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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Alien

Here on Fishing in the Discount Bin, it's time to power my way through another franchise!  This time, I'm doing a franchise that I've always been pretty blasé about, the Alien films.  Let's start with the first one, Alien.  This is in my notes at January 18, 2014.  

The classic Alien movie poster.  "In space, no one can hear you scream."

When it comes to sci-fi franchise, the Alien franchise is one I've always been fairly indifferent towards.  Maybe it's because I've never been big on horror movies, and the Alien films have always leaned a little more towards horror than sci-fi, but Ripley's battles against that killer creature from beyond the stars has never really tickled my imagination the way Star Wars or Star Trek does.  I remember shortly after college I figured I should try to change that, so I rented all four movies one weekend and watched them all in a marathon.  And I remember walking away from that experience thinking, "They're good, but, whatever." 

I've had some acquaintances in the past who were incredulous when they found out that I really didn't care for Alien or own them on DVD.  "And you call yourself a geek!" they'd grumble.  So, a few weeks ago, with a pocket full of Christmas cash, I saw The Alien Anthology -- the big Blu-Ray boxed set of all four films -- at the discount bin price of just $30, I thought, "Why not?"  So for the next little bit, we'll be pouring through the franchise, and once again, I'll be giving the Alien movies a shot.

We start with the film that started it all, 1979's Alien.  Really, it's the film that put Ridley Scott on the map.  A quick IMDB confirmation, and we see that this was officially the second film he ever directed.  It's a career that went on to include Blade Runner, Gladiator, the most recent Robin Hood, and many other fantastic films.  Needless to say, this helped to kick off a fantastic directing career. 

Watching the film again tonight, it almost does seem like a great mash-up of all the cinematic trends of the late-1970s.  It's in space, so we've got the Star Wars knock-off going.  The crew of this space vessel was always likened to truckers, so we've got the Smokey and the Bandit/car chase/CB Radio fad going.  According to legend, the writers pitched it to movie studios as "Jaws in space," so the Jaws clone/monster on the loose trend is present.  And with the lone female survivor at the end, there's a tip of the hat to the slasher film that was just starting to come on the scene.   

I know in sci-fi circles, this really gained acclaim for finally showing a sci-fi universe from the working stiffs' point of view.  Our heroes in this film are just some guys out there, doing a job, and on their way home.  We're given a spaceship that's dark, gritty, and just a well-used piece of equipment.  This is very much a working spaceship. 

I'm sure you remember the plot:  the crew of the space freighter Nostromo is on their way back to Earth with a shipment of ore.  They're awoken from their hypersleep early and sent to investigate a mysterious signal coming from a mysterious planet.  They land, and find a crashed alien spaceship.  As they poke around, one of their crew is attacked by a thing that sticks itself to his face.  They bring him back on board the ship, not knowing what to do.  Eventually, the thing dies and falls off, and our man seems fine.  But, in the infamous dinner scene, the titular alien bursts from his chest, and the rest of the crew then try to hunt this thing down and save their ship. 

And I must say, that infamous chestburster sequence is still not for the squeamish after all these years.  I first saw Alien when I was in high school, and my friend Travis loaned me his VHS copy.  I remember him telling me the urban legend that the cast didn't know about the chestburster sequence, so their reactions would be genuine.  All these years later, and according to Wikipedia, they did know what was going to happen...they just didn't know it was going to be that gruesome. 

What gets me about this film is how making such a movie was different back in the late-1970s.  The Alien was a guy in a suit, and we see so little of it, just quick glimpses coming out of the shadows and such.  If the movie was made today, you just know the Alien would be a sparkling CGI creations and the star of every shot it's in.  I think the fact that we don't see the Alien as much is probably part of what makes it so frightening. 

And what of our star, our character of Ripley, as played by Sigourney Weaver?  Well, she's not really the star, as she's third-billed in the opening credits.  Much like the other characters in the film, she's very much portrayed as a blue collar workin' stiff, just out there, doing a job.  However, when the commanding officer is killed by the Alien, she quickly takes charge and proves herself as a leader.  It would be the next film, Aliens, where she became one of the most prominent warrior women in sci-fi. 

When all's said and done, it's a nice, scary film after all these years.  The special effects are starting to show their age, but it still delivers on the scares. 

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