I saw an original cinematic trailer for the movie Alien the other day and decided to dust off the ol’ video and pop it into the VCR. I’ve never really been a big fan of the original Alien, mainly because my first exposure to the franchise was the 1986 sequel, Aliens. I love that movie so, so much…More on that later.
Alien was originally released in 1979 and changed the face of horror films. It also launched the career of Sigourney Weaver and generally scared the pants off a generation, including my mother. She still shudders at its mention.
So, with that in mind, I settled in. Watching Alien took me three nights. Three. It just couldn’t hold my interest. It’s all very swanky and different, even if it is slightly dated by its technology, but there was still something missing. It wasn’t until the last third that my attention was captured.
Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley was all alone, the rest of her crew killed by the alien creature, and she was huddled in her shuttle as she watched, horrified, as the alien she’d thought she’d killed unfurled itself from it’s hiding place. Ripley was strong though scared, level-headed but clearly freaked, every emotion flashing across her face as her situation descended into terror. Her desperate eyes conveyed more pathos in a second than anything previous to that, and it finally hit me what was wrong with this film – there was a lack of emotion.
An example. The first victim, Brett, has just died and the rest of the crew is sitting around discussing what to do. There is a notable lack of despair, terror, tension…everything I would think one would feel at the death of a crewmate at the hands (or claws, such as it were) of a creature that was still loose and could very well be targeting you next. It is not until everyone else is dead and Ripley is in her shuttle that true emotion surfaces, and for me, this is where the movie comes alive. Twenty minutes from the end.
Aliens, by contrast, is all about emotion. Every character displays appropriate emotion and intensity for the shizz they are experiencing. And we see this. Constantly.
We know Ripley is scared from the very beginning, but we also know she needs to face her fear to move on with her life. And so, she agrees to return to the place where her life was shattered. Who can forget the immortal line “Get away from her, you bitch!” snarled by Ripley to the Alien Queen and ably demonstrating her growth from fearful to frak off.
Character growth. What a novel concept.
There is the arrogant, frat-boy-esque Hudson who is arrogantly confident they will blow the aliens away easily. His disintegration when he fully realises the foe they are up against ably demonstrates how terrifying these things are.
And it plays with our emotion, with our dread. The scene with Ripley explaining to the marines about the alien is an awesome juxtaposition to what both Ripley and we know – that these things are worthy of our fear and our respect and they are so going to get their a*ses kicked:
Background. Ripley is returning to the planet where her crew initially picked up the alien. The marines are lined up for briefing inside the hold of the transport ship, listening as Ripley stumbles though her explanation, clearly distressed.
Hey, mira, I just need to know one thing. Where they are.
The marines guffaw and slap each other’s back. Sergeant Apone barks at them to shut up.
The laughter dies down and then Ripley, eyes intense, comes forward.
I hope your right. I really do.
Vasquez abruptly quiets, disconcerted by Ripley’s intensity.
We have Ripley’s description on file-
Because one of those things managed to wipe out my entire crew in less than 24 hours and if the colonists have found the ship then there’s no telling how many have been exposed. Do you understand?
All are silent.
Awesome. This impresses emotion on us all. Although now I feel I’ve included that scene because it is awesome and not because it has any bearing on the argument. Hmm.
Anyway, that’s my two cents. Feel free to agree or disagree!