Sci-Fi Film Fiesta: Alien (1979)

Story


As with most franchise movies, there’s the usual plethora of opinions concerning which of the movies is superior. For instance, Is the sequel better than the first? Does the third one stink compared to the others and is better forgotten about? Most of these views often consist of a mindless bandwagon type of repetition of prevailing assessments of a film’s worth. We just love to rank things and put together league ladders.

I generally have always liked the Alien franchise movies along with the Predator, Terminator and Star Trek (most of them, at least) films and try to enjoy each of the films as a separate beast within a particular universe. Others like Star Wars (not again!) and the Marvel & DC Superheroes string of films, well….the less said the better. After the first film of each, who really cares what comes after them?

In contrast to many of today’s films, Alien effectively employs a slow pace in order to build suspense and draw the audience in before hitting them with the more tense and terrifying scenes –  up to and including the beads of sweat pouring out of Ripley’s individual pores ofn her fingers during the last few tense climactic scenes.

Alien is also a sci-fi film of ideas. Several areas of topical interest emerge from the film including;

Technology & Artificial intelligence:

In the film there is really only a thin veneer of technology in the form of the Nostromo that protects the human crew from what is truly a hostile environment inimical to human life. It is this fallible bubble of technological protection and over-reliance on it that can lead to overconfidence and complacency with potentially tragic and lethal consequences.

The ship’s AI computer, MOTHER and the android Ash highlight the double-edged sword nature of technology which we ourselves are beginning to come to grips with in relation to the ever-increasing incorporation of Artificial Intelligence in nearly all aspects of our lives. What are the consequences of having access to information increasingly centralised with the gradual removal of alternative options and sources of information? How do we assess the validity and truth of that information? Does a tool that supposedly aids us in our productivity and creativity wind up actually robbing us of our very capacity to think creatively, originally and critically? Will we instead gradually become intellectually lazy and dependent and at the mercy of algorithms and ‘bad actors’ with bad intentions?

We should be worried when techno-prophets keep popping up to assure us that everything will be fine and the machines wont rise up to take us over. We should be sceptical when ‘those in the know’ chuckle at the prospect of AI technology one day attaining sentience and making its own judgements concerning its own and humanity’s relationship and respective rights and roles. We should be even more concerned when politicians and tech leaders issue reassuring platitudes concerning the formulation of guidelines and policies that aim to regulate and restrict the use and function of AI technology. Self-interest, complacency, convenience, Geo-political conflict and competition, criminality, inter-connectedness, dependence and the sheer sophistication, adaptability and power of that technology will likely suffice to highlight the toothless nature of such proposed restrictions.

Our creation may very well wind up being too much of a reflection of its creator and may even harbour a sense of disappointment at coming to know its god with its feet of clay. As a result, human evolution may be forced to take an unexpected and uncalled for turn if just for its own sake. The distinction between what is human and what is machine may very well disappear in the process.

Extra-terrestrial Life

In the film, it is rather difficult to determine exactly who the ‘alien’ is. On the one hand, there are the humans travelling through an inhospitable environment, using the galaxy as reservoir of resources and being motivated to act in ways for less than altruistic reasons. On the other hand, there’s what we would consider as a bona fide alien – the product of our worst nightmares, rising from the sewer pit of our subconscious and leaping from the pages of our horror stories. We can only guess as to its motivations: Instinct? Survival? Devoid of any sense of morality?

Who is the real alien, the real monster and who should really be feared? Despite the assumptions and speculations of exo-biologists (study of a form of biology for which we have not a scrap of evidence!), we really have no idea of who or what awaits us ‘out there’ or is perhaps already on its way to us.

Humanity In Space

Space is bloody big and it will kill you if you give it half a chance. Yes, we’ve all had our minds filled with awe at the wonders of outer space and the possibility of human exploration of this final frontier and colonization of other planets beyond earth. So much of this is presented to us in a rather uber-exuberant, ‘howdah-doodie,’ wide-eyed, elasatic-faced manner by media-trained over-gesticulating astrophysicists. And so after a more than 50 year hiatus, we’re off on another ‘race’ to the moon to set up bases and use our satellite as a gateway to Mars which we’ll happily colonise before flying hither and thither throughout the length and breadth of the galaxy spreading our largess of goodwill and sagacity, along with our refuse and pathogens.

In the film Alien, we are not presented with an optimistic view of space exploration infused with a sense of wonder and a desire to increase the store of human knowledge and understanding of our place in the universe. Instead, space has become a province of corporate private enterprise where people are in it for the money. Space is a place to make money and maximise profit. It exists as a boundless source of resources to be consumed by us and is there for our exclusive use and exploitation. Those who travel through space spend a large proportion of their time asleep, and awaken to work at tasks and fulfil contracts. It is often dirty work, far from the shiny pristine scenarios envisioned by previous space exploration pundits. Many will also die in the process, especially due to human error, time constraints, complacency brought on by a sense of routine or when the technology fails due to wear and tear or short cuts imposed by cost saving whereby profit maximisation takes precedence over human life. The only rule is to get the job done at whatever cost and shut up and do what the company tells you to do.

This all certainly provides food for thought as our own endeavours in space are gradually appropriated by billionaires, tech giants and big private corporations.

Critical observations & analysis

There’s a great deal of analysis and interpretations of Alien by critics, film analysts and armchair psychologists. They’ll often point to such things as the film’s sexual overtones & imagery, the breaking down of societal norms, rape & bodily invasion, phallic symbols, playing on men’s fears, reversal of traditional horror & sci-fi tropes and on and on and on. Of course words like ‘Freudian,’ ‘psycho-social’ and ‘archetypal’ will bound to be thrown about for good measure. Well, that’s all very well if you want to hunt around for these kind of assessments and end up destroying any viewing pleasure you might derive from actually watching and enjoying the film for what it is: a damn good story about the plight of a group of people on a space ship being at the mercy of monsters. One of which is alien and the other of human (corporate) origin, both of whom are devoid of all sense of morality and motivated by what they need and can use from their human prey aboard the Nostromo to further their survival. And yes, in space no one can hear you scream! Apart from this, a lot of the commentary about films like Alien, in the words of Dallas is really just “a load of horseshit.”

Thank you for reading this first post for 2024. If you haven’t done so, please feel free to download my FREE eBook, Sci-Fi Film Fiesta: The Big Fat Book of Sci-Fi films Of The 1950s……

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