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Alien Review, Part 1

Is the original movie as impressive as everyone says?

Alien is considered a sci-fi classic. It started a franchise that has lasted for many years, but while the first couple of movies are highly respected, the later films are thought to be underwhelming to say the least. But is the original as impressive as everyone says?

The movie starts out with a large multi-storied ship moving through space. This spacecraft looks like an entire city, and as neat as it is to see, this raises a few questions right away. Why is the vessel so large, and how can only a seven people run this craft? We do get some answers. The ship is called the Nostromo. It is a mining ship, and a computer named Mother runs most of the vessel’s functions. Strictly speaking, the Nostromo is described as a tugboat, implying that it simply pulls a larger vessel behind it, but I did not get that impression when first watching the movie, and I suspect this detail was added later, perhaps, in another film. I want to point out that there are a variety of large chambers shown throughout the story, so even if a certain portion of the ship is considered a tugboat, the crew still has access to the entire vessel.

The size of the vessel and the multiple roles Mother plays on the Nostromo make sense to an extent. The ship seems to be taking ore from planets with a hostile environment, so I could see a mining crew telling Mother what to do from inside the craft, but if that’s the case, then why is the ship shaped the way it is? Why does it look like a city as opposed to a freighter? This is a nitpicky detail, but I mention it because much of this movie is shot in large chambers as well as in plenty of halls. This creates plot holes when it comes to how the protagonists choose to deal with the alien later in the film. Spoiler, an alien gets loose on the ship, and since the ship is so large and evidently filled with all sorts of rooms varying in size, I was annoyed that the protagonists chose to deal with the alien in the most dangerous way right at the outset. But we only have so much time to kill everybody off and leave the last man standing. The plot’s gotta happen. I understand this somewhat. It just bothers me when all the characters are prone to fits of stupidity so the writers can speed up the process when the simpler solution would’ve been to just give them a smaller ship.

Anyway, after we see the size of the Nostromo, the next scene opens with some of the crew waking from a cryogenic sleep. These ships can move fast, but it still takes quite a bit of time to travel from one spot to the next. Everybody wakes up and begins eating. Mother demands Captain Dallas’s attention, so he goes to the control room and asks Mother for an update on their status.

It turns out the crew is returning from a mining mission and is expecting to be landing on Earth at any time; however, Mother has taken the ship off course because of a signal that is being relayed from a nearby planet. The crew is required by contract to rescue anybody who might be stranded, so they have no choice but to find the signal. The ship takes them to the planet where the signal is being relayed, and here is where another plot hole comes into play, but it doesn’t become relevant until later in the film.

They take the main section of the Nostromo, the tugboat portion of the ship, down to this planet, but the craft is damaged during the landing. It’s going to take about twenty-five hours to repair the damage, so some of the crew, Dallas, Lambert, and Kane, leave the ship to track down the signal. They find it coming from a wrecked spacecraft which doesn’t appear human in origin. While Dallas and the others enter the ship, Ripley, who’s second in command, manages to translate the signal’s message. It’s not an S.O.S beacon, but a warning to stay away. She offers to leave the ship and retrieve her crewmembers, but the Nostromo’s science officer, Ash, tells her there’s no point since Dallas and the others are already too close to the spacecraft. So, Ripley stays on the ship and waits for the others to return.

While exploring, Kane stumbles across a nest of some kind where a bunch of eggs have been laid. He slips and falls into the nest. One of the eggs opens from the top, and like every first casualty in a horror flick, he moves closer to the egg and stares into it until something jumps up and latches onto his helmet.

Dallas and Lambert find Kane and take him back to the ship. They try to reenter their vessel, but Ripley won’t let them because of quarantine procedures; however, Ash allows Dallas and the others back onto the ship despite Ripley’s orders. The crew then rushes Kane to the medical room where they try to remove the alien which has melted through Kane’s helmet and clung to his face.

They try to cut the little creature off, but when they slice into one of its digits, the thing bleeds acid, and that acid starts to melt a hole in the floor. Fearful the acid is going to eat through the hull of the ship, everyone follows the acid’s path down several stories of the vessel. Thankfully, the acid neutralizes before it can breach the hull.

This was another part of the movie that bothered me. The idea that a creature can use acid as blood is pretty cool, but I did wonder how the acid managed to avoid Kane’s face when it spilled out of the digit. Ash used gauze to block the wound, but that wouldn’t work. The gauze would be eaten instantly. I know this is one of the most classic scenes in cinematic history and complaining about it is kind of like calling Vincent Price a bad actor, but I’ve always wanted to understand the mechanics behind this super acid. It’s one of the alien’s trademark features, but it has never made any sense to me.

After failing to cut the creature from Kane’s face, the crew remains stumped as to how to get the bug-like thing off him. One of the ship’s maintenance crew, Parker, suggests freezing Kane and the alien, so they can figure out what’s wrong with him back on earth, but Ash ignores Parker and takes x-rays of Kane instead. He realizes that the alien is providing Kane air, keeping him alive for some reason. Ash is then seen studying the X-rays, but he seems unable to find a way to remove the creature. However, it turns out that they had no need to worry because, for some inexplicable reason, the alien disappears, leaving Kane unconscious but alive.  The crew searches for the alien and finds it dead a little while later. Kane eventually wakes up and all seems well. Of course, this isn’t the case, and we’ll cover what happens next in the following review.

Gary Varner

Gary Varner is the Assistant to the Managing and Associate Directors at the Center for Science & Culture in Seattle, Washington. He is a Science Fiction and Fantasy enthusiast with a bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts, and he spends his time working with his fellows at Discovery Institute and raising his daughter who he suspects will one day be president of the United States. For more reviews as well as serial novels, go to www.garypaulvarner.com to read more.

Alien Review, Part 1