Our guest blogger today is Christopher Lloyd, co-founder of TheFilmYap.com.
Sometimes great movies can spring forth from a well of tainted motives.
Alien is a watershed, a lodestone, often called one of the most influential (and copied) films of the last half-century. What it is not, though, is the act of pure cinematic creation that most people consider it to be.
Director Ridley Scott, making just his second feature film, planned to do a period costume drama, perhaps an adaptation of Tristan and Isolde. Then he saw Star Wars and realized that space adventures would be the new big thing. He quickly jumped aboard pop culture’s sci-fi bandwagon.
The other movie genre that was going gangbusters in 1979 was horror films, particularly the slasher variety in which young, comely females are stalked by a seemingly unkillable killer whose gruesome, thrusting slayings have a not-terribly-subtle undertone of sexual penetration.
Scott and screenwriter Dan O’Bannon simply took the two hottest things going in Hollywood and melded them together. (O’Bannon would go on to underscore his horror movie bona fides by penning the zombie flicks Dead & Buried, The Return of the Living Dead and Lifeforce over the next six years.)
As if to leave no doubt, the tagline for the movie’s poster (above) seemed tailor-made to appeal to Star Wars fans who were old enough to buy tickets to an R-rated horror flick.
None of this, however, detracts from the boldness and artistry of what was created.
If Alien is just a slasher film in space, then it’s one executed with flawless craftsmanship. In Scott’s hands, the commercial space barge Nostromo becomes a vast, haunted landscape filled with inky pools of shadow and dilapidated equipment. Despite a lack of character development, each of the actors managed to create a distinct, memorable presence.
Sigourney Weaver, practically a movie novice, calmly embodied the role of the level-headed warrant officer Ripley (we didn’t even learn her first name until the 1986 sequel). Ripley was also one of the first action-movie female leads … though she’s something of a stealth protagonist. Up until the point where Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) perishes at the talons of the alien, most audiences members assumed he was the main guy.
And how can we fail to mention the unforgettable alien — or should we say, trio of aliens: the insectoid “facehugger,” the phallic “chestburster” and the full-grown creature, which (to quote myself) “is so black and spider-like, it seems less like an organism than null space brought to life.”
Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger, who created the alien designs, is as much responsible for the success of the Alien franchise as anyone. Though it must be pointed out that the series became more and more mercenary — finally pairing up with the Predator flicks for a profit-pursuing crossover.
And of course, this summer has brought us Prometheus, Scott’s breathlessly awaited prequel to Alien, which has left audiences as baffled as the original left them terrified. (My own take: narratively, Prometheus is a mess, but still a worthy cinematic experience.)
Whatever the highs and lows of its offspring, Alien was truly the mother of invention — or, at least, inspired amalgamation.
Come see Alien at this evening’s screening of Summer Nights.
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