THREE GUYS AND… A MOVIE
series created by Marvin Mercer and Nick Stephenson
written by Dominick Cappello
Does it hold up? That’s the question everyone asks when reviewing a classic film? Does it hold up? Well, I’m sure if this film was released today everyone would complain that act one is boring and Ripley might have been able to save Parker and Lambert if she didn’t waste time with the frigging cat.
This film has been ripped off a zillion times. So many sci-fi / horror films have copied it beat for beat. Not to mention its atmosphere and aesthetics. But, what the imitators usually get wrong are the characters. Apart from Parker and Brett complaining they don’t make as much money as everyone else, all the dialogue early in the film is techno babble about the running of the ship. No one has a backstory. I can’t stress that enough. No one talks about life back on Earth, their families, their dreams, hopes and aspirations. No one says they only work for the heartless Weland-Yutani Corporation because they’re saving money for some noble cause. They’re blue collar schmoes with nothing profound to say to each other.
Also, have you ever listened to a DVD commentary for a sci-fi or horror movie where a director compares their female protagonist to Sigourney Weaver as Ripley? My problem is that it seems like all these filmmakers only equate Ripley with the “Get away from her, you bitch!” scene from the end of “Aliens” when it took Ripley two whole films to reach that level of badassery. At the start of “Alien,” there’s nothing too endearing about Ripley. She’s uptight and by the book. In fact, she’s borderline unlikeable as she hassles Parker and Brett for being loafers. She’s the Bill Lumbergh of The Nostromo. Even Sigourney Weaver has said in interviews that Ripley quoted rules and regulations in the first film to hide how she was being overwhelmed by the situation.
Okay, I said “Alien” has been ripped off a zillion times, and I’m sure many of you are pointing out “It! The Terror from Beyond Space” from the 1958 as being the film that “Alien” stole from. Or how about Mario Bava’s “Planet of the Vampires” from 1965? Well, I don’t believe screenwriter Dan O’Bannon ever denied he was inspired by those films and borrowed ideas from them. Good writers borrow, great writers steal. But, whereas the creature from “It! The Terror from Beyond Space” simply snuck aboard the spaceship, “Alien” had the brilliant concept of a face-hugger implanting an embryo into its victim. No matter how many times I’ve seen this film, when the chest-burster scene happens, it’s still a total holy shit moment. The xenomorph life cycle is complex without being overly complicated like the black goo from “Prometheus.” Not to go off on a “Prometheus” tangent, but maybe we didn’t need to know the origin of the derelict spaceship or the space jockey. Who he was or where he came from. Where the eggs came from. Just like the Norwegian camp from “The Thing,” it should have remained a mystery, but I digress.
“Alien,” for lack of a better word, is grimy. It has been called a haunted house movie or even a slasher movie set in space. Director Ridley Scott wanted to make something that was more “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” than “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The most stylized B-movie ever produced. Characters are picked off 0ne at a time. Kane is first to go during the chest-burster scene. John Hurt was nice enough to recreate this scene in “Spaceballs.” Brett is next to bite the dust. The xenomorph creeps up behind him while he’s searching for Jones the cat. Captain Dallas follows the xenomorph into the air ducts with a flame thrower, but he gets turned around and the xenomorph lunges at him. Dallas was played by Tom Skerritt, who received top billing, so the audiences in 1979 may have been expecting him to be the hero.
Ripley was third in command, behind Dallas and Kane, but with them being dead, she’s in charge now. She learns that the company they work for knew about the xenomorph all along and charged Ash, the ship’s science officer, with ensuring its survival. The company wanting the xenomorph for its weapons division was the plot thread used as the basis for almost every sequel. I’ve also played many survival horror video games which had a nefarious company. I’m thinking of the Umbrella Corporation from “Resident Evil” as the most blatant Weyland-Yutani wannabe.
No one can deny the sexual undertones in this film. Heck, you can’t even call them undertones since they’re so blatant. The entrance to the derelict spaceship being a representation of female genitalia, the face-hugger raping Kane so to spread its seed, and also the way Ash attempts to kill Ripley after she learns his secret. Instead of just choking her, he rolls up a pornographic magazine and tries to gag her to death with it. Ash is then revealed to be an android when Parker beats him with a fire extinguisher. I can only assume that androids can’t have sex, but must have some understanding of sexuality, because Ash attacked Ripley in such a perverse manner.
Parker and Lambert are killed because Ripley opted to rescue Jones the cat instead. Kidding aside, cat or no cat, I don’t think Ripley would have been able to save the others in time. Lambert was frazzled throughout most of the film. During the chest-burster scene, most of the blood sprayed her in the face. There was a deleted scene where Lambert slaps Ripley. I wish they had left that in more than the most famous deleted scene, Ripley finding Dallas cocooned. Some have theorized that the xenomorph sexually assaulted Lambert before killing her based on its tail going between her legs (which were actually Harry Dean Stanton’s legs) and the anguished cries Ripley hears before Lambert dies. Jeez, if that’s true, that’s a lot of rape for a franchise which spawned a popular line of action figures.
Ripley escapes with Jones in a shuttle as The Nostromo self-destructs. But, they’re not alone. The xenomorph snuck aboard. I’ve seen this film many times, but while watching it for this article, I got a jolt when its hand swipes at Ripley. I knew it was coming, but it still jolted me. Proof that it’s a classic horror movie because the scares are still effective all these decades later. The xenomorph doesn’t attack. It appears to be napping, which is somehow creepier than if it was attacking. Also, since it doesn’t have eyes, you don’t know if it’s looking at you or not. Ripley blows it out of the air lock, which was how “It! The Terror from Beyond Space” ended. Thank goodness there was no social media in 1979 or people would be calling the film uninspired and accusing Ripley of being a Mary Sue.
– Dr. Jelly