figure 1: a discovery
When looking at the synopsis alone, alien comes across as nothing more than an alien version of ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’. However, many things about the film set it apart from others of its genre. A fleshed out story and mythos, acting and unique art design - with artist H R Giger providing set and creature designs based off of his grotesque style artwork, are some of what makes Alien a memorable and influential film.
‘In space, no one can hear you scream’
The plot of Alien is simple: Set in the not too distant future, a small crew of a cargo spaceship receive a warning message from a nearby planet. During their investigation, the resident alien life form gets on-board their ship. when the crew leave, they are unwittingly trapped with it on board their own ship. With the exception of Ripley, the main protagonist, the crew are then killed off in a typical slasher-movie fashion.
What we are treated to along the way, is an investigation into a strange new planet with its “with the organic innards of the derelict ship and its ghostly egg chambers” (newman 2011) designed by HR Giger , and like the crew, confined on board the spaceship, tensely waiting for the next victim to become the aliens next dinner.
I feel The actors, led by the strong female character of Ellen Ripley (Sigorney Weaver) react realistically to what happens to them and this helps make the film experience very dramatic and suspenseful. For example, the scene around the dinner table, John hurt’s character begins to experience symptoms prior to the scene when the alien famously bursts through his chest . in this scene the remaining crew are shown discussing what to do when they assume he is having a fit. they talk over one another as people do in a panic situation, and then decide the should try to stop him from swallowing his tongue. When the alien does burst through his chest, apart from the words 'oh god’, the crew just stands in stunned silence. Screaming is rare in this movie. I think the camera work in the film also helps to create this sense of naturalism by resting on one single shot to let the actors simply have a conversation.
figure 2: Ellen Ripley, the lead
The careful pacing of the film is helped by the limited visual presence of a single entity.
the film keeps the audience enticed by limiting the amount of exposure we have with the , which main reptilian alien form, which Hoffman described “an acid-bleeding, razor-toothed, overgrown cockroach with an ugly practice of gestating its offspring in human hosts.” (Hochman, 1998)
We see the alien species through its life cycle of forms, beginning with the eggs while on the planet, the ‘facehugger’, and finally, the fully developed alien form.
According to Roger Ebert, "Because it doesn't play by any rules of appearance or behavior, it [the alien] becomes an amorphous menace, haunting the ship with the specter of shape-shifting evil".(Ebert 2003)
“Perfect organism. It’s structural perfection is matched only by its hostility”
figure 3: The Alien
In scenes requiring the alien to be played by an actor, 6’10 Nigerian actor Bolaji Badejo was chosen to play the part. Test footage for the movement of the alien shows a single camera shot as Badejo moves around the space. It would have been good to see more shots like that in the film, however this would take away from the mystery of what the alien looks like: up until the last scene in the film, the alien could be any size, any height, and is always kept in the shadows, which is what makes this monster so frightening.
Despite being released in 1979, making it 33 years old, the films use of strong characters (especially a strong female lead), creative practical effects and an engaging storyline, Alien has remained to this day to be one of the top horror films made to date.
David Hochman http://www.hrgiger-webstore.com/ (accessed 25/10/2012)
Roger Ebert http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20031026/REVIEWS08/310260301/1023 (accessed 25/10/2012)
http://www.empireonline.com/reviews/ReviewComplete.asp?FID=9531 (accessed 25/10/2012)