Movie Discussion: Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979)

  • Monthly Theme: Genre Classics5668353_orig
  • The Film: Alien
  • Alternate title: n/a
  • Country of origin: U.S.A.
  • Date of U.S. release: June 22, 1979
  • Studio: Brandywine Productions & Twentieth Century-Fox Productions
  • Distributer: Twentieth Century-Fox
  • Domestic Gross: $78.9 million
  • Budget: $11 million (estimated)
  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Producers:  Ronald Shusett, Gordon Carroll, David Giler & Walter Hill
  • Screenwriters: Dan O’Bannon (Story by Ronald Shusett)
  • Adaptation? No.
  • Cinematographer: Derek Vanlint
  • Make-Up/FX: H.R. Giger, Carlo Rambaldi, Brian Johnson, Nick Allder & Dennis Ayling
  • Music: Jerry Goldsmith
  • Part of a series? Yes. This is the first entry in the long-running Alien series, including Aliens (1986), Alien(1992) and Alien Resurrection (1997). A spin-off series was launched in 2004 with AVP: Alien vs. Predator and continue with a sequel in 2007, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. A prequel to Alien was released in 2012 called Prometheus.
  • Remakes? No.
  • Genre Icons in the cast? Yes. Horror stalwarts Veronica Cartwright (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Birds, etc.) and John Hurt (The Ghoul, The Shout, etc.). Blaxploitation star Yaphet Kotto (Across 110th StreetTruck Turner).
  • Other notables?: Yes. Ian Holm is a veteran of many science fiction films (Brazil, Naked Lunch, etc.). Alien made a superstar of Sigourney Weaver, who returned for all three of the film’s direct sequels. Character actors Tom Skerrit and Harry Dean Stanton.
  • Awards?: The Academy Award for Best Visual Effects at the 1980 Oscars. Best Production Design & Best Sound Track at the 1980 BAFTA Awards. Best Science Fiction Film, Director and Supporting Actress [Cartwright] at the 1980 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films. Best Dramatic Presentation at the 1980 Hugo Awards. The Silver Seashell for Best Cinematography and Special Effects at the 1979 San Sebastián International Film Festival.
  • Tagline: “In space no one can hear you scream.”
  • The Lowdown: Alien was the second feature directed by Ridley Scott, and instantly became a cultural phenomenon. Critics praised it, audiences flocked to it, and the film won a slew of awards, including an Oscar for Special Effects and a Hugo. The film was infamous, like Psycho and The Exorcist in years prior, for a single shocking sequence. Here, it was the scene in which a parasitic alien bursts from the chest of one of the movie’s characters. With a script by Dan O’Bannon (who would later write and direct the best zombie film of all time, The Return of the Living Dead) and art design by the Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger, Alien was considered groundbreaking for how it combined visceral thrills, big ideas and stunning visuals into a piece of pop cinema that also had psychological depth and complexity. The movie launched the career of Sigourney Weaver, and her character Ellen Ripley is often cited as cinema’s first true action movie heroine. The plot of the film is simple: a crew of miners and engineers is awoken from hypersleep by their spacecraft, the Nostromo, in order to investigate a signal of unknown origin emanating from a nearby planet. The ship’s away-team finds only a crash-landed alien spacecraft inhabited by mummified remains and some strange reptilian eggs. When a hostile organism hatches from one of the eggs and attaches itself to a crewmember’s face, the Nostromo finds itself invaded by a deadly alien entity. 

If you haven’t seen Alien our discussion will include massive SPOILERS.

Kristine: I am just going to come out and say it: I did not like this movie.

Sean: Not even at all?

Kristine: I didn’t hate it…

Sean: Was it boring?

Kristine: No. It was okay. I loved the alien and wanted it to win.

Sean: Did you think the creature design was cool or dumb?

Kristine: It was cool, but not scary.

Sean: Not scary?

Kristine: I’ve seen scarier roaches in my house.

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Sean: Here we go. You are being a provocateur.

Kristine: It takes more than a large volume of saliva to scare me, Sean. Besides, that alien was acting within its rights. I feel sad I didn’t like Alien more. Most of the time when I don’t like something, I am fine with it, but I feel disappointed that I didn’t connect with this movie.  Though it did “grow” on me in that I do believe it is a very well-made and well-acted movie.

Sean: I have to admit that as soon as we were 10 minutes into the movie, I lost all hope that you would like it. But I thought you would say that you were bored.

Kristine: Oh really? I wasn’t bored. I was just… not emotionally engaged, even though parts were really good! Why did you lose hope that I would like it?

Sean: I just remembered the pace of the movie and that the aesthetics are so sci-fi-o-rama.

Kristine: The slow pacing didn’t bug me. I thought the pace worked for the movie.

Sean: I guess once we started watching it, I couldn’t see a way into the movie for you, because of your predilection to not like science fiction. All that time the movie devotes to things like the landing and docking of the ship… I just could see the writing on the wall.

Kristine: Yeah, I hated all that. The science fiction aesthetics were more of an issue for me than the slow pacing. I could not get into all the control panels and tech talk.

Sean: Watching this with you I was like, “Uh-oh, Kristine is not a spaceship geek.”

Kristine: I hated all that spaceship nonsense. I did think the cast was dynamite.

Sean: Yeah the cast is incredible. I love all the spaceship stuff and all the science fiction aesthetics.

Kristine: Why? Why do you love it? It’s so dark and grim and I’ve seen it a million times before.

Sean: I don’t know how to explain my love of science fiction it other than to say that it is just a part of my DNA, which is of course not very illuminating. I mean, I have always been obsessed with astronomy and space and other planets and just… all of it. From my earliest memories, I just always loved it.

Kristine: I guess I am annoyed that people always make futuristic space stuff look one of two ways. Either super-brightly-lit and all mod, minimalist ‘60s pop (á la Star Trek) or all dark and heavy with goth machinery and dull uniforms and I hate it all. It reflects NO imagination.

Sean: Your “I’ve seen it a million times before” is heartbreaking because there really is no way to understand how revolutionary this was in 1979.

Kristine: Yeah, I can’t have that experience, which is the conceit of this blog. But the thing is, I know that Alien is widely considered to have “held up” really well, both in terms of scares and aesthetics. I know it is at the top of a million lists of best movies ever. I guess I am just immune to it.

Alien tries out some new breakdancing moves.

Sean: I mean, Don’t you think it looked great? It didn’t look dated, did it? I think it looks better than most sci-fi movies made nowadays.

Kristine: Yes, it looked great. It did not come off as dated. That’s not what I mean at all. I just mean, it puts forward a vision of the future that I have seen before and is overly familiar and cliché: a dark dystopia with clanging machines. Been there, done that.

Sean: I understand. But all those movies that made you overly familiar with this aesthetic were just copying Alien.

Kristine: I understand that, but I can’t undo my knowledge of all those later, derivative movies. Blame them that Alien is spoiled forever.

Sean: Ok, I actually have a serious question for you. When we watched Night of the Living Dead, one of your major reactions was shock and surprise at how it provided the blueprint for all the zombie movies and shows that came after it. You realized, when we watched it, that basically every zombie property ever had just shamelessly ripped off Night of the Living Dead, but you still loved the movie. Since Alien is the Night of the Living Dead of space movies in that respect, why do you think all that prior knowledge of genre conceits didn’t ruin the experience of watching Night of the Living Dead for the first time, but DID ruin the experience of watching Alien?

Kristine: Jinx. I was totally about to make a point, and that was exactly my point.

Sean: Ha!

Kristine: I think the reason my experience of Alien was compromised is that even though I am aware of the movie’s aesthetic legacy, I haven’t seen enough sci-fi to directly trace it back to Alien and be all “Oh my god!” When we watched Night of the Living Dead, I was fresh off of watching The Walking Dead (plus having watched 28 Days Later… and [REC] with you) and the influence of NotLD was so obvious, shockingly obvious. I don’t have the same frame of reference for contemporary science fiction, so Alien just seemed vaguely, generically familiar.

Sean: I understand. Well, then how should we talk about this movie?

Kristine: I think the two most obvious lenses through which to view Alien are gender and class.

Sean: I was going to say. To me, this movie is about “women in the workplace” more than almost anything else.

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: Isn’t it?

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Kristine: It is.

Sean: I really see it as a document of how our culture was processing the new reality (in the 1970s) of women integrating into fields that had previously been “all male” spaces. Also, the drama surrounding a woman being in a position of authority in the workplace.

Kristine: I thought it was really interesting how Ripley was the M.A.L.E [Masculine Authoritarian Logical Examiner] in this movie, but still held onto her humanity. [Editor’s Note: For the backstory on the M.A.L.E, see our discussion of Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy.] I mean, her character is so fucking heroic. I feel obligated to love Alien for her, even though it mostly left me cold. I loved when she wouldn’t let Dallas, Kane and Lambert back on the ship. That, for me, was the moment that she became the M.A.L.E of the movie.

Sean: Yeah, her character is often cited as like, the genesis of the modern female action hero.

Kristine: Well, she was great.

Sean: Did you notice how annoyed most of the male characters would get with her asking questions and being like, ‘But the protocol is…”? And the men are all like, “Shut up, ya dumb broad!”

Kristine: Totally. And I love that it is a male character who gets “impregnated” and face-fucked and gives bloody birth. That inversion, especially in such a masculine movie, might be the most interesting thing about Alien to me. I consider Scott to be such a masculine, Republican director, but I love that he did that with his male characters.

Sean: Yeah, it’s a total genderfuck,

Kristine: I have a question – was Ripley on the “crew” side or the “scientist” side? That division is where I saw a clear class division between the characters.

Sean: Crew, right?

Kristine: I think so… because she tells Ash that when Dallas is off the ship, she is in charge, and Dallas is the captain.

Sean: She’s the warrant officer.

Kristine: What does that mean?

Sean: From Wikipedia: “A warrant officer (WO) is an officer in a military organization who is designated an officer by a warrant, as distinguished from a commissioned officer who is designated an officer by a commission, or from non-commissioned officer who is designated an officer by virtue of seniority.”

Kristine: Um… That doesn’t help, but okay. I thought it was interesting that Dallas deferred to Ash because Ash was the head of the scientists (a.k.a. the “brains”) whereas Dallas was the head of the crew (a.k.a. “the brawn”). Because when push comes to shove, Dallas should always be the boss since he is the captain of the ship.

Sean: Right…

Kristine: I also couldn’t believe how virile and sexy Tom Skerritt was. It shocked me and made me feel weird.

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Sean: I mean, were you shocked that Ash was a cyborg?

Kristine: Yes, I was shocked and it was pretty awesome. See, there were a lot of awesome moments like that. I also really loved when the “facehugger” jumped on Kane’s face, and then later when it was feeding him oxygen by shoving its alien dick down his throat… That was so awful and amazingly great. I was more affected and creeped out by the facehugger then the full- grown alien.

Sean: Yeah, the facehugger looks amazingly real.

Kristine: The facehugger could be living in the lake by my house right at this minute. So real and organic-looking.

Sean: Gross.

Kristine: I didn’t think the big alien was that scary. It was, like, cool-looking in its own way, but it was not scary.

Sean: Would you rather be locked in a dark room with a facehugger or with a grown-up alien?

Kristine: Grown alien, any day.

Sean: Ha!

Kristine: The facehugger skittering around was fucking terrifying. I would much rather just get killed by the alien then have that facehugger face-fuck me.

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Sean: When the facehugger is dead and they have it belly up and are poking at its vagina, I was dying.

Kristine: Yes, that was horrible. Like what kids do when something grotesque washes up on the beach… Weirder stuff than that exists in the natural world, Sean.

Sean: Remember when Kane wakes up and he says “I just remember a dream of suffocating”?

Kristine: Poor Kane, that was horrible. Seriously, I would take chest birth and grown alien attack over a facehugger any day.

Sean: Can you believe that John Hurt grew into the oldie in The Skeleton Key? I thought his young self was the handsomest.

Kristine: I didn’t think handsome… but it was shocking to see him. Harry Dean Stanton looked, like, the same. He always looked ancient.

Sean: I know. Jonesy got him killed. Was Jonesy an asshole?

Kristine: Oh no, I love Jonesy. I can’t blame Jonesy for anything. I do have a question though. This movie seems very skeptical about men in positions of authority. Dallas defers to Ash because Ash belongs to a higher social class, but Ash is revealed to be a horrible monster. Even before they discover that Ash is a cyborg, he is a corrupt and amoral man who also seems to wield the most power. Ridley Scott is such an alpha male director and is also rumored to be a total controlling prick. So what do you think Scott’s view of dominant, controlling men really is? This is a film that I feel like I cannot separate from its director and I don’t know why.

Sean: That’s so funny because I have barely any sense of Ridley Scott as a person at all. I associate him just with good sci-fi (this movie and Blade Runner) and a lot of other crappy movies (Black Rain,1492, White Squall, Hannibal, A Good Year, Body of Lies, Robin Hood). Obviously Thelma & Louise is a classic, but I attribute that more to Callie Khouri, the screenwriter, and the performances given by Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis.

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Kristine: I don’t even know that much about Scott (except for hearing that he is an arse on-set) but I have… opinions. Remember when we were watching this and I was like, “This is a Republican movie!”? Well, I Googled him and he is a total Republican.

Sean: Well before we get to the movie’s politics, I don’t think we’ve really answered your question about the way the movie presents men in positions of power.

Kristine: Ok, what say you?

Sean: Yes, I do think that the movie is nervous or uncertain about men in power, and I think that Ripley is obviously the most principled and competent person on the ship. I think that she represents (as we already addressed) the new roles women found themselves in during the 1970s, suddenly working in fields they’d been excluded from and sometimes holding positions of authority. But also, I think the movie kind of paints Ripley as a killjoy, a by-the-book ballbreaker. It seems that we’re often asked to identify with the men she’s exasperating rather than with her. By the end of the movie, she’s still just another piece of ass in her purple panties, after all. But it is more complex than that. She slowly becomes the hero over the course of the movie. That moment when she refuses to let the away team back into the ship is a great moment for her, but there are so many others where she is painted as this ball-busting, rulebook-waving chick who doesn’t “get it” – that in the real world you don’t always follow procedure or go by the book or something.

Kristine: Right, I think your ball-buster point is especially evident when she isn’t going to let the crew – her friends – back on the ship because it is against the rules. She is willing to let them die. I think that makes her kind of a hypocrite when, later, yes, she attacks Ash for following Mother’s directive that the crew is expendable. Ripley is willing to let members of her crew die, too, though her reasons are more ethically sound. But still. To bring this all back to your point about the 1970s gender politics, there is the strong message in the film that Ripley has to be emotionless like a man in order to succeed in the workplace. Even though the workplace is letting women in, it is not letting female sensibilities in. And that is still a huge truth today (like, “don’t cry at work,” etc.).

Sean: Right, I agree with that. She’s often presented as masculine-feminine. She’s a ‘phallic woman’ (metaphorically speaking). Procreation bad (‘Mother’ = evil) and she’s not maternal at all. But I’m not sure I agree with your point about Ripley’s decision to force the away team to decontaminate vs. Mother’s directive that all human lives are expendable. Ripley only wants to follow protocol to protect the crew as a whole and, really, only one life hangs in the balance.

Kristine: Right.

Sean: Isn’t that a huge philosophical quandary? One life vs. everyone’s life?

Kristine: Did Ripley say that only Kane couldn’t come in or did she say no one could come in since they all were theoretically contaminated?

Sean: She said the three of them had to wait to decontaminate, but only Kane’s life was in immediate danger.

Kristine: Oh yeah, the fear was that Kane would die if he wasn’t rushed onto the ship for medical attention. That’s right.

Sean: Correct. But that strikes me as having really different stakes than the moment when the corporation’s conspiracy is found out and we learn that the ship’s supercomputer (the malevolent “Mother”) has told Ash to treat the crew’s lives as disposable. That idea that the alien organism (which here stands in as a metaphor for any scientific discovery which could potentially be profitable in the private sector) has more value than the lives of the crew is, I think, meant to be seen as a critique of capitalism’s devaluing of human life in the face of profit. It really portrays the corporate, private sector as corrupt and morally bankrupt. And, to bring this back to your problems with Ridley Scott’s politics, that does not seem like a Republican idea to me. It seems like a liberal or left-wing idea.

Kristine: I see your point. I think what does strike me as wicked Republican about Alien is the whole idea of the “army of one.” I mean, I realize that in almost all horror movies it boils down to a single survivor fighting the monster, but somehow this movie presents that dynamic in a way that unsettles me. Maybe its the addition of the space ship and the hardware and military stuff that makes me feel like this could be a military advertisement. “You can make a difference.” I am so offended by that kind of marketing campaign for the military, especially because nothing could be more of a lie. In the military you can’t just do what is right. You have to follow orders, corrupt or not.

Sean: Ok…

Kristine: It’s fairer to say this movie has a militaristic bent that I hate, more so than being purely Republican. But Scott is a Republican. I just want the record to show that.

Sean: But I was struck on this viewing by what a communal/almost pinko workplace the ship is… all of them eating together, all like a family.

Kristine: I did love the camaraderie.

Sean: I refute your claim. I think you are being blinded by this information you’ve gathered about Scott’s personal life.

Breathe out, and let yourself flow into mountain pose…

Kristine: Fair enough…

Sean: If it’s so militaristic, then where are the guns?

Kristine: Like I said, I am having a hard time articulating why this movie turned me off so intensely, since much of it was really good.

Sean: Just fyi, If you want to see an ad for the military, wait until we watch the sequel, Aliens. The lead characters in that movie are all space marines.

Kristine: Okay, well, I have another supporting point for my argument. The way this movie constructs “the other” as inherently evil seems to me to be a very military (and Republican) thing. Why must the alien be evil?

Sean: Before we continue I need you to define how this movie is “military.” There are no guns and practically no weapons. There is very little combat. There’s like, a cattle prod they use to try to stun the alien after it escapes in the chestbursting sequence.

Kristine: Maybe all my terminology is wrong… I feel frustrated. Just the idea that is it our “right” to go off into other worlds and invade them for profit grosses me out. Remember (and I think this is very important) that Alien’s main fantasy is one of discovering other life forms that, of course, imperil us and the “natural order” (leading to scenes of “perversion” like the male birthing sequence). According to this movie, when we encounter new, radical alien life we have to, and have a right to, destroy them. That doesn’t sit well with me. Does that make more sense?

Sean: Hmmm, I see. Yes, that makes more sense.

Kristine: I think “military” and “Republican” might not be the best terms to get at what irks me about the movie’s attitudes.

Sean: It sounds like you’re accusing this movie of being colonialist.

Kristine: Yes. I was just about to say that. That is exactly my problem with it. Especially because they aren’t in space to learn things and make technological or scientific strides. It is not a pure research mission where to goal is to like, find the cure for cancer. It’s a mercenary mission. And I think that is fucked up. Yes, the alien would kill them all to live and breed. So what? Humans do that also! It’s like, the basic premise of life in the universe. I have a hard time hating the alien and rooting for the crew.

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Sean: Interesting. I mean, you have a lot of great points. If there is a critique to make of Alien, I think this is the one that makes the most sense (re: colonialism). As a matter of fact, that argument basically strikes right at the heart of 90% of all science fiction movies and novels and stories ever, which are so often about bold men and women going into the unknown, colonizing or exploring space.

Kristine: Well, maybe that is why I don’t cotton to the genre as a rule.

Sean: I mean, it’s the next logical narrative and historical step from people sailing the seas and discovering continents and islands and shit. And I think a lot of good sci-fi wrestles with that historical legacy and applies it to their hypothetical futures. But I do think Alien is more complicated than just being an advertisement for colonial expansion. I mean, the crew is a bunch of engineers, scientists and pilots. They’re a mixture of intellectuals and blue-collar everymen/women. What’s more, I think the movie paints them with a greasy 1970s countercultural hippie brush. And I actually do think that, for most of the crew – especially Dallas and Kane – the diversion to inspect the mysterious beacon is about scientific discovery and non-interference. I think that’s what animates the feelings of wonder and awe the characters – and by proxy, the audience – feel/s upon first encountering the downed spacecraft and the dead alien pilot (which you, as a non-lover of sci-fi and an ideological skeptic of the genre, might not feel). I think Ash (and through him, Mother and the company) are the ones who represent the more exploitative, colonialist elements of the film and we are asked to seem them as evil and identify against them. In fact, via Ash all those paternalistic and exploitative impulses are literally made inhuman, cold, calculating and sterile. As well as murderous and malevolent.

Kristine: No, I know. And I realize that my feelings about how Alien presents our encounter with an unknown lifeform are totally problematic because, by my own reasoning, I should then also have an issue with movies like The Descent, wherein human explorers enter into another being’s turf, a being that is doing what it needs to do to survive. For whatever reason, I have no problem hating those crawlers and wanting them to die, but being offended by how demonized the alien lifeform in Alien is. I can’t explain it.

Sean: No, I get it. The space stuff is more like Christopher Columbus coming to murder and enslave an entire continent with smallpox and attitude. The Descent is just about ladies going caving – it doesn’t have the same political subtext.

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Kristine: Sean, I feel dumb not liking this movie. I feel close-minded, like I don’t like it just because I decided long ago I didn’t like the science fiction genre. But I don’t think I am close-minded, because I have liked a lot of horror movies we’ve watched and I used to think that I hated all horror movies.

Sean: I am certainly not accusing you of being close minded. I think this is a really great critique to bring to the basic premise of most science fiction, actually. And, I mean, just the whole philosophical question of humankind moving out into and exploring space one day is often treated as a foregone conclusion. It seems totally legitimate to stop and question that basic premise. Should we actually? How should we? I mean, the crew in Alien are ore processors – they’re energy producers, not missionaries or conquerers. For the purposes of Alien, this is about the pursuit of energy resources to keep our civilization running overlapping with an encounter with new – and, for better or worse, hostile – life. But for the crew to pursue that beacon doesn’t seem to be to be an absolute wrong. I do think there’s some scientific validity to exploring new worlds.

Kristine: If Ash is Christopher Columbus and Mother is the King of Spain, then Ripley is on the Santa Maria and realizes their whole mission is based on a fucked-up idea. But by then the Native Americans already are after her so she has to kill them. I mean, boo! Right? This whole notion that it is our duty and that there’s something fucking poetic about venturing off into the unknown makes me roll my eyes a bit. I think we need to protect the world we’ve got before we are allowed to venture elsewhere… and when we do venture we have to have very strict moral codes.

Sean: If you came to me tomorrow and told me you would train me in like, biology or whatever, and then send me to an alien world to explore it, I would go in two seconds. The legacy of Christopher Columbus be damned. I mean, in a time when so much of our country is anti-science, I feel the need to stand up for science and its importance.

Kristine: I am not anti-science. What if, by going to another world, you contaminated it with your gross human germs and you killed all these beings?

Sean: I don’t know the answer to that, but I think good scientists are aware of and grappling with the question: How does one approach the idea of expansion and exploration from a morally right position? Only bad scientists would just go contaminate an alien world with our shitty germs. Good science means thinking through all those possible outcomes.

Kristine: Look, I love science but I do not approve of NASA or space exploration. Sorry. It is unconscionable to spend those resources zipping to space when people are starving, etc. I know it is good for morale to explore new worlds but I just can’t condone it when our civilization is as fucked up as it is right now and needs so much help. And that includes the space race of the 1960s and the age of exploration that lasted until the Challenger explosion. All those brilliant NASA scientists should have been working on the energy crisis, feeding people, curing AIDS, whatever. Not how to get to space. I will never change my mind.

Sean: But this movie isn’t set right now, I might point out. So let me get this right: the idea of developing space technology offends you morally, and so you will not ever be able to enjoy or appreciate science fiction? Do I have that right?

Kristine: The former is true. I am sure it is partially responsible for making me not like sci-fi, but not fully. I mean, sci-fi doesn’t always = space exploration.

Sean: True enough.

Kristine: Like we talked about before, the aesthetics of sci-fi often bore me. And why it is always a dystopia? Why can’t it ever be a utopia?

Alien does his finest C.H.U.D. impression.

Sean: Touché. I guess I am still in a state of shock that you didn’t find the alien to be scary or effective. When Dallas is in the tunnels looking for the alien and it leaps out of the darkness, that wasn’t scary?

Kristine: Ok, yes, that was scary. I also was scared and sad when Ripley could hear Lambert and Parker being slaughtered through her head set. Oh god that was horrible.

Sean: Yeah the sound design was more effective than any gore effects could be, right? The sounds of them dying were horrible.

Kristine: I agree, the sound effects and the score of this movie were top-notch. Again, I recognize that this is a quality film. I just cannot fully embrace it, despite being able to admire many of its elements.

Sean: I just love the mouth-within-the-mouth design on the alien.

Kristine: The mouth-within-the-mouth effect is cool, yes.

Sean: Just fyi, a million things have been written about how this movie is about race, and the alien is a big black rapist and the movie is racist (á la King Kong). That the mouth-within-the-mouth detail is just a gigantic, raping black man’s dick all Mandingo-ing people to death. Also, Ash’s cyborg blood is white cum.

Kristine: There was lots of raping of bodies and spewing of fluids. But I don’t know about all that. I liked it when the alien is tethered to the escape ship and then Ripley blows him out the engine or whatever (god I hate spaceship technology) and you see it’s full body dangling in space. I like the magnitude of it and that that was the first time you saw how huge it was. But I do think that H.R. Giger in general is… ugh. Giger’s artwork reminds me of heavy metal album cover art, and gross greasy headbanger boys copying said headbanger art on to their notebooks. That and fucking super-detailed and grotesque surrealist art. I hate all that.

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Sean: Was the last scene of Ripley slowly buckling herself into the seat and slowly opening the airlocks suspenseful or dumb?

Kristine: It was suspenseful. And her trying to shut off the machines was okay, but again, I don’t like the voice of the emotionless machine (that is gendered fenale) counting down. That feels very “cliché” to me, though I am sure Alien did it first.

Sean: What do you think of the race stuff about the alien being a Mandingo?

Kristine: I mean… no, I don’t believe that argument. Do you?

Sean: Do you believe it about King Kong?

Kristine: I haven’t seen any incarnation of King Kong, but that seems more likely. King Kong is a primitive animal where as the alien is supposed to be a more advanced life form, right?

Sean: I guess it is biologically advanced, but it has no intellect. Just instinct, Like Kong.

Kristine: How do you know that? Who says?

Sean: Because I’ve seen all the Alien movies and they’re just a bunch of dick-dogs.

Kristine: “Dick-dogs,” huh? Lovely. Maybe the alien set off the beacon in the first place to lure the ship there.

Sean: No. You are making me so mad.

Kristine: Umm, why? I am trying to get into a discussion of this movie that I am having a very hard time engaging with! I think I am doing a fabulous job.

Sean: You are. (I am gonna kill you).

Kristine: I haven’t seen the other Alien movies, so I can only base my opinions on this experience.

Sean: This is you: “Maybe the alien just wants to sit down and have a talk about colonial exploitation. YOU DON’T KNOW! WHO SAYS?”

Kristine: Well, yeah.

“We offer you Father, this life giving bread…”

Sean: Do you think the designation “horror movie” is even appropriate for this film?

Kristine: Yes, no question.

Sean: Well with that in mind, I wanted to share this idea with you (and this is not my original idea, this has been talked about a lot by critics and scholars) that Alien is really just a traditional Gothic haunted house movie dressed up in science fiction clothing. In that mode of interpretation, the ship is the haunted house and the alien is the “invading spirit.”

Kristine: Hmmm, interesting. I can see that. The alien is the something that is “awoken” by the character and then “haunts” them. I can dig that.

Sean: Yes, and all the big cavernous interiors of the spaceship with dripping pipes and stuff is just a sci-fi take on the classic Gothic mansion with the drippy, weathered basement and rooms and stuff.

Kristine: I am totally fine with that reading. In fact, I like it.

Sean: The first time you see the Nostromo in space, it looks like a gigantic Gothic castle that could be perched on some dark Romanian mountaintop. And just fyi, but Nostromo is also a novel by Joseph Conrad about mining and exploitation of natural resources in a fictional South American country…

Kristine: Hah, yes, I can see that. I have a question for you – do you like the aesthetics of science fiction? And the artwork of H.R. Giger in particular?

Sean: I love the aesthetic of sci-fi.

Kristine: Huh, interesting.

Sean: And I like all Giger’s designs for this movie, but I don’t care about any of his other dumb artwork.

Kristine: It’s impressive, there is no doubt. It is just not my thing. The closest I can get to appreciating this look and enjoying it is my fondness for the design elements in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, all that super-sleek Art Deco machinery.

Everyone shifted uncomfortably as Screaming Penis, who had so rudely crashed their dinner party, explained his point-of-view…

Sean: I guess I find hyper-industrial urban spaces to be kind of beautiful. All the rusted metal and weird pylons and big cavernous industrial spaces. Old factories, decrepit ports, ziggurat-like skycrapers.

Kristine: Well, I like industrial spaces too… but when they are envisioned with small touches of human whimsy and warmth.

Sean: I think there is beauty and poetry in industrial design. No warmth or whimsy needed for me.

Kristine: Do you like surrealist art?

Sean: Hate.

Kristine: Good.

Sean: I am curious if you are less certain that this is a “Republican movie” after our conversation….

Kristine: Oh, yeah, that was dumb. I just knew I wasn’t feeling it and usually if I am not feeling it my fallback is…must be too Republican.

Sean: So, do you have any interest in seeing Aliens, or are you over it?

According to nerds, this is important.

Kristine: I am not interested in seeing Aliens. Sorry. I mean, if you insist, then I will watch it. I do not refuse. I wasn’t that bored by Alien and I’m glad I watched it just to have it as a reference point.

Sean: Well, you survived your first mission to outer space, Private.

Kristine: I do have one question: does Aliens answer the question of what happens to Ripley when she gets back to Earth? I mean, wouldn’t the evil corporate overlords want to silence her?

Sean: Aliens stars Jonesy and Ripley and fully answers the questions surrounding their fate. Do you want to know the basic premise?

Kristine: Yes. I think I deserve to know for being a good sport.

Sean: Their survival pod floats undiscovered in space for like, 57 years and so when they wake up, 57 years has gone by (though they haven’t aged of course). And no one believes her about any of the alien shenanigans.

Kristine: She becomes a Cassandra figure.

Sean: Yes, and Jonesy becomes history’s longest-lived kitty.

Kristine: Yay!

Sean: Jonesy is an asshole.

Kristine: Quit it.

Sean: He is. All he does is bitchily meow and run and get people killed. He just goes “Meowraw!” all annoyingly.

Kristine: Jonesy for President.

Ratings Roundup

The Girl’s Rating: A worthy film but won’t keep me up at night AND It’s fine but it’s not for me AND Masterpiece (but ONLY for the character of Ripley)!

The Freak’s Rating: Masterpiece!

Tummy trouble
Tummy trouble

26 thoughts on “Movie Discussion: Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979)

  1. Alright, which one of you came up with “Screaming Penis”? I’ve seen Alien countless times — it’s a masterpiece — but this caption gave me the first good laugh I’ve had in weeks. Also, I now know that I have to wait 54 minutes into the film to see it (in the 2003 director’s cut) … how do I know? I watched again, because I had to see it in the context of “Screaming Penis.”


    Thanks. I’ll be back with something more thoughtful a bit later.

  2. Your interviewee’s opinion while articulated with lots of large words and some valid points is in my opinion very naive. While I wont take issue with some of her points on military (which she digressed didn’t even have to do with the film), others were very ignorant and far off the mark. Her stance on colonialism is valid as well. What I cant agree with however is to say that these people had no rights to defend themselves against an alien that initiated contact and attacked them. I also take issue with her attack on exploring space in favor of world issues that will not be solved anytime soon, even with the few hundred billions of dollars that have been spent in the past half a century. Her valid points hit the mark well, but those she missed the mark on were WELL off of it.

  3. I appreciate the way Kristine’s reaction to the movie made me rethink just “science fiction” on a really basic level. But I do think if an evil alien attacked me, I would stab it to death and then pee on its dead body.

  4. Sometimes I am glad I don’t live in America and know almost nothing about the Republican-Democrat stuff. You guys seem to be absolutely saturated with it right now. I think it might ruin films for me. (This isn’t anti-America(n) sentiment – some people I love most in the world live there, and Americans are wonderful to me when I visit – this is just an “ignorance-can-be-bliss-and-I’m-grateful-for-that-in-this-instance” comment.) I think Kristine’s comments about Republican “stuff” are very interesting in the present-day context but I’ll admit it: I don’t want to think about it too hard. I liked not knowing that Ridley Scott is a Republican, for example.

    I do see what you are getting at, Kristine, and understand your frustration with semantics. I suppose all I can say is that the binary opposition has to be there so that there is a gritty story to investigate. Sure, we love treating “other” as evil, and I understand your irritation with that, but the alternatives for a grisly confrontation seem a little slim otherwise. I tend to wonder how exciting the film would be if it were examining a utopia.

    For me, it’s certainly a Colonial allegory – and I like that you settled with that. I also like how the potentially colonised kills the coloniser. I too have no problem with the Alien winning, and I love the intimate violence of the facehuggers and the gender inversions we see. I also enjoyed that that the worst coloniser (Ash, in my view) is a caricature of a human, and “dies” the most graphic death, after going nuts. Chuckle.

    Re “super evil “Mother” – I love how she becomes “Father” in Alien Resurrection. There’s all kinds of stuff you could say about that.

    Like Sean, I’m kind of heartbroken that you didn’t like this film, Kristine…that means there’s little hope that you’ll like the others in the franchise.

  5. “I understand your irritation with that, but the alternatives for a grisly confrontation seem a little slim otherwise.” So well-said! And I also think you’re right that Ash’s death being the most violent and graphic is significant if we’re reading all this as being about colonialism.

    I am jealous of your distance from all of the partisan politics going on in our country right now. It is exhausting! I can’t even bring myself to follow coverage of the last Presidential debate because I’m so tired of it.

    On another note, Kath I’m planning on doing an Ozploitation month (focusing on 1970s and 1980s) early next year and I was wondering if you have any thoughts on what films we should watch. I’ve seen a bunch of the classic Australian horror movies, but not enough of them. My inclination would be to do Razorback (one of my favorites) and Patrick. Are there others that you would recommend or that are especially beloved in Australian horror movie fan/nerd circles? I found Long Weekend kind of boring. I kind of want to do Picnic at Hanging Rock, which I would argue is a kind of horror movie. Also Mad Max maybe? I’ve never seen Wake in Fright, Thirst, Body Melt, Night of Fear, The Interview, The Cars That Ate Paris or a bunch of others….

  6. I am compiling a list. It may not be that different from the one you already have … but we’ll see.

    I would definitely do Picnic at Hanging Rock. It is just so Australian and so darn creepy. You will have to put up with pan flute, though.

    I agree that Razorback and Patrick (it should have won the AFI) are goers for that period. I do understand your feelings about Long Weekend. The “nature will get you back” theme has been much better explored than it was by Eggleton there. (An aside: there was a Jamie Blanks remake recently, in 2008-2009, called Nature’s Grave. I haven’t seen it.)

  7. Okay, for the 70s-80s period, here’s what I’d do, probably in this order:
    Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
    Patrick (1978)
    The Plumber (1979 — a creepy Peter Weir job, hard to get hold of)
    Mad Max (1979) or Roadgames (1981)
    Next of Kin (1982, starring a young MICK!)
    Razorback (1984)
    Howling III (1987, lapses into comedy but stars Barry Otto)
    Houseboat Horror (1989) — it’s pretty bad, but a very Australian slasher movie
    Body Melt (1993 — it’s really an 80s movie)

  8. First off, I LOVE your sight. Sean, you are a mad genius of a movie critic. Love it.
    I have to say though, this is the Only reveiw that kind of frustrated me. There is so much to be said about this movie, every aspect of this movie, content as well as aesthetics as well as production as well as backstory etc, and this review reads like…wtf. did you watch the same movie? Lol. “Offended” by the “demonization of the alien lifeform”. A “military campaign”. “Republican”. Lol wut.
    I understand not liking a movie, but throwing completely random and nonsensical statements out there about a film in an attempt to justify not liking ( or “getting it”) does not a critique make. I get that its the whole shtick of the sight, to have a conneiseur of the genre and then a “newcomer”, but its a shame to see such potentially intelligent and entertaining discussion be thwarted by such blatant dismissal and lack of understanding.
    Its hard to find good discussion on the kinds of movies you guys reveiw. You have all my faves:)
    Hope I dont sound mean my friends and i really love the sight!

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