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ALIEN – Ridley Scott’s Masterpiece Released 35 Years Ago Today: May 25, 1979

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alien 1979
AVCO Center Cinemas, Westwood, CA

On Friday, director Ridley Scott arrived in Sydney, Australiareportedly to scout for locations for PROMETHEUS 2.

PROMETHEUS (2012) starred Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron and Idris Elba, was well received by critics and subsequently a box office hit. The sequel is scheduled for a release in March 2016.

I’ll bet Scott never thought in a million years that he’d be scouting locations for another ALIEN movie almost 35 years to the day after the original hit theaters.

Jump back to opening weekend… May 25, 1979. “In space no one can hear you scream”

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I was a 12 year girl when my mother, after much pleading, took me to the Showcase Cinemas in East Hartford, CT on that Friday night. These were the days prior to the words “spoilers” and “internet” when audiences went into a film blind and when parents didn’t take their children to R rated movies.

All I knew from the ad in the TV Guide was that it was science fiction. Period. After seeing JAWS in 1975, my naïve younger self really didn’t think there’d ever be another movie that would give me such nightmares.

What I didn’t bargain for was director Ridley Scott’s movie would scare the living daylights out of me and become his masterpiece – ALIEN.

The terror begins when the crew of a spaceship investigates an S.O.S – “A transmission, out here?” – from a desolate planet, and discovers a life form that is perfectly evolved to annihilate mankind. One by one, each crew member is killed off until only Ripley is left, leading to an explosive conclusion.

Today’s trailers give everything, and I mean everything, away. The monsters are no longer a surprise. Keeping the money-shot hidden are a thing of the past. This trailer set the tone and mood before the film’s release.

It’s hard to impress on today’s moviegoers how truly frightening the experience was – hearing people’s screams, while watching others get up and walk right out of the theater – as the two hours unfolded up on the screen. To say audiences were white knuckling the armrests of their chairs from the minute the opening title began is an understatement. Would it have the same effect on audiences if released into cinemas today? Truthfully, no.

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With only a crew of seven, and a cat, Jones, these truck drivers in space try to survive a killing machine. The menacing feeling of not being able to escape from such claustrophobic quarters, while the “Company” you work for has only one thing in mind – Insure return of organism… Crew expendable.

Staying with me throughout the 35 years are three things. Ripley has the wherewithal to survive until the conclusion, this visceral film still looks as fresh as it did on that weekend in 1979 and the underlying, continual sound of the ship’s heartbeat running throughout the audio.

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The combinations of the jumpsuit uniforms, the commercial towing vehicle ‘The Nostromo,’ decorated with relics from airplanes, and most importantly, H.R. Giger’s creature – the rich aesthetics of the film refuse to look dated or low-budget. As with all of Scott’s pictures, ALIEN is a beautiful film to watch.

The production design and attention to detail is impeccable. The knobs, switches, buttons, lights, headsets – all the functioning technicality of the set made such an impression on twelve year old me that I later became a newscast director pushing the same knobs, switches, buttons in a control booth.

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Editor Terry Rawlings cut the film with such a slow, long burn that by the end of the chest-burster scene, you could cut the tension in the theater with a knife. It was that palpable. Anything remotely sounding like a pinging tracker still send chills down the spine.

Sigourney Weaver’s “Ripley” becomes the hero and it is ultimately her story. Up to that time, for a studio to make the lead protagonist a woman, keeping her wits together and being the sole survivor was unheard of. Science Fiction was never the same.

Her character inspired heroines to come – THE TERMINATOR’s Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), BRAVE’s Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald), PROMETHEUS’s Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and GRAVITY’s Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) just to name a few.

Without a realistic alien, the movie would have been laughable instead of lauded. The double-jawed head filled with razor like teeth is still scary stuff. Jerry Goldsmith’s menacing score added fuel to the horrifying one hundred and sixteen minutes in the darkness. Seven months later, audiences would hear his score for another sci-fi film, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE.

In the end, the stars aligned for the perfect movie, and 35 years later, ALIEN is still a terrific melding of horror and science-fiction.

After all was said and done on May 25, 1979, the cheering from a weary audience died down and the “blink and you’ll miss them” credits with Howard Hanson’s pacifying Symphony No. 2 “Romantic” rolled, what did my mother and I do? Went out to the Box Office and bought tickets for Saturday night’s show.

An in-depth book on all things ALIEN is Alien Vault http://beckermayer.com/titles/alien-vault/

Check out the making of ALIEN below.

Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, John Hurt, Harry Dean Stanton, Veronica Cartwright, Bolaji Badejo, Helen Horton, Eddie Powell.

Director: Ridley Scott

Producers:  Gordon Carroll, David Giler, Walter Hill, Ivor Powell, Ronald Shusett.

Story By: Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett

Composer:  Jerry Goldsmith

Cinematography:  Derek Vanlint

Editor: Terry Rawlings, Peter Weatherley

Production Design: Michael Seymour

Art Direction: Roger Christian, Leslie Dilley

Set Decoration: Ian Whittaker

alien poster

Huge passion for film scores, Lives for the Academy Awards, Loves movie trailers.

1 Comment

  1. Chris

    May 29, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    Great read Michelle! I’ve seen Alien numerous times over the years, but unfortunately never in a theater. In ’79 I was 14, and in Ontario, Canada it was rated ‘Restricted’ — which meant no one under 18 could get in, even with an adult.
    For Christmas that year I got the Alien Illustrated Screenplay book, which featured stills from the film, including John Hurt’s unfortunate dinner scene. I remember reading daily for at least two weeks.
    I finally got to see it in 1980 on VHS. Still one of my faves, it sits comfortably in my collection of blu-rays (with fellow chillers Jaws and The Shining).

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