In space, no-one can hear you scream. Luckily for us, Kraig Taylor-Bryant isn't in space and also isn't screaming, choosing instead to write about the 1979 film Alien...
So I recently thought to myself, I like science fiction, don’t I? Sure I like the concept of zombies and, well, everything involving zombies and, of course, Star Wars remains my pride and joy. But is there really anything outside of Star Wars in the world of science fiction that I can still enjoy? I’ve become so familiar with that galaxy far far way that it almost seems real to me and, after watching so many zombie films and TV shows, I still, to this day, hope for that apocalypse to come and give me the chance to prove my survival skills as a professional zombie slayer. But until the day comes that we travel to that distant galaxy, or that apocalypse comes and goes, I’ll have to try and reimagine that feeling of living in a different yet familiar world through other science fiction forms of media, such as the Alien films.
We begin the first original 1970s version of Alien with an introductory text that then appears to translate to give us that foreign effect as well as the impression that we’re in a futuristic world. The camera then travels through empty space, giving us the feeling that we think we’re alone in the universe but clearly, as the title of the film tells us, we are not. And we have the odd/intriguing music composed by Jerry Goldsmith, whom you may recognise from the original Planet of the Apes film or from a few of the older Star Trek films. I’m really not familiar with the Alien franchise but I already can tell that this music is fitting. Then the scene moves to props such as helmets, spaceships and “mother” who appears to be some kind of AI or a base of operations back home that gives them orders. These props all help to provoke that futuristic feeling of the time that it was made, even now it seems that little bit more realistic. The crew starts waking up from some kind of stasis and we see that, even there, the technology is not as futuristic looking as your typical Sci Fi TV show or film of the time, which I think is great as it’s another sign that they are bringing more of the modern reality into the future that they have created.
In terms of pacing, the film has a bit of a slow start. Events progress as to allow the audience to see how the crew’s usually routine goes until they spot an Alien ship, then start to investigate and we start to become suspicious and the tension that’s raised is very clever as, even when we think everything is fine again, it’s not. For example, there’s the scene in which Kane (John Hurt) has a baby Alien thing stuck to his head and, after a while of waiting we think that he is fine, and then everyone thinks that everything is alright, until he surprisingly dies whilst they’re having a meal together. Whilst all of this was going on I was thinking about the realism of this alien being and how it makes sense that an alien in an egg would have an instinct to attack anyone who seemed to have damaged its birthplace and use its victim as a proxy host for the alien as it grew. And then of course the alien is panicked and angry that its family have died and would assume that it was the crew that had done it if it is indeed intelligent enough to know how to lure its victim into a vulnerable spot to be killed.
What I think was extremely clever for the time of filming was the effects and the feelings we got from the characters’ situations as it all seemed very realistic. The scene in which they actually investigate the alien ship is truly terrifying as it’s that typical fear of the unknown that this film expresses to the audience. In terms of the alien itself, when it had grown, it seemed to really be lifelike enough to be something truly terrifying for its time. Of course we as an audience have become desensitized to understanding the realism of this film, but if you think about the time of the film and you start to visualize the story as a person of the time you start to see the alien and the theory and the science behind it is just fantastic.
This fear of the unknown is also increased by the use of sound which is utilized very well in this film. It makes it seem as though the audience is really in the moment and when the crew hear sounds of breathing of either each other, or even the alien, you feel the same tense feeling that the crew do. And then of course there’s the music itself, which returns at the necessary moments to emphasise the horror or tense events occurring.
And then there are the deaths of the characters in the film. These deaths were both unexpected and, at the same time, tense. I have to admit that there were some times that I just wanted to shout at my screen for the characters making a few foolish decisions to simply find a cat (I’m sorry I’m not a cat person) and I started to wonder if any of them will really make it out! But of course, because of the time this was made you can’t really say anything about such methods as it would not be a common thing for the time and would not really frustrate people. The first death, Kane’s as I have mentioned, was definitely unexpected as we all thought that he was fine until he went to eat with everyone which I thought was brilliant, and when the Alien tears through the Kane’s stomach, the crew start to wonder if it was the best idea to let the alien in the ship. After that we had a few “typical” deaths, but one of the most interesting characters was the one that turned out to be a robot. In the moment where he tries to kill Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), as it seems that he feels it doesn’t matter who on the crew dies to capture the alien, it kind of confused me as to why that would justify just attacking her rather than anyone else. It could have been because of the suspicion that she would abandon ship or attempt to kill the alien, I just wonder if capturing her would have been simpler, but I don’t mind as it kind of gives the feeling that there’s a bigger conspiracy going on back on Earth potentially.
One of the things that I truly loved about the film was the fact that the one person who survived the film was the person who didn’t want to let Kane (the guy with an alien on his face) back into the ship. This gave a very clear message that sometimes it’s important to think about what the lesser evil is as, if they simply left him on the planet and they left for home, most of them would have survived and it gives a particularly dark message to the audience that sometimes it’s better to make the tough call. Even better than that is that she is the one who ends up (supposedly) killing the alien by releasing it out into space which is just brilliant as it’s not only giving us a strong female character but it’s also showing that sometimes it’s best to listen to who may be the smartest person in the crew, no matter who they are or what their rank is. And that’s why I liked this film so much, not just because of the build-up of the tense atmosphere whilst introducing the crew’s daily routine but because of the feminism portrayed throughout the film. This film is definitely ahead of its time and I thought, despite the slow start, the ending was tense and thrilling and I can’t wait to watch the second instalment.
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Image - IMDb, 20th Century Fox