|Alien, 1979. Directed by Ridley Scott. Sigourney
Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm, Harry Dean Stanton, Veronica Cartwright,
Yaphet Kotto, John Hurt
Synopsis: The crew of an interstellar cargo ship sets down on a distant planet in answer to an alien signal. Upon arriving, they discover a derelict alien ship and one of the crewmen has an extremely close encounter with an alien egg. The issue of that egg later burst through his chest and procedes to massacre the rest of the crew until only Warrant Officer Ripley remains. Ripley decides to destroy the ship (with the alien still on board) and flee in an escape pod. She does this, only to discover that the alien has hitched a ride with her in the escape pod. Now alone and without resources, she has to confront the alien one on one.
The design sensibiltiy of Alien is striking. Sigourney Weaver tells of hanging around on the set to watch the filming of scenes she wasn't in just to see what they looked like. That's easy to believe. Alien is eye candy of a high order--and not just H. R. Giger's celebrated alien and alien spaceship designs. Ron Cobb and Moebius both have their hands in things. The design elements fit together flawlessly. The cinematography and the special effects are all first rate, too. And the advertising campaign used to sell the film was the best ad ever conceived for a motion picture: "In space, no one can hear you scream," indeed.
It's a shame that Alien is such a stupid movie.
Oh, it tries hard to disguise this, and not just with its eye drugging visuals. Its screenplay and characterizations are all designed to distract the audience, too. We get a number of fairly well defined individuals here speaking in bickering, overlapping dialogue a la Howard Hawks (especially The Thing). There are interesting class distinctions among the characters (although they are for the most part sexless). These would be good characters for a more expansive movie. Alien's plot is the problem. When you get right down to it, Alien is a slasher movie in disguise. It even has its characters doing stupid slasher movie character things to advance the plot (Harry Dean Stanton's demise is surely the most perplexing of these, and don't EVEN tell me that you didn't think Ripley was stupid for going back for the cat). The sexual iconography is the same, too (which prevents me from classing it as an "old dark house" movie even though it resembles one). Once on her own and stripped down to blazing white panties and camisole, Ripley's blazing symbolic virginity is proof against the tumescent alien and undoes it, much as the virtuous heroines of slasher movies are proof against their knife-wielding stalkers. Does the design justify the plot? For me, it depends on the day of the week. Sometimes it does it for me, sometimes it doesn't. The challenge of determining whether it works or not makes Alien just as compulsive as it was when it was released.