You may find this hard to believe, but of the things that scared the hell out of me growing up the creature from Alien was probably one of my greatest fears. I never even saw the movie. Actually, back up, rephrase that. I actually didn’t see the movie until recently. That’s right, for close to 30 years of my life I never saw one of the most influential monster movies of all time. That is how bad that creature scared me.
alien vs my nightmaresI have recently been making amends for some of the things I missed growing up. For some of them it isn’t that I didn’t have opportunity, but more to the point that it is nearly impossible to catch everything. Yes, even before the information boom we are now experiencing, it was damn near impossible to catch everything within the world of books and movies. We have always been in a position where we are constantly playing catch up with all the great stuff around us. The best we can do is focus on some things and get as much out of those as we can. And of course discover and bring in new things from time to time. But I digress…
Like I said, I hadn’t seen the original movie Alien when it came out. At the time it scared the hell out of me. I couldn’t even see the movie when it came to network television. Of course, this was long before cable proliferated the country and made it even easier to see just about everything. So for the movie to be on network television, was akin to a media event.
What I did have though, was a two foot tall Xenomorph action figure. At the time there was a line of figures that followed cartoons like Shogun Warriors and the Godzilla franchise. These figures gave a feeling of how big the characters were compared to the average. A good comparison would have been the Star Wars Action figures at the time would have been roughly proportional to the Shogun Warriors or Godzilla. The Xenomorph was actually outsized but it still worked within the whole grouping.
Anyway, this thing was detailed and about as accurate as toys were at the time. It even had the second mouth that you could press out of the main steel capped teeth (steel colored paint). Ya, this thing scared the hell out of me. I admit it, I was afraid. It was one of the first to go when I did some toy cleaning. (Wow, this has been quite a number of words just to babble on about a toy.)
This all comes back together again when I realize I have changed since childhood. Over the years I have gained a fondness for the art of H.R. Giger. I also realize that I have him to thank for many of the nightmares I had as a child. If you didn’t know this, the Xenomorph is based on concepts and art that he created, great stuff and really freaky. The fact that I hadn’t seen the movie Alien, let alone any of the movies to follow was something that couldn’t continue. But we get busy chasing other things. So obviously I forgot and found other things to occupy my time.
But I press on. Finally, I take an opportunity to check it out. I can’t let the injustice continue. I am happy to say I have seen the film. There are so many different aspects I can go through about it but I won’t bore you with all of my thoughts, at least not all at once. I have a few things I will talk about now and I can see there are some other observations that tie in with a few other things I have seen through the years.
But first and foremost, I loved the flick. A first observation is the fears of the unknown I had as a child are far greater than the fears I went through while watching the movie. The design of the alien and how it was used within the movie worked well with the movie technology of the time.
Special effects back then were an order of magnitude different than the cgi we have available now or will have going into the future. But the thing about that is, I am reminded of some of the things we have lost with our reliance on cgi today. The old video and special effects techniques added a better feeling of atmosphere, an otherness to the whole experience. Set designs and painted stages allowed the actors to physically travel through much of the landscape. I know for me it felt more real than the the elaborate graphics in use today.
This is true even for the Xenomorph itself. The few times we saw it, were on darkened sets with flashes of movement or flashes of light. Instead of a full creature, many times our imagination was able to fill in the picture clues to create something larger than what the special effects designers offered to us.
This is something we lose with today’s special effects. When we see fantastical locations and impossible surroundings and creatures our minds immediately go to how impressed we are with the graphical display than with the possibility that what we are seeing could actually exist. At times it feels like the technology we have now makes everything too perfect, which goes against nature. In nature things are flawed, the world around us is never as perfect as what we see in a picture.
Like I said, they used the full grown Xenomorph in ways that worked with the technology at hand. But the other stages of life for the creature had some great moments as well. The design of the face hugger worked well. As far as effects go the main body of the creature didn’t need to move to show how menacing it was. But it was the camera shot of its tail as it tightened on its victim’s neck that brought the whole image together. I have a feeling that they used the same shot twice in that section of the movie but it was to great effect.
And of course, we can’t forget the chest burster. The scene itself was filled with tension and worked well for the build up of the burst. But for me this was a moment that lost a bit due to exposure. The whole bursting moment is overplayed in comedy now and it takes away from the shock that would have happened within an original viewing. To make it worse, what came to mind for me was the scene in the movie The Ice Pirates when the space herpe burst out of their dinner. They copied the reaction almost perfectly even to the point of the creature running off and getting lost within the ship.
This all comes back to the technology available at the time. We the viewers saw only brief glimpses of the creature in each stage of its life. Even as it killed the crew, one by one, we saw it all in shadows. It was the crew itself that had been used to create the atmosphere of the story. Their reactions to the world around them are what built the bubble of fear we experienced while watching their story.
Now there are a number of other things I will eventually talk about but like I mentioned, those observations tie in with thoughts about a few other stories. I will bring them together as they fall into place. But I want to spend a few minutes talking about something else that is a bit looney.
Many of the characters in this particular story smoke. Ya ya, it was the late 70s and early 80s. We weren’t all that enlightened then so smoking was cool and what not. This isn’t really to bring into question our ideals of today and compare how evil we were in the past. No this is a logic problem. Imagine if you lived out in deep space. The only oxygen you have is scrubbed and cleaned by the processing equipment within your vessels systems. You are in deep space so there is no way to replenish your air within a safe atmosphere. And you make your equipment work even harder by breathing out nicotine and tar and burning embers.
The thing is, I would never have thought of this, and I am sure many of us don’t. We don’t live in a small life bubble environment like that. It was only through something I read from Kristine Katheryn Rusch recently that even put this thought in my mind. But really, it’s a crazy thought and situation that they don’t even consider as they spend their time puffing away. Kinda makes you wonder doesn’t it.