Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Movie Review: Alien

            As many may already know, one of the most anticipated summer movies of 2012, apart from The Avengers, is Prometheus, a science fiction film about a spaceship’s crew that sets off to find the origins of humanity, but instead stumbles across a threat that could wipe out the human race.  One of the reasons why so many people are looking forward to this movie is because it is set in the same universe as the 1979 film Alien, and was initially meant to be a prequel to the movie trilogy.  While Prometheus will not share a direct connection to the Alien franchise, fans of the Alien saga who watch the trailer for Prometheus will notice an appearance of HR Giger’s large chair-like structure that appears in the original Alien movie, when the crew of The Nostromo is exploring the unidentified planet, as well as that whooping siren-like sound that also was heard in the Alien movie’s trailer.  Thus, while there is not a direct connection, there is bound to be enough to leave Alien fans excited.   So what better way to commemorate this upcoming cinematic experience than to review the Alien Trilogy, starting with the movie that started it all, Alien?
            To start off, I must confess that the Alien Trilogy has a particularly special meaning for me, especially since Alien was the very first R-rated movie I ever saw.  And while I can sit through the movies with no difficulty, I can admit that I would be extremely terrified if I saw the featured aliens in real life.  To be honest, I actually have a secret phobia of the Xenomorph species, as the alien is known as within the fan-base, and this phobia is rivaled only by my deep-rooted fear of demonic entities.
            The movie’s opening is quite slow, and it takes about two minutes before we see the refinery spaceship called The Nostromo.  As the on-screen caption informs us, this ship contains a crew of seven, and it is currently on its way back to Earth with 20,000,000 tons of mineral ore that was taken from a planet that will later be referred to as Thedus.  A lot of this opening sequence is spent setting up the atmosphere, by giving the audience a thorough tour of The Nostromo.   After a few minutes of this atmospheric set-up, the ship’s computer starts up on its own, resulting in the crew being woken up from stasis, which is apparently a state of suspended animation that the crew is placed into during long voyages.  I gotta admit this is a rather nifty idea, as it’s bound to spare the crew from the issues of sheer boredom and cabin fever that would expectedly accompany a trip that lasts either months or years.  Plus, it would conceivably cut down on the amount of food that would be needed for the trip.
            A while later, the crew is enjoying their first meal after being woken up, having friendly chats and discussing the payment they hope to receive for bringing the mineral ore back.  The conversation is interrupted when Mother, The Nostromo’s computer system, calls up Captain Dallas to report to the main computer room.  While he’s gone, the rest of the crew discovers that Earth is not appearing in their general vicinity, and they’re not even in their proper solar system.  Captain Dallas informs the crew that Mother woke them up prematurely because she intercepted a transmission of unknown origin, which might be an S.O.S., and therefore woke up the crew so they could investigate.  After a brief debate, The Nostromo crew decides to comply and tracks down the transmission to a strange planet that bears some resemblance to Saturn.  They take a portable shuttle-craft down to the planet.  Upon landing, the shuttle-craft sustains some damage and becomes dry-docked.  While Warrant Officer Ripley, Science Officer Ash and the engineers Brett and Parker stay behind to make repairs, Captain Dallas, Executive Officer Kane, and Navigator Lambert don spacesuits and venture out onto the planet to find the source of the transmission.  It’s during this point in the movie where we see there’s an orange cat running around.  Even though I realize that this is the far future (the movie takes place in 2122), I still find it odd that space explorers would be allowed to bring their pet cat with them.  You’d think that this would present an issue, since it’s very possible for cats to chew on electrical wires and such.  Plus, if the cat in question is a male, they might start spraying.  Cat urine and electrical computer consoles seem like a bad combo to me.  But maybe the cat received special training prior to being brought out, sorta like how seeing eye dogs must undergo special training before they can be issued to a blind person.
            Anyway, Captain Dallas, Kane and Lambert come across an alien spacecraft during their trek across the planet.  Inside the ship, they discover the fossilized remains of an alien lifeform.  Dallas and Lambert notice that the bones of the lifeform have been bent outward, as if the lifeform had exploded from the outside.   
After this discovery, Kane comes across a gaping hole in the ship’s floor.  He decides to head down the hole, and discovers a large number of leathery eggs.  When Kane moves in to get closer to one of the eggs, the top splits open, and something burst out, latching itself to Kane’s face.
            Meanwhile, Ripley has been examining the transmission, and realizes that it appears to be more of a warning than an S.O.S.  She considers going out to tell Captain Dallas, but Ash waves off her concern, telling her by the time she finds them; they probably already would have figured it out themselves.  When Captain Dallas and Lambert return with Kane’s unconscious form, they beg Ripley to let them inside the ship to bring Kane to the infirmary.  Ripley refuses, stating that she ship’s protocol dictates that Kane must be quarantined for 24 hours first, otherwise they run the risk of the whole crew becoming contaminated from potential contagions.  However, Ash goes against the quarantine procedure and opens the hatch, allowing them inside.
Kane is brought to the infirmary, where they try to remove the creature from his face.  Unfortunately, their efforts are foiled when they discover that the creature’s blood is highly corrosive, enough to eat through the ship.  Ash announces that removing the creature could kill Kane. 
A while later, Ripley has a conversation with Ash, in which they discuss the creature.  Ash reveals that he’s discovered that the creature exhibits the ability to have a prolonged resistance to adverse environmental conditions.  Ripley then scolds Ash for breaking quarantine procedure and jeopardizing the whole crew, pointing out that because Captain Dallas and Kane were off the ship, she was the one in charge, and that a science officer, he knew full well about the quarantine procedure.  Ash responds by giving Ripley an icy look and pretty much tells her to get off his back.
Following this, the crew is amazed to discover that the creature has removed itself from Kane on its own.  Ripley discovers the creature when it falls from the ceiling, and it’s determined that the creature is dead.  Ash announces that he wants to study the creature, but Ripley insists that they get rid of it, on the grounds that it might be too dangerous.  Captain Dallas decides to leave the decision up to Ash, resulting in a fight between him and Ripley.  Ripley states that she doesn’t trust Ash, but when she tells Captain Dallas that the repairs have been mostly completed, he chooses to leave immediately.  During this scene, we also learn that Ash wasn’t originally meant to come with them on the journey back to Earth. The original science officer, someone Captain Dallas had previously worked with more than once, was replaced with Ash two days before they left for the return trip to Earth.
Kane is then revealed to have regained consciousness, and is apparently unharmed from the ordeal.  They celebrate with one last meal before returning to stasis.  In the middle of the meal, Kane starts to choke and then convulses.  Before the horrified eyes of the rest of the crew, an alien creature explodes out of his chest, killing Kane in the process.   
The alien creature runs off and disappears.  After Kain’s body is wrapped up and jettisoned from the ship in a funeral-like manner, Captain Dallas breaks the crew into two teams so they can find the alien, arming them with weapons and motion-sensing tracking devices.  Ripley’s team detects movement, but instead of the alien, they discover that they were actually hunting the cat, Jones.  (See? I told you that having a cat tag along was not the best idea.)  To ensure that they won’t accidentally start tracking the cat again, Brett heads off to fetch Jones and place him into a cat-carrier.  However, as Brett is searching for Jones, he stumbles across the alien’s shed skin, followed by the alien itself.  The alien, who is now fully grown, pulls the screaming Brett up into the airshafts.
Captain Dallas tries to turn to Mother to determine the best course of action.  However, Mother does not provide any information on possible protocol on eliminating the Alien.  Realizing that the alien is using the airshafts to move about the ship, the crew decides to use that to their advantage.  Captain Dallas enters the airshafts to force the alien to the airlock, with Ripley standing by to open the airlock at a moments notice.  After a while, Lambert picks up the alien’s signal, which indicates that it’s practically on top of Captain Dallas.  Dallas tries to escape, but accidentally runs right into the alien.  When the others go to try and help Captain Dallas, all they find is his gun.
With the crew diminished down to four, Lambert slips into hysterics, insisting that they abandon ship and take an escape pod.  Ripley calmly informs Lambert that the escape pod won’t hold four people, and suggests they continue trying Captain Dallas’ plan to force the alien into the airlock.  Ripley accesses Mother’s databanks, hoping to figure out what to do.  In doing so, she discovers the existence of Special Order 937, an ulterior mission no one knew about.  It turns out that the company The Nostromo crew works for, which has been unnamed thus far, knew about the mysterious transmission and the existence of the alien from the get-go.  Thus, they intentionally set the crew up, intending for them to head over to the Saturn-like planet to collect the alien and bring it back to Earth for analysis at all costs, with the crew being seen as expendable.  It’s also revealed that Ash was aware of this from the very beginning.  When Ripley tries to warn Parker and Lambert, Ash attacks Ripley and attempts to smother her with a rolled up magazine.  Thankfully, Parker and Lambert step in just in time, and Parker decapitates Ash with an iron bar.  In the process, they discover Ash is actually a robot.  Ripley, Parker and Lambert interrogate Ash and learn that Ash was specifically assigned to go with them to ensure that the alien made it back to Earth, and that there’s no way to kill the alien.  Before Ripley disconnects Ash, he expresses his sympathies to the three remaining crew members.
Ripley then decides that they’ll take Lambert’s earlier suggestion and blow up the ship, taking their chances in the escape pod.  While Ripley goes off to get the pod ready for launch, Parker and Lambert get the necessary supplies together.  Just as Ripley begins to start up the escape pod's engines, she hears a cat’s meow and realizes Jones the cat is still loose on the ship.  She goes off to collect him and places him in the cat carrier.  Meanwhile, Parker and Lambert are busy with collecting what they need, but are discovered by the alien, who promptly kills Parker before turning on Lambert.
Ripley, who was unfortunate enough to overhear the disturbing sounds of the pair's last moments through The Nostromo’s radio and finds their bodies immediately afterward, initiates the emergency self-destruct sequence, giving her ten minutes to make it to the escape pod.  However she finds her way blocked by the alien.  In desperation, she tries to override the self-destruct sequence, but fails to do so in time.  Realizing that she’s now going to die either way, she decides to take her chance with the alien, and returns to the escape pod.  This time, the alien seems to have disappeared, enabling Ripley to escape The Nostromo before it blows up at the last possible second.
            Here, Ripley, and the audience, can breathe a sigh of relief, but don’t be fooled, because it’s not quite over yet.  As Ripley is getting ready to go into stasis with Jones the cat so they can have a peaceful trip back to Earth, she discovers that the alien actually stowed away inside the escape pod.  Acting quickly, Ripley slips into a spacesuit and manages to draw the alien out of its hiding spot.  Once the alien is about to attack her, Ripley opens up the hatch and the explosive decompression forces the alien out of the ship.  The alien grabs on to the doorframe to stop itself from falling out into space, but Ripley forces it all the way out by shooting it with a grappling hook.  The alien tries to get back on by crawling into the engines, but Ripley responds by firing off the engine, causing the alien to be driven off the escape pod and simply float away.
            In a brief epilogue, Ripley makes an entry into the ship’s data log, stating that the rest of the crew all perished, and the ship and cargo were destroyed.  Her exact words are as follows:
“Final report of the commercial starship Nostromo, third officer reporting. The other members of the crew, Kane, Lambert, Parker, Brett, Ash and Captain Dallas, are dead. Cargo and ship destroyed. I should reach the frontier in about six weeks. With a little luck, the network will pick me up. This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.”
After making this entry, Ripley enters stasis, and the camera focuses on her face as the movie comes to an end.
Alien is quite possibly one of the greatest horror/thriller films ever created.  While things start happening right away, it’s hard to realize it until the ball’s already rolling, something that makes repeat viewings even more enjoyable than the first time.  If you doze off for a second or two, or let your mind wander during the movie’s opening, you might not be able to realize what’s going on when the action picks up.  While the film is filled with scary and frightening moments, the majority of the time focuses on the characters as they react to the events unfolding around them.  Unlike many of the modern-day horror movies I could name, this one doesn’t have the usual dumb horror movie elements that run rampant these days, such as how the person running from the killer ALWAYS trips, or how the protagonist’s friend inconsiderately sneaks up behind them to tap their shoulder.  Oh, and the black guy ISN’T the one who gets it first.  In this movie, he is one of the last people to be killed off.  Plus, there’s also no use of the irritating exposition sequences.  This movie allows us to figure stuff out on our own.  It would be really great if future horror movies looked back at this film and took some lessons.  Because THIS is how you do horror.
When it comes to the set designs, one really has to give props to the production crew, particularly  H. R. Giger and Ridley Scott.  That pair really did an incredible job of designing the Xenomorph alien, the alien spaceship, and even the world within The Nostromo.  It's such a magnificent display of futuristic but slightly recognizable technology for The Nostromo, and elegant Wow-ness on the alien planet.  Even the Xenomorh is beautiful but menacing at the same time, combining human-like features with terrifying alien.
What is particularly intriguing about this movie is that there are actually multiple ‘monsters’ that threaten the crew of The Nostromo.  Obviously, the first is the alien itself, who puts the crew into danger simply because of its very nature and instincts.  This alien isn’t a chainsaw-wielding madman or a child’s toy possessed by a deranged serial killer.  It attacks and kills the crew because that’s what the Xenomorph species does.  The alien species is simply born to kill.  Even their reproduction is parasitic in nature. 
In addition to the alien, there’s also the faceless and nameless company they work for.  This company, as we eventually discover, intentionally sent out their own employees to collect the alien creature and bring it back, not even caring about how the entire crew would undoubtedly die as a result.  For that reason, this movie is not just about a group of space explorers trying to escape from an alien monster, it’s also about the evil nature of mankind who place more value upon money and power than the lives of others.  There is also the element of Ash, the science officer who turns out to be a robot.  Initially, the audience is led to believe that Ash is simply showing compassion for Kane when he breaks protocol and allows him back onto the ship, and everything else he does, such as his reluctance in removing the facehugger from Kane, initially places no suspicion on him.  But once it’s revealed that Ash was a robot that was placed aboard The Nostromo to ensure the alien’s survival, all of his previous actions are seen in a new light, and we realize that for the entire time, he was only concerned about the alien monster.  And thus, we have the third ‘monster’ in the form of the internal enemy.
Finally, we have the existence of Mother, the ship’s main computer, and the movie’s underlying chilling factor.  It is more-or-less a universal fact that a mother’s main duty is to protect those under her care.  But in this movie, Mother is nothing more than a machine that is only able to follow her set programming, and cares nothing for the crew as the alien wipes them out one-by-one.  She is unable to do anything more than what she’s been programmed to do, so she is incapable of forming an emotional bond with the crew members and feels no sympathy for them as they are killed off.  Thus, the fact that she is called Mother makes for some rather cruel irony.
When it comes to the characters themselves, we generally know very little about their personal history, but it comes apparent that they share a certain bond and synergy, as indicated by their friendly banter in a few scenes  In spite of this, I admittedly have no true opinion on most of the characters in this movie.  I neither like nor hate them, but I do grant them more leeway than I would for characters in other movies.  For example, in one scene, the character of Lambert is sniveling and crying, and pretty much acting like your run-of-the-mill damsel in distress.  However, while I would usually be irritated by characters like that, in Lambert’s case, I can forgive her, because I realize how terrified she is about what’s happening, and cannot blame her for that.  To be perfectly honest, the only character I have a personal gripe about is Captain Dallas.  He simply strikes me as shoddy excuse for a captain who constantly refuses to take responsibility for what happens on his ship.  When Ash and Ripley have their disagreement about what to do with the dead Facehugger, Captain Dallas neglects to step up to the plate and leaves the final choice to Ash.  And even in a deleted scene, Captain Dallas tells Ripley off for refusing to let them on-board when he and Lambert were carrying the unconscious Kane, even though Ripley was following a law that was created to ensure the safety of the majority of the crew.  These instances seem to suggest that Captain Dallas either doesn’t realize the full extent of his responsibilities as captain, or simply refuses to consider the well being of the entire crew.
That wraps up my review of Alien.  But keep an eye out for the next review, which will focus on the sequel, Aliens.

P.S. Why WAS Jones the cat brought aboard The Nostromo in the first place?

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