated: R
Run Time: 2 hrs., 17 mins.

Michael Sheridan

Michael Sheridan has written, directed and produced more than a dozen short films under the banner of Maynard Films, and has worked as a writer for more than a decade for websites, magazines and newspapers.

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