Ridley Scott, UK, USA, 1979o
During its return to the earth, commercial spaceship Nostromo intercepts a distress signal from a distant planet. When a three-member team of the crew discovers a chamber containing thousands of eggs on the planet, a creature inside one of the eggs attacks an explorer. The entire crew is unaware of the impending nightmare set to descend upon them when the alien parasite planted inside its unfortunate host is birthed.
Das Grauen, das in Form des titelgebenden Aliens das Raumschiff Nostromo heimsucht, hat seinen Ursprung in Kanes Brustkorb. In einer der denkwürdigsten Sequenzen des Films bricht das Alien aus dem zum Inkubator degradierten Kane (John Hurt) heraus und terrorisiert fortan die Crew um die Heldin Ripley.
«Die Welt von Alien ist düster und pessimistisch. Wo etwa Steven Spielberg vor dem Hintergrund von Vietnam und Watergate, dem Verblassen der Hoffnungen von 1968, den liberalen Traum der Versöhnung mit dem Fremden träumte (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), liefert Scott einen Albtraum: Schock, Furcht, Schaudern wechseln sich ab. (…) Was bleibt, ist erschöpfte Selbstbehauptung. Am Ende hat Ripley keineswegs ihren Frieden gefunden. Die Bedrohung schlummert nur, die Welt ist aus den Fugen und wird nie mehr, was sie war.» (Rüdiger Suchsland, film-dienst, 22/2003)N.N.
At its most fundamental level, "Alien" is a movie about things that can jump out of the dark and kill you. It shares a kinship with the shark in "Jaws," Michael Myers in "Halloween," and assorted spiders, snakes, tarantulas and stalkers. Its most obvious influence is Howard Hawks' "The Thing" (1951), which was also about a team in an isolated outpost who discover a long-dormant alien, bring it inside, and are picked off one by one as it haunts the corridors. Look at that movie, and you see "Alien" in embryo.
In another way, Ridley Scott's 1979 movie is a great original. It builds on the seminal opening shot of "Star Wars" (1977), with its vast ship in lonely interstellar space, and sidesteps Lucas' space opera to tell a story in the genre of traditional "hard" science fiction; with its tough-talking crew members and their mercenary motives, the story would have found a home in John W. Campbell's Astounding Science Fiction during its nuts-and-bolts period in the 1940s. Campbell loved stories in which engineers and scientists, not space jockeys and ray-gun blasters, dealt with outer space in logical ways.
Certainly the character of Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, would have appealed to readers in the Golden Age of Science Fiction. She has little interest in the romance of finding the alien, and still less in her employer's orders that it be brought back home as a potential weapon. After she sees what it can do, her response to "Special Order 24" ("Return alien lifeform, all other priorities rescinded") is succinct: "How do we kill it?" Her implacable hatred for the alien is the common thread running through all three "Alien" sequels, which have gradually descended in quality but retained their motivating obsession.
One of the great strengths of "Alien" is its pacing. It takes its time. It waits. It allows silences (the majestic opening shots are underscored by Jerry Goldsmith with scarcely audible, far-off metallic chatterings). It suggests the enormity of the crew's discovery by building up to it with small steps: The interception of a signal (is it a warning or an SOS?). The descent to the extraterrestrial surface. The bitching by Brett and Parker, who are concerned only about collecting their shares. The masterstroke of the surface murk through which the crew members move, their helmet lights hardly penetrating the soup. The shadowy outline of the alien ship. The sight of the alien pilot, frozen in his command chair. The enormity of the discovery inside the ship ("It's full of ... leathery eggs ...").
A recent version of this story would have hurtled toward the part where the alien jumps on the crew members. Today's slasher movies, in the sci-fi genre and elsewhere, are all pay-off and no buildup. Consider the wretched remake of the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," which cheats its audience out of an explanation, an introduction of the chain-saw family, and even a proper ending. It isn't the slashing that we enjoy. It's the waiting for the slashing.
Hitchcock knew this, with his famous example of a bomb under a table. (It goes off -- that's action. It doesn't go off -- that's suspense.) M. Night Shyamalan's "Signs" knew that, and hardly bothered with its aliens at all. And the best scenes in Hawks' "The Thing" involve the empty corridors of the Antarctic station where the Thing might be lurking.
"Alien" uses a tricky device to keep the alien fresh throughout the movie: It evolves the nature and appearance of the creature, so we never know quite what it looks like or what it can do. We assume at first the eggs will produce a humanoid, because that's the form of the petrified pilot on the long-lost alien ship. But of course we don't even know if the pilot is of the same race as his cargo of leathery eggs. Maybe he also considers them as a weapon. The first time we get a good look at the alien, as it bursts from the chest of poor Kane (John Hurt). It is unmistakably phallic in shape, and the critic Tim Dirks mentions its "open, dripping vaginal mouth."
Yes, but later, as we glimpse it during a series of attacks, it no longer assumes this shape at all, but looks octopod, reptilian or arachnoid. And then it uncorks another secret; the fluid dripping from its body is a "universal solvent," and there is a sequence both frightening and delightful as it eats its way through one deck of the ship after another. As the sequels ("Aliens," "Alien 3," "Alien Resurrection") will make all too abundantly clear, the alien is capable of being just about any monster the story requires. Because it doesn't play by any rules of appearance or behavior, it becomes an amorphous menace, haunting the ship with the specter of shape-shifting evil. Ash (Ian Holm), the science officer, calls it a "perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility," and admits: "I admire its purity, its sense of survival; unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality."
Sigourney Weaver, whose career would be linked for years to this strange creature, is of course the only survivor of this original crew, except for the ... cat. The producers must have hoped for a sequel, and by killing everyone except a woman, they cast their lot with a female lead for their series.
Variety noted a few years later that Weaver remained the only actress who could "open" an action movie, and it was a tribute to her versatility that she could play the hard, competent, ruthless Ripley and then double back for so many other kinds of roles. One of the reasons she works so well in the role is that she comes across as smart; the 1979 "Alien" is a much more cerebral movie than its sequels, with the characters (and the audience) genuinely engaged in curiosity about this weirdest of lifeforms.
A peculiarity of the rest of the actors is that none of them were particularly young. Tom Skerritt, the captain, was 46, Hurt was 39 but looked older, Holm was 48, Harry Dean Stanton was 53, Yaphet Kotto was 42, and only Veronica Cartwright at 29 and Weaver at 30 were in the age range of the usual thriller cast. Many recent action pictures have improbably young actors cast as key roles or sidekicks, but by skewing older, "Alien" achieves a certain texture without even making a point of it: These are not adventurers but workers, hired by a company to return 20 million tons of ore to Earth (the vast size of the ship is indicated in a deleted scene, included on the DVD, which takes nearly a minute just to show it passing).
The screenplay by Dan O'Bannon, based on a story he wrote with Ronald Shusett, allows these characters to speak in distinctive voices. Brett and Parker (Kotto and Stanton), who work in the engine room, complain about delays and worry about their cut of the profits. But listen to Ash: "I'm still collating it, actually, but I have confirmed that he's got an outer layer of protein polysaccharides. He has a funny habit of shedding his cells and replacing them with polarized silicon which gives him a prolonged resistance to adverse environmental conditions." And then there is Ripley's direct way of cutting to the bottom line.
The result is a film that absorbs us in a mission before it involves us in an adventure, and that consistently engages the alien with curiosity and logic, instead of simply firing at it. Contrast this movie with a latter-day space opera like "Armageddon," with its average shot a few seconds long and its dialogue reduced to terse statements telegraphing the plot. Much of the credit for "Alien" must go to director Ridley Scott, who had made only one major film before this, the cerebral, elegant "The Duelists" (1977). His next film would be another intelligent, visionary sci-fi epic, "Blade Runner" (1982).
Though his career has included some inexplicable clinkers ("Someone To Watch Over Me,") it has also included "Thelma & Louise," "G.I. Jane," "Gladiator" (unloved by me, but not by audiences), "Black Hawk Down" and "Matchstick Men." These are simultaneously commercial and intelligent projects, made by a director who wants to attract a large audience but doesn't care to insult it.
"Alien" has been called the most influential of modern action pictures, and so it is, although "Halloween" also belongs on the list. Unfortunately, the films it influenced studied its thrills but not its thinking. We have now descended into a bog of Gotcha! movies in which various horrible beings spring on a series of victims, usually teenagers. The ultimate extension of the genre is the Geek Movie, illustrated by the remake of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," which essentially sets the audience the same test as an old-time carnival geek show: Now that you've paid your money, can you keep your eyes open while we disgust you? A few more ambitious and serious sci-fi films have also followed in the footsteps of "Alien," notably the well-made "Aliens" (1986) and "Dark City" (1998). But the original still vibrates with a dark and frightening intensity.
Here is the original and magnificent best. They really don't make them like this any more. In this newly extended and digitally remastered form, Ridley Scott's 1979 movie emerges not just as the sci-fi shocker we all remember - or think we remember - but a late and unheralded classic of 1970s Hollywood, an offshoot of the Easy-Riders-Raging-Bulls era of great film-making.
It is a genuinely frightening movie which makes splatterfests like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre look juvenile. With style and intelligence, Scott absorbs the influences of Kubrick and Spielberg, together with movies like Westworld and The Stepford Wives, but makes a movie quite distinct from any of these. He puts together a white-knuckle intergalactic ride of tension and fear, which is also an essay on the hell of other people, the vulnerability of our bodies, and the idea of space as a limitless new extension of human paranoia. Alien also functions as a nightmare-parody of the Apollo 11 moon-landing, which had happened just 10 years previously, with all its earnest optimism about human endeavour. And perhaps most stunningly of all, this new version of the movie reveals how it works as a conspiracy satire about state-corporate complicity in manufacturing biological weapons of mass destruction.
Sigourney Weaver stars in the movie which was to make her name and a very great deal of her fortune. She is Ripley, a crew member of a mining space-ship trudging back home, which is forced to make a detour on receiving a mysterious SOS signal from a deserted planet. Her colleagues include the engineer Parker, played by Yaphet Kotto - and for me nobody's face calls up the 1970s like Kotto's. His associate is the petulant and resentful Brett, played by Harry Dean Stanton. Tom Skerritt plays crew-member Dallas; John Hurt is Kane, an eager volunteer for the job of exploring the planet's surface and Ian Holm is superb as the scientific officer Ash with a sinister secret. Except Ash, these unfortunate souls venture out on their exploratory mission and bring back the horrific unwanted guest.
Weaver's face is the most disturbingly young-looking from this class of 1979 - an ungallant observation perhaps. She is girlish, serious, unlined, almost puffy. But what is so gripping is the way she ages in the course of this film, changing, by the time we reach its harrowing finale, into the toughly self-reliant and sexy take-charge woman who defined her subsequent roles. Her career evolves before our very eyes.
As for the men, John Hurt has an essentially straightforward character; but his reputation as the dark Caligula-force of the 1970s probably meant that he was the obvious candidate to ingest the horrible alien. Interestingly, the famous heart-stopping moment where the alien-embryo jumps out of the egg and grabs Hurt's face happens much more fleetingly than I remembered. Scott cuts away from it quickly, leaving the negative-image, as it were, impressed on our retina, and then concentrates on the insidious and drawn-out horror of Hurt lying on the operating table back in the spacecraft, with the creature clinging to his naked face, pumping its spore down his mouth. The second famous scene, where the gestated child-alien bursts out of Hurt's stomach, is interestingly the only one which doesn't quite hold up. A ripple of indulgent laughter ran round the screening room when we realised it was imminent, and everyone spotted Hurt's packed-up-looking T-shirt.
But there's nothing laughable about the creature itself, a thoroughly insidious and hateful little beast. Scott and editors Terry Rawlings and Peter Weatherley have cut the film so cleverly so that we never have a clear notion of what the alien's body actually looks like until the very last shots. Without CGI, Scott kept his alien mostly hidden in the shadows, and it's all the scarier for it. But it's also something to do with our sheer physical recoil. I just didn't want to look at it, and - just as when as I saw it in 1979 - I had to master the overwhelming need to climb behind my seat and hide, gibbering with fear. The very idea of the alien starting the size of a toad, going to hide in the shadows and then emerging the size of a bus with multiple rows of razor-teeth, is skin-crawlingly obscene.
A lot has happened since those days, including knighthoods for Ridley Scott and Ian Holm. Everything about the look and feel of Alien is redolent of a different kind of film-making. It's not that the space-technology seems creaky or dated. On the contrary, the vast alien-architecture of the deserted planet and the newly restored scenes of the victims' bodies' "nest" look like they could have been designed and built yesterday. It's actually that the film looks realer and nastier and more uncomfortable than anything that gets made now: particularly the shrill and ill-tempered arguments between the crew members. There is none of our modern screenwriting need to provide story arcs, lenient human touches and love interest. Everything is about mood, fear, violence and horror - and Sigourney Weaver left alone to combat evil without feeling the need to do so in romantic consort with a man. After 25 years, Alien looks better than ever.
Hans Rudolf Giger war ein Künstler, der sich darauf verstand, in Filmen den maximalen Effekt zu erzielen; «Alien» war sein bekanntestes Werk. Am Montag ist Giger den Folgen eines Sturzes erlegen.
Filmschauspieler träumen von einem Oscar, der wichtigsten und einer erfolgreichen Karriere am meisten zuträglichen Auszeichnung, die Hollywood zu vergeben hat. Der weltberühmte Schweizer Künstler HR Giger war kein Schauspieler, und dennoch hat er für «Alien» aus dem Jahr 1979 einen Oscar erhalten, als Erstgenannter von fünf Ausgezeichneten in der Kategorie «Best Visual Effects». Einer Nebenkategorie, welche die Talente der besten Effektkünstler würdigt.
Hans Rudolf Giger, der 1940 in Chur als Sohn eines Apothekers geboren wurde, war ohne Zweifel ein Künstler, der sich darauf verstand, den maximalen Effekt zu erzielen. Die Betrachter seiner Kreaturen, die inspiriert waren vom Phantastischen Realismus, vom Surrealismus und von alten Meistern wie Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel dem Älteren und Goya, erschauerten unweigerlich, denn die mit der Spritzpistole verewigten «Biomechanoiden» entsetzten jedermann, der sich am christlichen Glauben festzuhalten wünschte.
Gigers trostlose Mensch-Maschinen und die düsteren Zukunftslandschaften weckten das Interesse des Filmregisseurs Ridley Scott. Dieser wurde zwar für sein SF-Meisterwerk «Alien» nicht einmal für einen Oscar nominiert, doch bedeutete der kommerzielle Welterfolg für ihn den Durchbruch, während sich das spektakulärste Monster der Neuzeit für seinen Schöpfer als nicht enden wollender Albtraum erwies.
Am Montag erlag der Schweizer Künstler H. R. Giger im Spital seinen Verletzungen, die er sich bei einem Sturz zugezogen hatte. Berühmt wurde Giger mit der Ausstattung des Films «Alien» von Ridley Scott. Er wurde 73 Jahre alt. (rus). Alle Bilder anzeigen
Giger fühlte sich von Hollywood schamlos ausgenutzt. Eine unmittelbare Folge des Films war die Trivialisierung und Banalisierung seines Gesamtwerks, das keineswegs nur aus menschenfressenden Monstern bestand. Trotz der riesigen Enttäuschung arbeitete Giger noch weitere Male für Hollywood, u.a. für «Species» (1995) unter der Regie von Roger Donaldson. Der nah am Trash gebaute Science-Fiction-Reisser konnte indes einem Vergleich mit «Alien» nicht im Entferntesten standhalten. 2012 kam es zu einer Versöhnung, mit der kaum jemand gerechnet hatte: Eines der Raumschiffe aus Ridley Scotts «Alien»-Nachzügler «Prometheus» basierte auf alten Giger-Entwürfen. Seine Nähe zur Pop-Kultur manifestierte sich im Übrigen auch, als er 1981 für Debbie Harrys Soloalbum «Koo Koo» das Gesicht der vormaligen Blondie-Schönheit mit vier bizarren Nadeln durchbohrte.
Wer sich von der Vielseitigkeit HR Gigers ein Bild machen möchte, besuche das 1998 eröffnete Museum in Greyerz im Kanton Freiburg, das seinen Namen trägt. Gestern erlag der Vater des Alien den Folgen eines schweren Sturzes im Alter von 74 Jahren. Er hinterlässt seine Ehefrau Carmen – und ein immenses Werk, das es neu zu entdecken gilt.