Saturday, September 13, 2014

Alien


  My feelings for this franchise is well documented. Aliens is my all time favorite movie. Ever. I love Alien 3, and I just kinda... occasionally tolerate Alien Resurrection. Yet I'm here to talk about the first movie. Alien. The genesis of the franchise. While it's not my favorite movie ever, I have come to the conclusion it is the best movie of the franchise, one of the best movies ever, and perhaps a perfect movie in general. I say a perfect movie, not the perfect movie. The difference is important. There will never be the perfect movie. There are too many genres and too many differing opinions on the receiving end. Yet under the singular sci-fi/horror genre of movies, in which there is a select audience to appreciate it... Alien is the holy grail.

  The opening titles fade in and out slowly over a glacially paced shot of a planet panning across the screen. The title "ALIEN" is slowly formed, piece by piece at the top of the screen. Eerie and haunting music plays over all of it. This sets the tone for the rest of the movie. It's slow, creepy, haunting, and in a sinister way... beautiful. It's often imitated, but never duplicated. It has a specific combination of elements that make it so great, and iconic. The worn down, lived-in aesthetic of the ship and it's crew. The atmosphere of the planet. The visual design of the derelict alien spacecraft. The look of the alien itself. All of it. It all contributes to this nightmarish movie that still has the ability to shock and scare more than 30 years after it was released.

  The plot is simple. A group of space workers are woken up from hypersleep by their computer, on company orders to investigate a mysterious alien signal. The mysterious signal ends up leading them to an uninhabited planet with a derelict spacecraft crashed on it. Inside the ship, they find a hive of massive eggs, and well... they end up retreating to their shuttle plus one unidentified parasitic life form. I think it's the simplicity of the plot that allows this film to work so well. I think a complex narrative would have hindered it from being so damn effective. Speaking of how effective it is, I think that's due in no small part to it's lack of answers. The movie isn't vague or ambiguous, it lays things out for you fairly well. Except... when it comes to the alien itself.

  Where did it come from? Well, the immediate answer is that derelict spacecraft. Yeah... but where did that ship come from? Why were there so many eggs on board? Furthermore, why does the alien kill? To eat? For sustenance? For pleasure? There are clues and cues for both notions throughout the movie. Ultimately, ignoring the subsequent mythos and sequels, it's up to you. The alien seems content to finish off it's prey quickly until it confronts a female. It toys with her, lets her scream, and kills her slowly, off screen. The next time we see her, her corpse is mostly obscured but we can see her legs. Her bare legs. I know it raises uncomfortable questions, but wouldn't that make the alien even more sinister? Even more mysterious? Even more scary?

  It's no secret that the alien's design is highly phallic. Yet the subtly suggestive imagery heightens the scariness of it. As well as not knowing it's intent. Is it sentient? Malicious? Or is it acting out of a basic hunt/gather instinct? We don't know. We know as much as the human characters in the movie. Which is enough to propel the story forward and sink us into the suspense. The lack of answers about the creature and it's origins are fantastic. Hitchcockian even. It's like something out of an H.P. Lovecraft story. The look of it, it's behavior, all of it. In fact, there's a decent description brewing here. Alien takes a monster from a Lovecraftian nightmare, and places it squarely in a situation that Alfred Hitchcock would be proud of. The ultimate locked room murder story can only take place in space.

  The story is a vehicle for mind blowing imagery, haunting alien landscapes and futuristic tech-grunge interiors. It's all an arena for this creature to stalk and prey on the human characters, one by one. Starting the movie, it isn't even clear who the main protagonist is, which is probably one of the very few plot twists the movie has in store for us.  It is almost hard for me to write a lengthy review about Alien because I believe it to be a perfect movie. There's no extra paragraph or two dedicated to discussing it's flaws. I can't even find any. The music, the mood, the setting, the acting, the casting, the pacing... it's all perfect. It's all deliberate and meticulously handled.

  I think another reason why this movie works so well, is the cast. They have a real chemistry amongst themselves. They feel like real down to Earth people. Average working class Joes. They are essentially intergalactic... truckers. Each and every one of them has a personality type that seems familiar, but it seems like less of a cliche and more like something that's simply relatable. Elaborate backstories aren't needed in order for us to care about them and not want to see them die. It ratchets the tension and suspense up a notch, that's for sure. I only wish a few of the subsequent sequels would've gone back to this one for inspiration, a couple did, and those worked... but a few didn't, and those suffered for it.

  Nevertheless, I don't think it's a huge spoiler to say that towards the end, only one crew member is left alive. Alone, on the ship, being stalked by the alien, rushing through the strobe lit corridors with steam vents popping off in front of you every few feet... the entire aesthetic has become iconic. Imitated endlessly by countless rip-offs, but never entirely successfully duplicated. It's a hell of a climax, and one that still gets me on the edge of my seat, no matter how many times I've seen it.  It is hard to not love Alien. I'm sure there are those that do, but I'm not one of them. I've seen it three times this year, and I think it might be worming it's way into my top ten movies of all time. I still really believe that it is a perfect movie. See it, if you haven't, and see it again if you have. It's always worth it.

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