Alien’s visceral, distinctive design are at the forefront of Ridley Scott’s serious sendoff to the monster shockers of the 1950s. It’s a gritty, bloody addition to both the science fiction and horror genres. Awash in a decade of great (and terrible) science fiction, Alien stands out as an exception to the glut of mediocre Star Wars clones (no pun intended).
I am probably one of the few Americans to consider themselves a film connoisseur who has never seen this film. I have seen Prometheus, one of the sequels, before this one. Even though Prometheus was widely panned, I enjoyed the story but knew I was missing something. After looking up some interpretations online, it was clear that it made sense why I was a little lost. After watching Scott’s film, it was also clear that there were many aspects of popular culture (the ending of Spaceballs, a facehugger plush at a friend’s house, and a variety of other things) that I was clearly uninformed about considering I had never seen this piece. I’m glad that I now know what that was all about.
On to the film.
So I have a few thoughts about what I saw. First, aside from the fact that I am not living in the 1970s, this film was relatively tame and boring for me. Once I figured out that it was a “boo!” movie, I recognized exactly where the boo moments were ahead of time and (even though I was watching it by myself) saying aloud, “and of course here is where it pops out.” It did, every time. Now, that is not to say that I can’t get into a film like that…as a matter of fact, I can brush aside disbelief in a second – I’m a geek – but in this case, I felt there was very little holding the story together. I didn’t care about the characters at all, and they were practically sculpted from an outline of Conrad’s archetypes – that is, two-dimensional and without personality. The only one I could get behind was Bilbo Baggins – the scientist crew member had a directive and everything, and there’s a twist about that, and then another, but when he ends up only making it halfway through the film and I am left with characters I don’t care about… Well, at one point I was just running down the clock.
My favorite part of the whole film was the ending for a variety of reasons. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I was unsure (at the escape point) about how the resolution would play out once Weaver was on her own. What happened was pretty cool, and it felt genuinely satisfying when she did it…. As for the cat, well…
So back to my original sentiment. Is this considered so great because it was made in the year it was made, and audiences had different expectations? I have a feeling that is likely. Ultimately, I was bored. The tension, while dialed up, wasn’t that exciting for me. This was likely because the characters had nothing for me to care about aside from “will they get out?” but it appears that is the main point.
The design of the film was incredible, however. The scenes where we were only allowed glimpses of the horror through the darkness, blending in, and the extensive use of strobe lights were terrifying, and H.R.Geiger’s creature and environment were truly intoxicatingly terrible to behold… But if these are to take a backseat to good writing, that is where I feel cheated. I am glad I watched it, but I am more interested in hearing more about why people love it so much. I am not convinced it is simply the phallic monster stalking the beautiful, waifish woman, but if it is, the sexual imagery is absolutely ridiculous and overpowering. If it is the writing, well, I will have a hard time being convinced that it is actually effective – I’m sure Robert McKee would roll his eyes at the suggestion. I totally get the piece in the context of the year it came out, collecting legions of people enthralled with the production value and execution for the time. But, if it isn’t that…What IS it, then?
I am interested in the sequel that I have already noticed is on the list. Let’s hope I care more about that one. After giving this two hours, I am sure I will care a little more – and also, that must be the one where Weaver comes face to face with it, right?
I watched the one hour, fifty-seven minute extended director’s cut on BluRay.