Directed by Ridley Scott
In Alien (1979), a futuristic corporation not named Halliburton specializes in natural resource extraction but also dabbles in munitions; in Aliens (1986), a Marine platoon is overwhelmed by a technologically inferior opponent; in Alien3 (1992), the sickly inmates of an all-male penal colony, who look a lot like AIDS patients and who have taken vows of chastity, are powerless before a new viral infection; and in Alien: Resurrection (1997), advanced techniques in cloning raise some ethical questions about the reproductive rights of women. These are the constituent premises of the Alien series, and when you add to their already loaded metaphors the psychosexual symbolism of the eponymous and androgynous extraterrestrial itself, you're looking at a Hollywood franchise buried in subtext. That's why Film Forum's exceptional 30th anniversary print of Alien is a welcome opportunity to view Ridley Scott's original without the baggage of its inferior sequels and their self-contradicting stabs at cultural resonance.
Because Alien is, after all, just a genre film — albeit a perfectly executed B horror movie disguised with an A-picture budget that paid for, among other things, artist H.R. Giger's set and monster designs, without which the movie is wholly unimaginable. To this day, the lion's share of hosannas for Scott go to Blade Runner, but Alien is just as mysterious and immersive in its dystopian details. Every aspect of Scott's filmmaking contributes to our foreboding sense that no two things (and thus, no two species) are entirely distinguishable. The Nostromo's dank hulls provide easy camouflage for the parasitical intruder, but Scott doesn't stop there. Through a suggestive use of lap dissolves, he continually lays one murky image over another. Meanwhile, machines emit animal noises, and vice versa, and both sets of sounds bleed into the strains of Jerry Goldsmith's menacingly ethereal score. Finally, so precise is the timing of Brian Q. Kelley's editing that this reviewer, to his complete embarrassment, twice leapt from his seat during a press screening, despite the fact that he had previously seen the film a dozen times and knew exactly when the shocks were coming.
If you insist, however, on heading to Film Forum for Alien's sociopolitical content, be my guest. Originally released during an economic recession, the title of Scott's sophomore feature refers as much to the conditions of labor as it does to any creature. After waking from hibernation, the first conversation the Nostromo crew has at the breakfast table is about contracts and percentages, with blue-collar mechanics Harry Dean Stanton and Yaphet Kotto saying, essentially, fuck the Man (identified later in the series as the Weyland-Yutani corporation, but referred to here simply as "the Company"). Although by the time of James Cameron's Reagan-era sequel, Sigourney Weaver had emerged as a pop icon (her Ripley lending new meaning to the term militant feminist), in 1979 she was an unknown stage actress with a cameo in Annie Hall as her only major screen credit. Free of the agendas she would later come to personify, the Ripley of Alien is simply a working-class hero, who navigates a workplace dominated by men while grappling with the predator who signs her paycheck.
July 10-16 at Film Forum