Rixflix A to Z: Alien (1979)

Director: Ridley Scott // 20th Century Fox; 2:; Color
Crew Notables: Dan O'Bannon (screenplay/co-story/visual design consultant), Ronald Shusett (co-story), Jerry Goldsmith (score), Derek Vanlint (cinema.), H.R. Giger, Carlo Rambaldi, Brian Johnson, Nick Allder and Denys Ayling (AAW - Visual Effects), Jean "Moebius" Girard (concept artist)

Cast Notables: Tom Skerritt (Dallas), Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Veronica Cartwright (Lambert), Harry Dean Stanton (Brett), John Hurt (Kane), Ian Holm (Ash), Yaphet Kotto (Parker), Helen Horton (voice of Mother), Bolaji Badejo & Eddie Powell (The Alien).

Cinema 4 Rating: 9

Forget the hotspots and the discotheques. Forget the drugs and booze. In 1981, if I wanted to feel paranoid and nervous, disoriented and fearful, and all within the numbing, time-halting glow of a rapidly pulsating strobe effect, I simply turned off every light in the living room and watched Alien on HBO. And not just once or twice, but about two dozen times over a six month period. That year, if I wasn't watching Mad Max to the same level of obsessiveness, I was watching Alien. Over and over and over...

So many late nights/early mornings drenched in the weirdly flashing glow of the last twenty minutes of that film also left me too wound up to actually sleep, and I would stay up even later constructing my own written scenarios (pounded out on my good old faithful Corona) detailing the further adventures of Ripley as she made her way through the cosmos. Sometimes she would meet up with her fiendish alien nemesis; sometimes the battle would be against other alien races. When Cameron's Aliens came out seven years later, and after I saw it despite an initial bout of hesitation, I was overjoyed, which is something I rarely feel about sequels.

I did not get the chance to see the film on a real theater screen until about a decade after its release, but I already knew almost everything about the film before I ever saw it on cable television. Without the internet in our lives, fandom pretty much relied on two things in those days: fan magazines and word-of-mouth. A classmate of mine in 1979, the year of Alien's release, managed to not only get to the film once, but three times. This was no mean feat since we lived in Eagle River, an official "suburb" of Anchorage, AK about 14 miles outside of the city. Not only was there a complete lack of movie theaters in our town, but there was also no bus service to Anchorage at that time. But my friend had an older brother with a car who would drop his younger sibling off at the theater on his way to his girlfriend's place, so my buddy (named Don) got in his lucky triumvirate of viewings (it was exceedingly easy for a kid to sneak into an R-rated feature in those days). He then duly reported his theatrical findings in great detail to his small group of compadres, myself included, and we were thrilled to the bone with tales of the sea of weird alien eggs, the escape of the gruesome Chestburster through John Hurt's body, and the facial attacks of the smothering Facehuggers (which were all basically larval stages of the eventual monstrous titular alien). To say that we were more than revved up to get to this flick is an immense understatement.

But a trip to the theatre never occurred for me, but I found some solace (though got wound up even more) from a trio of magazines that I would snag at the bookstore in those days: Fantastic Films, Starlog and Famous Monsters of Filmland, then barely hanging on as a decent resource of genre film fascination, but still kicking. I wasn't even aware of its fabulous heyday as a fan's dream world -- I only knew what was in front of me, and even though the photos were only in black-and-white, somehow this lent an even eerier feeling to the proceedings. But what none of these magazines or verbal re-tellings could ever hope to capture was how the film would affect me when I finally ran into a couple years later -- late night, on my own, on HBO -- I was stunned. I was silent for those two hours of terror. I had never seen anything like it before, and while there have been many imitators since, even the films in its own series, nothing, in my eyes, has ever combined the hideously beautiful and the gloriously terrifying in one film the way that Alien did.

1980 Academy Awards: 1 Win (Visual Effects) and 1 Nomination (Art Decoration-Set Decoration)


One of the greatest things about this movie for me(aside from what you already said, which is all true), is how with the appearance of only ONE alien(and a skeleton of another), the movie implies THOUSANDS of unknown worlds and species. A trick of spartan screenwriting that most sci-fi never captures.
ak_hepcat said…
And while Alien and Aliens remain at the Ultimate level of awesomeness, it was with bitter sadness on a nearly unfathomable level that the resulting sequels went completely against canon and character, and viciously fornicated that cadaver right into terra firma.

Sigh. At least I'll always have my mini-series comics to keep me company, knowing the -true- tale that should have been told.
EggOfTheDead said…
We had a 70mm print of Aliens when I was at the Reisterstown Road Plaza Five Star Theater (1985? '86?) Invited all our pals to the theater for an after hours, pre-opening day test screening, to make sure we'd put it together correctly ;-) Total mindblower!!

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