I'm going to re-watch the first four Alien movies


#1

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.


#2

What did you think of Ripley going back for the cat? Crazy right? How can she put her life in danger like that for a cat? It’s not even her cat!


#3

Especially since she is VERY clear to Parker and Lambert that they have to get the coolant, and she will get the shuttle ready, and they have to meet back in the shuttle in SEVEN MINUTES. Then, instead of getting the shuttle ready, she goes for the cat. So she wasn’t only risking her own life, she could have gotten Parker and Lambert killed too.

And yeah, they never really say whose cat it is. It kind of just seems like the ship’s cat. But I think she’s the only one shown holding and petting the cat at any point.


#4

Aha, I have internet access for the important task of responding to an Alien thread!

Anyway, in the novelization, Alan Dean Foster describes the cat as a required lifeform for the shuttle, so Ripley has no choice but to go back for it. I can’t remember if the computer is simply saying that it cannot launch while leaving a (recognisable) lifeform on the Nostromo, or that Jones is a registered crew member and therefore has to be aboard. In the movie it just looks like Ripley is a hopeless cat lover. Whatever the reasoning, it was Foster who persuaded them to change the script so that Jones survives (it was killed by the alien in an earlier draft).

This is the one movie where I preferred the theatrical cut. The director’s cut actually shortens a lot of the longer takes, which I think kills some of the atmosphere. Those slow, panning and tracking shots are very effective at building tension, so I can’t understand why Ridley would cut them down. He added a couple of more obvious shots of the alien as well (eg. hanging from chains above Brett, which again kills the tension). Also, the cocoon sequence just doesn’t really work - it interrupts the final build-up, Dallas’ “kill me” sounds rather forced, and everything just grinds to a halt for a couple of minutes.

Lambert’s slap almost makes up for it though!


#5

I also feel it conflicts with the alien life cycle as elaborated in Aliens, so in retrospect it seems odd to me.

Alien is a masterpiece. Ripley has a soft spot for Jones. That’s all I have to say!


#6

Yeah, I mean of course she went back for the cat. She’s not a monster!


#7

I think you might be right about the original vs the director’s cut. The coccoon scene doesn’t really work (he was smart to cut it in the first place), plus it’s an unfortunate flash-forward to the fourth movie… But more about that when I get there (which is gonna take a while!)


#8

Spaceship computers need hundreds of LED’s to function properly. We learned that from 2001.


#9

The answer to the “flashing lights” question, as with so many other things in Ridley Scott films, is of course… “because it looks cool!”


#10

I always considered the lights in these sorts of scenes to be the computer’s ‘neurons’ firing. To better impart that the actor is sitting inside a brain. The panels in the Alien shot even sorta look like the brain’s grooves to me too.

Mmmm, braaaiiins.


#11

I mean I don’t find that 2nd picture too wild considering what a 747 airplane cockpit looks like:

There’s definitely no shortage of lights and lit buttons.


#12

I love the aesthetic of the first Alien movie even if it’s anachronistic as hell these days. It’s part of the charm, same as Star Trek, it’s how they viewed the future at the time they made it.

If you enjoy the look of Alien, it’s totally worthwhile to play Alien: Isolation, which nails the look of that movie. It’s like a friggin’ time machine.


#13

I don’t even think it’s that anachronistic. Yeah, the CG on the display screens is pretty dated, but as KallDrexx points out, the actual control panels don’t look that different from a modern commercial aircraft. (I still think the MOTHER room is nuts, though: none of those lights are labeled!). It’s more realistic in today’s terms than, say, Minority Report.


#14

Ridley made two perfect movies: Alien, and Blade Runner.

Which means even their obvious imperfections (Ripley & her cat, clearly displayed in the strip-down scene in the shuttle, and various wonkiness in BR) holistically form part of their perfect whole.


#15

Yup, Alien: Isolation was a joy to play in part just because of the freakin’ wall fixtures.

It’s the old Heinlein-slide-rules thing. We could conceptualize unbelievably ambitious (if not flat-out impossible) engineering concepts like FTL travel many decades ago, but an iPad was a tougher reach.

That said, Star Trek’s production design actually did a good job of goosing imagination toward certain designs, including CDs (those little time-travel discs in All Our Yesterdays), cell phones (communicators), tablet computers (tricorders), Siri (“Computer…”), and tiny medical scanners that look like salt shakers (okay, maybe not that one).

One of the great bits of sci-tech prophecy, Vannevar Bush’s MEMEX paper, seems to have been ignored by sci-fi writers and filmmakers, at least as far as I am aware. Not sexy enough, I suppose.

I love watching Dallas type out questions to an interstellar spacecraft’s AI on a console that looks like a Commodore PET.


#16

And then proved it was a couple lucky hits (or more likely a couple of production teams pulling a lot of weight) by both making a bunch of mediocre movies and also going back and messing with both of those to their detriment in director’s cuts (well, Final Cut in BR’s case, I still haven’t watched the theatrical cut of BR, having watched basically only the Director’s Cut my whole life).


#17

You, sir, are wrong.


#18

I almost asked if there were no fans of The Duellists but then figured eh, why start a whole new argument. But you have my axe, sir.


#19

I started to watch The Duellists but confess I never finished it, so can’t put it in context of Ridley’s other work. It’s on my to-watch list.

I wouldn’t call Blade Runner a perfect film but certainly an essential one. Alien I think is pretty close to perfect, except maybe those shots of the alien bouncing around the Narcissus engine – you see the suit in too wide a shot and it just looks like a guy in a suit. Forgivable.

Yes, nothing he directed after 1982 was on the same level, but there are good movies after that (Thelma & Louise, Matchstick Men, The Martian, maybe Kingdom of Heaven, maybe Legend).

Hey, most of us make zero classic films in our lives, so props to Ridley for making (at least) two!


#20

It doesn’t count on this forum, since it isn’t Sci-Fi.