Alien

I have many dorky friends who read comic books, go to wide ranges of conventions, and play WoW with regularity (I include myself in this). There is often much discussion about if Alien or Aliens is a better movie. I have never really been able to participate. in this debate. I know I saw both movies, but it was a long time ago. For sure at least 10 years ago. I think I saw Aliens first, and was perpetually confused about how the two films were different but was too afraid of being shunned by my nerd friends to ask anyone to clarify for me. The time has come, my friends. Tonight I watched Alien, directed in 1979 by Ridley Scott. Like I said, it's been a long time, and since I haven't seen Aliens for equally as long (not counting snippets on cable and such), I still can't debate which movie is better. But I can say I finally understand why they are different, finally! I actually really liked the movie - I liked that it had more on an emphasis on slow, creepy horror instead of just gore and shooting. There is also a psychological element to the film that really gets stuck in my head when I see scenes from the film or think about it.


So, we all know the plot. Crew on a ship follow up on a distress signal and find nothing but wreckage and strange eggs. They of course, must investigate these strange lifeforms, which does not go well for them. There is something in this movie for everyone - goo and gore and scares for horror fans, a great female protagonist for the ladies, science fiction things for...science fiction lovers, all sorts of stuff. I've often heard it said that this is far more of a horror movie than a science fiction film, which makes sense. I can really feel the seeds of the ever-so-popular slasher genre in this movie, despite it's sci-fi setting.

I'm a big fan of how slow the action moves. You know me and my unashamed love of slow and plodding films. I really love horror movies that rely more on tension and suspense, and elements of psychological horror. I really feel that in this movie, and I really enjoyed that part of it. I always love that uncomfortable feeling, that bad squirmy crawling sensation while you try to still when you know something is going to happen, just not when. Does anyone not like this? Ebert writes about the great benefit of tension, bringing up the master of suspense himself, saying, "Hitchcock knew this, with his famous example of a bomb under a table. (It goes off -- that's action. It doesn't go off -- that's suspense.)" (Ebert's Online Essay ). I loved this even when I was a kid. I would sit too long in dark rooms and will something to happen, to freak myself out. I often did this in my basement, so I could stand there feeling tense until I couldn't take it, and I would pound up the stairs as fast as I could and close the door behind me, safe in my kitchen. I know I was a strange child but Anthony says he used to do this, and another friend of ours said he did as well, so it can't be that...freakish. I hope.

Ebert writes about how so much of the tension in the film is derived from that fact that we barely see the alien, and it's always changing. He says, ""Alien" uses a tricky device to keep the alien fresh throughout the movie: It evolves the nature and appearance of the creature, so we never know quite what it looks like or what it can do. We assume at first the eggs will produce a humanoid, because that's the form of the petrified pilot on the long-lost alien ship. But of course we don't even know if the pilot is of the same race as his cargo of leathery eggs. Maybe he also considers them as a weapon" (Great Movies II, 14-15).  I never really thought about that aspect of it, but it does really help to elevate that tension. You can't even look around in the scenes to try to spot where the creature might be lurking, because the first time you see it, you don't even know what the thing looks like. When you do finally see it, it's surreal, almost beautiful, yet disgusting, like all the works of H.R. Giger. Being a weird person, I'm a big fan of his, and I love seeing his artwork come to life in the ruined wreckage they find with the eggs and the alien itself.

So, whenever I talk about this movie, see scenes from it, think about it, or now, watching it again, I always think of it as a rape movie. I know, I know. It's just...there is so much overt sexual imagery, it's so hard for me to not see it! Since I don't want to be seen as the only pervert telling you that there are many, many vaginas in this movie, read a great summation of the sexual imagery in the film over here at Wikipedia. As much as it feels weird to say, I think that this makes the film more interesting. It's pretty unique to see a movie that explores so many different fears about rape - for women and men - but without being gross and exploitation-y. Anyway, the link is worth a read, just to even give you a different perspective to think of if you watch the movie again.

I really liked watching this film, and I loved it's slow, tense pace, great characters, and really cool effects and set design. I have no idea how I felt about this movie when I first saw it, but I really enjoyed watching it again and thinking about it in different ways. It was even just fascinating to think of how some genres of film that we see so often today were inspired by this movie (like slasher movies, which are done to death now but really started right here, with this movie). There really was nothing like it when it came out, which is just awesome in it's own right. I got so surled by the Aliens as a monster from having to see the Alien vs. Predator movies on dates with dopey guys; it was refreshing to watch this again and see that "Hey, the Aliens were badass, remember?" You really should check it out again if you haven't seen it for a while, it's great!

Have any thoughts on Alien? Share them with me in the comments (although with my ignorance to the whole franchise don't expect too great of a response)!

Link:
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Alien
Trailer
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