by Harper J.Cole
Oh, to be an Alien Virgin …
I still remember the first time I saw my favourite movie, Alien. I was 14 (naughty, naughty … it’s an 18 certificate), and, honestly, it wasn’t that memorable an experience. I watched round a friend’s house, in broad daylight, on a crackly VHS format.
But more of a suspense-killer than that was the simple fact that I knew what was going to happen. I’d already seen the sequel, Aliens, I’d read the novelization of Alien, and I’d even seen the last few minutes of the film itself a few years earlier. It’s fair to say that Ripley’s survival was not much of a shock!
I must have watched the film another 30 times since then, and my appreciation for it has only grown with the years. But I’ve come to realise that, to truly maximise that appreciation, one would not only have to view the film without knowing the outcome, but view it in 1979, when it was released.
Today, our eyes are drawn so naturally to Sigourney Weaver as the biggest star on screen, that it’s hard to imagine her as the total unknown that she was 39 years ago. And, of course, back then a woman would never be the hero in a sci-fi horror.
With that in mind, we can see that she was actually camouflaged in the early stages of Alien. Her role in the first hour or so is limited, and her characterization superficially negative as she hassles the engineers to work faster. There is no Ripley present when the alien ship is discovered and explored, nor when the hapless Kane gets a little too close to a sinister egg. She’s merely an observer while the ship’s Science Officer and Captain examine the “face-hugger”.
Captain Dallas, in fact, plays the role of the false hero. While he makes some decisions which appear dubious on repeat viewings, he’s a likable character who doesn’t fit the stereotype of “arrogant jackass commanding officer who will get his comeuppance” so common in the genre.
In one of my favourite scenes, he hatches a dangerous plan to trap the now fully-grown alien and eject it from the ship. It’s a masterpiece of mounting tension, especially impressive as director Ridley Scott only had a ten meter-long stretch of set with which to create the impression of a sprawling air duct system, the setting for a game of cat and mouse in which Dallas ultimately proves to be the mouse.
Again, while we can appreciate the tension of the scene, we know full well that Dallas isn’t going to make it out of there. How much greater a shock must the alien’s sudden appearance have been to the movie-goers of the time, fully expecting the captain to fulfill the role of hero until the moment when his flame is unceremoniously extinguished?
At this point, all bets are off, and no-one is safe until the credits role.
There’s plenty more to love about this movie, of course. H.R. Giger’s alien design, the enduring mystery of the Space Jockey, the sets, the ensemble cast with no weak links. But perhaps the greatest accolade I can give Alien is that it makes want the impossible – to experience it for the first time all over again.
Perhaps I still can. Perhaps, when I’m old and my memories have faded, a kindly nurse will sit me down in front of a television one chilly night and let me see this masterpiece through an Alien virgin’s eyes.
About the author:
“ Born in 1978, Harper J.Cole works at a college. He has had a lifelong battle with OCD which has given him an interest in how the mind works. Harper is an aspiring sci-fi author, but dabbles in poetry as an extra challenge. One or two of the poems have even made their way into his novels.”