Halloween Scene: Alien (1979)

alien poster The Alien franchise is pretty revered both amongst my circle and many of the people I know and respect. And yet, I have very little experience with the series. It’s not that I had anything against it, I just didn’t get around to it. I remember watching Aliens on VHS  in high school and thought I’d seen Alien, but while watching the Blu-ray version and writing this post, I now remember that I meant to get the first film, wound up with the second and just went with it. I’m sure I’d seen bits and pieces of Alien here and there, but much of it seemed new to me. And yet, when I saw the Alien Anthology Bluray box set go on sale for something like $22 last year, I asked my wife to pick it up for me for the holidays. It seemed like the kind of series I’d be into if I just sat down and watched it.

Even as a novice, I was familiar with the basic story of Ridley Scott’s Alien which finds the crew of a tow ship investigating a potentially alien transmission on a planetoid that just so happens to contain huge ruins and a particularly nasty brand of alien that makes its way onto their ship. While onboard, the menace makes short work of the crew — which consists of characters played by  Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt,Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto — before they go on the offensive and try to save their lives and at least part of the ship. It’s a taught, scary film that gives you enough time to get to know the characters and then doesn’t let up as it races towards the final.

I don’t think there’s any arguing that Alien is a classic film, expertly put together and acted. While reading about the movie, I discovered that one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, Walter Hill, had a hand in it. He not only produced, but also rewrote Dan O’Bannon’s script. We’ll probably never know exactly how much which people got through to the final film, but it shows Hill’s versatility and radness.

But there is one problem with Alien and it has nothing to do with the movie itself. By being such a successful film with a fairly simple plot (alien hunts down people in strange place) it’s been talked about, homaged, parodied and flat-out copied for decades. Even if you haven’t seen the chestburster scene, but are otherwise well versed in horror or film history, you’ve probably seen the scene on a countdown show of some kind. Heck, you probably also know going in that the cast’s reaction was real because they didn’t know exactly what was going to happen.

A few years back I watched the Shout Factory double feature of Roger Corman’s Cult Classics: The Terror Within / Dead Space. I don’t remember much about either movie aside from the fact that, even without being familiar with the source material, one or both of them were rip-offs of Alien. Sometimes, that can work out well, like in the case of Jason X, but usually it just feels old, tired and unoriginal.

So, what’s the solution to this problem? See Alien as soon as you can. It’s just one of those movies that’s so iconic and so influential that it’s best to get it in your system as early as possible so you’re comparing all of the copycats to the original instead of an idea of the original you’ve formed from being part of the pop culture landscape. I’m to far gone in that regard, but I figure a few more solid viewings in glorious Blu-ray will help to retroactively fix the problem.

Book Vs. Movie: The Running Man

While reading Richard Bachman’s (actually Stephen King, of course) The Running Man, I leisurely compared the story to my fuzzy memories of the movie version starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. All I really remembered about the 1987 flick was that an old game show host hosted the game, everything was pretty bright and colorful and the good guys had to fight themed bad guy villains with crazy gear. I did not remember that the movie version takes the character of Ben Richards and, instead of making him a down-on-his-luck dude with a wife having to whore for money, he’s a stand-up man who refused to fire on a bunch of civilians. This got him thrown into a kind of work camp/jail that he broke out of with a skinny nerdy guy and Bond’s Mr. Big (Yapeht Koto). There’s some nonsense about an underground resistance that’s manned by the drummer from Fleetwood Mac and Frank Zappa’s kid and on and on. Finally, Richards gets captured and thrown into the Running Man, which, just like the book, is a game show where people get chased and killed, but instead of normal people hunting them through the country, they’re launched into a field of play (still pretty big for what it’s worth) and chased by Stalkers who are themed villains. Essentially a mix of Silver Age themed supervillains, American Gladiators, Bond henchmen and slashers, the Stalkers include a killer hockey player, a dude with a chainsaw riding a motorcycle, a firebender and Jesse Ventura. The meat of the movie is really seeing Arnold figure out ways to best the bad guys, kind of like a video game. In fact, I would fully support an expanded video game version of this movie, it would be a ton of fun.

So the movie version is much different than the book. I’m fine with that. I’m glad I wasn’t a huge fan of the book and then saw the movie, though, because I think I would have been pretty disappointed. While reading through the story, I kept imagining a film version of the story that would be a lot more Children Of Men or The Road (but, you know, actually interesting, ZING!). I like that they went in a different direction with the source material for the 80s version, but still think there a lot of good cinematic potential in the novel that could be turned into a gritty, down to earth movie about a man on the run in a shitty future. The right filmmaker with the right vision could really do something interesting with that story.

Anyway, back to the movie for a minute. I really had a fun time watching it. Sure, it doesn’t make any sense (old ladies still get oohs and ahs from the corny game show host but also enjoy watching men–the supposedly bad men–getting torn apart on national television), but it’s a fun, 80s action movie that actually fulfills two of my blog subcategories: Friday Fisticuffs and Book Vs. Movie. I love a good double whammy, so this worked out perfectly.