I have a confession to make. Until now, I had never sat down and watched the movie Alien. I mean sure, I’d seen most of the dramatic scenes and I knew the basic premise, but until it was assigned I hadn’t watched it. (I still haven’t sat through the entire second one either and have no idea what happens beyond Aliens or even how Aliens ends.)
I enjoyed the film, it took its time getting to the monster which is the way I like it. I like to be expecting something for most of the film before the last fourth of the story of film when our heroes finally face the bad guys. And not having seen it before, not knowing from where the alien came, I was on edge from the start. Why did the computer wake them up so far from home? I immediately distrusted “Mother” and her programming. I thought of HAL. What was she up to?
Bear with me here for a second but I remember a lot of robot movies in the early eighties and I started to wonder if (and even more so when I learned about Ash) there was a sense of distrust for machines when this story was made. Either way, we had time to get to know the characters a little and just what they are doing up there in the first place. Although I am still unclear as to what Ripley’s job was initially. She seemed to be higher up amongst the crew.
I’m struggling here because I want to compare this movie to The Thing but I don’t want to take too much away from my future post on that movie. So, I will try not to discuss the similarities in both the isolation with a vast landscape, the different levels of crew trapped together in a small space, the underlying suspicion and mistrust that grows as the story moves along. I’m going to instead focus on what I loved about this film and what I didn’t love so much.
I loved the build-up, the fascination and mystery behind the mummified pilot alien and the massive amount of eggs in the ship that sent not a distress signal but a warning. I would likely have been inspecting and poking at them too. And when that scorpion-looking thing popped out and attached itself to Kane’s face, oh my god, I was stunned. I truly had no idea. (laugh, I know it’s pathetic). And for me, it ratcheted up the feeling of claustrophobia by a factor of ten. I couldn’t breathe so long as I saw this thing attached to him.
Here’s where we see a split in the crew, those who agree to bring Kane inside the ship (parasite and all) and Ripley who is adamantly against it. It is Ash, the science officer who overrode Ripley’s order who investigates the parasite as it stays firmly attached to Kane’s face. Until it isn’t and no one knows where it went. So what we know at this point is that this thing is crazy fast and its blood is like a corrosive acid. That’s worrisome.
The crew is busy trying to catch this thing. Ripley, heroine that she is, abstaining from the ‘I told you so’ gloating is getting in there with them to find this bastard. Kane, face once again solely his own, wakes up none the worse for wear and hungry as a horse. But that’s when we learn a new secret about this alien menace—it’s evolving. The thing that comes bursting out of Kane’s stomach looks nothing like the thing that attached itself to his face. This is terrifying because now we are trapped on a space ship with a creature loose and small enough (we think) to be lurking anywhere with acid blood that could conceivable burn holes in any trap you set for it, AND we really don’t know what it looks like because it keeps changing.
That point was an iffy for me. I love it in that it makes the whole situation that much more dire. We don’t even know what we’re looking for here. But at the same time, I had a hard time as a science major trying to figure out what the hell was going on biologically. A bug lays eggs and the pupa is born; so let’s theorize that the scorpion thing was the pupa. Now, this pupa, instead of building a chrysalis, somehow inserts an adolescent form into its host (in our case, poor Kane). But theoretically then the scorpion part should simply fall off his face and die, but it doesn’t. It takes off and everyone chases it. Where did the damn thing go? Because then, whatever it inserted into Kane, grows rapidly and bursts out of him causing everyone to go after it. So what exactly is this thing’s lifecycle? Please correct me if I am missing something here. Shouldn’t there be two aliens on the ship? One evolving from the escaped scorpion thing and one evolved from the thing that jumped out of Kane. (In a spectacularly bloody scene). Side Note: I read that Ridley Scott didn’t warn the actors what was going to happen when he rigged a toaster like apparatus to shoot the pig intestine-covered puppet out of the fake chest. So their reactions were real.
As we watch the crew get picked off by what is now the adult form of the creature, I found my thoughts returning to the cat, Jones. When was Jones going to burst open with baby Giger beasts? I didn’t trust that feline. Up until the very end of the film, I expected him to turn on Ripley. But he didn’t and I’m glad. Here we had a strong female lead and if she got taken down because of her sympathy for a cat, I was gonna be pissed. (Remember, I was watching this as an Alien virgin, I truly was so engrossed in the film, I’d forgotten that there were sequels starring Ripley so obviously, she wasn’t taken out by the cat.)
Ultimately this film worked. It created the dreaded sense of isolation and mistrust. That constant suspense of something jumping out and getting you. The unknown enemy. Besides the confusing life cycle, the only other bothersome thing for me was (and I think it was Ash who said this, but I could be wrong) when a crew member stated “it is the perfect organism. It’s indestructible” and what fun is that? How do you fight the indestructible? You don’t, you can’t, you have to outsmart it so you can get away, but you’ll never destroy it….So why in the hell would you go back there in the next movie, Ripley? Why?
I’m obviously not ready to watch Aliens yet. I like the smart version of Ripley, not the philanthropist “Mother” version.