Sunday, May 15, 2011

Science Fiction #7 - Alien (1979)

So far in our Science Fiction experience we've seen (1) Time Travel, (2) A Paranoia-Inducing Plot Premises, and (3) Robots. We seen to have already covered most of the basic science fiction motifs. We have not, however, seen the very important science fiction concept that is, of course, space.

Ah, space. It's so big and lonely and blackish. Mysterious, even. It is the final frontier, as they say. The thing about space, though, is that you can't actually enter it, because you'll asphyxiate. That means that you're stuck on whatever sort of spaceship you're on until you've reached earth. That's of course the case in Alien, the Ridley Scott horror film, which is where most of the conflict comes from. (This is not, by the way, the movie with the big yellow thing that they use for lifting stuff. You know what I'm talking about. That's Aliens, in plural. I know, I was disappointed too. It is, however, the movie with the most famous tag line ever: In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream. I can't tel you how often I say that.) There's a big terrible alien on the ship that's going to kill everyone, but you can't just leave because the outside is, you know, space.

At the beginning of Alien, our cast is floating around in space in a commercial cargo ship when they hear a single repetitive distress call coming from an empty plant. They decide to go answer it. If there's one thing that Alien has taught me, it is that if I ever find my self in space, I should never, ever answer any distress call, ever. I suppose we can't really blame the characters for not seeing this coming though, because Alien is the first movie of it's kind. You didn't see a lot of science fiction horror movies before. Instead, future fictional characters will have to learn from their mistakes.


They answer the distress call, and what do you know, everyone on the planet's dead. So one of the guys gets an alien stuck to his face and eventually dies after it bursts out of his chest, which I imagine is very effective if you don't know what's coming. This is by this time pretty much impossible because it's such an iconic film scene, and that means it's not as scary as it would have been if it was a surprise. It's a good effect regardless, and you still get the suspense of wonder when it's coming.

This brings me to my next point. Alien is based mainly on suspense and the threat of danger rather than the actual alien, which works really well. It was not, however, as scary as I thought it would be. I don't know if it's because it's outdated, or if it's because I knew it was coming, or what, but I really was not even slightly scared by most of this movie. I was disappointed. Maybe I should have watched it on a bigger screen or something. The end did get sort of suspenseful, when she was in the shuttle, but that was about it. The alien itself looked really good, although there were a couple of shots where it was pretty obvious that it was just a guy in a costume. For the most part it was a really good alien though. The whole head/mouth system is really iconic, and I can see why. It's really disturbing and disgusting, like a good alien should be. I works best when it's in the really dim lighting and you can't really see it, and not because the effects not good. It's just scarier that way.

So my extensive Internet research tells me that I really need to see the sequel to Alien, confusingly named Aliens, with an S. It's supposed to be more of an action movie, directed by James Cameron, and is widely considered to be just as good as the original. Sigourney Weaver, who's first name I can't quite pronounce, still plays the same character, (Ripley, by the way. I don't think I mentioned it earlier. She's quite awesome.) but now she's this awesome action girl. Sounds fun, right? I'm going to watch it on my Netflix instant queue.

The only serious qualm I have with Alien is how seventies the technology looks. Their computers! They're huge! You can't even pick them up! How can people imagine commercial cargo spaceships and an entire alien life cycle and not be able to think up computers that can generate curvy letters? This computer can run a spaceship, but it can't make a proper C! I just don't find that believable.


There were actually robots in Alien, too, which I did not see coming.

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