Film Fridays – ‘Alien’ and ‘Aliens’

Film Fridays is a project initiated by Sarah and I. After doing a daily music challenge for a month last year we talked about doing something similar for movies. The current global lockdowns give us the perfect excuse to start. Many of us are confined to home with only the TV for company so we thought we would start ‘Film Fridays’ so that we can talk about our favourite movies and hopefully give our readers some ideas for things to watch. If you join us please tag filmfriday and link back to one or both of us so we can read your own contributions!

We would be delighted if you would join us! We don’t necessarily want to talk about the nerdy technical details but more about why these films speak to us as individuals, why they have a place in out hearts, and any personal memories they evoke. 

Sarah and I have shared our lists and decided to tackle them as written – in my case in alphabetical order because I am sad like that….

‘Alien’

Definitely not as joyful as last week’s movie…..

Released in 1979 but it seems timeless.

On paper there is nothing sophisticated about this movie. It’s writers have admitted that it is a mashup of several sci-fi ‘B’ movies with money thrown at it. The second half is pretty much lifted from 1958s ‘It! The Terror from Beyond Space’.

But – a fine cast, a director with real visual flair, production design, and enrolling H.R. Giger to design the titular creature all combine to create a stunning movie. Turning Sigourney Weaver’s character Ripley into an icon in the process.

The trailer is on Youtube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjLamj-b0I8

The story: A refinery spacecraft – the Nostromo- is en-route back to Earth when it gets diverted to an uninhabited planet to answer a ‘distress call’. By the time the crew realise the beacon was actually a warning it is too late and a crew member is brought back on board with an alien ‘parasite’ attached to his face. Things get nasty after this and the crew get picked off one by one…

Yes, it is, at least in part, a horror movie, which appeals to me anyway. But, for me it is the totally convincing world-building that makes it worth repeat watching. I still find new details every time I watch it. It is a beautiful looking film for one thing; every frame being gorgeously lit and composed. Little details such as the equipment design work really well.

The creature effects are groundbreaking – and done in-camera as no CGI was around at the time. The first stages – egg and ‘facehugger’ being very convincing – you see the latter in brightly lit conditions in closeup and it genuinely looks alive. The next stage, responsible for John Hurt getting a severe after-dinner tummy ache, is seen only briefly during its shocking emergence that left cinema audiences stunned in 1979. Veronica Cartwright, who plays Lambert, looks genuinely shocked during this sequence as the full extent of the gore involved had been kept from her prior to filming.

The adult ‘man in a suit’ stage is beautifully designed but had practical limitations which would have left it unconvincing had director Ridley Scott not used it sparingly.

Ridley Scott is a great director – when he has the right script. And, in this movie, he does. The dialogue is very real and the cast is, without exception, superb in their roles. This really helps in suspending disbelief and ramping up the tension to almost unbearable levels.

I was too young to see this at the cinema but caught it on VHS in the mid 80s. At the time I worked in a hot, steamy, factory and had to take samples from a secluded room at night, with a metal floor and lots of pipework. A pump in the room made the floor thump in a way that felt just like something running up behind me…..

‘Aliens’

The success of ‘Alien’ led to the early development of a sequel, but a change of management at Fox led to this being stuck in development hell until 1984 when it was resurrected. This was almost certainly a beneficial delay. In 1984 a young director called James Cameron was developing his first feature movie ‘The Terminator’ when he was asked to draft a screenplay for the Alien sequel. Eventually, after the great success of ‘The Terminator’, he was also asked to direct.

The trailer is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKSQmYUaIyE

The story starts with Ripley, survivor of the previous movie, being recovered from cryogenic sleep in the lifeboat from the Nostromo after drifting in space for almost 60 years. She is prosecuted for the loss of the Nostromo and is reduced to driving fork-lifts for a living (by the way – I did this for two years and it was great fun 🙂 ) The planet where the alien was found has now been colonised by terraforming families housed in a colony complex.

Contact with the colony is lost and a team of marines is sent to investigate, with a reluctant Ripley along to act as an advisor…

By the time this was released in 1986 I was old enough to see it at the cinema and was already a firm fan of the first movie. I was not expecting such a great movie.

Cameron takes enough of the first movie (essentially just Ripley and Giger’s creature designs) to make it a true sequel. The special edition has an extended prologue showing the colonists investigating the derelict vessel shown in the first movie but this was deleted from the theatrical edition.

Sigourney Weaver was hesitant when she saw the initial treatment as she did not want to be in the sort of gung ho war movie that was in vogue in the mid 80s as the US tried to convince itself it did not really lose in Vietnam….

However, Cameron’s approach is much more human. His skill in this script is in making the audience care about the group of marines. Every one of them has a name and little establishing character quirks. I can think of very few ‘action’ movies where even the minor characters are so well developed. They convince totally as a squad too – largely because of the rigorous boot camp training that Cameron put them through before filming. Michael Biehn was a last minute addition to the cast but it is impossible to imagine this movie without him.

Lead character is, obviously, Ripley. Sigourney Weaver is magnificent in this film. Her determination to protect the surviving colonist, a young girl, is heartfelt. Ripley’s interactions with the other characters show her to be driven to do the right thing, and she takes no crap from anyone.

The creatures are seen more in this movie – effects technology having advanced enough. But they are still shadowy presences until the reveal of the alien queen at the end of the movie. This creature is stunningly realised and wholly convincing.

A word about the hardware. There are some designs introduced here which have become iconic – not least the ‘powerloader’. The drop-ship, pulse rifle and APC all deserve a mention. The cryo-pods from the first movie have had a redesign to make them look more utilitarian, as befits a military vessel. Little details again, which I love. Another deleted scene uses cleverly designed automated sentry-posts – I was glad this scene was reinstated for the special edition.

Ultimately though – this movie is about roller-coaster thrills, rather than the tension and horror of the first movie. Recently Empire magazine voted this the greatest movie sequel of all time – ahead of Godfather part two.

Further sequels: The next two movies have some good ideas in them but fail to live up to the first two. I hated ‘Alien 3’ with a passion when I first saw it but kind of like it now. ‘Alien Resurrection’ again has some good ideas but is hamstrung by a director better suited to comedy – and I still hate the ending.

Ridley Scott most recently returned to the franchise with ‘Prometheus’, which was largely OK, and ‘Alien:Covenant’, which wasn’t….

The Alien creature als appeared in two spin-off ‘Alien vs Predator’ movies. The first is dumb fun. The second is poor.

25 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading this Darren.

    I first saw Alien on a small TV in a campground rec room, surrounded by people playing darts and ping pong, etc and still found it amazing — but terrifying. Sleeping in a tent afterwards was, um, interesting.

    I have seen Aliens, but I don’t remember it all that well.

    Basically, despite Hitchcock’s confident assertion that audiences like to be terrified by movies (and the success of his career built on that), I hate being terrified by movies. I had nightmares about Kane’s chest for ages.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Su.
      Funny coincidence. The first TV broadcast of it I saw was in a bar in the club my father ran. Complete with darts players etc.
      My choices of horror movies are very much those with a fantasy/sci fi angle. I could not watch something like Saw or Hostel. I think it all stems from a need for escapism when I was a teenager having a hellish time at school. Something about making the monsters manageable.
      My wife once had a sleepless night after accidentally seeing the TRAILER for Alien 3. Needless to say – I watch my movies after she goes to bed.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I totally understand movies as an escape. I think it was the same for me – I just chose different genres.
        My mother in law loved sci-fi (books rather than movies though) and has a huge library (she was a compulsive book buyer). She spent years lending me books to try and develop my interest in the genre, and I confess, I did really enjoy some of the Heinlein and Le Guin books, but for sheer escapism, I prefer a few sub-genres of detective novels.
        I think sleepless nights are one of the major barriers to my enjoyment of lots of movies.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Funny thing is that I liked a lot of sci-fi and fantasy too when I was younger but now also read crime fiction, especially the more noir end of the spectrum – Currently reading a lot of Stuart Macbride but also love Ian Rankin and Michael Connely.
          I can’t sleep this week anyway. Trying red wine tonight….

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I have t read any Michael Connolly but Ian Rankin is a favourite and I recently discovered Macbride.
            T is a red wine drinker and has been known to fall asleep on the couch of an evening. I’m more likely to nod over over my book.
            Hope you can get some sleep soon.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. The wine worked Su. Slept much better last night. I stayed up and watched a dumb action movie until I was tired too.
              Macbride is great but oddly stressful to read. A certain boss of his lead character reminds me very much of mine…

              Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this franchise, absolutely love it. Only recently I spoke to my husband about watching them. I think more than anything, I love the design of the xenomorph. I used to collect figurines of them (“used to” being a bit incorrect given I got a new alien in the form of a funko pop just this year), one of my favourites actually being Grid, despite not being from one of my favourite films. I don’t want to spoil anything for people who haven’t seen the film but I was very annoyed with who won. But, again, that’s probably because apart from in the case of Ripley, I always side with the xenos. I just think their design is out of this world. I wish I could remember more of the franchise, which means I need to watch it all over again! So glad you wrote about these two films. Oh, I named a character in my book Newt. She’s a lizard, so there’s that, but it’s also homage to the little girl. Although I think “they mostly come out at night, mostly” at this point may as well be about the social habits of me and my husband haha!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love that Newt quote and can see why you use it. I would be the same by the way – if it wasn’t for my wife I’d be nocturnal to some extent too.
      The xenomorph design is so iconic. I like the production design of everything in these movies – that derelict ship and its fossilised pilot are so, well, alien.
      Funny what you say about siding with the xenomorph because I do too. Like Ash says – ‘I admire its purity’. And in the words of Ripley ‘ you don’t see them screwing esch other over for a goddamn percentage’.
      You must watch and enjoy them again Arbie!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent choices. I was traumatized by walking into a friend’s home while they were watching Alien – and you know, I happened to walk in during the mealtime scene – and yeahhhhh. This would actually be a great movie/s to watch during this time. It feels like watching The Shinning during a massive snow storm 😛

    Geiger!!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you!
      I can just imagine walking in to see that scene!
      I have the box set with both the theatrical and directors cuts. The theatrical cut of Alien is best but the directors cut of the sequel adds lots of little details that improve the movie.
      I have never seen The Shining, believe it or not. It is one of the few Stephen King stories I don’t much like.
      Giger is a favourite artist of mine for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You already know how much I’m afraid of watching these films – but your synopsis actually makes me want to watch them!! How’s that?! Though I admit I might close my eyes when it threatens to get to gory… 😉 I love Sigourney Weaver, she’s an amazing actress and it always felt wrong not to watch these… but! 😂 So, when (not if!) I’m going to watch them I’ll just make sure not to have to sleep in a tent afterwards like Su! 😀
    And how rare that a sequel can live up to the first one!! It doesn’t happen often, does it? When I was in my teens I read some of H.P. Lovecraft’s novels which I think might have influenced H-R- Gigerls designs? I remember lots of tentacles. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well, I have achieved something if this made you want to watch them! Thank you😍😍.
      You are so right about superior sequels being rare. You already talked about Empire Strikes Back, which is another good example. Terminator 2 is debatably at least as good as the first. Other examples for me would be Blade 2 and Mad Max 2.
      I agree that there is something very Lovecraftian about Giger’s designs. Both would give a Freudian psychologist lots of material!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It does which is why we rushed to the cinema to see it. I just thought they threw away two good characters right at the start and that the idea of these things actually getting to earth was perhaps worth exploring, cos the kind of smaller, more isolated where do you go scenarios had already been used so brilliantly in 1 and 2. Must watch the first two again soon.

    Liked by 1 person

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