Rated R for sci-fi horror stuff mostly. There's language and some nudity in the background of one of the bunks. I guess Ripley almost gets killed with pornography, which is weird to write. Also, the end of the movie involves Ripley in her underwear. It's weird if you come into Alien saying that you can handle gore, gross goop, Giger-inspired nightmares, language, but then say, "But Ripley's underwear!" I don't know. Writing out parent guides for these things is a unique experience, let me tell you. R.
DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott
I'm one of the snobs who outright states that the original theatrical cut of Alien is the best in the franchise. I know that people actively swear by the sequel, Aliens. But I am not particularly partial to that movie. I'm sure that some day, I'll finally rewatch it in a vain attempt to justify my very strong opinion about that movie (instead of going in without prejudice, which is what a responsible blogger would do). But Alien has been one of my all time favorite horror movies...ever. Like, it definitely wins the best sci-fi horror film. It pushes every button of mine and ticks all the boxes. It's funny because I actively dislike the director's cut.
See, I watched the director's cut first. Being born in 1983, by the time I was old enough to decide to watch Alien, there was already a director's cut available. (Okay, I could have watched Alien before this point, but I would have been the chosen one if, when given access to R-rated movies, jumped right to Alien. This blog would be untouchable if I had that kind of artistic foresight.) In those days, "Director's Cut" simply meant "Better version of the movie." I'm sure that a lot of people still hold this philosophy. After all, studio systems suck and the directors, especially in case like Ridley Scott, tend to be auteurs if there was ever going to be one. But that director's cut was boring. I honestly thought that Alien was one of the most dull films ever. Kind of like how I never absolutely love Blade Runner, Alien was just tedious for how slow that director's cut was. Then I decided to do some reading...on the inside of the DVD package. Apparently, Ridley Scott never wanted to make a director's cut. He, too, agreed that the theatrical cut was superior to the director's cut. The studio paid him to make an alternate cut of the film for the DVD set that I bought. (Yeah, having not seen Alien, I decided to by the Alien Quadrilogy box set because it was shiny. I'm that guy.) So I'm not wrong about this.
In my head, I'm always subconscious about how stream of consciousness my blogs should get. I've been riding this fine line between fun chat and organized thought. But there were a lot of quick moments that popped into my head with this watch of Alien. Stuff like, "I tend to mix up Ian Holm and John Hurt, and that's a big deal because that's confusing Bilbo Baggins and the War Doctor." Stuff like that. But the biggest moment is that Scott buried who the protagonist of the movie is. Horror movies tend to start with ensemble casts. Again, I'm referring to stuff that is covered in The Cabin in the Woods. Traditionally, we know who the hero in this movie is. The final girl has a cool head and tends to be attractive, yet acts asexual. But 1979 was the Wild West. The butt-kicking female protagonist didn't really have her heyday yet. Halloween was 1978, which means that they were probably in production right around the same time. We now know that Laurie Strode and Ellen Ripley are the progenitors of the scream queens. They give way worse than they get, but that wasn't a thing at the time. I can imagine sitting in the theater in 1979 thinking that Tom Skerritt was the protagonist. Ripley, while certainly an important character from the beginning of the movie, definitely feels like simply a puzzle piece in a much larger puzzle. It's only when people start getting killed off one-by-one and Ripley starts taking more and more responsibility that we realize that she's the one we're supposed to get behind.
It's odd to think that there's wage inequality in the future. There are a lot of references to the one Black man on the ship having to do the crap job. Okay, it's not that odd. But the world of Alien seems to be a pretty crummy future. There still is an essential working class that gets paid less and that annoys the "haves". I know that the further you crawl down the Alien franchise timeline, the more the Weyland-Yutani corporation plays a roll, which ties into Parker's frustration with his paycheck, but I didn't realize how important the corporation was. I always thought it was odd that the sequels really played up the corporate unseen overlords elements later on, but they are actually pretty firmly secured in this film. I completely forgot that Ash was a full on bad guy in this one, mainly because I always have Lance Henriksen's Bishop in the sequel in my head. But the fact that Ash is actually this pretty impressive secondary threat in this movie completely caught me off guard, and I've seen this movie three or four times. (I also watch a lot of movies and details of these films escape me when it's been a few years.)
And I kind of have to say, Ash makes the movie. See, I appreciate the Giger stuff. I do. It's a very cool alternative to a lot of the sci-fi out there. But it's also not my cup of tea. It works...for this movie. The xenomorph (which the back of my brain is telling me not to call it a xenomorph anymore for some reason) is very scary and iconic. But for all the good scares in the movie, the one that gets me the most is when Ash's head gets all John Carpenter-y and separated from his body, yet he continues to fight the people around him. I don't know, but I'm guessing it is the white liquid that is just so troubling about the whole thing. Watching Ash flail around, trying to kill anything and everything around him beats the xenomorph in the air ducts. It's not to downplay the xenomorph (although it does look like he's extending out for a hug in that moment), but Ash might be the scariest thing in that movie. It could be why Scott ended up paying so much attention to David in Prometheus. That's just my guess.
But what makes Alien the absolute bees-knees is the fact that the xenomorph is smart and unstoppable. The reason that Weyland-Yutani wants this creature is that he's the ultimate killing machine. While I acknowledge that this is a crew of miners without combat training, they aren't exactly spring chickens. They have flame throwers and radar tracking. But the xenomorph gets them at every turn. I mean, that xenomorph at the end was being awfully polite letting Ripley get into a spacesuit before going at her. Sure, it built up suspense, but I also want to credit the other deceased members of the Nostromo who didn't get such a welcome invitation to attack the creature. But they have all these plans to get rid of it and the xenomorph always stays one step ahead. It takes a beating and keeps going. Like, it's even ejected into space and it took a thruster to the face and the only thing that stopped it was the rope burning, sending it off into the void. That's what bugged me about Aliens. Guns took those things down. Would Weyland-Yutani risk all it does if a group of space marines could take out a bunch of them? Remember, one should be able to rip apart an entire platoon and that's what it feels like in this one. As cool and terrifying as Ripley is, she has a lot of luck on her side in this one. Also, she keeps grabbing the cat and that seems a bit silly. Why doesn't the xenomorph eat the cat? I don't know.
I adore this movie. It's this nice slow burn that ends up being terrifying and complex. It's a monster in space movie, sure. But it also might be the ultimate monster in space movie. The alien is terrifying and the acting is great. The mood is sinister. It's got what I'm looking for this Halloween.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.