Alien has to be one of my all time favourite horror movies, ever.
I know a lot of people say that but I mean it. The sequel, Aliens, was a bizarre fixation of mine in my teens. I have literally lost count of the number of times I have seen both the original and the restored cut. But, this particular post is about Alien and so I move on.
It’s frustrating, as an adult, to watch Alien. I can remember the awe and excitement I had watching it as a kid. The special effects were off the charts at the time and still hold up today in my opinion. I will never forget the awe in my young mind when I realized that the Nostromo was a tiny little sub-light tugboat and that the refinery it pulled was the mind-blowingly stark and steampunk starship. Just … wow.
What I find frustrating is knowing what’s going to happen and really feeing for the characters because, through no direct fault of their own, they make one wrong decision after another and it gets them killed. Ash is a different story, and I’ll have more to say about him. For the rest of the crew, only Dallas really had the ability to truly change the course of events. His discussion with Ripley about Ash in the connection-way and his resulting decision sealed everyone’s fate. Of course, had he done the rational thing and put Cain directly back in to hyper sleep, the story would be very different and Weyland-Yutani would probably either be in dynastic rule of the solar system or Earth would be a wasteland of Alien domination.
Nope, from the point Dallas decided to trust Ash and follow Company protocol, the Nostromo was doomed but not beyond recovery. Ripley could have turned the tide by telling Parker and Brett exactly, no-bullshit, how she felt about Ash and why; he falsified the “sos” signal (there is no way the Science Officer wouldn’t be able to figure out what the Warrant Officer did) and overrode the quarantine and advised against disposing of the parasite body. The way those characters are written, it’s guaranteed they would have supported Ripley, not despite their own exchange earlier in the film but because of it.
The fatal decision by Dallas to go in to the air ducts seems insane but I can see the logic. In the novelization, by Alan Dean Foster, the flow of thought leading to the plan makes especially perfect sense. The Nostromo is really not that large a ship and the ventilation system directly tied to outer space. Of course, blowing the air out before checking would have been smarter, but it didn’t go down that way. Much of the novelization is seen in the restored footage version of Alien and the story makes a lot more sense. The idea of just putting Cain back into cryogenic sleep is taken more seriously and you see Ash a lot more aggressive in his attempt to keep the crew guessing.
I think that everything that happens after Ash is discovered is what proves Ripley to be the iconic character she becomes. Going after Jones is stupid but also brave and endearing. It also put her on the other side of the ship which was a good thing or she would have died with Parker and Lambert. One of my favourite scenes ever is Ripley trying to disable the self-destruct and her screaming at Mother, “I’ve turned the cooling units back on!” For some reason, that still gives me chills. Pardon the pun.
The final sequences in Alien are also a source of childhood frustration and, now, amusement. The whole scene with Ripley getting undressed and then being in the locker just drove my friends crazy and I just didn’t get it. Of course, now I know why a half-naked Sigourney Weaver didn’t turn me on. At the time, I was all about the Alien, man, all about the Alien.
Having the creature pop up out of the ship’s interior piping just freaked me the hell out and made me an eventual life-long fan of H.R. Geiger. That scared me senseless and I loved it! Seeing the Alien, the Xenomorph, in all of its biomechanical glory, both horrified and fascinated me beyond understanding. The concept that a living thing could be so pathologically hostile and merciless was truly visualized for the first time for me. Again, it still gives me chills.
As does the final Ripley’s final signal … “Last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.”