Would Ridley Scott’s Alien Prove as Impactful if it was Released Today?
To celebrate #AlienDay426 (April 26th) we revisited the film that started it all – Ridley’s Scott’s 1979 science fiction/horror masterpiece, Alien – with a view answering one intriguing question: would Ridley Scott’s Alien still prove as impactful if it had been released today?
April 26th is the date selected for Alien Day due to the planet in Alien being named LV-426 (AKA Acheron), which links to 4/26, for those to subscribe to the American date format.
A large variety of new merchandise and content is set to go live on Alien Day, including new collectable figures from NECA such as a Kenner tribute Ripley, Newt and a deluxe creature pack, an anniversary edition comic book from Dark Horse, limited-edtion art prints and posters from Mondo, new novels (Alien: Invasion and Alien: Out of the Shadows, the latter of which is an audible book read by Rutger Hauer, among others) and an Ultimate Trivia Challenge across social media.
First, let’s push aside the paradoxical nature of the question of Ridley Scott’s Alien being released today. This paradox is that Alien was so influential in its time that many modern alien films probably would not exist (not to mention the Alien sequels) or at least not be the same had Alien not been released in 1979. Let’s also push aside the technological film-making advances that would be included, had Alien been made in recent years.
Imagine instead that all post 1979 alien films remain constant, but that Alien was plucked from 1979 (with the sequels being scrubbed from existence) and released today exactly as you know the theatrical cut of the film to be. We aim to explore how Alien might be received, when placed among the modern alien releases that fill our screens each year.
Right from its opening shots, Alien gives the audience a clear indication that it intends to deliver a slow and thoughtful narrative. The majority of the film continues to adopt this approach; allowing the silence of space or conversational crew dialogue to soak up screen time and the film is all the more effective for this. This is because the calm, tense atmosphere serves only to make the shocks permeate all the more severely, once they do begin.
This slow-burn approach is almost anomalous among modern alien films (not – notably – in modern science fiction, however, which does have similar-toned films to Alien, such the brilliant Moon (2009) and Midnight Special (2016), the former of which was actually shot on the set of Alien), most of which opt for fast and exciting visuals over slow and thoughtful content (Cowboys & Aliens, Attack the Block, Edge of Tomorrow are all prime examples).
Even 2009’s District 9 – a film that is still revered as being at the top of its game in modern alien science fiction films – opts for fast-paced explosive visuals (albeit set among smart content).
James Cameron’s sequel Aliens (although not modern science fiction) showcases this point well; Cameron’s instalment is mostly about action and spectacle, while Scott’s debut instalment sits in stark contrast by – in our opinion – offering a much smarter and more suspenseful take on the Xenomorph story.
We found the visual effects employed in Alien to be breathtaking, even now; for example, when the crew of the Nostromo land and explore Acheron (LV-426). This is all down to their ingenious design, which many know Swiss artist H.R. Giger played a large role in crafting. Giger’s self-described “biomechanical” style proved perfect for the story that Ridley Scott intended to tell and Giger ended up being responsible for creating the Xenomorph itself, ‘The Derelict’ and ‘The Space Jockey’, among other things.
The famous chest-burster scene still still lives up to its classic status. Even though you know what’s coming, the sheer shock and visceral approach makes it such a tense and debilitating scene to behold. This is maybe aided by the fact that Ridley Scott chose not to tell his actors exactly what was going to happen, prior to shooting the scene. “They’re just going to see it,” he instead stated, and has since explained: “The reactions were going to be the most difficult thing. If an actor is just acting terrified, you can’t get that look of raw, animal fear.”
One of the most effectively unnerving scenes in the film for us is just after Ripley first realises that the Xenomorph is inside her escape pod and the alien simply lays in an alcove on its side for a long period of time, fully visible, only moving slightly. The apparent docile attitude of the creature is what provides such an unsettling shot; even brutal predators cannot be moving and hunting all the time and it is this stolen glance into the Xenomorph’s static period that offers such a great moment.
Although less is more when it comes to revealing creatures in horror films, somehow Scott’s film seems to walk that line just perfectly; showing just enough of the Xenomorph and also hiding the creature just enough to keep us in awe of its appearance. The chest-burster scene shows the Xenomorph very clearly, for example, yet other scenes opt to utilise only quick glances of the creature; for example, when the crew are searching for the small Xenomorph and it shoots past them (jut after one of the crew accidentally knocks over an object, causing a sharp break of the tension and a starling jolt for viewers).
A final component that stood out for us on our re-watch was the acting in the film, with Tom Skerritt’s turn as Dallas standing the strongest, second only to Sigourney Weaver’s seminal Ripley performance. The believability of the performances, combined with the thoughtful, slow, horror approach and a script that is honed to perfection, all culminates in a true science fiction classic, the likes of which just don’t often appear in cinema any longer.
We believe that if Alien was to be released today, new and fresh into cinema, it would receive just as positive and stunning a reaction as it did back in 1979. It is true that new audiences are better-accustomed to shock and therefore the twists within Alien might not play as powerfully, but on the whole we feel that a modern release would see the film lauded and praised as a science fiction film to rival the greats.
This is supported by the fact that if you show someone this film now who has never seen it before, they still experience that taught, edge of your seat feeling and are likely to come out loving the experience. A great film defies time; this is why Alien remains a classic to this day. Using this basis, you could argue that a release of the film in any era (within reason) would still produce a similar appreciation of the feature’s qualities.
In a post-Moon and post-Midnight Special world, an Alien release today would see the film labelled as the masterpiece that cemented this modern cinema shift back towards the science fiction of old, which directors like Duncan Jones and Jeff Nichols are currently heralding. This is a movement that we adore and which cinema would certainly thrive from if it were allowed to flourish more fully.
Thankfully, our hypothetical time slip isn’t true, otherwise we would now be waiting for a sequel to Alien rather than waiting for the new prequel Alien: Covenant (released on 4th August 2017) which will return to LV-426 after the events in 2012’s Prometheus, upon which the synthetic David (Michael Fassbender) is now the sole survivor. It is certainly a testament to the quality and uniqueness of the Alien franchise that it is still thriving and producing new instalments today.
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