Friday, October 21, 2011

Stubs - Alien

File:Alien movie poster.jpg

ALIEN (1979) Starring: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto. Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by Dan O’Bannon, Story by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett. Produced by Gordon Carroll, David Giler and Walter Hill. Run Time: 116 minutes, Color. U.S. Science Fiction, Horror

ALIEN is one of those touchstone sci-fi films that gets mentioned so often that you feel that you have to watch it again to remember what all the fuss is about. Terms like facehugger and chestburster originate with this film and get referenced in other works. And the film spawned three sequels, not to mention novels, comic books and toys. It is also considered by the American Film Institute (AFI) to be the seventh best science fiction film ever made. In 2002, it was inducted into the National Film Registry as a film that is “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant.”

The film tells the story of a commercial towing spaceship, Nostromo, on route from Thedus to Earth with a payload of 20 million tons of ore. While the seven man crew is in suspended animation, the ship is re-routed to a planetoid to investigate a transmission of unknown origin. Mother, the ship’s main computer awakens the crew, which is contractually obligated to investigate such events.

Lead by Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), the entire crew ventures down to the surface in a detached Nostromo. In addition to Dallas, are his Executive Officer Kane (John Hurt), Navigator Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), Warrant Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Science Officer Ash (Ian Holm) and Engineers Bill (Harry Dean Stanton) and Parker (Yaphet Kotto). Dallas, Kane and Lambert set out to investigate the source of the signal and end up on a very large alien ship. There Kane stumbles upon a large floor filled with what appear to be eggs.

Kane notices that there is movement inside one of the eggs. When he looks too close, the creature inside attaches itself to Kane’s face, even through the mask of his suit. Dallas and Lambert bring him back to the ship and while Ripley wants to keep Kane in quarantine per procedure, but Ash opens the airlock and brings Kane and alien on board.

Attempts to remove the alien are problematic, as the creature bleeds acid, which eats through the floors in the ship, but stops before it breaches the hull. The next morning, the alien has detached itself and is found dead. Kane wakes up and appears to be no worse for wear. During the last meal before returning to stasis, Kane becomes ill and falls down on the table. And bursting through his chest is a baby alien, which the shocked crew cannot stop from scurrying away.

While they try to hunt down and capture the runaway, the crew falls victim to the alien. First to go is Bill, who looks for the crew’s cat in storage room inhabited by a now fully grown alien. Next to go is Dallas who is trying to get the Alien trapped in an airlock so that it can be shot into space.

Now that Ripley is in charge, she goes to Mother and discovers that the science officer has been ordered to bring the alien back alive and that the crew is considered expendable. When Ripley approaches Ash about the directive, he attacks her. When Parker and Lambert come to her rescue, he is destroyed and found to be a robot. Before Parker incinerates him, Ash warns that the crew that they won’t survive.

Taking Lambert’s advice to use the shuttle to escape, Ripley gets the shuttle ready, while Parker and Lambert gather supplies. When Parker and Lambert are killed, Ripley sets the ship’s self-destruct and escapes into the shuttle.

But just before she enters stasis, Ripley discovers that she is not alone. The alien has managed to sneak aboard the shuttle. She dons a space suit, straps herself in and jettisons the alien out an airlock. When it tries to fight its way back on board, she shoots it with a spear and roasts it in the fire of the engine.
The casting is near as perfect as the special effects. Everyone seems to be right, from Skerritt as the Captain to Stanton and Kotto as the disgruntled crew members who want a bonus from the profits from the ore they’re hauling. Hurt perhaps is under-utilized as Kane, but only because he spends so much time with a creature planted on his face.

The star of the movie is, of course, Sigourney Weaver. In only her third film, Weaver takes the lead in a major motion picture and becomes a major star in the process. Even at the time, a female action hero was new and Weaver was just savvy and sexy enough to pull it off. In the battle of beauty and the beast, Ripley doesn’t out muscle the alien, the way a male action hero might, but rather outthinks it.

With any film based in space, the special effects have to be good and in this film they are. The models used and space travel scenes appear to owe a debt to 1979’s STAR WARS. H.R. Giger’s design for the Alien even won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

Re-watching the movie, I realized how slow-paced the first half is, but when the film finally kicks in, the action does pick up and the ending is worth the wait. ALIEN is one of those sci-fi films that have withstood the test of time. While it may take it’s time telling the story and has roots in such older films as THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) and IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958), it puts a just imaginative enough spin on previous films of the genre to make it a landmark film.

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