When I started working at Amazing Stories, I felt I had all the knowledge I needed (or wanted) to work there. My blood ran Marvel and DC, I had a major in Star Trek with a minor in Star Wars, I could tell you who the Ninja Turtles were, and the Transformers, Ghostbusters, so on and so forth. I didn’t know Dr. Who or manga (and I was okay with it). But their were a few big properties that I had not been too familiar with, and when a customer would find out I usually got a “you work here and you don’t know THAT!” or a “and what have you been doing with your life” type comment. So one summer I picked the four franchises I felt I most needed to learn about and exposed myself to them. They were all good, all dark, and I had a great summer of movies because of them. Robocop, Predator, (both of which came out in 1987 and I’ve got a fantastic Chris Fischer commission coming for that year), Terminator and what I’ll be talking about here, Ridley Scott’s Alien.
They are similar movies in premise, and I found that I enjoyed Predator a little more, but their execution is entirely different. As far as a serious movie goes, Alien takes the cake. Being quite Lovecraftian in both visual style and story, it is grittier, more suspenseful and way more realistic. The Alien creature, designed by H. R. Giger, and inspired by Lovecraft literature, the Alien is a terrifying beauty, all slimy full of teeth, and with it’s weird boney limbs that can’t help but inspire fear.
I have long believed that if there is life out there among the stars it is very different than our race, mostly because the planet will have different properties and
therefore life will have different properties. I don’t believe that aliens will be like Vulcans or Wookies or E.T. While the Alien isn’t entirely different from humans, its similarities are not nearly as numerous as its differences. Visually, biologically, and sexually, it is all frightening. The birthing scene of an alien ripping through John Hurts chest is an awe-inspiring scene. It is most often what comes to mind when I think of the film. It is also the inspiration for this great song The Gospel of John
Hurt by Alt J. I honestly don’t know if I love the song just because of this or simply because it’s a great song by a great band.
Beyond the gritty visual design of Giger, the concept of the movie is also quite Lovecraftian. Simple acts of curiosity, intrusion and bravery get almost everyone killed. In most Lovecraft lore, it is best to stay home, mind your own business and never to seek out higher understanding, cuz it will get you killed. It is often better just not to know. Like Lovecraft, the times is taken to make you feel the loneliness, to establish the suspense, and then deal a quick punch of horror.
Alien not only capitalizes on a magnificent extra terrestrial, but they utilize another hallmark of Sci Fi, the Robot. When Ripley (our hero, played by Sigourney Weaver) discovers that Ash is not who he says he is, and has been working under different orders, as a machine without human rational, simply obeying orders, it chills me. It is a scene I hate to watch, because I think the white robot blood is gross, but I love to watch because the revelation is so shocking and powerful. He is not unlike the literary version of HAL from 2001 a Space Odyssey. This robot was acting under orders from a very human corporation, and deliberately misleading and endangering the crew for another mission. Fortunately, in both, human mind overcomes. I do thing HAL is a little more terrifying, because I don’t see as an outright villain and therefore I see him as a more plausible threat.
This is a film that, like Star Wars, transcends its time. I can watch it now, and not initially think, “oh, this is a 70’s movie” this is simply a strong visual and dramatic experience that takes me away for a couple of hours. It sets a standard for all Science Fiction, and Horror that follows it.
Thanks for reading, see you in the 80’s!
Images from: http://hdwallpapersfactory.com/wallpaper/aliens_movie_alien_desktop_1919x1079_hd-wallpaper-723693.jpg, https://swissblogdotnet.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/alien_poster_by_nuke_vizard.jpg, http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-htyqG-iH-2c/Tmdveh0pC-I/AAAAAAAAAtE/KRe4usk34jU/s1600/alien_251.JPG