Reblogging one of my favorite pieces by my colleague christian on one of the seminal films of the late 70s. Timely, too ;-).
Originally posted on Technicolor Dreams:
If the release of STAR WARS on May 25, 1977 altered the esthetic course of my life, filling my impressionable mind with a sense of universal myth, action, wonder and destiny, the release of ALIEN on May 25 in 1979 transmogrified my vision to include the dark underbelly of the universe. I first heard about the film in 21st CENTURY FOSS, an incredible monograph of science fiction illustrator, Chris Foss. He was one of the original artists hired for the film and the book presented some of his unused pre-production designs. Then I read about ALIEN in the pages of STARLOG and CINEFANTASTIQUE as the buzz started to build. The teaser ads were genuinely scary and unnerving in an age where nobody knew nothin’ about the film. I was aware the script, originally titled STAR BEAST, had been written by Dan O’Bannon, who I was already a fan of after seeing DARK STAR (1974) on a fantastic double-bill with THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) not to mention his stoned letters to “Heavy Metal” magazine along with his story, “Soft Landing,” after Jodorowsky’s ill-fated DUNE project. I knew ALIEN was supposed to contain shocking images and a well-hidden monster in the days when movie secrets could be well-hidden, so of course I was excited. When finally released in the spring, the film had a “must-see” publicity campaign buoyed by possibly the greatest marketing tag-line in motion picture history: “In space no one can hear you scream.” After STAR WARS had turned space into a playground of grand operatic adventure, ALIEN brought sexual-subconscious horror into the cold cosmos. I was intrigued by ALIEN more than any movie of my youth, perhaps even more than STAR WARS, because of its visceral tragedy disguised as a monster movie. After my brother saw the film, he briefly told me about a scene with the creature bursting from somebody’s chest, which I misinterpreted as the Alien bursting through the floor, into the body and out of said chest. I had to see this thing. Although I was too young to viddy ALIEN by myself, I was never shielded from R-rated fare so I excitedly ended up at the Sacramento Century Domes one night to finally witness the acclaimed, controversial hit of the last summer of the 1970’s.
I was sold instantly by the dark, stark 70mm cosmos and Jerry Goldsmith’s quiet, unsettling soundtrack in six-track Dolby. You could feel the tenseness in the packed theater as the film unspooled in the flickering dark, the title creating a sense of unease when fully revealed. Our first glimpse of the commercial towing vehicle “Nostromo” is a perfect SF image, a vast, gothic industrial spacecraft followed by a long tracking shot into the ship’s multi-leveled, labyrinth corridors. It’s hard to imagine a major motion picture today opening with that level of sustained expectant mood that ends with the lovely montage of Kane slowly waking from hyper-sleep. But it’s that slow build-up that allows the horror to be that much more powerful by the time the creepy, spidery Facehugger springs from its repulsive egg. When the infamous “Chest Burster” made its bloody debut, I was practically aboard the Nostromo, claustrophobic as the poor crew was picked off one by one. I felt profoundly sad for the characters and their fate, particularly Captain Dallas in his nerve-wracking hunt through the air shafts (and those iris doors with their scabbard sonics — like a promise of doom); then anger as we discover Ash is actually an android sent by “The Company” to protect the Alien. This was a smart contribution from Walter Hill and David Giler, layering a 70′s paranoid, anti-corporate meme into the proto-typical monster narrative. The film’s central theme, inherent in O’Bannon/Ronald Shusett’s draft, is made explicit in the film version with the addition of Ash’s statement: “There is an elegant solution: only one of you will survive.” This makes Ripley’s sign-off so powerful. Even the final sleeping beauty image left me with visual relief yet tainted by the malevolence of all that had come before. I left the theater dazed, electrified by the force of those defining images and sounds. I saw ALIEN three more times that summer. Let’s face it, I also wanted to catch a better view of that star beast.