Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Alien - Analysis of the Movie - part 1: Introduction; rel. to '2001: A Space Odyssey'


[Image at left from the Wikipedia 'Alien (film)' page; "Alien movie poster",[a] licensed under fair use via Wikipedia.]

Welcome to the analysis of Alien. Buttons at the bottom of each post enable navigation through the parts of the analysis.

Alien is a 1979 science-fiction horror film directed by Ridley Scott, and starring Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto. The film's title refers to a highly aggressive extraterrestrial creature that stalks and kills the crew of a spaceship. Dan O'Bannon wrote the screenplay from a story he wrote with Ronald Shusett, drawing influence from previous works of science fiction and horror.[b]

There are visual similarities, as well as similarities of theme, between Alien and Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, as described below.

Near the end of Alien, with Ripley aboard the shuttle (above left), we see a view through the shuttle's window of the spaceship Nostromo exploding (above right). As the shuttle moves away from the exploding ship, part of the blast and light from the explosion travels outward and overtakes the shuttle, resulting in the pattern of yellow light shown at left being visible from the shuttle.

The above pattern of yellow light from Alien, is meant to be reminiscent of the portion of the Space Odyssey 'stargate' shown at left. In A Space Odyssey, the stargate includes a streaming series of varied colors and shapes that astronaut David Bowman, the film's protagonist, sees as he moves rapidly through space from the area of the planet Jupiter, toward Earth, aboard his EVA pod.

The bright white light coming from the thrusters of Ripley's shuttle (pictured at left), is patterned after these two bright white images (below left and right) that David Bowman sees, after having passed through the streaming portion of the stargate.


Top left: Dallas squats in one of the Nostromo's narrow passages while in search of the alien creature. Top right: Lambert holds a position sensing device which displays Dallas's physical location on a screen. Above left: The dot approaching from the left (leaving a 'trail' behind) on the viewing screen of Lamberts's position sensing device, indicates the physical location of the alien creature in relation to that of Dallas (whose location is indicated by the right-hand dot), and shows that the alien is getting closer to Dallas. The grid, dots, and dashes on the screen give it an appearance reminiscent of the play area screens of some of the video arcade games of the period (late 1970's/early 80's). Above right: The play area screen of the 1980's video arcade game, PacMan. [Image afrom the Wikipedia 'PacMan' page, licensed under fair use via Wikipedia; edited for clarity.] Note its rough similarity to the image on the Nostromo crew memeber's screen, in that it consists of lines and dots arranged in a grid-like pattern. Basically, what Ridley Scott is doing here is inserting humor into a serious situation (the situation with Dallas), by drawing an association between this situation, and scenarios in video arcade games. Scott is effectively making light of the situation in his film. This corresponds to Kubrick's occasional insertion of humor into, and thus making light of, serious situations in his own films (see below).

From A Space Odyssey: For a brief moment while David Bowman is disconnecting the Discovery One spaceship mission computer, HAL, not long after HAL has killed the other four astronauts on the spaceship, the top of Bowman's green space helmet looks somewhat similar to a top view (i.e., a view from above) of the head of Kermit the Frog. This is an example of Kubrick inserting humor into a serious situation (the disconnection of HAL is one of the most crucial events of A Space Odyssey. See the analysis of the film on this blog for a description of its plot, underlying themes, etc.).

a. Poster for Alien: The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, 20th Century Fox, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist.
b. Wikipedia, 'Alien (film)'. Web, n.d. URL =

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