So I have a borrowed set of the Alien movies (just Alien, Aliens, Alien3, and Alien Resurrection, no Predators or Fassbenders). I’ve seen them all before, of course, multiple times, but not for many years, so I’m going to re-watch them and see how I feel about them in 2019.
Starting with Alien. I watched the 2003 director’s cut, just for some variety, rather than the original 1979 version.
The main character in this movie is the Nostromo. The opening shot is about two minutes of looking at the rooms and corridors of the ship, before the crew even wakes up. There are only a handful of scenes that take place off the ship. The level of detail and work that went into these sets is astounding. There are a few over-the-top moments (in particular, why are there so many flashing lights in the room where Dallas, and later Ripley, talk to MOTHER? There are flashing lights on the ceiling!). But the maintenance corridors, the common area, the command deck, the infirmary, the shuttle bay… it’s a real spaceship where people work.
Most of the scenes outside the Nostromo are on the Space Jockey’s ship, which is also very cool, and has the creepy biological look. What happened to them? Were they attacked by the Alien? Or were they trying to transport it for use as a weapon? We’ll never know! DID YOU HEAR ME RIDLEY? WE’LL NEVER KNOW.
It’s amazing how much of this movie I remembered, in detail, despite having not watched it in many years (and not having a very good memory). Unfortunately, this kind of worked against me, as I was somewhat bored, since I knew exactly what was going to happen next. About the only thing I hadn’t remembered is that nobody knew Ash was a robot (he’s only referred to as a robot, not an artificial person or anything else, and even that only by Yaphet Kotto). Well, maybe Dallas knew, but he’s dead by the time we find out. It’s odd because there are a couple of scenes where I thought the crew knew – Yaphet Kotto asks Ash to get out of his seat, then wipes it clean before sitting down; Ripley asks Dallas why he’s letting Ash make the decision about whether to keep the husk of the facehugger.
And then we have the actual Alien itself. What can you say? It is one of the most recognizable creature designs in film history. Amusingly, it barely appears in the movie. You don’t see any aliens until 30 minutes in (and that’s the Space Jockey, although the eggs show up a couple minutes later, then the facehugger right after that). The infamous chest bursting scene is almost an hour into the movie, and you don’t see the full grown alien until about 10 minutes after that, when you get a pretty good look at it when it kills Harry Dean Stanton. You see it for a second when it kills Dallas, then you get another decent look when it kills Yaphet Kotto and Veronica Cartwright. And then Ripley sees it briefly in the hallway, and then we finally get a good look at it in the shuttle at the end.
Alien is often called a Haunted House in Space, and I think this is a pretty good description. It’s very tense, claustrophobic, and creepy, with only occasional moments of terror (and surprisingly little gore, except for poor John Hurt), and of course, not one but two cat scares.
While none of the characters are very deep, there are some good character touches. The mechanics (Yaphet Kotto’s Parker and Harry Dean Stanton’s Brett) keep saying how none of the other crew ever come down to the maintenance deck, then when Ripley says she coming down to survey the damage, Parker says “Why’s she coming down here?”. She has a shouted conversation with Parker over the roar of steam jetting from numerous pipes; but in a fantastic moment, as soon as she leaves, Parker turns a valve and the steam all shuts off. Ash does his weird little jig. Kane volunteers to go to the alien ship, and Dallas says “of course you do”.
But again, the Nostromo is the character with by far the most depth. Every scene lovingly pans over the control panels, bulkheads, equipment, and whatever else is there. Brett stands under the dripping water in the machine shop. Ripley spends frantic minutes trying to puzzle out the self-destruct mechanism. When her path to the shuttle is blocked by the Alien, we don’t have to be told that there’s no alternate route; she goes back to turn off the self-destruct and we know why. And of course, the Nostromo dies too, along with everyone else except for Ripley and that damn cat.
Ultimately, I think Alien holds up. It’s tense and scary, and the writing is minimalist and great. However, I don’t think I really need to watch it again. I’ve pretty much got it memorized now.