“Alien”. There was a one in three odds that, between 1990 and 1999, had you asked me to name my favorite film – it would be one of these titles: “Alien”, “Blade Runner” or “Brazil”. Too bad two of the movies starts with the letter “B” – had one of them been “Chinese Box” or “The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and Her Lover” the first three post to the Alphabet Series would have topics conveniently lined up for me. Back to “Alien”.
Right. When the movie came had been originally released in 1979, I was nine years old. This was an era when “Rated R” meant more than “oh, cool” – it was RESTRICTED. Evil was lurking under the theater seats, oozing from the floor, through your shoes and into your sole Via your feet. Naturally. Fast forward to 1986. The summer my dad took me my first R-rated movie – which hadn’t been accomplished by buying tickets for a lame PG-13 film and sneaking into the forbidden fruit. “Aliens” was by far one of the most incredible movie-going experiences of my life. Fifteen years old – a good ten years before the ability to consciously suspend belief. Prime time. “Aliens” was perfect, it was gob-stopping. Two years later, as my mom was walking out the door for a food run at the grocery store – she asked, “Do you want me to rent a video?” This had been a new trend with her – to rent movies for me. “Yes. Alien.” She had rented me R-rated movies in the recent past, for some reason – they were highly taboo. Maybe it had something to do with the past couple of years being a relative nightmare after she filed for divorce. When she handed the VHS tape to me, outside of praying the VCR was starting a new mylar diet, the only preparation had been whipping up a massive batch of popcorn. In my bedroom was the VCR – connected to my computer – an Amiga 2000. It’s 13″ RGB (ooooo…. RGB!) monitor had a secondary NTSC input – for 1987/88, the image quality could only have been improved by a possibly a laserdics. Nah – too fancy. Let’s just put a plug out there for BetaMax.
After seeing “Aliens” no less than twenty times (the last viewing was just as powerful as the first), when the title “A L I E N” slowly formed with clever hash marks over an incredible sweeping motion across a planet – I was ready. From the opening titles until the decision had been made by the crew, long after it had already been made for them, to take a look into what appeared to be a distress call from something on a planet they knew nothing about — the pace was droning, the details had been lacquered and aged onto every surface and action and it was somewhere I could believe was real. Being this viewing had been in the late 1980’s – the CRT monitors, crackling analog video and seemingly no real advanced technology with the exception of artificial gravity – it all didn’t seem out of place. The awesome grittiness was a fresh and clean look for me, having barely moved on from “Star Wars” and “Star Trek”.
All I knew about the film was the famous chest-bursting scene – and what the alien ended up looking like. Oh, and the eggs.. I had just assumed that the queen alien already was dead – or, more likely, it hadn’t even come into my thought conveyor belt where the eggs came from.
The sub-plot with one of the characters true intentions blew my mind, and without this facet – the film would have been very much a B-Movie with an A-Movie budget. I would give a spoiler warning and then dive into this little plot storm of “Alien”, but . why? Hah. What is important is the heavy realism of the characters – the look and feel. The interactions and dialog and class system — it felt real. Making a story about an intergalactic tug boat, pulling ore from who-knows-where back to earth and coming across a mysterious spaceship and the alien hitchhiker they unknowingly had picked up immediately became believable. Why does this matter? From the surface, it was a crap story in a crap setting. Ridley Scott is a mastermind of detail – largely visual detail. And, his story telling largely is visual – and with “Alien”, the realism catapulted the simple plot into a true captivating story with twists and elements to keep conversation fed for decades.
I was mesmerized by the derelict spaceship with the dead pilot and cargo of eggs. It was obvious, later in the film, what killed the pilot. The origin of the eggs and why they were in the ship was a mystery. Had they been cargo? Were they laid by a queen alien after the fact? Where did they come from? The alien looked similar to that of the pilot – not exactly completely naturally occurring creatures… This fascination led me to a book which described H. R. Giger’s work before and, mostly, during the making of the film. Vast amounts of detail for an element which had been almost glossed over. How effective would have the film been without the input of Giger? I don’t think the screen time for the derelict ship (from discovery until leaving the planet) lasted more than ten or fifteen minutes. Good idea or blind luck. Or, both. Either way, it was perfect – I’m not the only one still thinking about it. Too bad “Prometheus” was a bowl of cold tripe – the second attempt at it (“Alien: Covenent”) will be hitting my retinas in less than four months.
So, what about the alien? It was a boring giant insect.
One characteristic a film must possess in order for me to completely get lost in it, and allows me to watch it countless times — is to show me a place I want to be. Or, to at least visit. How does one become an intergalactic truck driver? Sign me up. Too bad I didn’t do fantastically in school; maybe I could have snagged the science officer gig.