Have you ever watched a movie before and you watch a scene that just shocks you to your core and you wish that every time you watched that movie you could relive that experience? That’s how I feel about a couple of the famous scenes in our pick today, Alien (directed by Ridley Scott, screenplay by Dan O’Bannon). Just in case you’re one of the few people who haven’t been spoiled for the aforementioned scenes, I won’t get into detail about them, but for those of you who have….you know what I’m talking about.
Alien is such an incredible, well-rounded film. For this particular viewing, we watched the Director’s Cut, which I highly recommend for fans of the film who’ve already seen it once or twice and are looking for a little more content and a little more time with some of the characters and the world as a whole. Every time I rewatch this film, I’m always struck by just how great a piece of cinema it really is. Let’s spend a little time talking about the things I love best about it.
This may be B grade sci-fi script but in the capable hands of Ridley Scott, this easily became a A grade film. Scott helps each of his actors bring their particular nuance to their characters that could have been stereotypes of the classic horror characters, but instead we’re treated to such a delightful host that’s anchored by Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley.
How many scif-fi films, before the 90s, can you think of that feature female protagonists? I don’t mean there’s a women in the film who has a large role either, I mean this film is about a woman and follows the story of a woman? Go on. Name a few. Bet you’re struggling a little bit, aren’t you?
This brings me to one of my first points about why this film is so great. Ellen Ripley is an incredibly capable officer aboard The Nostromo. She’s smart and resourceful and, really, had everyone just listened to her this whole mess could have been avoided. Ripley is one of the most beloved female characters in this genre and amongst female characters in general. Sure, the crew is helpful to her along the way, but Ripley more than proves herself capable through the film on her own. She doesn’t need a man to help her survive this film. She’s not a damsel in distress; she’s strong in her own right. Independent and authoritative and no one even acts as though this were out of the norm because, of course, women can be officers on a ship. Of course, she has a position of power over some of the other crew. That just seems natural in this world and it’s honestly so refreshing and even a little inspiring. The sheer reality of her character even in the film on its own is incredible.
The fact that Ripley is a woman brings a lot of the imagery of the film into question. When everything is so clearly inspired by the sex organs of both men and women, you have to wonder what this film is trying to say. Why is the xenomorph’s design so phallic? Why does their first venture out into the alien planet resemble them walking through a womb? What is the frightening scene with Kane about and is this meant to have recurring rape themes? If it is, why does this seem to affect the men of the ship more than the women? The questions are endless and there’s some tension on the read of the film in terms of whether is has a pro-feminist angle or an anti-feminist angle. I’m in the more pro-feminist camp as I think most people are, but I think it says something about the film that the discussions are endless and you have to decide for yourself what its “truth” is.
I could easily spend so much time dissecting this movie and I’m trying really hard not to dig in too deep and just give an overview of the film and why I think it’s incredible. While the biggest things for me are the characters and the story, there’s a lot still left that we could discuss that make this film even more worthwhile. Let’s talk for a second about the cinematography and the colossal endeavors Ridley Scott and his crew undertook to create the look of this film.
What do you notice about that still? I’m hoping after you see how cool it is, that you notice the camera guy is in it. Good, now just take in how he is dwarfed by everything around him. This set is huge and this is where we really see Ridley Scott’s penchant for building these immersive sets take hold. The reason everything looks so great here is because it’s all real and it’s painstakingly detailed. It’s not just the magic of film that makes the scenes look so great, it’s the magic of the dedicated men and women who built this set inch by inch for countless nights and days. If you’re wondering who the true heroes are here, it’s probably them.
All of that hard work makes this film gorgeous to watch. The way it builds suspense with Scott’s distinctive use of fog and smoke is masterful. The darkness that clouds most of the film that makes you wonder where the alien is and if it’s hiding in plain sight and you just can’t tell is practically a masterclass in horror technique. I’m hoping you get a general idea of what it’s like just from the few stills that I’ve chosen here and you realize just how great a cinematographer Scott found in Derek Vanlint.
Even if you’ve seen Alien a dozen times, give it another watch –focus in on the cinematography or decipher its visual metaphors. There’s so many things to discover and enjoy with this film. Its scares may not always cause you to jump anymore, but its unsettling atmosphere sure makes it a fun choice for a Halloween night and I can’t recommend you add it to your seasonal watchlist any more vehemently. So settle in and enjoy this classic. If you’re feeling really into the whole thing, have a watch at the whole series of films too. I have to admit I’ve only seen Alien, Aliens, Prometheus, and Alien: Covenant so if you want to watch the third and fourth films and let me know how they are, I’d appreciate that.