Saturday, April 29, 2017

Franchises: Alien. Alien (1979)

Most of the time, I have trouble pinpointing exactly when I first became aware of really famous, iconic films but, in the case of Alien, I can narrow it down to 1992, when Alien 3 came out. I was only five years old at the time but I remember seeing the advertisements for it, both for when it hit theaters and first aired on TV, and in addition, while my parents, of course, would never, ever allow me to see any of those movies at that point, they didn't have any problems with me buying various action figures of the Alien (as well as the Predator, since this is when that Aliens vs. Predator line was out). So, while my first viewings of them wouldn't happen until many, many years later, at that young age I already knew that there were, at the time, three movies called Alien and I knew what the title creature looked like. As with a lot of these big parts of pop-culture, my knowledge of the series grew gradually over the years: I realized that the major difference between the first and second movies was the number of Aliens when I looked on the back of their respective VHS boxes at our town's video rental store; my first exposure to the "facehugger" and "chestburster" scenes came from this series of short parodies that TBS did in the mid-90's called "Monkeyed Movies," where they would use chimpanzees and dubbing to mock scenes from famous movies; and I got something of a sense of the plot of the first film when I got the book, Monster Madness, in 1998 (it would end up negatively affecting the first time I saw the movie and what I was expecting from it, though). By the time I finally did see it when I got the newest VHS of it in 2001 as a Christmas present, I'd seen a number of clips from the movie itself, such as the actual chestburster scene, on AFI's 100 Years, 100 Thrills, which aired that summer, and on AMC's original documentaries, Monster Mania and Bride of Monster Mania, which aired around Halloween a couple of years, and I'd also become aware of how it was considered a classic of the horror genre, ranked up there with Psycho, The Exorcist, and Jaws. I was ready to be blown away and count it among the best horror films ever myself when I popped the VHS in the first time... and when it was over, I found myself coming out of it feeling very underwhelmed. More than that, I was rather bored and thought, "That's it?"

A lot of elements contributed to my initial negative opinion of Alien. First and foremost, I hadn't seen many modern horror films at that point (and by "modern," I mean more recent than the 60's) and the ones I had seen were movies like Child's Play, Halloween, and, I'm counting it because I consider it a sci-fi/horror crossover like this, The Terminator. Do you see the issue there? None of the "newer" horror movies that I was used to then were as slow-paced and focused as much on atmosphere, except for maybe Halloween but I saw and was genuinely frightened by parts of it before I saw the whole thing on video, so there's that. Whenever I would talk to the people I went to high school with around that time about Alien, the only way I could describe it is that I wasn't expecting it to be so "moody" and "quiet." Another problem was that I'd seen and watched Predator many, many times before and, because of the cross-pollination of the properties, I was expecting Alien to be a little more energetic. I wasn't expecting it to be another testosterone-filled action movie, mind you, but something a little more faster-paced and with more loud, "boo!" level scares. Third, that Monster Madness book gave a short description of the plot in a very clunky and spoiler-filled manner, as they revealed right of the bat that the reason the Nostromo goes to the planet and encounters the Alien is because of the company's desire for it, as well as ruined the shock of Ash being an android. So, imagine my bewilderment when I expected the movie to start with that, only for it to eventually be revealed as an intended twist in the plot. They must've figured that because the movie is so famous, there was no reason to be discreet about its story. Good job, guys! And the final reason comes down to a theory that I've cooked up in recent years: in some respects, being a beloved classic and iconic can be detrimental to a movie. This movie was both hyped up to me to ridiculous extremes, which almost never turns out well, and so many of its scenes are so iconic and have been talked about so much that they didn't have much power when I finally saw the movie. Plus, the Alien itself is such a well-known, much-publicized monster design, and one that I really like, that the respectable "less is more" approach Ridley Scott took with it was more frustrating to me than suspenseful, as I wanted to see more of it doing its thing. But, even after I came to understand why that first viewing of the movie didn't go as well as it could've, my subsequent viewings didn't do much to change my opinion, as I always felt the same way afterwards. I then came to regard Alien as a pretty overrated movie, an opinion that I often kept to myself for fear of getting crap for it but when it did come out, I could get pretty harsh about it, and I felt that way more and more when I saw many other sci-fi/horror films that I thought did this same type of story and its aesthetics better but didn't get the same amount of accolades.

Now, after this long-winded and very negative introduction, you're probably thinking that I hate Alien but, as the absence of the "Movies That Suck" tag should clue you into, I don't. It's still not a movie that I absolutely love and I can name others that I think are more successful in doing the same concept but, over time, I've softened towards it. It started when I got the big Alien Quadrilogy DVD box-set for Christmas in 2003 (which I asked for mainly in order to have Aliens, my favorite of the franchise, on DVD and to see the other two) and I saw the excellent, long documentary on the film's production and what the cast and crew went through to make it, as well as when my mom and I watched the movie together in the summer of 2015 and I had fun seeing her watch it for the first time. On a technical and visual level, the movie is amazing, there are sequences and other aspects of it that I do really like, and I can understand why it's had the influence it has, but on an emotional and character level, it leaves me rather cold.

That latter sentiment is something I can say about many of Ridley Scott's films: they're spectacular in the visual department (Blade Runner, in particular, is just... wow!) but emotionally, they're lacking. Indeed, while I've heard he's gotten better in recent years, Scott has had a reputation amongst the actors who've been in his movies, especially the early ones, for caring more about how the shots would look rather than giving them direction and Alien, which was only his second film, was certainly no exception. That undoubtedly comes from his studying design in college and, after directing episodes of various BBC TV shows, started out doing a lot of commercials. He may have excelled there and in transposing his considerable visual style to his movies but, when I've watched the films of his that I have (which aren't many, I admit), I've often found myself not caring about what's going on because everything else feels so flat. While I do like it now, when I first saw Blade Runner, I came very close to falling asleep; during my first freshmen year "retreat," they made us watch White Squall and, man, you want to talk about boring (plus, I hated the part where they killed a dolphin); and Prometheus... well, let's just say for now that, no matter what qualms I have about Alien, it's infinitely better than that thing. Despite all of the negative things I've heard, I'll probably see Hannibal at some point, simply in order to see all of the Hannibal Lecter movies, but the rest of his movies are either of genres I don't like (Legend, Thelma and Louise, Black Hawk Down, and A Good Year) or I'm just plain not interested in (Gladiator, American Gangster, Robin Hood, etc.), so don't expect to see too many reviews of his filmography here.

The aspect of Alien I'm conflicted on is the cast as a whole. They're all played by good actors and none of them are of the "So annoying, I wish they would die" ilk but, at the same time, I don't find myself getting that invested them. I do like some of them, as we'll see, but at the end of the day, I'm pretty indifferent as to what happens to them, and I think the reason for that is the way they're portrayed. I understand what Ridley Scott and his crew were going for with them, which was to make them as realistic and true-to-life as possible, with the concept of them being "truck drivers in space": they're just working class, blue collar people living in an age where space travel is an everyday business and part of their job. They're more worried about their pension than anything else and, as a result, most of them are not at all interested in investigating the possibility of an intelligent, nonhuman entity on a remote planet. It was definitely a radical and unique concept of the time, especially when compared to previous science fiction films and shows like Lost in Space, Star Trek, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, and takes the "used future" concept that George Lucas flirted with in Star Wars to a whole new level. I've also heard Scott say that one of the reasons why he didn't give them the richest of directions was because he wanted them to feel insecure and come across as more realistically afraid during the film's intense scenes, which led them to them talking softly and whispering whenever they resorted to improvisation, which was often. I can understand and respect what they were going for and, yes, in many ways, it is realistic, as people in real life don't have personalities that instantly leap out at you, but, like I said, I've seen other movies like this that I think do it better and don't get the praise they deserve in my opinion (chief among them, my favorite horror film of all time, John Carpenter's The Thing).

When you were reading that paragraph up above, you were probably thinking, "Surely, he can't be including Ripley in there." Actually, uh, yeah. I don't find Ripley to be that interesting. I like her a lot in the sequels, especially Aliens, as I feel Sigourney Weaver and the other directors and screenwriters fleshed her out more, and I'm including Alien: Resurrection, where she's actually a half-Alien clone, but in this first film, she's just kind of there to me. I can understand why she was influential for the time since, while she does get scared, she's not a screaming damsel-in-distress and, while clearly scared when it's just her and the Alien during the film's last quarter, does what she has to do to survive, but other than that, I don't find her to be that special. Yeah, she's hot, and she's tough, both in dealing with the Alien and all of these men around her, but she doesn't have much of a personality to me. Other than when she's trading barbs with Parker and Brett, like when they're talking about their pension and she says, "You're guaranteed by law to get a share. Why don't you just fuck off?", she comes across as a stern, somewhat stone-faced woman who simply goes about her business and is just another part of the crew who's gradually brought out into the open to deal with the Alien, especially after Dallas dies (again, she's akin to Kurt Russell's character of MacReady in The Thing in that regard). I like that she is smart in coming up with logical ways to deal with the Alien, eventually forced to blow the Nostromo up when she has no other choice and tries to abort the detonation when the Alien's blocking the path to the escape pod, and refuses to break safety protocol for anything, refusing to let Dallas and Lambert in with the facehugger on Kane because it could infect the ship with an unknown bacteria (as much as some might not like her for that, she makes a good point when telling them why she can't do it), but there's little more I can say about her. To be brutally honest, if she weren't a woman, I don't know if she would be as well-remembered and iconic as she is. In fact, it seems like one of the reasons why they made her a woman was because the character would have been yet another bland, run-of-the-mill leading man who you often see in these kinds of movies and who eventually goes up against the monster and defeats it. It seems like they went against that stereotype simply to make it unique and didn't change much of anything else about the character. I'm sure Weaver, who's a good actor, brought to it what she could to make it her own but I've always seen her performance here is a kind of rough prototype for what would become a great character down the road.

Without a doubt, my least favorite character in the film is Tom Skerritt as Captain Dallas. Long story short, he's so boring. When I first watched the movie, I couldn't believe what a dullard he was. He seems so miserable for the second half of the movie and has very little life to him. I understand that he and the others are caught up in a really bad situation that they don't know how they can get out of but he seems less frightened and more like, "God, I'm so bored. I don't want to be here." In a way, it fits the character because, like everyone else, he's just doing his job in running the ship and will carry out those responsibilities as far as the company needs him to, even if it means diverting to a creepy, unknown planet and delaying their return home by almost another year as a result, but isn't interested in going out of his way outside of them, which is why he leaves it up to Ash in deciding to take the dead facehugger back with them. But, that said, if I were onboard that ship, I wouldn't want to listen to him because of his lifelessness. I've heard that Skerritt was one of the actors who had a big problem with Scott's lack of attention to them and found himself waiting and waiting around on the set, which could explain his lethargic performance (although, I've seen him in other movies and he wasn't much better there to me), but, other than his leading Lambert and Kane in tracking down the alien signal, he and Ash trying to remove the facehugger from Kane, and his being brave enough to go into the ship's big ventilation system to flush the Alien out, he doesn't do much in the plot that's significant. I also don't know why he was qualified to be listed first in the credits, except maybe because the real star, Sigourney Weaver, was an unknown at the time.

As Lambert, the Nostromo's navigator, Veronica Cartwright fulfills the more typical female presence of this type of movie: the screamy and panicky type. It seems like there are only two different aspects to her personality: she's either irritated and bitchy ("I can't see a goddamn thing." "Quit griping!" "I like griping.") or weepy and hysterical to the point where she looks like she's about to have a heart attack. Sadly, though, she has probably the most relatable reactions to what's happening. I would've been like her in wanting to go back to the ship upon seeing that creepy as hell derelict on the planet and finding that Space Jockey inside and, knowing how I am, I could see myself panicking the way she does later on and suggesting that we just get in the escape shuttle and get out. At that point, the Alien could have the ship! Sometimes, her crying and screaming get to be a little much, as does her complaining, but, on the whole, her reactions are very understandable, including in a scene in the alternate version where she slaps Ripley across the face for refusing to let them in earlier (while I agree with Ripley's decision, I understand why Lambert did that). Plus, the circumstances of her death and how you don't see it but only hear a final bloodcurdling scream across the ship's intercom is really chilling, as I'll get more into later. Incidentally, given the nature of the character and her performance, I find it interesting that Cartwright originally read for Ripley. Being another good actor in her own right, I'm sure she would have been able to play the role perfectly fine given the chance but, still, can you imagine her as Ripley?

In many promotional materials and plot synopses, Kane (John Hurt), besides being identified as the Nostromo's executive officer, is also described as being the most adventurous member of the crew. Sure enough, while he does have some of the same weariness as his friends, like when he says, "I feel dead," when they're at the breakfast table and the indifferent way he looks and sounds when he and Lambert are at the controls, if you listen to his dialogue, you can get a sense of that spirit. He's the one who's rather curious about the origin of the signal they're receiving, telling the others that they are obligated under certain conditions to check it out, and when they land on the planet and pinpoint the exact location of the signal's source, he volunteers to be part of the investigative team, to which Dallas responds, "Yeah, that figures." When they find the derelict ship and Lambert begins talking about wanting to go back, Kane is the one who insists that they must press on, finds a spot inside to climb up onto the platform with the Space Jockey, and also finds the hole in the floor leading down into the egg chamber. Again, being adventurous, he's the one who volunteers to go down into the chamber to see what's what, which is where his curiosity gets the better of when gets too close to an egg that opens up and the facehugger springs out and attaches itself to him (I wish they hadn't gone with the old horror movie trope of him doing something stupid and looking down into the egg; maybe they should've had him back up, turn his head upon hearing something, and then have the facehugger jump on him or just have it spring out of the egg right after it opens, with him barely having a chance to react). And we all know how well that turns out for him. While Hurt's acting is superb the whole time, the section where he regains consciousness after the facehugger has detached itself, leading up to and during the chestburster scene is where he's at his strongest. Kane really looks like he's been through hell when they visit him in the infirmary and has no memory about what happened on the planet; all he knows is that they're on their way back to Earth, which he's happy to hear but he needs to get something to eat before they go into hyper-sleep for the journey. He's sitting there at the dinner table, chatting and laughing with everyone, talking about how he's going to get some decent food when he gets back, and then, all hell breaks loose. The way Hurt coughs, gags, and convulses on the table really sells it, as does his screaming, which makes him sound like he's really in agony as the Alien claws its way up through him and erupts from his chest. I find the looks on their face and the forlorn attitude among them during the scene where they eject his body out into space to be very effective and realistic, right down to nobody responding when Dallas asks, "Anybody wanna say anything?" because what could you say? Plus, I find it interesting that he's both the first character you meet when he slowly awakens from hyper-sleep at the beginning and is the first one to die.

My two favorite characters in the movie are the ship's engineers, Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) and Parker (Yaphet Kotto), because they're the most blue-collar of any of them and, as a result, are the most relatable. They're just two hard-working guys who do their job, expect to be paid for it, and don't care about anything else, including investigating a strange signal on an unknown planet (I like when Ash says that they must investigate any signal of a possible intelligent origin and Brett says, "We don't know if it's intelligent"). The film's first major lines of dialogue are the two of them bringing up the "bonus situation," with Brett mouthing it to Parker and when he begins discussing it, Brett, as he often does, says, "Right," very causally in a way that means, "That's a good idea." Speaking of which, you got to love that quirk of his saying, "Right," to just about everything Parker suggests, and when Ripley calls him on it, he again just says, "Right." Going back to the money issue, there is a perceived bit of a resentment that they have about not getting paid as much as the others for doing what Parker calls the real work on the ship, and there's most certainly some tension between them and Ripley, with Brett at one point saying, "She better stay the fuck out of my way, I'll tell you that." However, they never go overboard with it to the point where it makes them hateful and they remain the kind of guys you want to hang out and shoot the shit with. While they do agree to divert to the planet because Ash lets them know that they won't get anything if they don't, like Lambert, they're smart enough to recognize that it's a bad place and focus on fixing the ship as quick as they can so they can take off. They're elated when they manage to do so, are quickly bummed out when they learn how long it'll now take them to reach Earth, and, like everyone else, are horrified when the Alien bursts out of Kane and they then go about trying to find it. Brett comes up with a cattle prod that they can use against the Alien and Parker has a net to trap it in, not realizing how large and dangerous it's grown in the short time since it was born, and they head off with Ripley to search the ship. When they pick up the ship's cat, Jones, on their tracking device and Brett lets him go when he pops out of a locker (how did he get in there in the first place?), he has to go off by himself and find him so they don't end up picking him up again. That leads to him being the first one to be killed by the Alien, as it attacks and drags him into the ventilation system, never to be seen again. After that, Parker remains dead-serious for the rest of the movie and becomes very volatile after Dallas is killed, determined more than ever to kill the Alien and getting into a heated argument with Ripley about it. He's no less happy when Ash is revealed to have been a robot sent by the company to secure the Alien and get it back to Earth, regardless of the lives of the crew, snarling at him, "The damn company. What about our lives, you son of a bitch?!" He incinerates what's left of Ash with a flamethrower, with a very angry look on his face, and he intends to escape in the shuttle with Ripley and Lambert. The Alien, however, ambushes him and Lambert when they're gathering coolant for the shuttle and he dies a hero while trying to save her, although he ends up dying in vain as she's too afraid to run and the Alien kills her as soon as it's done with him.

At first, Ash (Ian Holm), the ship's resident science officer, is just another member of the crew, albeit the least blue-collar in his attitude in that he's the most intent upon going to the planet and investigating the signal, citing a clause in the crew's contract that states they must do so. When they're heading down to the planet's surface and after they've landed, he simply serves his function, helping them to land as well as they can, giving Dallas information on the planet's atmosphere and structure, and monitoring him, Lambert, and Kane when they venture out to find the signal's source. But, after he loses contact with them when they enter the derelict, his actions become stranger and more adverse, especially towards Ripley, as he talks her down from going after them when she feels that she's decoded the signal as a warning rather than an S.O.S., allows them to come aboard with the facehugger in spite of her attempt to keep the ship from being infected, and talks Dallas into letting them bring the creature's corpse back with them, in spite of her objections. He does indeed appear to look down on her and think she's not worth his time, such as when she interrupts him while he's studying the facehugger and he's clearly annoyed at her presence, explaining to her what he's doing in a fairly condescending manner before getting into a heated discussion with her about what should have been done with Kane, justifying his letting him in and putting the others in danger as a risk he was willing to take. This condescending attitude towards her continues later on in the film when he's explaining why they have to take the dead facehugger back with them and, when, they're searching for the baby Alien, she asks what his little tracking device keys on and he has an annoyed expression on his face before explaining. Ash's actions become more and more suspicious after they take off from the planet, as he keeps a watchful eye on Kane after he regains consciousness, isn't very helpful in aiding them in dealing with the Alien, making the odd remark of it being Kane's son at one point, and has no reaction to Dallas' death at all, continuing to be very cold and having no suggestions at all about how to proceed. And then, when Ripley discovers the truth behind the Nostromo's investigation of the signal, Ash goes from suspicious to downright sinister, when he calmly tells her that there's an explanation and then, after refusing to let her leave the ship's core, viciously attacks her and tries to kill her in a strange and disturbing way.

That's when Parker and Lambert, while saving Ripley, discover the truth about Ash when the former ends up knocking his head off, revealing him to be a very sophisticated and advanced robot, which the company placed into the crew in order to ensure that the Alien is gathered and returned back to Earth, at the expense of the crew. His strange actions are then explained as his having been protecting the creature all along, by giving them a tracker that had technical problems and suggesting courses of action that prove to be ineffective and dangerous for those involved, i.e. Dallas during the sequence in the ventilation system. The fact that Ash, in spite of his odd behavior, was able to pass so perfectly for a human being, with all the various moods and opinions of any normal person, as well as his own specific personality and prejudices, shows just how advanced a machine he was. Even when they've beheaded him and temporarily reactivate him to try to get him to tell them how to kill the Alien, he's just as calmly sinister as he was before, saying when Ripley asks him of his special order, "You read it. I thought it was clear," and also admitting that he has an admiration for the Alien. He refers to it as the "perfect organism" and says, "I admire its purity. A survivor, unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality." Before he's incinerated, he throws out one last barb that shows that even robots can have malice within them: "I can't lie to you about your chances but... you have my sympathies," smiling very smugly afterward. You can then understand why Parker took such delight in frying his remains with the flamethrower.

Would somebody please explain to me why there's a cat onboard the ship? Does Jones belong to one of them personally or does he just come with the ship and, if so, for what purpose? For championship on a long voyage, maybe? I don't know. To me, all he does is cause them more trouble than he's worth, as they pick him up on the tracker when they're looking for the Alien, he's partly to blame for Brett getting killed when he goes off to find him so they won't make that same mistake again, often pops out and scares them, and, as everyone who's seen the film knows, is the reason why Ripley goes back into the depths of the ship and, as a result, runs into the Alien. She probably would've gone back anyway when she heard the commotion of Parker and Lambert getting attacked over the intercom but Jones just adds to her problems when she's lugging him around in his cat-box while trying to make it to the shuttle and get around the Alien before the ship blows up. Plus, I heard him hiss at her after she took him out of the box when they're in the shuttle, making feel even further that she should've left him behind (but, speaking as a big animal lover myself, I know for a fact that I wouldn't have been able to do that if I were in the same position, so it's all relative).

The biggest reason why I'm not a huge fan of Alien is I've never found it to be all that suspenseful. I think it's creepy and atmospheric in many scenes, especially on the planet, but it's never been very scary to me. I've tried to think about why that is, it has the right ingredients for it (a well-executed setting and a very creepy monster) and I think it comes down to several different reasons. For one, the idea of being stuck on a ship out in deep space with a deadly creature that's stalking the place is a great one, especially since it eliminates the problem people often have with haunted house movies by giving the characters nowhere to escape to, but I never get the sense of isolation here that others do. I understand that they are stuck out in the middle of space and are so far away from Earth that going into hyper-sleep with the Alien roaming around the ship is not an option but, that said, other than the part near the beginning when try to contact traffic control and their signal simply echoes out into space (ignoring the scientific implausibility there), that feeling of being completely alone and beyond help doesn't hit me the way it does in other films. I think this is a result of the Nostromo's design: it's rather big. I like the way it looks, as we'll get into, but for me, it's so spacious and has so many different levels to it that I often forget that it is, in reality, a confined ship that they're trapped on with the Alien. That ties into the sequences with the Alien itself: instead of having them encounter it in big rooms like that enormous chamber where it kills Brett or that room where it ambushes Parker and Lambert, why not instead have scenes where it's stalking them in those claustrophobic, creepy corridors and those very snug rooms? I would've liked a lot more scenes akin to when Parker is having to watch his back while making his way down to the weapons room to refuel his flamethrower or during the climax when Ripley is having to creep down the corridors and peek around the corners to make sure the Alien isn't there. How about have them hear it hiss or screech in the distance or over the intercom or, what's more, have them hear it in a nearby room and they're then forced to find somewhere to hide while it's wandering around, exploring the ship. Or when Dallas is looking for it in the ventilation system, why not have him hear it or maybe get a quick glimpse or see it movie slightly in the darkness? (In case you haven't figured it out, I'm drawing on gameplay footage that I've seen of Alien: Isolation, which is much more nerve-wracking to me than the actual movie.) I wish they'd have gone more for stuff like that. Finally, I understand that the movie is meant to be a slow-burn and there are plenty of those types of movies that I love, like The Shining, Alfred Hitchcock movies, etc., but, because of the elements I've already mentioned, whenever I watch Alien, I often myself sitting there, waiting for something to happen and whenever it does, it never quite delivers for me.

I find it interesting that Ridley Scott was never really a fan of science fiction because, as Alien shows, it's a genre that feels tailor-made for his sophisticated visual aesthetics. This film is truly a feast for the eyes in many different avenues, not the least of which is the production design of the Nostromo's interior, which was visualized by artists Ron Cobb and Chris Foss and realized by production designer Michael Seymour and art director Roger Christian. The sets are fantastic and make the Nostromo, as is the case with all great horror film settings, feel like a character in its own right, which is that of a, more or less, floating factory, especially since what it's carrying is a refinery full of ore. The ship has three different levels to it, each of which has various types of rooms. First, there's the deck that feels the most inviting and akin to what you'd find on Earth, with its lightly-colored walls, often completely white, and is the most brightly-lit most of the time. Here, you have rooms such as the small dining room, the infirmary, and the hyper-sleep chamber, which fundamentally serves as the "bedroom." It's also here where you have one of the most memorable sets: the inner-chamber of "Mother," the computer that guides the ship. It's a small, lightly-colored, dim room with hundreds of little lights dotting the walls and control panels, a keyboard, and little, wafer-thin computer screens, including the main one where you can interface directly with Mother; in short, you take one look at this place and you instantly know that it's nothing less than the central nervous system of the Nostromo. The second deck is the more dimly-lit, industrial looking flight deck, where you have the bridge, the main airlock, the observation deck where Ash monitors the investigation party, and the corridor that leads to the escape shuttle, the interior of which is basically a condensed version of the Nostromo. And finally, there's the lowest deck, which is where Parker and Brett spend most of their time working on the engines and mechanics and is the place that houses those long, dark corridors and the ship's biggest rooms, including the large section where you have those hanging chains and water dripping like rain down from what I assume are the ship's main coolant tanks. These big rooms are very eerie and atmospheric due to the stillness and silence during the scene where Brett is looking for Jones, the cat. I think that's also where the entrances to the ship's large, ventilation system, which consist of long, cramped, dark tunnels, are found. There's always a sound to the ship, as well, constantly giving it a feeling of life, be it the distant rumble of the engine, odd electronic sounds on the bridge and in the infirmary, a heartbeat-like sound in some sections, and a strange sound in the infirmary that sounds almost like very heavy breathing when they're looking for the facehugger. I still don't know what the latter noise was supposed to be.

While it's set in the future, the technology and science in the film, despite being obviously more advanced than what we have today, are very plausible. They still have simple computer screens and keyboards to work with, there's no way to get off the ship except by using an escape shuttle (you're not going to see any beaming off here), and, unlike in the Star Wars universe, landing a ship on a planet and shredding through its atmosphere is not a smooth affair but is actually a very rough and potentially dangerous one. Their spacesuits don't look much different than what real-life astronauts wear, save for the slightest hint of advancement, and the same goes for Ash's medical tools (those little pliers, that tiny laser-cutter, the body-scanner, etc.) and their weapons, like the prominent flamethrower and the grappling gun Ripley uses against the Alien at the end. Plus, it seems like they still haven't solved the problem of space food being really bad. Even the more science fictiony elements, like that small tracking device and the room that houses Mother's main computer, don't feel that implausible, especially given how far science has advanced in the years since. The most out there elements are Ash being an advanced robot that easily passed for a human and the hyper-sleep chamber, although, again, they may not be that far off in this day and age. In addition to the technology and the blue-collar nature of the characters, you also have the notion of this being a "used future." As I said earlier, George Lucas toyed with this in the original Star Wars by giving some of the locations, ships, and their respective interiors are very worn, lived-in feel, especially in the case of the planet of Tatooine and the beat-up Millennium Falcon, but Ridley Scott and company took it to the next level and made the Nostromo look anything but spotless. It looks pretty beat-up in spots, the work areas, especially down below, look particularly dirty, grimy, and greasy, and its lighting system has a tendency to malfunction and dim, forcing Parker to make some impromptu repairs at one point.

Another thing that hasn't changed this far into the future is how big corporations tend to screw over their employees, often in the worst ways possible. Besides Parker and Brett feel like they're being underpaid for their work, starting out the movie discussing that the "bonus situation" has never been that fair, and their being forced to divert off-course from their trip back to Earth under the penalty of getting nothing if they don't, you have the notion that when you work for this unnamed company, which would be revealed in the sequels to be Weyland-Yutani (you can see their name on some of the machinery if you look very carefully), you basically just do what they say. When Ripley and Dallas are arguing about his allowing Ash to bring back the dead facehugger so it can be studied, Dallas says that Ash has the final word on anything involving the science division because, "The company wants it to happen." Ripley then asks since when has that been standard procedure and he says, "Standard procedure is to do what the hell they tell you to do." He also mentions that the company replaced the science officer he was used to working with two days before they left on this particular job with Ash... and Ripley later finds out why when she gains access to Mother's mainframe and overrides the lockout on a special directive for Ash, discovering that the company purposefully had them rerouted to the planet in order to bring the Alien back to Earth, not caring who gets killed in the process. While Ash doesn't outright confirm Ripley's suspicions that the company wants the Alien for the weapons division, his descriptions of it being the perfect organism combined with what we've seen of it doesn't leave much doubt, and the company, of course, either hasn't taken into account or just plain doesn't care that using this sort of creature as a weapon is a really bad idea.

But, as interesting as this idea is, I don't think it was necessary. You could have had the story play out with them simply stumbling across the Alien while investigating the signal and Ash, rather than being an android, being a scientist who's fascinated by the creature and would rather it not be killed, like Dr. Carrington in The Thing from Another World, only maybe not as irrational and unreasonable, and then have it kill him. Besides complicating the plot a little more than it needs to be, it raises the question of how the company learned of the existence of the Alien in the first place, given how far the planet is from Earth, and if they knew about it, why didn't they send a well-prepared team that could collect it for them? Why trick this group of blue-collar workers into going there and running into this thing, particularly since, in spite of Ash's presence, they could manage to find a way to safely dispose of it in defending themselves? I guess the opportunity was too good to pass up and they were also counting on one of them to go down into the egg chamber and become a host for it so they wouldn't have to do it themselves but still, this plan of theirs doesn't feel very foolproof. I think it would've worked better if this were the first time they learned of the Alien, possibly from some reports that Ash sent them during their encounter, and it would inspire them to then try to go get one in the sequel.

All that said, though, I realize that if we didn't have this subplot, we wouldn't have the uncomfortable and chilling questions that the films raises about the nature of artificial intelligence. Obviously, Ash does what he does because of how the company programmed him but, that said, he also has a personality and mindset all his own, given how he admires the Alien and what he feels it represents. They could've programmed that into him as well but the way he talks about he feels it's not hindered by emotions like conscience or remorse shows something of a disdain for human nature, which makes the earlier parts of the film where he was acting like just another member of the crew, interacting and talking with them, very uneasy in hindsight. And do I need to say anything else about that last line of his and that smile he makes before they unplug and incinerate him? There's also the Nostromo's main computer, Mother, and the question of how much she's in on it. For the most part, I think, because she doesn't come across as advanced or as intimate with the crew as Ash, she's probably just doing what she's programmed when she wakes them from hyper-sleep upon intercepting the signal and hides Ash's special directive from the others. Still, while she's not dangerously sentient like HAL 9000, she does have enough control of the ship to pilot it through space (the people appear to only there to gather the ore, make repairs she's can't, and bring the ship in for a landing when the time comes) and when Dallas is asking her of possible procedures they could use against the Alien, some of the answers she gives aren't very encouraging. It's an interesting and fairly creepy question that the film leaves up to you to answer.

Going back to the visuals, if there were ever a movie that showed that well-crafted miniatures and good, old-fashioned matting and opticals are better than CGI, this is it. It's truly amazing how well the special effects, which aren't even all that flashy, have aged. The miniatures of the ships, which are the full Nostromo, the separate, main part of the ship that detaches from the massive refinery where the ore is kept, and the escape shuttle at the end, are all very well designed and detailed, looking very much like life-sized, fully functioning ships. In fact, when you look at the behind-the-scenes footage, you see that a lot of these models were very large and heavy and had to be hauled in with real vehicles, making them all the more impressive. And again, they're so intricately detailed that, even in the extreme close-ups, which are sometimes aided further by other additions such as little TV monitors inside the windows, the outer air-lock that they shoot Kane's body out of (they actually fired a little wooden model of out of a small air-gun), and the piece that slides back to reveal the escape shuttle, you wouldn't be remised for thinking that you're looking at a real ship. What's more, the shots of them either slowly cruising or speeding through space, blasting towards the planet (which I think is a really good matte painting, maybe combined with some model planets), and slicing through the atmosphere before coming down to land are very convincing and realistic as well. One of the most impressive is how the long, arm-like hook that the main ship is attached to extends outward before releasing it and I found that they did that by simply having a truck that was housing the lower model drive away, pulling the arm with it, and they matted it into the space background. And just to add even more to the realism, they built big, full-scale versions of the ship's landing legs and put kids in little spacesuits to sell how massive they are. It's all amazing work and, other than some shots out the bridge's window when they're heading for the planet and from the shuttle's window when it's speeding away from the about to explode Nostromo (the blue screen work there, while not all that archaic, is still obvious), the big explosion of the Nostromo at the end obviously being animation, the primitive nature of the graphics on the computer screens, which don't matter all that much, and, most dodgy of all, the ending sequence where the Alien is hanging outside the shuttle, it hasn't dated one bit. It's small wonder why this stuff won an Oscar.

Like James Rolfe, the best section of Alien in my opinion is when they're on the planet and are exploring it, because this is where the film develops a real sense of atmosphere and creepiness. This planet is so damn creepy, which it should be since, like the Alien itself, it was designed by the legendary H.R. Giger, and it's portrayed as a barren, rocky place that's either being pelted by very harsh, mineral-filled winds or is eerily quiet. Regardless of the weather, it's a very dark planet, with the sun just barely penetrating its atmosphere to create enough light to make it feel like very late dusk, which makes some of the rocky structures that jut up from the ground appear to be large bones, and the air is often filled with what looks like a type of smoke and steam tends to spout from the ground. As creepy as the landscape is, though, it looks like a lovely park compared to the derelict spacecraft that they find crashed into the ground. The bizarre design of that thing, combined with the lighting and mood that Ridley Scott, helps sell the fear that the team, especially Lambert, must be feeling when they see it. The exterior, with its dark color, strange shape, and rather suggestive openings on the sides are bad enough (good use of matte paintings and compositing in these shots to make the ship look, the real actors, and the landscape gel into a cohesive whole), but when they walk inside, losing the video signal they've been transmitting back to the Nostromo as a result of some type of interference, it looks as if they stepped straight into one of Giger's nightmarish paintings. The curving walls and floors look as if they're made out of black bones, when you see things in close-up, you can tell that there's a lot of moisture in there, and when they climb up a small, more metallic wall, they come across what is simultaneously one of the film's most memorable images and biggest mysteries: the Space Jockey.

The Space Jockey is the most interesting and creepy part of the whole movie for me, because it really opens the scope of this universe and shows at least one other extraterrestrial species besides the title one, but whatever it and its connection with the Alien itself is remains a mystery (until you see Prometheus, that is, which made me very irritated with Ridley Scott but let's not get sidetracked). All you know is that, for one brief but memorable scene, you get a good look at the fossilized remains of this bizarre, massive creature that, according to Dallas, is "grown out of its chair" and has a hole in its chest, which acts as a prelude to what's to come later. The close-up of that thing's face, with that elephant trunk-like extension that's attached to its chest in a web-like pattern, along with its open mouth and eyes, really creep me out, as does the zoom in to its darkened head when Dallas and Lambert walk away from it to join Kane. This set, by the way, is a knockout due to its massive size and look, which also goes for the prop of the Space Jockey itself, and it's a good thing Scott stuck to his guns and refused to cheat it when 20th Century Fox began getting on his back about the budget because every penny is up there on the screen. While they're exploring, Kane finds a hole in the floor and when he's lowered down to investigate, he finds an enormous cavern which, according to what he says, feels very hot and humid, and is filled with a blue, laser-like mist and thousands of leathery eggs (another great matte painting in the big wide-shot and a well-done, more mechanized set in the close-ups), adding more to the mystery of what the Space Jockey up above has to do with the Aliens and where they originated from. Regardless, when Kane gets too close to one of the eggs, the real terror for the crew begins, as does the audience's gradual introduction to the title creature.

Not content with simply having the Alien sneak aboard the ship, like in It! The Terror from Beyond Space and other films, original storywriters Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shussett decided to give it a parasitic life-cycle that would make the scenario unique. It starts out as one of many, leathery eggs found in the chamber and appears to react to Kane's presence, possibly from a signal from the laser-like mist that makes a high-pitched sound when it's penetrated, as the facehugger begins to stir within and a pressurized hiss is heard when Kane touches the top of it. The egg opens up rather than cracking and when Kane makes the mistake of looking inside, the facehugger springs out and latches onto his helmet with a loud squeal, burning through it by acidic means in order to attach to his face. The facehugger is probably the most unsettling form of the Alien to me, primarily because of the way it operates: clamping onto your head, paralyzing and putting you into a coma, and then sticking a tube down your throat in order to implant the Alien embryo (Dallas and Ash think that the tube is to feed Kane oxygen in order to keep him alive, which could be a secondary function in order to ensure the embryo's survival). It also ensures that your friends won't be able to take it off by holding fast onto your head with its powerful fingers, tightening its tail around your neck to further ensure it stays put, and being too dangerous to even cut off due to its acidic blood (a property that I never knew of until I saw the movie for the first time). The facehugger's design also inspires chills. Anything spider-like automatically gets under my skin, anyway, but on top of that, the thing has a disgusting pale, fleshy color to it, its spider-like legs are vaguely human in shape, and then there's that long, snake-like tail. To make it feel even more organic, Ridley Scott used oysters and bits of fish for its underside when Ash examines it after it's dead. Finally, one thing I've always wondered about the facehugger is its relation to the chestburster: are they the same creature, with the facehugger being a mere shell that the real thing uses to insert itself into a host, or are they two separate entities, with the facehugger simply being a carrier? Think about how much the latter would suck for the facehugger, to be born with no other purpose than to implant the chestburster into other life-forms and then die afterward. This is one question about the Aliens that has remained unanswered throughout the series' history, which helps make them among the most fascinating of movie monsters.

While you only get a good look at it for maybe less than a minute, the chestburster is the center of the movie's most iconic scene and the one that immediately comes to mind for many people; it's also the scene that convinced producers Walter Hill, David Giler, and Gordon Carroll to make the film (Giler hasn't been shy in interviews in admitting that they thought the original script, which they would rewrite considerably before filming, was terrible as a whole). Like the other creatures, Giger originally designed it but his design, even for this film, was a little too out there, looking like a cross between a plucked chicken and a little dinosaur. It was interesting, but it didn't look like it would eventually grow into the adult Alien, so it was redesigned by artist Roger Dicken to look basically like an infant version of the adult, with the same flesh color as the facehugger. It was designed as a simple puppet on a stick that was shoved up through a hole in the table and a fake torso but they shot it in a way where you see enough to believe that it is a living, breathing creature, as it comes up through the hole, looks around the room (note the pulsating vein along the side of its head), and lets out a strange, raspy snarl, before speeding across the table and running off-screen. Some may find that latter action, which they did by putting the puppeteer on a skateboard or some other prop and wheeled him off as he carried the puppet through a long slit in the table, to be unintentionally funny in the way it looks but I've always though it looked fine.

If you want a modern example of a classic movie monster design, you need look no further than the full-grown Alien or, if you want to get technical, the Xenomorph. Inspired by a painting that Giger had done called Necronomicon IV (the image in that painting is basically the monster, save for some modifications), it's such an iconic, cool-looking creature. It's intensely unsettling in its very contrary design, which is overall humanoid in shape but is very thin, with long, skinny limbs, an insect-like exoskeleton that consists of ribs on its torso, its elongated and unmistakably phallic head, a long, whip-like, reptilian tail, and parts of its body, such as those tubes on its back, that give it a biomechanical feel and allow it to blend with some sections of the ship, like the chamber where it kills Brett and at the end in the shuttle. There are other interesting details in its design, such as its having six fingers on its hands and, its deadliest weapon, its tongue that has its own mouth and teeth at the tip. (When I was thinking back in doing this review, I momentarily thought that I didn't know about that tongue, which I used to think was just another mouth altogether, until I saw the movie for the first time but, thinking back, I did know about it beforehand given how well-known the Alien is and since I'd seen that famous shot from Alien 3 where you saw it in a lot of detail.) It often looks very slimy and drools this sticky, gooey saliva, which they sometimes find on the floor or walls, signifying that it's either nearby or has been through there. And its acidic blood prevents the crew from simply shooting or torching it, seeing as how the facehugger's blood was strong enough burn through the ship's first two decks. Giger and Carlo Rambaldi, the latter of whom designed the mechanized head (which was built around an actual human skull!) and was one of the Oscar recipients, created such a great, iconic monster that I wish I could have a couple of more scenes with it in the film. Besides wanting to use the effective "less is more" approach, I can understand why Ridley Scott wanted to not show much of the suit since, as well-designed as it was, when you see it in bright lights in the behind-the-scenes footage and photos, it is clearly made of rubber, and, for the most part, it doesn't look like suit actor Bolaji Badejo could move that gracefully or coordinated in it for very long (some of the test footage is kind of eerie, though), but I think a good way to have gotten around that would have been to do those scenes I described earlier as well as maybe show the Alien's form silhouetted in the dark more, as happens at the end when it's in the shuttle. There's an often publicized shot that's never seen in the actual movie of the Alien standing at the end of the hallway leading to the shuttle, backlit by the light in there, and it looks great; I don't know why they didn't use it. I know I'm probably being unfair since I'm judging it from a position of hindsight, when the Alien has long since become a well-known movie monster, something they couldn't have possibly known back then, and as technology and suit-making improved, we would get a good look at the Aliens in the other films, but, being a fan of the design, I wish we could've gotten a better look and more sequences with it in its debut.

The biggest impact from the Alien is in its design and how it's this menacing presence that stalks them throughout the ship; character-wise, it's very basic. It's little more than a vicious, hostile animal that's driven by the desire to survive and, possibly, by the search for nourishment. Going simply by the theatrical version, it seems like it attacked Brett and Dallas, after seemingly stalking them in a predatory manner, in order to feed on them off-camera, whereas it killed Parker simply out of defense. Its interest in Lambert, however, is a little more questionable. Instead of killing her right away, it simply peers down on her and, after it's killed Parker, it slowly moves in on her, snakes its long, barbed tail around her legs and upwards on her backside, doing something that causes her to convulse. We don't see what happens next but we can hear it over the intercom and Lambert gasps loudly and makes sounds like heavy, rapid breathing before we hear the Alien roar and she lets out a chilling scream which quickly cuts off... and when Ripley finds the aftermath, we see Lambert's leg hanging down from off-camera and it's bare, whereas before, she was wearing long pants. The implication there is obvious, and in talking about the Alien's look, associate producer Ivor Powell, who worked with Scott on his early films, said that it looked, "Like it could very well fuck you as well as kill you." Plus, the facehugger basically raped Kane, so it seems like sexual deviancy is coded into these creatures on a general basis. Intelligence-wise, it is smart enough to use the Nostromo's ventilation system to move around the ship without being seen and smartly avoids the characters until it's ready to pounce (whether or not it's actually scared of their flamethrowers remains unanswered). It also has a curiosity about it, not only towards Lambert but also towards Jones, the cat, whom it stares down at when he's safely in his cat-box, looking like it has an evil grin on its face while it does so. I don't know why it acts so fatigued and sluggish when it's in the shuttle, lazily grabbing its arm at Ripley and just staying in the wall, not doing anything to attack her until she blasts it with high-pressured air from a vent near its hiding spot (Scott has suggested that its life-cycle is very short and it's nearing the end this late in the game). And when I first saw the movie, I was expecting it to snarl and growl rather than hiss, screech, and squeal the way it does; those vocalizations, as well as those of the facehugger and chestburster, were provided Percy Edwards, a guy who was very adept at imitating animal sounds, particularly birds, and were probably tweaked a little bit too.

Dan O'Bannon once described Alien as a movie about "alien, interspecies rape," and, as I've pointed out, there are a lot of sexual annotations to both the creature and its environment. That's far from the only Freudian overtones the film has, though. Some examples are more subtle, whereas others are just as overt. For instance, there's the idea that the computer that controls the Nostromo is called Mother and her control room, that small, circular room that's covered with the lights and the computer screens, which is also the nervous system of the entire ship, could be thought of as her womb. What's more, I think I heard them refer to that claw-like structure that the main ship uses to separate from the refinery as the "umbilical." The most uncomfortable bit of sexuality that doesn't involve the Alien is when Ripley, after discovering Ash's special directive, is attacked by him and thrown up against a wall. While she's unconscious, Ash, instead of killing her outright, grabs a nearby magazine (which I think is pornographic, given the pictures pasted on the wall), rolls it up into a tube, and then tries to choke her to death with it by shoving it down into her mouth. Ridley Scott has suggested that this scene poses the question of whether or not humanoids like Ash are able to have sexual urges (he's so advanced, as I've noted, who knows what he's capable of?) and that maybe, this is the only he can act on them. Whew, talk about making you want to cross your legs! And do I even need to comment on those skimpy panties and that revealing muscle shirt Ripley strips down to when she's in the shuttle?

Going back to Ash, I have to briefly mention the makeup and animatronics used to simulate the section after he gets his head knocked off and is revealed to be a robot. The part where his head is knocked off and his body continues to flail around, drops to the floor, and attacks Parker before Lambert puts it out of commission, all the while spraying that white liquid that's basically his blood (he drank a cup of that stuff earlier; can you say, "Ew!"?), is very effective in how it looks and was so startling that, according to David Giler, it caused an usher at a theater to faint during a showing. The same goes for the decapitated, latex head, covered in that goop and with the wires and bulbs running from its severed neck to the body, although it's pretty obvious when they cut from that to Ian Holm sticking his head up through a hole in the table. Behind-the-scenes footage shows that the head was able to blink its eyes and open its mouth but they never used any of those shots in the actual film, probably for that same reason, as impressive and startling as those test shots are.

The first major sequence in the film is the approach and landing of the Nostromo on the planet. The former goes rather smoothly, as they move in towards it, disembark the main part of the ship from the refinery, use the rockets to head straight for it, and enter its orbital pull in order to enter the atmosphere. But, when they begin descending down through the atmosphere, they're hit with turbulence, and as Dallas warns everyone that there's going to be a "little bump," the ship shakes violent and is accompanied with the sound of screeching metal. Brett tells them that they must've lost a shield but Dallas says that they might as well go with it, as they continue slowly descending and kick on the navigation lights on the bottom of the ship. They soon land but, when the ship's legs touch down on the surface, the ship suddenly drops down into place very roughly, shorting out some of the control panels and activating the alarm. Kane and everyone else grabs fire extinguishers and spray the flames in the panels, while Dallas tries to figure out what happened as everything slowly settles down. In the next scene, Parker tells them what the damage is and that it'll take at least 25 hours to get the ship operating again.

A few minutes later, Dallas, Kane, and Lambert don their spacesuits and head out into the roaring wind outside to track down the source of the signal they picked up. At first, the winds are so strong and full of debris that they can barely see anything, but later on, everything's died down and it's become eerily quiet as they head on and come across the sight of the derelict in the distance, which they realize is the source of the signal. With Ash watching from everything from the Nostromo via their video link, they slowly but surely approach the derelict, the audio and visual of their transmission become more and more distorted the closer they get. Once they get up to the side of the hull, Ash can barely see or hear anything from them anymore, and he loses the signal completely when they enter through one of the large "orifices" on the side. Inside, they look around, obviously not sure what to make of what they're seeing, when Kane sees something atop the wall at one end and climbs up it to have a closer look. Following a shot where he's looking offscreen with a shocked and confused expression on his face, he and the others climb up completely and the camera slowly pulls back to reveal the Space Jockey and the enormous room in all its glory. Kane walks around, amazed at the room, while Dallas and Lambert decide to have a better look at the creature, seeing a large gap around its chest area, with the bones bent outward, signifying that the rupture came from inside. As they continue studying it, Kane calls them over to a very large hole he's found in the floor.

When we come back to the derelict after a brief scene between Ripley and Ash at the Nostromo, Kane is being lowered down through the large hole via a grappling line to investigate and describes what he's seeing as some sort of large cave that feels like "the goddamn tropics." Seeing the full expanse of the place, he asks himself, "What the hell is this?" as he's lowered down to the floor. He begins walking along what, in the wide-shot, we can see is one of several, parallel paths that run through the width of the chamber, and notes that it's full of what appear to be leathery eggs. Noticing the layer of mist that's floating above the eggs, he kneels down to get a closer look, he hears a high-pitched whine that grows in volume the closer he gets to it, becoming a full-on, siren-like sound. Kane notes this back to Dallas and Lambert, when he loses his balance and falls below the mist, bumping one of the eggs with his legs as he falls. Slowly standing back up, he tells that he's fine and, since he's down there, figured he might as well take a closer look at the eggs focusing on one in the middle of the batch in front of him. Looking at its top, he notes that it looks to be completely sealed, when it lets out a pressurized hiss when he touches it. Recoiling from that sound, he looks at some liquid on the tip that, oddly, is dripping upwards before turning his attention to the base of the egg, which becomes somewhat transparent in his light. Seeing some slight movement inside, he kneels down for a closer look and sees something beginning to stir. That's when the top of the egg suddenly spreads open like a blooming flower, letting out a crackling hiss as it does. Kane backs away but then moves forward for a closer look of the inside (the material you see in there is the lining of a cow's stomach), when the facehugger suddenly springs out with a loud squeal, grabs onto his helmet's face-plate, and he falls backwards.

Upon getting back to the Nostromo, and following the confrontation between the group and Ripley about not letting them in, Dallas and Ash use a laser to cut open Kane's helmet and then pull it apart with a loud crack. The facehugger is then revealed as we get our first good look at it, the sight of it absolutely horrifying Dallas while Ash seems more fascinated. Ash gets some instruments from a nearby drawer and, using some small grippers, attempts to remove its fingers from his head, only for it to tighten its tail around his neck. Dallas realizes that's not going to work and Ash decides to take a look at it from the inside, moving Kane's body into a type of scanner that gives them an interior view. They then see the tube that the creature has down his throat and Ash suggests that it's using that tube to keep Kane alive by feeding him oxygen. He warns that, as a result, removing the facehugger could kill Kane but Dallas decides to go ahead and cut it off. In a cut, they have Kane back out in the infirmary and prepare to cut off the facehugger's fingers with a small laser. Dallas makes an incision below the knuckle of one of the fingers, which then expels a sizzling, steaming liquid. Ash quickly covers up the wound but the liquid spills onto the floor and dissolves a hole into it. Realizing that it's going to eat right through the ship's hull, Dallas runs outside and tells the other, who've been watching this whole time, what's happening and they run after him. Climbing down to the second deck, they scramble to find the spot in the ceiling where it's burning through but, as soon as they do, it drips down and begins dissolving its way through the floor, forcing them down to the next deck. Again, they scramble to find it and do so when they hear it sizzling. They gather around it, trying to keep from getting under it, and notice that it's slowly but surely stopping as it burns a hole into the ceiling. Dallas asks Brett to give him his pencil and he sticks it up into the hole, a bit of melted metal dripping down to the floor, and when he pulls it back out, the eraser is steaming. He deduces that it's akin to molecular acid, with Parker commenting, "It's got a wonderful defense mechanism. You don't dare kill it."

Later, Dallas is in the shuttle, enjoying some classical music, when Ash tells him over the intercom that he should come and see Kane because something "interesting" has happened. When the two of them, along with Ripley, reach the infirmary, they see that the facehugger is gone and is nowhere to be seen. They open the door and cautiously walk in, realizing that it could be anywhere, including up in the ceiling, and slowly begin searching the room. While Ash calmly inspects the sides of the ceiling, Dallas checks on Kane and then slowly walks to the side of the room, accidentally knocking something over and startling Ripley. Ash closes the door to the infirmary and he and Dallas inspect the dark and narrow spots in the room with little probes that have lights on the ends of them. He talks Ripley out of inspecting a corner to the left of the monitors without one of the instruments and as she walks over to Kane, Ash heads for the corner and sticks his probe into it, bracing for the facehugger to pop out. As she's looking down at Kane, Ripley shrieks when the creature suddenly drops down onto her shoulder from above and she knocks it to the floor in a panic, scuttling away from it as Dallas and Ash run over to see if she's alright. Ash pokes the facehugger's exposed underside with his probe and the fingers convulse, prompting Dallas to say that it's still alive; Ash, however, says it's a reflex action. Deciding to have a look at it, he puts it in a small, see-through tray and examines its viscera with his tools, insisting that it's dead and, in spite of Ripley's objections, insists that they have to take it back with them, a decision Dallas leaves up to him.

Once they've left the planet and are on their way back home, Kane regains consciousness, with no memory of the planet or what happened, and mentions a horrible dream he had about "smothering." Upon hearing they're on their way back to Earth, Kane says that he has to have something to eat before he goes back into hyper-sleep, and in a cut, they're around the table, having dinner. They're having casual conversations, with Kane saying that the first thing he's going to do when he gets back is to get some decent food, And then, he begins to act as if he's choking, with Parker initially joking that the food isn't that bad. When he begins to retch, he and the others realize there's something wrong, and as he stands up, Dallas taps on the back, thinking he's choking. As he turns around, Dallas asks him what's wrong but Kane, unable to speak, falls back onto the table and begins to convulse. They hold down his body, as Parker tries to put a spoon in his mouth to keep him from biting his tongue off, while Kane lets out a pained scream. He writhes on the table for a little more, when his torso suddenly rises up and a large spray of blood shoots out of his chest, startling everyone. Kane writhers and convulses on the table more violently, yelling and groaning in pain, when something rips its way up through his chest, sending blood flying everywhere, with Lambert getting sprayed right in the face (Veronica Cartwright's expression is real, as she wasn't expecting that), and a loud squeal is heard. The baby Alien comes up completely through the blood and gut-filled hole in Kane's chest and silently scans its surroundings and everyone around it. Parker grabs a knife, threatening to kill it, but Dallas and Ash talk him down. The Alien lets out a screech and runs across the table, knocking dishes and cups out of its way, with its tail whipping wildly, and scurries off into the bowels of the ship.

Upon sending Kane's body off into space, the crew splits up into two teams to search for the Alien, with Ripley leading Parker and Brett armed with Ash's tracking device, Brett with a cattle-prod-like weapon, and Parker with a net. Searching down in 12th Module, the two men pause to fix the lighting system, when the tracking device picks up a signal in a nearby storeroom. They slowly step inside and cautiously look around, when the tracker draws Ripley to a locker in the corner of the room. Whatever she's picking up is inside and she calls the men over to it, with Brett taking the net as Parker prepares to open it up. When he does, a quick cut reveals it to be Jones, the cat (how did he get inside the locker to begin with?), who quickly runs past them and dodges the net. It happens so quick that Ripley and Parker don't realize that it is Jones and admonish Brett for letting him go. They have to laugh when he says that it's the cat but Parker tells him to go get him in order to keep from picking him up on the tracker again; he heads off to do so, as Ripley and Parker go on. He follows after Jones, calling for him, into a large, bronze-colored room and, after some searching, hears him meow over by a large vehicle. When he walks up to it, Jones scrambles amongst the wet machinery and slips away from Brett, running into the next room. Brett prepares to follow him, when he sees something stuck in the grating in the floor. He picks it up and pulls it into view, revealing it to be a large piece of shed skin. Dropping it, he follows after Jones into the next room, a large, darkly-lit area, with clinking chains and large pieces of machinery hanging from the ceiling. Walking into the center of the room, where there's a lot of water dripping, no doubt from the coolant tanks, Brett takes his cap off and allows it to cool down his hot, sweaty face (he also opens his mouth but I don't know if I'd feel comfortable drinking water that's dripping down within a dirty ship like this). Hearing something behind him, he continues searching and finds Jones hiding in a corner. He tries to tempt the cat out and he begins to come, when he sees something drop down from off-camera behind Brett and hisses. Brett bolts up, thinking Jones is hissing at him, as we see the Alien drop down entirely behind him and slowly rise up. Jones snarls and Brett, realizing that the cat is looking behind him, turns around and comes face-to-face with the Alien. The creature hisses, revealing its second set of jaws on its tongue, and the cutting of its attack is very fast but if you slow it down, you see that it grabs his head, stabs into his skull with its tongue, causing him to drop to the floor, and then carries him up into the air duct, all while Jones silently watches.

Learning how large the creature has become, Dallas comes up with a plan to drive it out of the ventilation system and into the airlock where they can zap it off into space. While keeping touch with the others, who've broken up into pairs cover the main airlock and the maintenance opening, using the trackers to monitor the Alien's whereabouts, Dallas enters the system armed with a flamethrower and a flashlight. Reaching the first junction, Dallas closes the opening behind him and moves through the cramped tunnel, as Lambert gets a reading on him with the tracker. Upon reaching the door to the third junction, he asks them to open it and he's through, he tells Ripley to close all the hatches behind him, as he's moving on. Once they're closed, he continues on, when Lambert says that she thinks she has the Alien on the tracker. She confirms it and when he asks where it is, she says that it's somewhere around the third junction. Moving on, he crosses over a gap with a ladder and when Lambert warns him again that the Alien is around there, he fires his flamethrower down in order to drive it away should it be there. When nothing happens, Dallas climbs on down, while Lambert appears to have trouble with the tracker and smacks the side of it. She tells Dallas to stop for a moment... she's lost the Alien's signal. Just as she says, Dallas touches the floor and finds it coated in the creature's gooey saliva. Asking her to make sure she's not getting any interference, Dallas fires his flamethrower into the passage across from him, as Lambert insists that it has to be around there. Deciding he wants to get out, Dallas asks Lambert if he's clear, when she sees the Alien's signal moving straight for him. Confused as to where it could be coming from, Dallas looks around and scrambles down the ladder, as Lambert frantically tells him to get out of there. He reaches the bottom and points his flashlight at the camera before turning and illuminating the Alien sitting behind him, which then raises its arms and screeches at him. His transmission goes dead and he doesn't respond to them when they try to pick him back up.

After uncovering Ash's special directive, and flinging him against the wall in anger when he says that there is an explanation for it, Ripley storms out of Mother's control room and tries to raise Parker and Lambert over the intercom but is unable to get them. She tries to walk out the door but it closes by itself and she can't open it manually. She sees Ash standing nearby and tells him to open the door, but he doesn't answer and simply stares at her. Ripley then tries to go out the other door but he closes that one too and continues to stare at her eerily as she asks him again to open the door. A bead of white liquid drips down his left temple and he makes a strange, child-like giggling sound as she tries to get by him to the controls, only for him to block the doorway with his arms (for some reason, Ripley's nose is bleeding here). His face twitching, he grabs at her hair and tears a chunk of it out when she ducks. She scrambles along the floor but he chases after her, grabs her, and slams her against a nearby wall. Standing over her, he then picks her up and tosses her into a corner where there are pornographic pictures pasted on the wall and odd, tinkling objects hanging from the ceiling. Walking over to her, he grabs a magazine, rolls it into a tube, shaking and convulsing as he does so, and sticks it into her mouth. Regaining consciousness, she struggles with him while choking but is unable to fight against him, while he makes unsettling faces and grunting noises. Parker and Lambert then burst in and the former grabs Ash's arm to make him stop, while Lambert pulls him from behind. Ash isn't fazed by this at all and reaches his other arm around towards Parker, who tries to stop him by grabbing his wrist. He's unable to hold him back and yells in pain when Ash grabs the right side of his chest and squeezes, forcing him to let go. Ash continues to try to choke Ripley, when Parker jumps up, pushes Lambert out of the way, and hits him in the back of the neck with a large canister. Ash lets go of Ripley, the others getting her to her feet, while he flails around the room wildly, letting out inhuman squeals and wails and spitting up more white liquid. When he comes at them again, Parker hits him in the head with the canister, knocking it off and leaving it hanging off the body, which continues to attack. He beats it down to the floor and hits it repeatedly, finally getting it into submission, as it continues spewing white liquid everywhere. Parker then realizes that Ash is a robot. He then moves in to inspect the body, when it springs back to life and grabs him, ripping at his shirt, and falling over onto him. Unable to get it off, Parker yells for help as liquid and wires get sprayed all over him. Lambert gets behind Ash's body and jams a spiked, electrical object into it, finally shorting it out and making it stop, as Parker tries to collect himself.

The climax begins when, after Ash has been fried, Ripley decides that they're going to blow up the ship and take their chances in the shuttle. While she goes to prepare it, Parker and Lambert head down to the large, bronze storeroom near 12th Module to grab coolant for the shuttle's air support system. Ripley then tracks down Jones hiding up on the flight deck and puts him in his cat-box, but not before he jumps out and scares her (I'm telling you, he's more trouble than he's worth). A cut shows Parker and Lambert continuing to gather coolant down below... when a shadow passes over Lambert. She doesn't notice it at first but when she does, she slowly turns around to see it, and Parker whispers a horrified, "Oh, my God," as this is the first time he's seen the full-grown Alien. Ripley hears Parker yelling at Lambert to get out over the intercom on the flight deck and we cut back to them, as the Alien rises up in front of Lambert. Parker again yells at Lambert to get out of the way but she's too scared to move, as the Alien curiously inspects her, while Ripley tries to get in touch with them. Seeing no choice, as it has Lambert cornered, Parker rushes at it from behind but it swings and hits him with his tail, knocking him to the floor, and then grabs him by his shoulders, slamming up against the wall. Ripley rushes to try to help them, while the Alien keeps the struggling Parker pinned against the wall as it slowly opens its mouth, revealing its deadly tongue. Parker yells at Lambert to get out of the room right before it stabs him in the chest and then slowly moves in on Lambert, snaking its tail up around the back of her legs. Ripley runs down the hallways towards the room, hearing Lambert gasping and hyperventilating before she screams and then, everything goes quiet. Upon reaching the room, Ripley comes across the grisly sight of Parker and Lambert's bloody bodies and, panicking and sobbing, runs to another room down the hall. She activates the emergency destruct system, with an alarm sounding throughout the ship and Mother's voice warning that it will explode in ten minutes and, as per the warning on the hatch covering the controls, the option to override it expires in five.

Ripley climbs back up to the second deck, which is where she left Jones in his box, and grabbing his box, she makes the run down the hall to the shuttle. But, when she reaches a corner, as Mother tells her she has three minutes left to override the detonation, she peeks around to see the Alien rise up in the hallway. She ducks back around and tries to stay still, but sees its shadow on the other wall approaching and, as it rounds the corner, slowly backs away and runs back the way she came. The Alien looks down at Jones in the box, whom Ripley had left there in her panic, while she climbs back down to third deck and heads back for the room to abort the detonation, with only one minute left. With steam spewing out of the walls, Ripley makes it back to the room as Mother begins the final countdown from thirty, but, as fast as she works, having to redo everything backwards, more or less, she's unable to abort the detonation. She futilely yells at Mother that she's reactivated the coolant unit but an additional, more urgent-sounding alarm, as well as the computer's warning that the ship will explode in five minutes, she realizes it's too late and angrily smashes the monitor with the countdown, calling Mother a bitch. Cursing, she runs back to the ladder leading to the second deck and cautiously climbs up and peeks up over the top of it. Not seeing anything, she climbs up, activating her flamethrower, and creeps down the winding hallway, until she comes to the corner that leads to the shuttle. Peeking around, she sees no sign of the Alien, and when sees Jones, she grabs his box and heads for the shuttle, still walking cautiously and checking the ceiling and looking around the corners. She gets to the shuttle's door, as flames begin to shoot down the hallway behind her, signifying that the ship is only moments away from exploding. Quickly, she closes the door, dropping Jones on the floor, as Mother warns her she has one minute left. Running to one of the flight seats, she hits switches and buttons, unclamping the shuttle from the Nostromo, and hits some more buttons, with the word PURGE appearing on the screen. She straps herself in as the shuttle is lowered and, as Mother begins counting down from thirty again, speeds underneath the hull of the ship and leaves it behind in space. A great distance is put between them when it finally explodes, sending massive shockwaves through space and shaking the shuttle. In fact, there are three explosions before it's finally done and it slowly dissipates, with Ripley calmly saying, "I got you... you son of a bitch."

When she's getting ready for hyper-sleep, though, she learns that's not the case, as she's making the final preparations when the Alien, having stowed and hiding against the wall, blending in with the machinery, suddenly flings its hand out at her, causing her to jump back with a scream. She scrambles into the space where the spacesuits are kept and closes the door behind her, watching it through the window as it continues to lie there amongst the machinery. Spying the spacesuits, she gets an idea and slips into one, watching as the Alien appears to yawn, with its tongue extending completely out of its mouth before retracting, while zips the suit up, secures it, and puts on a helmet, securing it as well. She then grabs and loads a nearby grappling gun and, keeping an eye on the Alien, slowly walks out of the closet, singing You Are My Lucky Star in order to calm her nerves, and straps herself in one of the seats. She begins pressing buttons on the control panel, shooting steam out of a couple of spots around the Alien, before finding a button that expels it right where the Alien is lying. It screeches and screams at being hit with the hot, pressurized steam, and writhes back and forth in its space, Ripley beginning to panic that it might come out and attack. It does crawl out but drops to the floor and then Ripley, for some reason, turns away, as if she thinks that it's dead. She continues to frantically sing as the Alien slowly rises up from the floor, and when she turns back around, she sees it only a few inches from her, hissing. Screaming, she hits the button that opens the airlock, the sudden vacuum sucking the Alien towards the door. It grabs onto the edges with its hands and feet and tries to pull itself back in, but Ripley hits it right in the chest with the grappling hook, sending it falling out. The gun is ripped out of her hands and gets caught in the door when it closes, leaving the Alien hanging outside. It slams up against the door and then uses its tail to latch onto the inside of one of the shuttle's thrusters, pulling itself in. Ripley hits the engines and the Alien is blasted out of the thruster, sent it flying off into deep space, watching as it goes. The film ends with Ripley making her final report, that everyone else is dead, the ship has been destroyed, and that she should reach the frontier in six weeks, where the network will hopefully pick her up. Signing off, she and Jones bed down in the hyper-sleep chamber.

There was something of a tradition with the first three Alien where the composers for them each had a miserable time working on them but, while the composers of Aliens and Alien 3 had to contend with awful schedules and their respective films' production problems, Jerry Goldsmith's experience on the first one came down to creative differences with both Ridley Scott and editor Terry Rawlings. For the opening credits, he wrote a piece that was wondrous and romanticized, which fit with how he personally viewed outer space, and wanted to gradually move it into more terrifying territory as the story progressed. Scott was not at all in favor of this, so Goldsmith reluctantly wrote the very eerie, atmospheric opening piece that we now have. I'm kind of on the fence with how I feel about it, because I really like that piece and think that it's another component of the film that is legitimately creepy but, at the same time, I wonder how it would've played if Goldsmith had been allowed to keep his original theme and then, the first time we heard that creepy piece would be when they're exploring the planet. Then again, with a movie called Alien and the way it was promoted as being a very creepy movie, opening the music with that pretty piece might've been unwise. Who knows? Goldsmith also didn't like that Rawlings put in some pieces from other scores he'd done, particularly for John Huston's Freud: The Secret Passion (one of Goldsmith's earliest works and which got him his first Oscar nomination), and used an orchestral symphony piece for the ending credits. Rawlings and Scott also rearranged certain cues, re-scored some other pieces, and left in temporary cues, further irritating Goldsmith, which makes me surprised that he agreed to work with Scott again on Legend (which wasn't the best experience either, from what I've heard).

The music was something else about Alien that initially threw me when I first saw it, as I wasn't used to horror films that didn't have frightening music from beginning to end and so, I was unprepared for this score to be as lush and pretty as it is at points. In the years since, though, I've come to appreciate the music and feel that it is well-done and fitting. The opening title theme is my favorite part, as it's so damn creepy and atmospheric, with that very soft main part, the subtle, reverberating bits that accompany it, and that unearthly, distant howling-like sound, which is used to great effect during the scenes on the planet and with the facehugger on Kane's face. Parts of the score that I didn't expect were that low-key, sort of plucking melody which you hear when you're first introduced to the Nostromo, the lyrical, lovely piece when Kane awakens from hyper-sleep (I think that's the music from Freud), that big grand, orchestral piece that starts off small and becomes much bigger when they're landing and leaving the planet, which introduces a distinctive bit that's reused in a much quieter form when Kane's body is shot into space and when Dallas talks with "Mother" about plans to deal with the Alien, and it's sort of become the leitmotif for the movie in general (it was reused in a scene in Prometheus), but looking at them now, I can appreciate that they are indeed great music. I also really like that music that plays when the facehugger's acid blood threatens to burn through the ship's hull, especially the first part of it, the freakish, building crescendo when the Space Jockey is revealed, the odd, plucking piece when Kane investigates the egg chamber, that quiet, subtle bit that accompanies the shot of the Nostromo hovering on into space after Kane's body has been shot out of the airlock, and the really unsettling piece with Ash that starts out subtle and becomes more nightmarish when he suddenly attacks Ripley. My other favorite parts of the score, aside from the main title, are that truly horrific piece when the Alien kills Parker and Lambert, and this bizarre, vibrating bit that you hear when it appears in the hallway leading to the shuttle. The music during the ending on the shuttle is okay and memorable enough, particularly that dissonant, horn bit that plays when the Alien is stuck outside the shuttle, but I like the bits I've mentioned before more. And finally, you have Howard Hanson's Symphony No. 2 playing over the ending credits, which I didn't like the first time I heard it because, again, I didn't think it fit. Over the years, I've grown to see it as a nice, lovely orchestral bit that does fit with Ripley's finally having vanquished the Alien by blasting it out of the shuttle's thrusters but, playing it over the ending credits? I don't know, it's a weird choice given what the movie you just watched was (ironically, as it stands, the movie's score is kind of the reverse of what Goldsmith intended, in that it starts out strange and eerie and, by the end, is romanticized and pretty).

In late 2003, Alien was re-released in theaters in a new version, primarily to promote the release of the Alien Quadrilogy DVD box-set that December, which features alternate versions of all four of the original movies along with the theatrical cuts. One thing Ridley Scott has always made clear is that this is not a "Director's Cut" in the traditional sense, as the theatrical version is his preferred version, and it was called that purely for marketing reasons. And while this version does reinstate scenes that were originally deleted, it's different in that it also removes some scenes from the theatrical cut and trims others to keep it from being too long, which Scott described as trying to reach a middle-ground with what the studio wanted and in order to give audiences a new theatrical experience with the movie. I was originally just going to just comment on the scenes that were reinstated and those from the theatrical version that are taken out but, deciding that it might be best to see how it flows as a whole, I went ahead and watched this alternate version, which I haven't done that many times. Long story short, it does make for an interesting, different viewing experience if you're very familiar with the traditional version, as I am. The first reinstated scene is the crew listening to the signal and pinpointing the planet's exact location before moving on to it. It's notable for the strange sound that the signal has to it (although, the extras disc in the box-set has some laserdisc extras that include an early version of the scene where the sound is even freakier because it's not electronically altered) but, in the end, I can see why it was originally cut. Another notable addition is a scuffle between Ripley and Lambert outside the infirmary where the latter slaps her for refusing to let them in earlier and Dallas angrily tells her that when he gives an order, he expects to be obeyed. I kind of like this bit, as it seems logical that such a confrontation would happen after the airlock scene and I think if it had been in the theatrical version, it would've been just fine. I feel the same way about a bit that happens when the Alien attacks Brett and carries him off and Ripley and Parker come in and see the tail end of it. It always irritated me in the theatrical version when they're talking about catching a glimpse of the Alien taking Brett up into the cooling duct, when it seemed as if they were nowhere near it when it happened; here, it makes more sense and gives some weight to Parker's mood in talking about it, as he just saw his friend die.

By far, the most well-known added scene is Ripley discovering Dallas and Brett cocooned after setting the ship to explode and, after watching it again, there are good notes to it: it's very moody and eerie in the way it's lit, the sound of Dallas moaning before she finds the room is unsettling, and the very sight of it all, down to Dallas begging Ripley to kill him and her having to incinerate him and what's left of Brett, is disturbing. Plus, it gives an interesting, alternate look at the Alien's life-cycle, as it looks as if Brett is being turned into egg, possibly explaining what happened to the other Space Jockeys back on the planet, and had it been part of the original theatrical version, Aliens would've become a very different movie. But, on the other hand, it feels like a scene that should've been left on the cutting floor or, at least, included in an earlier part of the film, as its placement after Ripley has set the ship to blow brings that sense of urgency to a halt for a couple of minutes. Aside from whole scenes, that are little bits included here and there, like Kane drawing a weapon when he's in front of the egg, some alternate angles on certain shots, such as a POV of the Alien watching Brett from the ceiling, as well as a shot of it hanging up there with the chains (deleting that originally was a good move, because it ruins the terror of it suddenly descending behind him and also doesn't look that good), and the Alien knocking Jones' cat-box against the wall, which I don't like as much as it simply staring down at him. Scott also tightened the editing on other sequences, deleting some small shots and cuts, and got rid of sections, like Ash telling Ripley that Mother hasn't identified the signal yet, the scene with Dallas talking to Mother before he goes into the ventilation system, and the brief bit of Parker cautiously heading down to refuel his flamethrower (which I didn't like because, as I mentioned earlier, I've always felt the movie needed more of that). All in all, the alternate version of the movie is an interesting watch, especially for diehard fans, but I'd be just as satisfied watching this material in the deleted scenes section, although that's just me.

There are a lot of reasons to admire Alien. It's visually mesmerizing, with great sets and very impressive miniature and matting work, it presents a more relatable, working-class type of future, with some likable characters, it's never short on atmosphere, the scenes on the planet and in the derelict ship are genuinely creepy, the title monster is an unforgettable, disturbing creation in its various forms, there are good setpieces, with the "chestburster" scene still being powerful and iconic, and the music score by Jerry Goldsmith is well-done. That's ultimately the most positive thing I can say about it, that it's a movie I admire and I understand why it's had the impact it has. That said, though, there are still things I'm not too big on that keep me from being one of its many true fans, such as Ridley Scott's visually impressive but fairly soulless directing style, the characters, in spite of some of them being likable, being presented in a way that makes it hard for me to really care if they live or die, a pace that's a tad too slow for me, and a lack of any scenes that I find genuinely suspenseful and scary. In the end, while I can admire it, there are other movies of this ilk that I think are better and, given the choice, I'd much rather watch them. But, as they say, to each his own.