Alien: Film Critique
Introduction to Film
April 28, 2013
What does one get when they mix the creativity of film-making and the unconscious imagination You get Ridley Scott??™s incredible science-fiction horror masterpiece, Alien (1979). Alien captures an array of qualities, all of which contribute to its overall success. One of the more major qualities that exist in this film is the use of suspense and surprises to encompass the illusion of fantasy. It stands as a case of cinematic perfection, with all the separate elements coming together with such unity, that the final result is really something to behold. Therefore, the purpose of this analysis is to describe some of these qualities and illustrate how they create an extraordinary film. It will describe the storytelling, acting, cinematography, editing, sound, style and directing, the impact of society on the film and vice versa, genre, analysis and interpretation, overall textual themes. This film ultimately provides the audience with endless opportunities to become engaged.
Alien is about a group of mining workers aboard a spaceship called the Nostromo. The crew awakes from a stasis by a distress call from an unknown planetoid. The crew arrives on this planetoid, only to find a dead alien and a nest of alien eggs. One of the crew members is attacked by a creature that attaches itself to his face. The creature that was attached to the crew members face impregnates the crew member, Kane, thus an alien was born. The terror is only beginning for the crew and what follows is a terrifying quest for survival against the alien aboard. This story is told in chronological order, which means the events in this movie are arranged in the order they occur in time (Goodykoontz & Jacobs, 2011). The movie includes mostly external conflict due to the fact that the alien needs to be hunted down and destroyed. The only internal conflict presented in the film is Ripley??™s, when she needs to make a decision about letting Kane inside Nostromo with the alien attached to his face.
Alien includes rape, maternal, birth, and death symbolism. The alien chooses to use bodies of its victims as hosts for its eggs. When the crew member has the alien attached to his face, we later find out that the creature was impregnating the crew member. There are many birth symbolisms within this movie, the most known is when the baby alien explodes from the crew members chest, in other words the baby alien is being ???born??™. In the beginning of the movie the creature hatches from the egg, this is another symbolism for birth. The characters are easy to relate to because they are presented as regular blue collar workers and they react how we would react in most cases. There is universal truth through this movie because we can empathize with the characters.
The cast were made up of relatively unknown actors that enhanced the horror of the film. Since the main actors were not yet famous when this film was made, this gives the movie a more realistic feel, making the audience believe that this type of situation could happen to anybody. Sigourney Weaver as Ripley is a by-the-book warrant officer that becomes the unlikeliest action hero. The antagonist is the alien, who is played by Bolaji Badejo with the help of Eddie Powell. Let??™s not forget about the hysterical, scared out of her wits woman Veronica Cartwright, who plays as Lambert the navigator. Ian Holm plays as Ash, the science officer whose is in fact an android. The rest of the crew is made up of John Hurt as Kane, Yaphet Kotto as Parker, and Harry Dean Stanton as Brett. Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton are engineers and John Hurt is the executive officer who becomes the host for the alien. At the time the movie was released Sigourney Weaver was famous however, she is now known as a ???star??? actor. The acting that is present in this film is realism acting. It qualifies as realism acting because it gives the impression of human action and reaction.
The mise-en-scene of Alien is exquisitely portrayed throughout this movie. The environment gives the ominous feeling due to the pressured air escaping from every leaky gasket, water dripping from the pipes, emergency lights flashing red in every corridor, and sewer-like flooring. The colors used are a variety of black and white shades, neon greens, and bright reds, which adds to the space look. Another interesting design in the film is the reoccurring feel of wetness, for example sweat running down the crews face, water dripping from the corridors, and the liquid that drips from the alien??™s body and mouth. All of these things add to the environment to give it a creepy, alive aspect to the ship.
The planet that the alien resides on, most of the ship, and the escape pod is shot in low-key lighting. This is to let the audience know that the alien??™s presence is in that area, or symbolically, the presence of evil. The stasis room, central control room, and the dining area are well lit to correspond with the sanctity or safety of the area. The ICU room was well lit when Kane was brought in with the alien attached to his face which signified no danger but when the alien released Kane and went missing the room was dark and threatening.
Ridley Scott used an abundance of close-up shots of the characters and alien to show the fear of the crew members and to hide the true form of the alien. The film displays a wide variety of framing depending on what takes place throughout the film. When the film starts, the characters are typically the only person in the scene, and centered within the picture. As the movie progresses, the characters are seen more off centered so we can see what surrounds them. This type of framing is used later on in the film to add suspense. The viewer??™s tend to look at the background and the characters surroundings, expecting something to appear or disappear. When the cinematographer chooses to have their audience on the edge of their seats, they will opt to use a wide-angle camera. For example, a wide-angle camera lens is used in the scene where Dallas, Kane, and Lambert entered and explored the alien ship. The audience sees the characters on the left side of the screen a good distance in the background but the shot is to show the alien ship. When the audience does not need to be on the edge of their seats, they will opt to use telephoto lens. For example, a telephoto lens was use in the scene where Kane was laid on the examination table after the alien attaches itself to Kane??™s face. The cinematographer uses the subjective camera so that the audience sees what the characters are seeing or even experience what they are experiencing. When a character is running down a corridor the audience is running with them, meaning the character is behind the camera so the audience only sees what the character would see as they were running. The cinematography is also engaging, as the lighting and special effects have withstood the test of time, and make you feel as if you are ???right there??™ with the crew of the Nostromo.
Alien reflected the fears and uncertainty of 1970s America, while perfectly resembling and expanding the horror genre; making this film also fall under the categories of monster, slasher, and science fiction films. This film remains timeless. Ideal in presenting us with a story of horror in the dangers of discovery, and it will continue to disturb the dreams of audiences for decades to come.
A key quality of the film that gives it a scarier feel is its soundtrack. The sounds of wind howling and the screeching sounds give it an underlying eeriness about it. Most sounds are faint except in turning points where the sounds become harsh and bleak. The best example is the opening scene. It reveals the title with small lines appearing on a black screen and fades into space. During the title revealing we hear a low key flute playing and wind howling in the background. The low key soundtrack gives it a genuine space feel.
The director is making a point that corporate greed is ethically evil. The premise of the film hangs on the decision of people who are thousands of light-years away, putting the lives of people at risk for the possibility of making a profit. The directory even goes so far as to imply that human compassion is the antithesis of corporate greed, as it??™s Ripley??™s driving desire to save not only her own life, but the lives of her crew mates.
This film makes the viewer??™s feel like they are escaping their daily lives. The universe created by the director and the special effects team is incredibly real and vivid. The story is engaging, even in the parts where the pacing falls back, as it pulls you into the lives and daily struggles of the characters portrayed by the cast. Case in point: the maintenance workers. Their struggle, unrelated to the film itself, is monetary in nature. These subplots??™, even being arbitrary to the central story, causes me to relate to the characters, pulling me further away from my own life. I felt as if I was pulled out of my own life, and sucked into the struggles of the characters in the movie, and became emotionally attached to the outcome.
The film addresses a few controversial issues; some that are modern, and some that were more for the time that the film was made. The central controversial theme, that is societal, is the vilianization of corporate greed. The film makes a very strong point that all of the horror and death is a result of a far-removed corporation deciding that the profit of having the alien is worth the lives of the crew. Thematically, the color tones change at the point where the greed of the corporation is most evident: on the surface of LV-426. While the setting on the Nostromo is a neutral while, representative of the collective neutrality of the human group, the surface of LV-426 is gray and barren. The internal pallet of the derelict space craft is hollow and organic, but dark and brutal. The visual effects team does a very good job of showing that there is imminent danger, but that danger does not deter the greed of the corporation. Secondary to the theme of corporate greed bringing suffering and death, is the strength of the female character to go above and beyond and be the hero. In modern times, a heroine is celebrated, and looked forward to. At the time of Alien, the heroine was something of a sideline novelty, visa-vi Princess Leia. Ripley stands apart in films of this time period as a survivor, fighter, and the pinnacle of human compassion.
There is explicit and implicit content in this film. The film communicates to the audience directly and the audience remembers when Kane??™s chest burst open and the alien is born. Also who could forget the catch phrase, ???In space, no one can hear you scream???, of the film The implicit content is when we see what Ripley acts, reacts, and grows. Ripley starts as a by-the-book officer but slowly develops into a hero. She is trying to save the people on the Nostromo. Ripley grows to realize that she needs to take charge in order to kill the alien and to survive.
Even though this film was made in 1979, thirty four years ago, it still holds up to the first time viewers watched it and it will continually do so. Alien captures many qualities that add to the viewer??™s experience. The use of suspense and surprise encompassed the illusion of fantasy. If it did not have all these elements if would be a completely different movie. Audiences would not be fearful or on the edge of their seat. This film is cinematically perfect because of the storytelling, acting, cinematography, editing, sound, style and directing. With all these elements combined in unity this film is really a masterpiece.
Goodykoontz, Bill & Jacobs, Christopher. (2011). Film: From Watching to Seeing. Retrieved from https://content.ashford.edu/books/AUENG225.11.2/sections/ch00