Saturday, October 30, 2010

In Space No One Can Hear You Scream

Could that possibly be the best tagline for a movie ever?  At least one of the best.  It is so simple and yet so chilling.  It makes you think about the isolation and the silence of space while also wondering what horrible occurrence would make one want to scream.  The publicists of Alien must have really understood what director Ridley Scott and company were trying to accomplish with Dan O'Bannon's and Ronald Shusett's spec script that looked at horror science fiction in a lens that went beyond the typical B-movie 'monsters-in-suits' films that audiences had seen before.  With 2001: A Space Odessey and Star Wars having reinvented and reinvigorated science fiction as a viable film genre, 20th Century Fox was hungry for a new A-list sci-fi project to sell to the public.  They couldn't have been prepared for the critical success that it would receive or the franchise that it would sprout from it.  But you don't want a history lesson, you want to hear about the film (though I can't imagine that anyone interested in film hasn't seen this film), so lets dive in and revisit one of the most suspenseful movies of all time.

The crew of the Nostromo, an intergalactic mineral ore refinery, is awakened from hypersleep during their long journey home to Earth and are surprised and alarmed to find that they are only halfway home.  Captain Dallas interfaces with MU-TH-UR, the ships computer, and finds that they were awakened in order to investigate a distress signal of unknown origin on an uncharted planet.  The crew lands the craft and sends three crewmembers out to investigate the source of the transmission while the remaining four stay behind to fix damages that occurred in the landing.  The reluctant explorers are shocked to find a derelict spacecraft of clearly alien design.  Inside they find that the crew are either gone or dead and below decks they find that there are several large egg-shaped objects, each holding a small crab-like organism.  When one of the organisms attaches itself to the face of Kane, an unlucky crew man, he is taken back to the ship and they take off from the desolate place.  Soon after, the alien creature that was implanted in Kane by the organism erupts from his chest and disappears into the corridors of the ship. The crew must then find and kill the beast before it can kill them.

It is a very simple story and one that has been played out in numerous other films of lesser quality, namely It! The Terror From Beyond Space, but Alien manages to rise above those tales through its inventive production design, deft direction by Ridley Scott, superior performances by its cast, and a truly unique and unmatched creature at its center.  H.R. Giger's alien designs are truly the stuff of nightmares and the realization of the creature effects in both performance and practical design are what make it enduring.  This is not a standard 'man in a suit' with scales and fangs, this is a bio-mechanical creature with reptilian and insectile influences but no real reference to any existing animal in nature.  It really does look not of this Earth.  However, that look would be nothing without the sexual subtext of the creature.  The head is unpleasantly phallic, while the exoskeleton recalls images of anorexic models, and its movements are strangely slow and seductive while also fast and deadly violent...like a rapist.  Also like a rapist is the facehugger creature which forcibly enters the human body and then impregnates the victim with the alien's unwanted child...a child that inevitably kills the parent.  Special note should also be given to the film's performers, particularly Sigourney Weaver as Ripley.  Ripley, originally written and conceived as a man, has become one of film's first female action heroes as well as one of the most memorable and enduring heroes in science fiction.  She is firm and smart, but also vulnerable.  She is, in my opinion, a modern 'everyman' figure who represents an average person thrust into extraordinary circumstances and does the best she can in a crisis.  She is the kind of person I wish I was when the chips are down, as I tend to crumple or back down from trouble.  However, I can relate to her reluctance to being a hero as I, and I'm sure others, would much rather have other people take charge.  But when she is forced to be strong, she is.  All this would be useless without Weaver's honest and wholly realistic portrayal of the character.  Ripley could easily become a caricature of bravado, or (as many small-minded people believe) a lesbian...but Weaver's timing and wit make Ripley a real person that we can relate to.  Seriously though, if you haven't seen Alien yet you need to run out to the video store (or search it on Netflix) and get it because it simply is a masterpiece.  Do yourself a favor and give yourself a scare.

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