Alien (1979): Deconstructing Ridley Scott’s classic creature feature

The Deconstructing series takes a look back at director Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic Alien, starring Sigourney Weaver

What do we talk about when we talk about 1979’s iconic outer space slasher, Alien (watch it HERE)? Personally, I start the list with the incredible slow-burn tone and impressive special effects, then I usually gush for twenty or thirty minutes about how inspired the horror aspect was- and especially for its time. It creeps along with nothing but quiet, dark spaces to lure out your fears as this mysterious man-eating creature stalks your every move. Truly scary stuff. And then of course I mention how Sigourney Weaver swiftly cemented her status as one of the greatest final girls in slasher cinema. All of that to say that this film truly lives up to the chills they promise from the movie’s tagline- In space, no one can hear you scream. Folks, slasher movies are kind of a big deal here on JoBlo Horror Originals. We love seeing Ghostface reveal their identities at the end of Scream, we revisit the horror of Haddonfield every Halloween and we sure as shit make sure to cover our fair share of cult slashers that fly below the mainstream radar. But lately, I’ve been trying to scratch a different itch. I mean, I’m always in the mood for blood and guts, but I’ve been in the mood for something a little more “out there” from a hulking masked killer. Of course, within horror, there are many avenues that I could go down. See, on this show I’ve covered ghosts, demons, cults, witches, haunted artifacts, monsters, serial killers and even robots- but I don’t feel that I’ve properly explored- is aliens.

Imagine if you were a regular astronaut who wasn’t expecting and properly equipped and trained to handle a homicidal alien. What if you were alone in space with no way to get help and this thing had its sight fixed firmly on you. Or as writer Dan O’Bannon said, what if “Jaws in space”? 1979’s Alien is the story of a group of astronauts who are headed home to earth when a potential distress signal takes them to a nearby moon where they discover alien life that is sure to make their journey home a hell of a lot bloodier. The film was famously directed by Ridley Scott and remains to be one of the greatest horror classics in cinema history. And truthfully- I can’t wait to get into its so I’m Kier with JoBlo Horror Originals, and you’re watching Deconstructing.

Now, the setup for Alien is quite simple. We’ve got seven astronauts- Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver), Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), Kane (John Hurt), Ash (Ian Hom), Parker (Yaphet Kotto), and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton)- This crew is on the way back to earth when they get a transmission from a moon nearby. On this moon is the remanence of an alien ship. The crew finds a chamber full of eggs and what’s inside finds its way onto the ship via Kane’s face. This sets up the rest of the film which sees a rapidly growing alien creature with slimy skin and chrome teeth roaming about the ship and taking out the passengers one-by-one. A classic plot for a classic film indeed- but there’s more to it than that so as usual, we’re going to break this movie down by way of our four-key-categories. First, we’ll talk about the original of this movie and how it went from an egg to a STILL ACTIVE mega franchise. Then, we’ll talk about the film’s legacy, which will allow us to dive into what makes it so… mega-franchisable? After that we’ll play a quick game of JoBlo Trivia to get our movie minds buzzing before we get to the finale- the X-Factor- where I discuss that one small thing that takes Alien from being a space-station slasher, to being the timeless horror masterpiece that it is.

So, if you’re ready then keep your back to the wall, and don’t forget to like the video- and let’s hit play on Alien.

Alien

ORIGIN

Have y’all ever seen the movie Dark Star by John Carpenter? You know, the one where a beach ball is haunting the ship. Well, as it turns out- Dan O’Bannon worked on that film with Carpenter and his experience on the film got him thinking “What if there was a fully horror version of this that played it completely straight?” And so began the process of writing a script that would feature a handful of victims, an endless hellscape of space, and one VERY angry alien. O’Bannon knew that the key to making it scary was having a believable looking monster for his antagonist. More on that soon- but with the idea fresh in his mind, O’Bannon wrote the first act of a script called Memory which actually turned out to be used as the film’s iconic opening scene which features our astronauts awaking to a distress transmission and deciding to investigate a broken-down ship. With O’Bannon being stuck with a case of writer’s block after creating this incredible beginning. While working on other projects and leaving Memory on the backburner, O’Bannon discovered the haunting artwork of H.R. Giger. Giger is known for his incredibly disturbing and unflattering imagery that was a hot commodity for authors to use as book covers for the Sci-Fi genre. Around this time, O’Bannon moved to L.A. to live with Ronald Shusett, the film’s uncredited co-writer and the two wrote the rest of the script about one of H.R. Giger’s horror creations stalking and killing the astronauts. Giger would of course go on to create the now iconic xenomorph.

With a dark and bloody script in hand, Shusett and O’Bannon began shopping their movie around Hollywood hoping to get enough capital to make a convincing Giger Monster. Along comes Brandywine Entertainment which consisted of producers Gordon Carrol, David Giler, and Walter Hill. They agreed to make the film but throughout the process they would make the development of the final screenplay a living hell by demanding absurd rewrites, re-arranging material and ultimately putting their own stamp on an otherwise great script. It’s believed by many, including O’Bannon, that the studio heads at Brandywine were trying to edge out their work just enough to take credit and leave the writers with none. And with O’Bannon being the sole credit for writer- I guess we know who won that battle.

When it came down to it, the then recent release of Star Wars had studios in Hollywood bursting at the seams to get their own Sci-Fi blockbusters out into the world. This caused Brandywine and O’Bannon and Shusett to begin their search for a proper director. After going through the list of potential talent to helm the movie, names like Robert Altman, Jack Clayton, Robert Aldrich, and Peter Yates all proved to be too slick and the studio and writers feared that hiring them would run the risk of making the film less serious. They wanted someone who would approach the movie as a straight horror. And sure enough, after seeing the film The Dualists, Brandywine pursued Ridley Scott to direct. Scott loved the script and signed on immediately to make the movie and even contributed some seriously beautiful and detailed storyboards to map out the film’s gorgeous and grand look. When the studio saw these magical storyboards, they immediately doubled the film’s original budget from $4.2 Million to $8.5 Million- which later racked up even further to about $11 Million. Money well spent, boys.

The casting process was fairly simple due to the script’s writing being intentionally vague in its description of each astronaut. The intent was for the director to feel free to interpret each character in their own way- even as far as their gender and physical attributes- and cast accordingly. This gave Ridley the freedom to find the most powerful actors for each role and that is how we got Sigourney Weaver as Ripley. Right on. With the main players in the mix- cameras were finally set to roll in Shepperton Studios in London in 1978.

LEGACY

Now, it’s no secret that the Alien franchise has seen quite a robust history. This film was released in May of 1979 and was met with astonishing box office numbers. The film was such a hit that people were seeing it twice and bringing more and more friends each time. Alien’s final box office run totaled at over $180 Million which in Hollywood terms means…. Nothing? Well, at least not for a while. In 1986- James Cameron took on a direct sequel titled Aliens which would also see the return of Ripley. As if two great directors weren’t enough for this franchise, David Fincher stepped up to direct Alien 3 in 1992 which also saw Ripley come back and (spoiler alert) die- only to be brought back in Alien Resurrection in 1997 as a clone. These direct sequels did well- but the time between each film and the return on investment eventually led to the franchise fizzling out in theaters but gained a lot of traction in the comic book and collectable space. This led to the beloved Alien VS Predator comic book which later revived the silver-screen slasher with AVP in 2004 and AVP Requiem in 2007. Alien tried its hand at the prequel thing with Prometheus and later went on to bring us Alien Covenant and the highly anticipated, Fede Alverez directed Alien Romulus– which hopefully looks to bring the franchise back to being more grounded- no pun intended.

But what makes the movie worth the trip to the theaters every time for the follow up? Why did the original Alien film spawn such a huge success? Well, it was made the right way. On its own and away from the franchise- Alien delivered us stunning cinematography that invites you directly into the ship with our crew. The Blu-ray of this thing is beautiful, folks. But what about the chilling slow-burn tone and pacing? The movie lets you float around the ship in suspense with the cast for a lot of this film. Personally, I find it delightful either way, but what makes it special is that even in these slow moments, you’re treated to a warm and grounded group-dynamic between the characters that make the dialogue scenes that much more gripping. It’s truly a movie you can just sit and vibe with and I think that says a lot. This movie’s legacy goes beyond a good movie and a pretty good franchise- Alien was such a shockwave of a film that its impact on the genre in general can still be felt in movies today. While Ridley Scott would call it “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in Space”- Science fiction has benefitted the most from the film’s influence- movies like Galaxy of Terror, Inseminoid, Forbidden World, and Dead Space. The reach even extends to recent films like Underwater and Life– which are essentially the same movie with different monsters. And honestly- both of those movies are alright, so check them out.

And while it’s easy to say that alien inspired dozens of movies over the years, let’s also not forget that part of the movie’s charm is the familiar nature of this otherwise brand-new concept. When talking about the film, Dan O’Bannon said “I didn’t steal Alien from anybody- I stole it from Everybody!”. Alien was a mashup of ideas notably taken from films like Forbidden Planet, Planet of Vampires, and multiple EC Comics from the time. These old-time science fiction films give me a sense of nostalgia that Alien also touches on in the same way and I think that must be true for many of us seeing as this film is rightfully ranked up there with the best of them.

Alien

TRIVIA

Did you know that there was originally a scene written for the end of the movie where the Alien sees Ripley hiding in the closet while she’s undressed and becomes strangely aroused by her. This would cause the alien to note the difference in their bodies and add to the disturbing nature of it all. Luckily, that was cut from the movie and the ending stands as it should- not gross. Although can we REALLY blame that alien?

And speaking of the Alien, let’s see if you can answer this question:

Which famous painter inspired the iconic “Chestbuster” scene which has gone on to be the film’s most memorable sequence:

  1. Thomas Kincade
  2. Francis Bacon
  3. Ivan Plusch
  4. Faris Heizer

Comment Your answers down below!

*ANSWER: Francis Bacon for “Three studies for figures at the base of a crucifixion”

X-FACTOR

I can’t believe it’s that time already. Folks, we’re at the X-Factor and this is where I’m supposed to pick one small and seemingly meaningless thing and crown it as the most important. And usually, I struggle to find just one thing and then I have this grand revelation at the buzzer. And yeah, it is no different this time. Originally, the X-Factor seemed obvious- the practical effects, right? The way that this terrifying creature was brought to life was both impressive for the time, and honestly- impressive for today as well. You’d never see a movie of this magnitude risk puppeteering their ONLY villain and engineering it to move smoothly when there was no human to operate the body. The digital effects that were used were still very good and this thing held up hard. BUT we expect that. I can’t give the X-Factor to Sigourney Weaver for the same reason of it being too obvious although, she REALLY did an amazing job in this movie and especially in the following movie.

But what it’s really all about for me, and what really makes the movie a beacon for quality sci-fi seekers- is the film’s final showdown. Now yes, this may seem obvious as well- but what makes this final confrontation different from any of the other ones we’ve seen in the seven film since? It’s quiet.

This movie’s slow build up does lead to a triumphant climax- but that’s not the end. The movie truly ends with Ripley thinking she’s finally ditched the Xenomorph after losing her entire crew. But then, she realizes the thing is still on her ship and is knocked out. Instead of blaring music, flashing lights and CGI purple energy beams- Ripley slowly and quietly sneaks into the closet, suits up, and blasts the ship’s thrusters to expel the alien from the ship. But it’s done in stealth. She doesn’t scream, she doesn’t fight, she doesn’t blink, she barely even breathes. It’s satisfying. It feels like you quietly snuck up on that scary spider that’s been crawling around your room at night. And it’s definitely the reason that this movie sticks the landing.

Folks, we did it! We talked about Alien, and I got to add it to my ever-growing list of horror sub-genres that have been properly deconstructed. What else should cover? What do you want to see next? I have a feeling the next one will be quite spooky so… make sure you’re around for that. From JoBlo Horror Originals, I’m Kier, and this has been Deconstrcting. Goodnight everybody.

A couple of the previous episodes of Deconstructing… can be seen below,. To see more episodes, and to check out our other shows, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

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