Preparing for Prometheus pt. I – Alien (1979)
Let me tell you a little bit about my experience with the “Alien” franchise before we really delve into the meat and bones of this entry. I was maybe ten years old when I first got to experience one of the films. I caught a showing of Aliens on the local Fox affiliate when they were showing it late one night based off the recommendation of one of my friends who had a far greater knowledge of R-rated cinema than myself. I was something of a sheltered child and though I had seen plenty of violent movies the idea of the Alien monster scared the shit out of me. The nature of a creature that violates you so totally as a part of its own life cycle was enough to give me nightmares based off of hearing about the concept second hand. A monster that implants its embryo inside of you and tears itself out of you violently is a frightening idea to a young boy. The lore and legend of the Alien franchise had been related to me in a manner that had me believe it was the scariest goddamn sci-fi monster series ever put on film. I recorded the late-night showing on a VHS tape and later found that it cut off just around the part where the marines are getting their asses handed to them for the first time. I was hooked. This was the greatest movie ever. I begged my friend to let me borrow his copies of the movies, which he did. We watched the first film later that night at my house and I could not believe how amazing it was. The tension was enough to make me aware of my own breathing. I can honestly attribute the original Alien with giving me an appreciation for well-crafted, tension based horror and sci-fi. It was that film that drove me to seek out John Carpenter’s The Thing as well as Halloween and other truly amazing horror.
Why did that movie have such an effect on me? What made it so damn special? This movie has been written about so many times that singing its praises is hideously worthless. Everybody knows that it is a singular classic. Everybody knows that it was a game changer. The reasons why are so well documented and dissected that my input is mostly worthless. I’m still going to point out my little observations anyway because with Prometheus about to descend into theaters I’m sure many people will be asking why we would need a prequel (and let’s not pretend that’s not what it is). The film is perfect as it is. I’m not even going to try to say the film is anything other than perfect. The pacing, the design, the acting. All of it is so top notch that you wonder why so many films that have come afterward can’t manage to pull it off half as well. The film works with well established tropes and yet broke a lot of new ground. Things that came after wouldn’t be breaking that same new ground but Ridley Scott showed how to build tension effectively and utilize the talents of an amazing cast in a way that should be studied over and over again. There was a realism to the interactions of the crew and the manner that they reacted to their situation that isn’t present in most of the films that were spawned because of Alien’s success. While Ripley embodied the idea of the “Final victim” that has always been a staple of the horror genre, the fact that she was utilized as a personification as well as a deconstruction of that idea gave the film a distinct sort of tone.
And let’s just talk about the design of the creature for a minute. How iconic is it, really? It sticks in the public consciousness in the way so few monsters can. It is the very definition of inhuman nightmare. Gothic and dark and totally foreign. It has the sort of instant fear factor of a snake or a scorpion. There is something truly iconic about it and it sticks in the brain. I’m sure much has been made of the overly sexualized nature of the creature that is also disturbing. I mentioned how the life cycle of the creature is inherently a violation on every level. There is not a single element of the creature that is not time tested to scare the shit out of a person on every level.
In short, the film still holds up. For all the reasons I have just mentioned. It doesn’t lose any of its spark over time and you can watch it now and understand exactly why it burrowed so deep into pop culture and now all these years later Ridley Scott is still wanting to revisit the world he created back in 1979. I’m personally excited as all hell.