Sometimes the best presents come in basic wrapping, as is proved by the iconic “Alien.”
Before 1979 no one had wholly depicted aliens like Ridley Scott. He terrified audiences with what the unknown held. And, his Alien would become the prototype for many years after. His aliens weren’t your friendly green Martians or lovable extra-terrestrials next door. These beings were ugly, vicious, and almost impossible to stop.
The opening to Ridley Scott’s Alien was relatively tame. The filming begins with a pan of the ship Nostromo. The craft is quiet, dismal, and ill-lit. It is an eerie foreshadowing of what is to come. Through this rolling vignette, the viewer feels the finality that underscores the emptiness. The picture of abandonment is all too clear. But just before the viewer’s mind begins to wander to wildly imagined outcomes, Scott opens the doors literally and figuratively. And we see the awakening of the characters.
Ridley uses classic storytelling in the film, Alien.
Alien follows a textbook story arc; introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. And, each part is easily identifiable. There is no clever re-framing or flipping the trajectory of the story on its head. What you see, you get; clear, cut, and straightforward. This type of storytelling is neither good nor bad; it is classic.
While one may not appreciate the mundane flow, one can admire the detail to time and scope. There is no sudden rush to jump into the action without laying down some foundation. Ridley is deliberate in ensuring that the visuals and dialogues are nuanced.
The characters of Alien are archetypes.
The characterizations in Alien seem to follow a blueprint. The crew aboard the Nostromo differ little from other space exploration teams on film. The unit consists of engineers, a scientist, the command, and a navigator. And each member fulfills their roles perfectly. As in many science fiction movies, engineers face an impossible task. There is a struggle in command. And the scientist has a bigger mission in which he lets no one in on. The characters are not the only parts of the movie which follow a traditional path.
Ridley tackles a common Science fiction theme in Alien.
Alien is a story of overreach and hidden agendas which pose an ultimate threat to humanity. The resident scientist, Ash, jeopardizes his crew and all human life for the sake of discovery. It is hard not to hate Ash, who Ian Holm plays. But, Scott adds an extra layer to the scientist’s characterization, making everything make sense. In the case of the Nostromo, the scientist is himself a product of science. Because unbeknownst to the crew, Ash is an android. And the android’s mission is to bring back an alien life form at all costs. What more can one expect from artificial intelligence?
Alien is a simplistic story.
Everything is explained in the film, although the explanations seem a bit questionable. For example, in the exposition, Commander Kane is escorted back to the ship after an alien life form attaches itself to his face. Protocol dictates that Kane should not be let onboard the vessel. Inquiring minds who need understanding question the decision of letting the guy on the ship? But Scott directly resolves such questioning. Ash professes his rationale. He disobeys a direct order because he’s the scientist, and to him, it is necessary. While Ash’s explanation is not great, it is an explanation, nonetheless.
Here is to creating an iconic moment in Alien!
Ridley’s vision of humans as incubators was a wild and creative idea for the time. And, is especially worthy of mentioning for the creativity in thought, design, and depiction. The iconic shot of the alien bursting forth from the crew member will always be one of the most memorable moments in sci-fi history.
Horror comes in various forms…
Fear of the unknown is the element of horror in this film. Dealing with things that are beyond human understanding underlines all fears, real or imagined. Scott uses a subversive technique. Scott makes you think. And in the final scene, he opens his bag of tricks and plays on various fears simultaneously. And as Ripley comes face to face with the alien, no one can deny that the adrenaline rush is thrilling and petrifying.
Most of the film is a slow burn. But it is classic, and it is iconic. Alien was worth watching in 1979, and it is worth watching in 2021, if for nothing more than to see Sigourney Weaver kick alien butt as Officer Ripley.
Check out the trailer for “Alien!”