‘Alien’: Neil Marshall praises Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic [guest essay]

Oct. 30, 2014 | 12:37 p.m.
la ca 0908 sigourney weaver 204 Alien: Neil Marshall praises Ridley Scotts sci fi classic [guest essay]

A scene from the 1986 sequel "Aliens." (Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images)

la ca 0908 sigourney weaver 205 Alien: Neil Marshall praises Ridley Scotts sci fi classic [guest essay]

A scene from the 1986 sequel "Aliens." (Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images)

la ca 0908 sigourney weaver 206 Alien: Neil Marshall praises Ridley Scotts sci fi classic [guest essay]

A scene from the 1986 sequel "Aliens." (Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images)

1884113 ca hcff 6 lkh Alien: Neil Marshall praises Ridley Scotts sci fi classic [guest essay]

Sigourney Weaver is the guest of honor at the 2014 Hero Complex Film Festival. (Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times)

1884113 ca hcff 7 lkh Alien: Neil Marshall praises Ridley Scotts sci fi classic [guest essay]

Sigourney Weaver is the guest of honor at the 2014 Hero Complex Film Festival. (Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times)

In the spirit of Halloween, Hero Complex reached out to select filmmakers to solicit their fondest memories of classic horror. Below, Neil Marshall — who recently directed the pilot episode of NBC’s new series “Constantine,” and who produced the ghost story “Soulmate,” which arrived on DVD this week — discusses his respect and admiration for Ridley Scott’s “Alien.” He also addresses its influence on his features, including the acclaimed thriller “The Descent,” a superlative horror story that sees a strong heroine fighting monsters in a confined setting.

Director Neil Marshall. (Courtesy of Neil Marshall)

Director Neil Marshall. (Courtesy of Neil Marshall)

Few horror movies have had such a profound effect on me as Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece, “Alien.” Few movies of any kind have had as much of an impact and influence on the movies I make.

I was too young to catch it at the cinema when it was first released, but my uncle did, and he enthralled me with tales of strange planets, chestbursters and the unusual notion of a woman as the hero of a science-fiction horror movie. I was hooked, but I didn’t get to see it for myself until it was first broadcast on television in the UK in 1982 when I was 12, and it surpassed all expectations.

A scene from "Alien." (Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images)

A scene from “Alien.” (Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images)

Director Ridley Scott, along with artists H.R. Giger and Ron Cobb, working from a script by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, set out to create two utterly realistic and compelling future worlds, one human, one alien, and then set them on a collision course. There is nothing in “Alien” that ever seems fake. The sets, the spacecraft, the planet, the characters, the costumes, the performances; everything feels credible and authentic.

The opening on the movie gives us a brief tour of the “tug” Nostromo, a workhorse of the spaceways, cumbersome and functional. Inside, its corridors are claustrophobic, dark, wet and grimy. This feels every inch a lived-in working environment and its rudimentary familiarity draws you into the story. Everything in this world is out to get you, from the vacuum of space to the cornbread and the corporation, let alone androids and alien beings. Space travel, in this movie, is no picnic.

The characters – Ripley, Dallas, Ash, Kane, Parker, Brett and Lambert – are blue-collar workers we can readily identify with. They bitch about money, food, and each other. After spending months in hypersleep, who wouldn’t be a little grumpy? I love that they’re not a bunch of teens in jeopardy. They’re not even that sympathetic. Instead they’re scratchy, sweaty, and stretched thin by months in close quarters confinement. They’re flawed and therefore very human.

The ALIEN on the other hand, is described by Ash as “the perfect organism.” Its very perfection is what makes it so otherworldly. As a biological entity, it’s precise, elegant and lethal. Everything about the ALIEN is sexual – its design, life cycle, its behavior – given Giger’s work that’s not too surprising. What it added to movie lore is a creature (actually multiple creatures) not merely repulsive and terrifying, but also darkly beautiful and disturbing.

A scene from "Alien." (Robert Penn / 20th Century Fox)

A scene from “Alien.” (Robert Penn / 20th Century Fox)

So which came first, the ALIEN or the EGG?

Actually neither. The derelict spacecraft comes first, if indeed it is a spacecraft. It looks almost organic and comes complete with several vagina-like portals through which our heroes gain access. Is it a female spacecraft? It has something resembling a pilot (more of which later) but it also has a womb, loaded with EGGS just waiting for some unwitting human to stray inside and “fertilize.”

Kane describes these EGGS as “round leathery objects.” They seem to be alive and are crowned with yet more vagina-like orifices that open up and ejaculate another alien organism – say hello to the FACE-HUGGER.

A scene from "Alien." (Robert Penn / 20th Century Fox)

A scene from “Alien.” (Robert Penn / 20th Century Fox)

This little beast essentially kills you by raping your face and making you pregnant, and this is by no means limited to woman. The alien can’t be accused of being sexist. Any sex, any age, any thing is fair game, and if you’re unlucky enough to be orally impregnated, then the process of giving birth is no less unpleasant and ultimately fatal.

Much has been said about the CHESTBURSTER’s big entrance, and yet despite lifting all the veils of movie magic it still retains the power to shock and disturb. It’s violent, painful and bloody, but none of it would be nearly so convincing if it wasn’t for John Hurt’s agonizing death throes and the rest of the cast looking on, dumbfounded and appalled. The aliens may be monstrous, but it’s the humans that sell the horror in the movie.

And so we come to the main event, the ALIEN itself, a gangly, seven-foot-tall, drooling, slithering phallus of death, complete with erectile tongue for thrusting out and penetrating its victims’ bodies. I’d say you couldn’t make this up, but they did, and in turn created the greatest movie monster of all.

To me, ALIEN (both the movie and the creature) is a perfect collaboration of brilliant minds and creative forces, all working together to push the envelope of ’70s cinema. I somehow doubt this movie would get made in today’s movie climate. It’s too adult, or perhaps too alien, for an audience weaned on superheroes and CGI. And yet, it spawned a successful franchise that’s still going strong today, via sequels, spin-offs, video games, and recently a prequel.

And therein lies the rub….

When I first saw “Alien,” the thing that burrowed deepest into my mind was not the ALIEN or the FACE-HUGGER or the EGG, but the other alien creature seen in the movie, the SPACE JOCKEY. This, to me, was far more incomprehensible than the ALIEN itself. Despite all I’ve said above, the ALIEN is basically a predator, and that’s something I can get my head around.

The SPACE JOCKEY, on the other hand, is entirely unfathomable. Has it grown out of the chair? Has its “nose” apparently connected to its body in such a way it cannot move? It is, to my mind, something utterly and completely alien. Imagine my crushing disappointment to find out, all these years later, that it was not some inscrutable alien being after all, but was, within the context of the story, just a man in a suit! Painfully ironic, given the lengths they went to in the original movie to disguise the fact that the ALIEN (played by Bolaji Badejo) was in fact just that.

Nevertheless, “Alien” is still a remarkable film-making achievement and an intense and terrifying movie which still holds up today with considerable ease.

— Neil Marshall

Follow us on Twitter: @LATherocomplex

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Comments


2 Responses to ‘Alien’: Neil Marshall praises Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic [guest essay]

  1. abdallasyam87 says:

    thanks for post

  2. Elmus says:

    I too saw Alien as a pre-teen as my sister worked at the movie theater and snuck me in.

    It was the most shocking movie I had seen to that point and maybe since. The thing that changed everything was that prior to that space was something man played in, both Star Trek and Star Wars had made space a playground where the likes of Han Solo only needed a dust mask to even breath.

    Then this Movie arrived and all of a sudden space was scary as hell.

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