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Alien is the only horror movie I will actively recommend to anyone who hasn't seen it.
I'm forgetting something...
Oh, yeah, and one other thing, Alien isn't a sci-fi/horror movie in my book.
It's a sci-fi nature documentary on the Xenomorph species, that's only considered horror because the main characters are human. Had they been animals (e.g. dogs, monkeys, etc.) , it would've just been a very tense predator/prey documentary.
It's been several years since I've seen this film, but my memory of it is good enough that I can recall the key stuff. Let's talk about what I liked first.
1. The special effects are superb — usually. The space shots are nigh-perfect, easily surpassing A New Hope two years earlier. I honestly believe the ships are out in space.
2. The characters are believable. You know how to make your characters seem 100% real? Have them whisper random conversations throughout the film. In the earlier scenes you can hear the crew talking about random things to each other, as if they're a team who are familiar with one another. It's fantastic.
And now we come to the bad stuff. Hang on folks; this is going to be a rant.
I said the special effects were great, but there is one very notable exception: the facehugger. It's supposed to latch onto your face and become impossible to remove. Well, the tail I believe is latched on, but the fingers? Take a good look at them: they barely look as if they're touching Kane's face. If his head had tipped even slightly in one direction, the facehugger would fall off. Oh sure, the tail might still strangle him, but small comfort that would be to the alien foetus, which would now be a blob of muck on the ground.
The plot is idiotic, relying WAY too much on coincidence. First, the facehugger again: how did it melt through the helmet without destroying Kane's face? Any acid powerful enough to melt space-resistant plastic would turn human flesh into so much soup. Second, how did it stay on his face so long without outright killing him? I guess it just "knew" that humans need oxygen to survive? How?? It had never encountered them before.
Dallas is an idiot. He brings an infected person on board the ship — in complete violation of protocol. He KNOWS this. And he does it anyway. Ok; whatever — but WHY DOESN'T HE HAVE KANE GET A MEDICAL ANALYSIS AFTER THE FACEHUGGER LETS HIM GO??? This is Common Sense 101!! I don't care if Kane is hungry — YOU GET HIM ANALYZED YOU DOLT!!!
Dallas isn't the only idiot — Brett is one too. He finds the alien standing RIGHT BEHIND HIM — and doesn't run away. He just stands there, letting it get him without any trouble. I lost sympathy for him at that point, since he's the epitome of Too Dumb to Live. And yes; I'm aware that trying to outrun the thing is fruitless, but he doesn't know that.
The pacing is abysmal. The first half of the film is too slow, bordering on outright boredom. The second half is the opposite — it's too fast, keeping you from analyzing what just happened, with zero room for character deaths to sink in. It's hard to be afraid when you don't even have enough time to care.
Alien isn't the worst movie I've seen. But that's not a hard hurdle to clear. It's mediocre. The sequel, on the other hand....
Be warned of unmarked spoilers.
Some might say that the film Alien is overhyped. That it isn't really so terrifying or brilliant as some might say. There might be some truth to that, but simply because people give it great hype does not take away from the fact that both as a story and a story to scare, it does very well.
As a story, it manages to generally follow two rules. The first is that the people in it are humans, most of them anyway, and the second is that as humans they act as rationally as they can for their perceived self interest. They do not wish to enter dangerous situations, they are compelled to by circumstances outside of their control. They do not simply blindly rush to fight the Alien, but rather formulate plans and act as duty says they should. When they do not act as rationally as they should, there are understandable reasons for why they do not. At different points the captain wishes to save a member of his crew from horrible death or a crew member is driven to helplessness by simple human fear. When they conflict with each other, it's for their personal human self interest. It is that reason and humanity that makes it actually interesting to follow them, and also why it makes the Alien such a good monster.
Much like other memorable villains, the Alien is a threat in spite of the logical actions of humans. It may have some passive help from an android's orders to retrieve it, but honestly watching it in action the viewer is left with no doubt that it could do just as much damage on its own. In that is the terror. Humans, trying their best and coming up with different strategies for what to do, just aren't good enough. Add to that the memorable horrifying image of sexual assault made flesh courtesy of H.R. Giger and you have a threat to attack the viewer on a very intimate level.
For most this is probably not the ultimate movie experience, but it definitely should be regarded as a very strong work that sadly was followed by movies that for the most part were of lesser quality at best.
Sad but true. Most people would say that Alien3 (jokingly called Alien cubed by the crew) killed it, but no, it didn't. Alien Versus Predator did. However, Alien resurrection came pretty damn close. It's a well-known fact that the series Tastes Like Dirt, so much so I imentioned it when I wrote that trope. 1 Yeah, I wrote Tastes Like Dirt. Whedon's script was a Black Comedy with pop-culture references which comes closer to Angel in terms of style, something which does not work with a bleak science-fiction horror series with Freud-inspired monsters. 2 This is not an anti-Joss Whedon Author Tract. I love his writing, but there are things he is just no suited for writing, namely, Sci-fi horror. In other words, it was too campy. Resurrection was much reviled because it lacked a true horror element, something which Paul W.S. Anderson attempted and failed horribly. He is the true Franchise Killer, as the Alien franchise did have a miniscule chance of redemption. But this is not the worst he's done. He killed TWO FRANCHISES WITH ONE FILM. The Predator series was still very healthy, if not a bit old when Av P came along and rained death on the two series. 3 Av P is also an Ink Stain Adaptation with a horrific case of Adaptation Displacement, to the point that nobody remembered where the Yautja or Xenomorphs came from until 2010. On the bright side, Predators was awesome, so now the Predator series is safe once more, but only time will tell when Alien will be watchable again, if ever.
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