Alien or "In space, no one has any sense."

Chuck Rothman

Let me make myself clear:  I detest this movie. 

Now I don't care much for modern horror films.  Making the movie audience jump is one of the cheapest tricks in the book:  you put your characters in a dangerous situation, turn the soundtrack way down low, and then, when the audience gets a bit tense, have something jump out at them, preferably while blaring out a loud sound.  This will get screams every time.  No talent required.

But the problem with Alien is more than that.  To put it simply, the entire crew of the Nostromo is a bunch of utter morons. 

Now a monster is scary when you can't escape it.  It is not scary when perfectly obvious methods of defense are ignored like they never existed.

To be fair, the early part of the film is quite good.  The messy state of the ship is a nice touch. (Though I did find the fact they were smoking cigarettes extremely jarring.  It's not like there's plenty of air in space.)  The alien jumping at the astronaut's face is an effective scare (even if it is a cheap trick).

Then things begin to go wrong.  First of, it was incredibly stupid to let the alien aboard.  Ripley showed one of the few bits of intelligence by refusing to let Kane inside.  The others outside were pretty dumb to insist she does so.  But Ash lets him in.  That action was so incredibly stupid it was impossible to believe. (I know it was explained later, but by then it was way too late.)

OK.  But things improve.  The alien drops off; Kane seems OK.  It bursts out of his chest -- very effective and scary.  The alien disappears into a ship.

Remember, the ship is in space.  All you have to do to kill the alien is to open the airlocks (presumably, it breathes; if it doesn't you find that out after there's no air in the ship).  But at no point does anyone even come close to suggesting this obvious solution.

Now a good filmmaker would explain why they don't do this.  A great one would anticipate the objection and make it clear without explanation.  But a crappy one would just ignore it and hope the audience never notices.

So they go after the alien.  There's a detecting device.  It detects "microcurrents of air."  Nice -- only this would mean that every time you moved it, it would go off.  A small thing, but jarring.

Brett goes after the alien.  He dawdles around watching the sights.  His device detects something.  He tenses and then . . . it's a spring-loaded cat!  (Is this the origin of the term?)  OK.  A cheap scare.  Par for the course.  And then Brett lets his guard completely down, since by rigorous logic, if the cat was there, the alien couldn't possibly be.  Ooops.  Guess it's using some sort of alien logic.  One less crewman to worry about.

Then the alien goes into the duct system.  I would have thought this would be the perfect time to suggest depressurizing -- you could just seal the ducts and open the vent to space -- but no one appears to think about this.  So Dallas goes into the ducts to search the creature out.  Lambert -- who is by far the stupidest of this lot, and that's saying much -- watches him with some sort of radar thing.  She gives him directions as he tries to track down the alien.

Suddenly, the signal goes black.  They can't find where the alien is.  Tense moment.

Then the alien's signal appears.  "He's coming for you!" Lambert shouts.

Would it be too much to tell Dallas from which direction?

Of course, you also have Dallas.  He's in a dark tunnel, at a crossroads (natch).  He is told a horrible monster is heading his way.

Don't you think he should be asking, "From where?"  I know I would in that situation. (And before you quibble, he has plenty of time.  Watching the scene, I can shout out "Which way?" at least twice.)

And, of course, the creature comes up behind him.  Bye, Bye, Dallas.

OK.  Now their tiny brains are in gear.  We discover Ash is a robot and they were sent by Evil Corporation, Inc. to capture the alien.  This explains why he opens the door.  If only there hadn't been an hour of stupidity after that, it might have been forgivable.

But this is stupidity at a grand scale.  OK, we all know Evil Corporation, Inc. are only interested in profits and has absolutely no regard for human life; it's written into their prospectus.  So they don't care about the crew.

But what about the millions of tons of ore?  That's got to be valuable.  And they'd risk that? Why?

Why not just send a ship consisting of people who are prepared for the alien?  It makes much more economic sense. Do they really think a bunch of unknowing amateurs are going to get a better result?

Oh, wait.  They probably do think like that.  Like everyone else in the movie, they are morons.

Anyway, the last three go to leave the ship.  Parker and Lambert go off in one direction, Ripley goes to rescue the cat.  Oh, and to set the self-destruct mechanism (note that this is easier to start than to stop.  Wouldn't you design it the other way around?)

And, wouldn't you know, Parker and Lambert run into the alien.  Parker is carrying a weapon.  So what does he do when faced with the alien?

Nothing.

Oh, there's some shouting about telling Lambert to get out of the way (though if she had an IQ of a plant, would have figured this out).  But anyone with any brains would shoot first and hope their partner knew enough to get out of the line of fire.  Granted, Lambert probably doesn't have enough sense to get out of the way of gunfire, but still.

Naturally, Parker is lunch, with Lambert as high tea.

The rest is routine.  You get the obligatory false kill ("She got him!"  "No, she didn't."), and finally Ripley blasts the alien, saving the cat (but losing millions of tons of cargo.  Is Evil Corporation, Inc. going to dock her pay?).  But by then, I was past caring.

Ultimately, Alien is just The Three Stooges in Space.  No, I take that back.  The Stooges were never that stupid. 

Great tagline, though.  Too bad the movie wasn't anywhere at that level.

8/7/05

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