Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Horror Of...Alien, In Short

It was once said by Lisa Simpson, "What do aliens have to do with Halloween?" Of course, she was immediately disintegrated for the question. But it can persist.

Much of what we enjoy around Halloween is about ghost and magic and cool autumn nights. But there are also monsters. There are always the monsters.

In space, we often find monsters. And in 1979 we were all introduced to a doozy of creature that silent strikes out the dark. More than killing us, or feeding on us, it had other uses for our lives.

This movie is definitely a classic at this point. A beautifully shot science fiction/horror flick. Alien was directed by the reputed director Ridley Scott. While the later movies moved into the hands of others, Scott and Dan O'Bannon, the screenwriter, laid the framework for a creature and setting that have stayed with us for decades.

Set in deep space, the Nostromo is awaken from it's somnambulistic march across space by a message. They are to visit and search a planet sending an anomalous message. The crew isn't happy to be awaken from a long sleep, and face a delay in their return to Earth, but they are confined by their contracts with the corporation that hired them to pilot the ship and tow their goods.

And the actors chosen to play this crew are a great match. They manage to bring added reality to the dirty, wet, and worn setting of a commercial spaceship.

Dallas is played by Tom Skerrit. He's captain of the Nostromo.

Kane is played by John Hurt. He's the ship's executive officer.

Lambert is played by Veronica Cartwright. She's the ship's navigator.

The ship's two engineers are Parker and Brett. They are played by Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Statton.

Then we have Ash, played by Ian Holm. He's the ship's put upon science officer.

And then there's Ripley, played by someone called Sigourney Weaver...? She is a warrant officer.

And, finally, the ship's cat. That cat!

This really is an excellent cast. And carry most all of the movie, as the alien of the title exists almost entirely off screen, until it strikes. They make it seem effortless to draw you in the audience into their dread.

As the story progresses, the mystery of the signal shifts into medical emergency and then they learn that they have an alien infiltration as the crew tries to suss out what they are dealing with and how to survive it.

And this leads into a struggle in dark corridors, dank air shafts, and deep into the bowels of the ship. The walls close in, the echos grow, and the alien waits to strike.

And the alien, who starts a small and jarring annoyance doesn't stay that way.

It isn't long before the alien reemerges as the iconic H.R. Giger figures so many know today. And it's sparing use on camera helps magnify it's power in viewers minds.

 What we have here is a different take on the country manor mystery of old. Everyone is locked in, there's a murderer on the loose. But we all know who it is. It's just a question of who can stop it, or just survive.

It is a heart stopping experience to watch. It's tense. It's jarring. And, it's satisfying. It does start slow. But it nicely reflects how slowly space travel is, and how the crew is slowly getting their brains and bodies  running. And then as the danger grows, and they find that they are not hunters, but prey, you hold your breath waiting for the alien to strike.

As well, you have the ship's cat. It's exactly as helpful to the life and death struggle as you would imagine your own cat being. But, darn it, you can't help loving it, and wanting to see them keep it safe.

So, I will hope you add Alien to your Must Watch list this Halloween season. Heck, it's perfect to watch while you're having dinner.

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