Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Alien: Heeding the Warnings

“Ash, that transmission... Mother's deciphered part of it. It doesn't look like an S.O.S.”
It is easy to forget just what sort of film the first Alien was. After all the franchise has spawned it may be hard to believe that the first film was a slowly paced, tense horror film. It is over an hour—more than halfway into the film—before the most famous and gory scene for which the film is remembered occurs. It is not an action film by any stretch of the imagination. That would not occur until the second film came along.

An important part of the real success and staying power of the first film, aside from the great concept, direction and acting, was the design of the film itself—the art direction and effects work. As so often occurs, the story would end up being your run of the mill monster movie, but the monster itself made it special. Giger’s concepts are unique. Their mixture of mechanical and organic, their slightly rude aspects, their truly otherworldly originality all make them stand apart as a truly new horror. However, it is still classic horror with all that that entails.

Great horror always carries a message, and most examples fall into a limited numbers of classifications. Either you have your vampire/zombie model where evil is examined as something foreign that invades and must be resisted, or you have your Frankenstein/mad scientist where mankind itself is evil trying to take the place of God and reaping the devastating consequences.

Here in Alien, you almost have a third example. The “evil” is not the monster. The alien creature is without intention. It is merely doing what its biology dictates. At most it could be considered “evil” in the way that a volcano or an earthquake would be. The real evil in this movie is the company that sends its workers to retrieve the monster, presumably for study and exploitation. However, this is not science trying to be God, but thinking it is detached, all powerful and can know everything. The company is willing to risk the lives of its workers in exchange for knowledge that could benefit them financially or militarily.

Some people look at the dangerous aspects of creation and try to attribute evil (with violence and danger being evil) to God, as if God creating a dangerous universe makes Him evil. In this film we see a good example of the universe being dangerous for those who go looking for the danger. At first the events seem random, but we soon discover that the ship did not happen upon an SOS, but was sent to investigate a warning. The universe is a dangerous place, but also filled with warnings and wisdom available to those who will heed it. The real message of Alien is to be careful and follow good rules provided for our safety. Ripley continually tries to preach that message, and could have saved the ship’s crew many times over, but is repeatedly ignored or even countermanded.

The message is not the main thing here, however. This is a roller-coaster ride of danger. And for the most part the series would continue to take that ride. But like all good sci-fi and horror, there are always thoughts worth chewing on…

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic! One of my favorite movies from one of my favorite movie series of all time. They're not all a-class movies - but nonetheless.


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