Each week, one of Biff Bam Pop’s illustrious writers will delve into one of their favorite things. Perhaps it’s a movie or album they’ve carried with them for years. Maybe it’s something new that moved them and they think might move you too. Each week, a new subject, a new voice writing on… something they love.
Biff Bam Pop!’s fearless leader, Andy Burns, once asked me what movie scared me the most. I would have to say it was Alien and the sequels that followed. Why aliens? I grew up during the Cold War and nuclear testing. Coincidentally there was also an increase in UFO sightings. Everyone was afraid of atomic warfare or getting probed by little green men. This fear was carried over in film. To find out why I feel that Alien is a great film, you need to step back in time.
My First Alien
Every Saturday morning my siblings and I would head over to our neighborhood movie theatre with our baloney sandwiches and money for popcorn. The sandwiches we ate, but the popcorn was saved for the food fight that took place between the double features. On the day that The Thing from Another World starring James Arness as the alien was featured, there was no food fight. The thing looked like the Jolly Green Giant and it was weeks before my siblings and I would eat vegetables. But it wasn’t until 1979 that I understood just how scary an alien could be.
“In space, no one can hear you scream.” In 1979, Alien premiered. It was directed by Ridley Scott and starred Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto. This film was different on so many levels, but I’ll state two reasons that Alien is be the best science fiction/horror film ever.
The film was realistic in both plot and presentation. What would space travel really be like? The first words that come to mind are eerily quiet, extremely cold and soul sucking lonely. The Nostromo was a mining vessel owned by the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. The Nostromo had everything on board that the crew would need to survive the long flight including a functioning medical unit and a science officer. It also had a powerful computer to run the ship while the crew was in suspended sleep. There was nothing flashy about the Nostromo. It was a working ship and this was not Star Wars.
We were introduced to the crew of the Nostromo as they were awakened from suspended sleep by Mother, the ship’s computer who informed the crew of a mysterious transmission from a nearby planet. The crew is ordered to change course and to investigate the source of the signal before returning home. When Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), Officer Kane (John Hurt) and Navigator Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) investigate an uncharted outpost, they discover an ancient alien spacecraft with the remains of a large humanoid alien creature whose ribcage is ripped apart from the inside. Holy Evisceration!
This was my first clue that this was not your run of the mill alien movie and that fact is driven home when Kane is attacked. By the time the alien makes its appearance on the film via one of the scariest scenes ever, we not only know that we are in for one hell of a ride, but that the job of killing the pesky alien will fall to a woman. Everything that happens after Kane is returned to the ship leads up to Ripley battling the company spy/robotic science officer (Ian Holm) and keeping the alien (Bolaji Badejo) from hitching a ride to Earth.
Because the creature was obscured in shadows, it took a while for my mind to understand what I was seeing, but the clues were there. Egg, larvae, adult, was this metamorphosis? Was it an insect, reptile or parasite? What we did know was that the creature started small, but grew until it was a frightening seven foot tall chomping machine with two sets of jaws and corrosive blood. It was also intelligent.
In later sequels we learned that the creatures were a part of a hive which included a queen. Could something like this creature really exist? We only have to look at parasitoidal insects of Earth for that answer.
Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley changed the way women would be portrayed in a science fiction or horror film. This was Weaver’s first lead role and she played the protagonist to the hilt. Ellen Ripley was a mother who wanted to get the job done so she could return to her young child, but once the creature was aboard the Nostromo, Ripley and the crew had to find a way to capture it.
After her entire crew is killed, it is Ripley who outsmarts the creature long enough for her to initiate the self-destruct sequence that will hopefully destroy the Nostromo and the creature. How many of us held our breath as Ripley prepared to rid her escape pod of the alien hitchhiker. And, how many of us cheered as Ripley blasted the creature into space. Alone, except for the cat, Ripley climbs into the sleep chamber for the long ride home to her daughter.
Alien was a box office success and received an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, a Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film, and Ridley Scott received an award for Best Direction. It was inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2002 for historical preservation as a film which is culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant and in 2008, it was ranked as the seventh-best film in the science fiction genre by the American Film Institute. The success of Alien spawned three sequels starting with Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992), and ending with the 1997 Alien Resurrection. For her part in the Alien franchise Sigourney Weaver was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama, a BAFTA Award for Best Leading Newcomer, and four Saturn Awards for Best Actress in which she won one for Aliens.
To me, Alien and the sequels that followed were always about the relationship between the creature and Ripley. It was always Ripley vs. creature and, whenever Alien is playing on television, I watch it. Even though I know every scene and every line by heart, I’m still terrified of this creature and, not too many movies can do that to me.