The sixth installment of the Alien film series comes out in a few days, and I, for one, am pumped to see it, especially with Ridley Scott again taking the helm. The Alien series is one of the few movie franchises that was written directly for film, not based on any books, TV shows, graphic novels or otherwise. 1979’s Alien, while met with a mixed reception at the time, is now widely considered a cinematic masterpiece, and it’s still an awesome viewing experience today. The story in the background, about the Weyland (now Weyland-Yutani) corporation and their obsession with the creature, hasn’t even been fully explored. And despite the early misleading trailers for Alien 3, the filmmakers have yet to set any of their films on Earth (let’s not count the abysmal Alien vs. Predator movies), which is a story achievement in itself. So in anticipation of the new film, let’s take a look at our favorite scenes from the series.
I love this series, even the oft-derided Alien 3. There’s so much more to these films than a monster killing people. In fact, all three of my favorite scenes here really do not involve an alien attack at all. I read somewhere that the creature in the first Alien is only on the screen for less than 5 minutes. There’s a lot going on in this world, which was even brilliantly tapped into and expanded for the underappreciated Alien: Isolation video game a few years back. I will admit that I was initially undecided on Prometheus, but subsequent viewings on DVD (one of the best looking Blu-ray discs around) have convinced me of its brilliance. Prometheus furthered the undercurrent that the Alien species is a representation of both our darkest human fears and our own most evil impulses.
Alien (1979) – Ash Attack
The use of androids, or “synthetic persons” as Bishop prefers, is a great subplot in the film series. Because of this scene, Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, and by extension the audience, always feel a little uneasy about what these artificial beings are up to, and who they are truly working for. Our first note that Ash (Ian Holm) may not be benevolent is that brilliant shot in the communications room when Ripley leans back in despair to reveal Ash sitting there unexpectedly, and he says calmly “there is an explanation for this.” After a brief scuffle, we see that (now) tell-tale sign of milky-white “blood” drip down Ash’s face. Things quickly escalate, as Ash throws Ripley around with inhuman strength, and is soon using a rolled up magazine to suffocate her. When her crewmates come to help, Ash gets bashed in the head and does that disturbing creepy/crazy rolling around the room with white blood spewing from his mouth. Ridley Scott is masterful at his use of camera angles, lighting and blocking in creating this sequence, and the acting is all-in. Also, when you go back and watch the film from the beginning, you can appreciate how Holm quietly built his character to this climactic scene.
DJ: Holm is definitely great in this film, and is so understated, a very skilled performance. This scene is almost as shocking as the chestburster scene. Scott shows why he is a master here. The 360 shot and then Holm spinning, just beautiful.
Alien 3 (1992) – Opening Credits
David Fincher appreciates a good opening credit sequence, see Se7en, and he created one for this film that compactly tells a complete and suspenseful story in 2 minutes. Undoubtedly his work as a premier director of music videos was the perfect experience for creating this scene. The juxtaposing of quick film clips against cast/crew credits creates it’s own tension, as we see glimpses the now familiar process where a face-hugger emerges from an egg and implants its larvae into a human host. The 1 second shot of the face hugger extending its “fingers” over the edge as a cryo-tube drips with dread, then we jump when we hear the CRACK of the glass. So many films treat the opening credits as a throw-away requirement, but here it draws the audience immediately back into the world of Alien and primes it for a tense movie. The first time we watched this, did we notice the quick glimpse of the broken glass on Ripley’s cryotube?
DJ: Another master director at the beginning of his career showing a masterful opening, telling a story while still getting the credits in. It’s subtle what’s going on and if you not watching because it’s “credits” you are missing what essentially is a prologue. I don’t think I saw that crack when I first watched.
Prometheus (2012) – Emergency Surgery
By the way, I can’t believe it’s been 5 years already since this came out? Anyway, I love the scene in this film where Shaw (Noomi Rapace) finds out she has something unhuman inside her and uses the robotic surgery module to get it out. This is another meticulously crafted and intense sequence created by Ridley Scott, who knows how to get us on the edge of our seat. First, we get the machine “running diagnostics”, which harkens back to both the original film and Alien 3, with the light beam passing over the subject’s body, taking measurements. Then some antiseptic spray and the cutting begins. Rapace sells the intense pain of the surgery, and then the horror when she sees what is pulled out of her. Those moments when she is trapped inside the bubble with the creature are so tense.
As I watched this scene again, it dawned on me that it’s a companion to the original chest burster scene in the first film. I’ve always thought of the scene from Alien as a twisted allegory of man giving birth to the ultimate evil and its own demise (nuclear weapons perhaps?) and only a woman is able to put a stop to it. Here, it’s a woman giving birth, but ultimately, it’s a man that causes it (either Charlie through intercourse or Peter Weyland via his surrogate robot, David). Either way, it’s no coincidence that once again a woman has to put a stop to it.
DJ: One of the most tense of the franchise, the pace of this scene and the tenseness had me on the edge of my seat. Watching it back it’s still horrifying.
What’s fascinating to me about the Alien franchise is the first 4 films were all done by different directors with very different visions. They are all top notch directors and I love all four films. I had a different view on Prometheus when I first saw it, but now I clearly think it belongs and I am very interested to see where Ridley Scott goes with Covenant. The previews so far look amazing and if I can handle Danny McBride and James Franco (what no Seth Rogen?) it should be good.
MG: Maybe Seth Rogen will have a cameo as an android that doubles as a walking bong.
Alien (1979) – Chestburster
I would be remiss if the most iconic scene of the series and probably one of the most iconic movie scenes of all-time was not included on this list. This one is pure magic and utter horror. The scene is framed beautifully, very tight, closely shot – the crew is eating, joking, enjoying a moment now that John Hurt’s character is apparently out of the woods from his alien attack. When he starts to have some issues, the crew thinks he is just coughing, then choking, then my god what is going on. When it finally bursts out of his chest, it’s shocking. The actors knew the alien would burst out of Hurt but Scott did not tell them to what degree. Veronica Cartwright gets blasted with blood, and in an extended unused scene Cartwright falls down after she gets sprayed. Her reaction is real as was the audiences. Then the alien baby just speeds away as this great cast looks on stunned. This is the scene that made this franchise.
MG: This scene must have scared the shit out of people in the theaters back in 1979. Unfortunately, I saw Aliens first and learned of the alien gestation process, thus the surprise was spoiled when I then went back and saw Alien. I talked a little bit about this scene in my writing above, and, indeed, you could probably write a 50 page dissertation about it’s Freudian implications and other meanings.
Alien: Resurection (1997)- Swimming with Aliens
I really enjoyed Alien: Resurrection, it often gets overlooked, but it’s pretty solid. One thing I learned as we revisit these films is Joss Whedon wrote this. I had no clue he had ever written an Alien film, and I read he had a script ready for a 5th. Here is another pure action scene. The crew is moving through the ship and come to a flooded kitchen which they need to swim through. The music in this scene is phenomenal just the build, the music tells you the aliens are coming. Ron Perlman, great as always, turns like he hears the music playing, gun up and ready to fire, blasting one of the two aliens. The bullet piercing the water is a cool effect especially for 1997. Watching the aliens glide through the water is stunning and you can feel the urgency of the crew. Who knew these things could swim? The music continues to build and hits a crescendo as the alien catches up to Hilliard as Ripley watches. It’s a totally cool scene done ridiculously well.
MG: I didn’t think either of us would pull a scene from the 4th film, but this is a good one. Alien 4 gets ripped quite a bit, but it’s just over-the-top and almost self-parody at times. Going into the water was an inspired choice, and it gives another layer of intensity. The slow tracking of the explosive bullet into the alien is a nice effect. I read that this scene was pretty dangerous to film, and you can see why when watching this.
Prometheus (2012)- We Made You Because We Could
So when I saw Prometheus I was disappointed completely, I think I expected lots of xenomorphs. Revisiting this film I have grown to enjoy and appreciate it with the other four and it belongs in the franchise. It’s a more complicated film in some ways more cerebral. This scene unlike my two previous has no action it’s just a short conversation that really showcases what this movie is about. Michael Fassbender plays the android David in an incredible performance, modeled somewhat after Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence of Arabia and this scene reminds me so much of the match scene from that film, the “trick is not minding that it hurts”. They certainly aren’t related but when I heard he modeled David after Lawrence it just came to mind and I love that scene too, and it gives me the same exact feeling. Logan-Marshall-Green, is David’s conversationalist, a kind of discount Thomas Hardy with a better speech pattern. He is cocky and self-assured that there was a reason man was created but David turns it on him, what if mankind were also made just because the creator could, nothing deeper than that, just like David’s android. It’s a shocking philosophical question.
MG: Yikes! Neither of us pulled a scene from Aliens. Sorry, James Cameron. Well, practically the entire film is iconic, from the “Get away from her you BITCH!” final battle to every one of Bill Paxton’s lines. Right after the clip below ends, David puts the droplet containing alien DNA in Charlie’s drink. So when he asks “how far would you go to get the answers you came for?” is he trying to convince himself that his “poisoning” of Charlie is justified? David is the most complex android of the series, even though he’d be the earliest version, right? I’m looking forward to seeing his storyline in Covenant, assuming what we are seeing in the trailer is David and not another copy of the same model.
DJ: I am glad you mentioned Bill Paxton since we did not include any scenes with him at all, it’s like a reverse memorial to Paxton. My favorite of course, and how can it not be, is “Game over, man, game over”.