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02 February 2013 @ 07:09 pm
Review: ALIEN, part I of III  
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ALIEN
(1979)

Starring: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto
DIR: Ridley Scott

Note: This is the 20th Anniversary Edition.

My Blurb: "In space, noone can hear you scream." Warning: Lovefest ahead. Spoilers within. Way too many screen caps to make sense.

Alien

Scene 01: We open through the titles, which include the name of our film slowly filling in over a pan of a ringed planet. The music is both ethereal and low key and yet somehow unsettling just the same.


Scene 02: We fade to a starship of some kind. It actually looks more like a factory gliding through space, which isn't far from the truth. It's a refinery making its way back toward Earth. She's the Nostromo.

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We get a very nicely detailed look at the outer hull of the vessel as it glides by the camera. It seems ominously quiet and alone in the vast darkness of space.


Scene 03: Inside the ship, we glide through hallways -- also extremely quiet, except for the sounds of the vessel itself and the objects being disturbed by a breeze of air here and there. We see no crew and this could easily be a ghost ship.

We move toward the control room, still without any signs of anyone aboard.


Commentary: This is a slow opening and I've heard complaints about it. I say thee -- Balderdash to that. It is slow, but it is purposely so to establish a mood, which I believe is successful due to the papers stirring and other slight movement of objects. We can't tell if this ship is empty, if we're actually seeing evidence of something just below our eyeline moving about the ship, or if we're just seeing a breeze of circulated air and the internal vibrations of the ship's systems.

I like the quiet, slow pan around the ship without our knowing where the crew is.



Scene 04: Ending up in the control room, we have an odd sequence where we see an emergency helmet at station above an empty console seat, a flash to the darkened console, and then another look at the emergency helmet. Suddenly the console comes to life with the Nostromo's identity screen. It goes dark again. Then, it just as suddenly flips itself back on and starts compu-buzzing, flashing, and zipping things across the monitor. We see much of this as reflections in the helmet with no music on the soundtrack playing. It's unsettling & I can't explain why that is. Perhaps I'm wondering where the person is that should be in that helmet?


Scene 05: We are suddenly in an entirely dark space, before we see light flickering on above us. It turns out we're in a corridor. This the camera pans down.

The music starts again as we pan toward a door which slides up out of our way to a blast of air from the room beyond. The room is mostly empty except for a series of tubes, which contain people. The music increases in its pace as we hear more air being pumped into the chamber. Suddenly, the capsules begin to open.

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Our crewmembers being to slooowwwly and awkwardly awake, sitting up only with effort and stiffness.


Scene 06: We cut to a short time later and our crew are dressed, eating and making noise... finally a sign of actual life aboard ship. We'll be quickly introduced to our crew as they joke around with one another. We also see that we have a ship's mascot onboard in the form of a cat.

There is a brief bit of tension in regards to bonuses the crew are expecting to receive upon delivering their payload to Earth. It's intimated that while most of the crew are receiving full shares worth of the delivered cargo's worth, Parker and Brent are the working grunts and they're only contracted to receive a partial share. Dallas tells 'em everyone is getting what they've agreed to in their contracts.

Before we learn if this resolves things, or if we'll be seeing an ongoing issue between the "lower decks" and the command crew, there is a signal ringing in the background. Ash informs Dallas that 'Mother' wishes to speak to him.


Scene 07: We leave the table to follow Dallas into what appears to be a central node for interfacing with the ship's computer. The 'brains' of the vessel is to whom Ash was referring: MOTHER.

We find that MOTHER is capable of understanding regular speech as Dallas types out on the keyboard: What's the story mother?

We don't find out, yet.


Scene 08: In command, everyone starts getting strapped into their seats, except Parker and Brett who presumably are heading below decks. They'll turn out to be the engineers. Ash is the science/medical officer. Lambert is the navigator. I believe that Kane may be the ship's first officer and operations. Ripley is second officer and, I believe, is primarily in charge of communications. Jones is the cat running around, but his presence is unexplained.

The bridge crew are a bit put off by the fact that Earth isn't where they expected it... in fact... it's not on screen immediately at all. One gets the feeling that they're only supposed to have been awoken as the Nostromo was getting close to the Sol system. Presumably, the reason they're awake is what MOTHER wants to inform Dallas about.

In the meantime, Lambert starts a scan for Earth and her mutterings already tell me she's probably kind of bitchy and whiney. Ripley begins transmitting to traffic control on Earth, though of course there won't be a response.

The crew is puzzled as to how they're so off course.


Scene 09: Below, meantime, Brett and Parker are griping to one another about how they do all of the work onboard and get none of the pay. Parker complains that none of the rest of the crew ever deigns to come down into the guts of the ship. Brett offers that it's for the same reason that they're only getting half shares of the delivery bonus, but Parker jokes it's because of Brett -- he has no personality.


Scene 10: A bit later, the command crew is sitting around the dining table again as Brett and Parker return. Parker pushes Ash out of "his seat". With everyone gathered, Dallas confirms what the command crew figured out while he was in with MOTHER. They're only half way home.

It seems MOTHER ordered their cryosleep interrupted because she received a repeating cycle beacon of unknown origin and wants them to check it out. Brett doesn't give a crap and Parker complains that they're a tug and not a rescue ship. [The repeating nature of the beacon suggests an SOS.]

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Hi, Tom Skerritt here. And even though I'm stuck in the '70s, the intensity of harsen-rob's stare is creeping me out. Can somebody call the police?


He basically refuses to do this sort of duty unless they can revisit the fact that everyone is getting full shares of their cargo, except he and Brett who are stuck with half shares. Plus, his contract doesn't include rescue vessel work.

Ash interrupts to inform them that their contracts do in fact include a clause about investigating unknown radio signals. Parker keeps running his mouth and Dallas impatiently tells him to listen to Ash -- who informs them that any ship found to have ignored unknown SOS signals will be penalized by a loss of shares for the crews involved.

IE: We investigate this signal, or nobody makes any money for this trip.

Parker gets more cooperative quickly.


Commentary: Parker and Brett are abrasive, so you can understand why Dallas gets short tempered, especially toward Parker bitching at him about money which isn't the Captain's problem since everyone signed a contract as to what pay they could expect. It'll get worse for us as the audience before it gets better. The Brett & Parker show won't stop until they leave the planet's surface (mild spoiler!), at which time Lambert will be the one to test our last nerve.

And as to those complaints about how slow this movie goes in the first half... yeah, it does. Where I could defend the opening crawl through the ship setting a mood, by this point I just want to get on with it. Thankfully, the movie rewards our sticking with it a while longer, so let's move on so we can get to that part.



Scene 11: The Nostromo enters the system LV-426 and hone in on the signal which is coming from a moon in the system. Obviously, they're not going to try to land on an unfamiliar planet with their entire refinery, so we now find that the command craft can be extended and released from the actual factory section of the ship.

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This is done, and the Nostromo 'falls' down into the planetary atmosphere.


Commentary: I'll say that this part of the film is also a leisurely paced bit, but again it really works because there is a feel of authenticity as the crew prepare and execute a planetary insertion from space, through to the 'chop', the landing, and the subsequent damage to the ship because they're basically performing a blind landing in rocky terrain. I also really like the ALIEN theme music and the way it is used here (the entire soundtrack is gorgeous).


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Scene 12: As the vessel plummets into LV-426's atmosphere, the ship begins losing some pressure from deck three due to a loss of shielding. It isn't crippling, but there will be a delay to leave the moon after landing.


Commentary: There is some wonderful special effects work going on in this shot with the Nostromo, what appears to be the emergency shuttle atop it that we'll see later during the climax, the landing jets, the sound effects, the actors 'rumbling' in their seats, Lambert's countdown to landing and all of the ambient engine noises in the background... It's just a really well put together sequence.

Although... I've never bought the ship being practically incapacitated because one of the landing struts happens to come down on top of a rock. That has always struck me as a bit contrived, and I don't know why it was necessary. Ultimately, it doesn't actually impact anything that happens except to introduce a bit of tension between Dallas and Ripley -- which is unnecessary because they're already at odds over ... well, you'll see.



So, they land. The strut comes down on a rock unevenly and there is a lot of sparks from bridge panels, emergency lighting, a fire, warning sirens and smoke.

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Scene 13: After the less than spectacular landing, Brett and Parker report from the lower decks that they've suffered moderate damage though thankfully no hull breach. But, the ship is damaged enough that they can only effect partial repairs. They're both resentful of the command crew's pressing them on details and give a bloated estimate of how long they'll need to effect repairs.

It sounds like bullshit to Ripley, so she goes down there to see for herself -- which only exacerbates the 'class division' between them as they immediately get pissy that she's not staying on the upper decks where she belongs. It's really an extension of the crew stress begun by Brett and Parker's resentment over their less than equal pay for the flight. Ripley doesn't help this any by being less than subtle in her 'meddling', if you want to call it that. Technically, since Kane is XO, Ripley shouldn't be sticking her nose in the engineers' business since both Dallas and Kane are onboard.


Scene 14: On the command deck, Ash has been sending out comm calls to the beacon, but the only response has been the same un-altering automated signal broadcast.

Dallas, Kane and Ash gather around the science console. Ash tells the others that they're within hiking distance of the signal's source. Ash runs a scan of the local atmosphere to reveal that LV-426 is inhospitable, but survivable with pressure suits.

Dallas makes the call to investigate the signal, while Brett and Parker are getting the ship patched up enough to allow takeoff and reconnection to MOTHER waiting in orbit. Kane enthusiastically volunteers and Dallas gives him a dry "that figures" indicating Kane seems to love this extraplanetary garbage. Dallas also assigns himself and Lambert... she's less than excited about the mission.


Commentary: I'm less than comfortable about this command decision myself. I get that they have to send a scouting party to the signal, as is required under their contractual obligations, but it never made sense to me that Lambert would be going instead of Ash -- the science officer. I'm also not sure why Dallas would be going, but since Kirk did it all the time on away teams, I can let that slide as Captain's perogative.


Scene 15: A short while later, Ash has put on flight overalls and his behavior is indicating that the ship is becoming uncomfortably cold. Meanwhile Dallas, Lambert and Kane are in the air lock in their suits and are lowered to the terrain floor to begin their trek to find the beacon's source.


Scene 16: Below decks, Parker and Brett give Ripley some more attitude with Brett refusing to put in any more work until they know that they'll get a full, equal share of whatever salvage is retrieved from the presumed ship the command crew is out investigating. Ripley confirms this, though she does so in sarcasm. She leaves the two to their work to return to the less grubby confines of the command deck, leaving them to bitch and grumble about doing all the work.


Scene 17: Out on the planet's surface, the away team is being pummeled by hurricane force winds, frozen carbon dioxide blizzard and deep cold.

Lambert (repeating her prior complaint): I can't see a goddamned thing.

Kane: Quit griping.

Lambert: I like griping.


[I like Lambert's attitude. I like a good gripe myself.] Dallas tells 'em to knock it off, impatiently.


Scene 18: Back aboard the Nostromo, Ripley - with little else to do, asks Ash for an update. She then decides to take a look at translating the beacon signal as Ash informs her that MOTHER hasn't been able to identify it.


Scene 19: On the surface, sunrise is in progress and the windstorm has calmed. The crew is navigating around canyons of rock formations when they see their objective in the distance. It is obviously a ship of completely alien design.


Commentary: I want to insert here how much I love the planetary set. The work done to make this feel like an inhospitable planet was fantastic and the first view of the horseshoe shaped vessel was stunning -- especially on DVD, where the picture has been cleaned up considerably from the VHS days.


Scene 20: As they approach the crashed ship, transmission back to Nostromo becomes a worsening problem. Lambert, never one on board with exploring anyway, wants to turn back. Kane though is excited by this discovery and insists that they have to go on to find out what it is they've found. Dallas agrees with Kane.


Scene 21: On the ship, Ash becomes frustrated by the unclear transmission from the away team. He moves to the main console in an effort to enhance reception but ultimately this doesn't do any good. As the away team move into the shadow of and then into the alien vessel, communications between they and Nostromo are completely lost.


Scene 22: Inside the ship, the crew walks through large, dark corridors made of a substance unrecognizable [interestingly in retrospect, this corridor design will be reused in ALIENS by Cameron for the inside of the xenomorph's hive, which adds a very interesting shading in retrospect].

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Kane comes across an open expanse with cathedral high ceiling. He tells the others that if they can get up a wall, they can see what the chamber is above them.

He's able to haul himself up far enough to be amazed at what he finds.


Scene 23: It is a humongous dais containing a chair and a transmitter or gun attached and pointed ceiling-ward. Within the great chair is an alien being, long dead and calcified, who is many times larger than the human visitors. The alien being shows signs of having had something burst out through his chest cavity and is likely the one who set the automating message out into space.

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It is the only sign of a crew that the Nostromo away team will locate.

Lambert again votes to get the hell outta there. In the meantime, Kane has wandered off to see what else he can find to get into.

Whatever it is he locates, he summons Dallas and Lambert over to see what they make of it.


Scene 24: Aboard ship, Ripley becomes concerned that the automated message is looking less like an SOS to her and more like a warning signal to stay away. She calls Ash and tells him that she's going to head out after the away team to bring them back. Ash tells her that would be pointless. By the time she arrived at their location, they'll already know if it is a warning or not. The only thing they can do is wait.


Scene 25: At the alien ship, our crew has set up a portable tripod winch system and is lowering Kane down into a subchamber he located. It appears to be some sort of cargo hold. Kane reports that unlike the chamber above them, environmental controls appear to be functioning in his current location, keeping things like the tropics.

We can see rows upon rows of egg-shaped, leathery objects. They're covered with a layer of mist and some sort of light field.

Kane reports his findings and reaches out to touch the layer of mist over the eggs. This throws him offbalance and he falls off of the beam he was standing on and into the pit where the egg-type objects are resting. He next reports that the eggs appear completely sealed off at their tops, and reaches out to stroke one of them.

This has an immediate reaction on the egg, which begins to illuminate from within. There is also some sort of lifeform moving inside. He's taken aback by the egg opening. He's also an idiot, so he moves closer to it instead of keeping his distance.

Inside he finds something shifting. With a screech, whatever was located within -- some sort of puss-colored crab-thing with a long tail -- launches out and clobbers his helmet. He collapses.


Scene 26: Some extended amount of time later, Ash is looking out the port window when he sees the away team returning to the ship's platform.

Lambert and Dallas are carrying Kane. They reenter the ship into the airlock where Ash has rushed down to meet them. In the meantime, Dallas calls to Ripley on the bridge.

After the decon spray, Dallas commands Ripley to let them in, but she's hesitant and asks after Kane. Dallas tells her an organism has attached itself to his face and they need to get him to medical bay to find out his condition. Ripley refuses. She quotes regs about the 24 hours decontamination protocols when a crewman may have been compromised.

Dallas and Lambert both yell at her to let them in so they can get assistance for Kane, but Ripley stands strong and refuses to allow them in for the safety of the rest of the crew. Ash, hearing Ripley's refusal to break quarantine does so by overriding the inner hatch door.


Commentary: Right. Ash -- the science/medical officer -- is the one to break a quarantine and risk infection of the entire vessel. This will strike you as extremely contrived and bad writing... it isn't. In fact, with revelations to come, it is entirely in character and should be a huge honking clue that the science officer is not to be trusted.


Scene 27: In medical, Ash cuts Kane's helmet off to reveal that the lifeform punched through his helment as expected and has attached itself to his face.

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We can see the tail of the thing wrap tightly around Kane's throat to anchor itself in place. There are air bladders pulsating on its sides and Kane is very clearly alive and still breathing despite the organism covering his airway.

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Meanwhile, Ripley has made it down to sickbay, where she joins Parker, Brett and Lambert observing through a window.


Scene 28: In sickbay, Dallas is obviously wondering just what the hell he just got his crew into. Ash attempts to pull one of the organism's fingers away from Kane's head, but it responds not only by tightening its grip with its tail around his throat, but Dallas complains that its digit is tearing Kane's scalp with it.


Scene 29: Ash decides to move Kane into a body scanner to take a look inside at what the organism is doing. Parker shouts to them why they don't just freeze him, but Ash ignores this and proceeds with the scan as Dallas helplessly stands by.

The scan reveals that the organism has a tube down Kane's throat and is most likely feeding him oxygen. Dallas asks why it would be paralyzing him, placing him into a coma and yet keeps him alive, but there aren't any clear answers [well even if there were, Ash... but nevermind that for now].

Dallas orders Ash to attempt to cut the facehugger off of Kane, even at risk that he'll lose his source of oxygen keeping him alive.


Scene 30: Their plan is to start at the fingers, and Ash makes a sonic incision at the knuckle of one of the digits. The response is startling and terrifying as a stream of acidic blood spurts out. It immediately eats through the deck where it hits causing a panicked rush of the crew to track it as they wait to see if it's going to breach the hull to the poisonous atmosphere outdoors.


Scene 31: The blood spurt manages to stop before puncturing the hull, but it leaves our crew with a mess. They can't surgically remove their visitor from Kane without risking more molecular acid eating everything it touches. It's complete luck that none of it splashed on Kane himself and dissolved his flesh and bone.

Ripley asks after what they'll do with Kane. Dallas and she return to medlab, while Dallas orders Parker and Brett to get back to work so they can get out of there.


TBC