One thing I’m loving is the current trend at multiplexes of showing anniversary screenings of older films. I’ve attended four so far; Ghostbusters, Halloween and Evil Dead with Alien being the most recent. They give an opportunity to either see a beloved old favourite in a cinema with a like-minded audience for the first time since its initial release – or the first and perhaps only opportunity to see a movie I’ve only ever enjoyed at home because it didn’t originally play in UK cinemas – like The Evil Dead. I hope the trend continues, though I can’t see it stopping any time soon because the revivals I’ve been to have attracted sizeable audiences for the one-off showings. And those sizeable audiences are ideal, because they tend to be of a certain age, tend to love the film in question and just watch it in respectful, blissful, smartphone free silence.
So, forty years have elapsed since I first saw Alien at the local fleapit. (Where did the time go?)
I’ll come clean and make a startling confession. Back in 1979, at the age of 19, I didn’t like the film!
I had read about it, starting in Starburst #14, I believe and my anticipation had built up. I was keen to see the ground-breaking chestburster sequence I had read so much about. I was still enjoying riding the wave of cinematic sci-fi that Star Wars had ushered in. But that night – the film fell flat. I was unimpressed. BUT – to be fair, there were extenuating circumstances.
First off, I had a pretty nasty flu bug and felt like I’d been pulverized by a bulldozer. I was achy and streaming an alien-looking ooze constantly out of my nose, and my misery was punctuated only by a chest wracking cough, its dryness at odds with the liquid coming out of my nose and my streaming eyes. My need to see the film conquered and overwrote my need to stay home in the warmth.
Added to this, it was raining heavily and had been all day. In those car-less days, you walked to the cinema. Not a long walk, to be sure – but enough to get a thorough soaking. Now, last but not least. The cinema in the town was (and still is) a one screen affair – not unusual for 1979, but woefully inadequate in 2019, and back then the place was in dire need of restoration. Frankly, on that day, it had rained so hard the roof of the building had given up and had sprung some serious leaks. (I wish I was joking, but I’m really not). So, when I took my usual seat, I could hear a steady, loud dripping of water from the ceiling into a strategically placed bucket. There were several more, but this one was directly behind me. Up until I saw Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (at the same cinema) with a middle-aged daughter commentating the WHOLE three-hour film to her elderly and confused mother, Alien stood as the worst cinematic screening I’d ever endured. So little wonder then, I guess, that I was jaded.
Later on, I saw it again (films got re-released back then, kids) and liked it a bit more. I saw it on TV and warmed to it. VHS, DVD and finally Blu-Ray have seen me warmly embrace the film as a classic. (My favourite cut is the Director’s with the scene showing Dallas (Tom Skerritt) in a cocoon but I’ll settle for the theatrical cut to see it on the big screen again, accompanied by Steve.
The plot is well known to anybody who’s ever sat in front of a sci-fi film. At its core, it’s a loose remake of a 50s sci-fi movie called It: The Terror from Beyond Space, where a carelessly left open hatch allows a vicious alien to enter the spaceship, picking off the crew one by one. I recently re-watched the movie on disc, a couple of weeks ago, and the similarities are striking. In fact, the plot device of having the Alien sneak on board through an unguarded door suddenly had a new resonance as I watched Alien this time, and a notion struck me that had never occurred to me before – but more of that a little bit later.
So, just in case you’ve managed to avoid all contact with Alien for the past four decades, the crew of the Nostromo, a commercial towing vessel are woken from suspended animation on the long haul from Earth due to the interception of a distress call from a nearby planet.
On the planet, one of the crew it attacked by an alien parasite that attaches itself to his face, taken back to the ship, the face hugging creature dislodges itself and begins a rapid evolution. It stands at over seven feet tall, looks like a bipedal biomechanical insect with a long bony tail, domed translucent skull, steel retractable teeth and has molecular acid for blood. When it bleeds, this burns its way through layers of steel. It stalks the crew through the darkened corridors of the ship, killing them one by one. That’s the basic bones of the story – there’s a sub plot that implies that they were being sacrificed all along to bring the Alien back to Earth for possible use as a weapon and this was touched upon in the comic book series and novels that followed.
One thing that has endured for all these decades though is my disappointment at the actual reveal of the chestburster. The build-up is great, Kane (John Hurt – an actor who, let’s face it, never looked healthy and well throughout his acting career) begins to heave and convulse while the rest of the crew try and hold him down, thinking he might be having a fit or something. The fact that actress Veronica Cartwright had no idea she’d be hosed with blood and offal for the proper reaction – all perfect. But the little puppet that skitters across the table with an indignant screech…. I stress though – that is the film’s ONLY drawback. For the rest of the film, until the final reel – the full-grown Alien is only glimpsed in quick flashes. Only then do we get to see the whole thing, and this works really well. The biomechanical structure of its exoskeleton allows it to blend in perfectly with the shadowy, dimly lit industrial interiors of the Nostromo.
Earlier on, I alluded to a notion that I had when watching this particular screening, bearing in mind its strong resemblance to the earlier fifties film It – The Terror from Beyond Space where the “it” in question enters through an open airlock.
Here, then is my Alien Theory. We see the creature come in as a parasite on Kane’s face. It then rapidly changes, becoming full sized in apparently less than a day. Okay.
In the final quarter of the film, the crew has been picked off one by one, leaving only Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) alive, and she sets the Nostromo to self-destruct. As the clock counts down, there’s a final, sudden confrontation with the Alien, but Ripley escapes to the shuttle pod and disembarks from the main ship, leaving the Alien to its nuclear explosive fate. As the audience heaves a sigh of relief, she relaxes in the pod, getting herself ready for hyper sleep and the voyage back to Earth – but the Alien is on board and has hidden itself, making its presence known only when there’s nowhere left for Ripley to go. He’s in no rush, he has his food right there – and this leads to the final showdown between feisty human and the Alien.
That’s how I saw the film every time I’ve watched it for the past forty years.
BUT – consider this. What if there are two Aliens? That’s my theory, and I think it’s well grounded.
When the Nostromo lands on the planet in response to the distress signal, the crew register a hull breach, and it’s mentioned in a line of dialogue. No more reference is made. So, okay, at that point there’s a hole somewhere on the ship. (We can presume it’s fixed before they take off.)
What if a second Alien crept on board at that point? It’s possible. Then, what if it found a safe place to hide and just went dormant until it was disturbed by Ripley moving around in the shuttle? I think the Alien that she stumbled upon and escaped from just before entering the shuttle died when the Nostromo exploded – because there is no way it could’ve made its way to the shuttle before her – it would’ve had to pass her. And that didn’t happen.
The more I think about this, the more it intrigues me. In fact, it might not even be the same Alien we see throughout the film. There’s one thing for sure – watching Alien will never be the same again in light of this.
What’d YOU think?
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