The core trilogy (dare I say the only three films that matter?) in the ALIEN series brought to life one of science fiction’s scariest and most iconic creatures. We also know that the character of Ripley was created, breaking barriers for being a female heroine in a very male dominated genre.
The unsung hero of the film is its dialogue and the character it creates. The dialogue is written with such respect for the characters, and the audience that all attention is paid to the story. There is no distraction. The crew is smart enough, and savvy enough that we’re not second guessing their decisions. We’re on this journey with them together, and we know, in our minds, we would have done the exact thing they did, if presented with the same situation.
The genius behind ALIEN (1979) ALIENS (1986) and ALIEN 3 (1992), is undoubtedly the accessibility of the characters, brought to life by very believable dialogue.
In A L I E N We are first introduced to the crew of the Nostromo as they eat breakfast, after a long cryo-sleep hibernation. At this point, most of them believe they’ve reached the milky way galaxy. They’re home.
The dialogue at the table isn’t anything special. In today’s world, a scene like this would be cut, going right to the crew discovering the beacon from the derelict, opting for a faster pace. Instead, Ridley Scott, the master filmmaker that he is takes his time introducing us to each character. The dialogue isn’t clear, everyone is talking over everyone else. It’s one of the best scenes in a science fiction film. Ever.
The crew of the United States commercial starship Nostromo
seated around a table.
Five men and two women: Lambert and Ripley.
Jesus am I cold.
Still with us, Brett.
They yawn, stretch, shiver.
Dallas looks over at a flashing yellow light.
I feel dead.
Kane is not yet fully awake.
You look dead.
Nice to be back.
Before we dock maybe we’d
better go over the bonus
Brett and I think we deserve a
You two will get what you
contracted for. Just like
Everybody else gets more than us.
This scene is particularly brilliant as we quickly understand that the cast before us are blue collar workers. They’re miners in space. The characters in ALIEN are brilliant because they’re readily and easily accessible. They’re engaging in conversations that we have in our real lives. Ridley Scott sets up a universe where real people are talking about real things.
When events in the film start going south for the crew, they continue to act and speak in ways that you and I would in the same situation. The crew faces a terrible dilemma they aren’t fully understanding, and as the threat grows, so does their terror.
In a particularly climactic scene, Ripley and crew are monitoring Dallas as he braves the air duct system of the Nostromo, hoping to flush out the creature. It’s clear that these very average, very every-day-people aren’t sure what’s in store. The look on Ripley’s face tells us all that she’s sick to her stomach, that’s how frightened she is.
Backing up a scene. Parker is reacting to Brett’s disappearance.
The tension in this scene is palpable. These people are scared to death. Sheer panic. They’re quickly realizing that what’s creeping around their ship is huge, strong, deadly. They’re trapped in space with it.
As each member of the Nostromo is killed off, those remaining have less and less to say. They don’t know what to do, they’re struggling. Again, highlighting a particular scene, after the disappearance of Dallas, the tension turns into disagreements and arguments as abject fear courses through the veins of the remnants of the crew.
ALIEN set the bar for believable characters. The characters remain in our hearts and minds, not because the lines are cool, but because the people are real, real, real.
Thirty-seven years on, filmmaking has become slick, easier, better. Believable characters have nearly disappeared as the Hollywood machine has dumbed down its scripts for the masses, hoping to make a quick dollar on opening weekend.
The universe of ALIEN is about to explode open once again, with the release of ALIEN : Covenant next year, and Neill Blomkamp’s vision materializing soon after. If these films are going to succeed, it’s not going to be because of practical effects, cool monsters and awesome ships. No, the success of these films will be in the ability for the audience to relate to the characters and not feel like they’re smarter than them. In order for us, the audience to root for people in films, we have to believe in them and the journey they’re on. If we don’t believe in them, if we feel like the decisions they’re making are stupid, and nonsensical, you’ve lost your audience, and you’ve undermined your film.
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About Alien: Covenant 2 / Alien Awakening
The state of the Alien: Covenant sequel continues to remain uncertain. Ridley Scott has mentioned previously that they have a story already in place and know exactly where the sequel to Covenant will go, however the recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox film properties by Disney have potentially put the rumored-to-be-titled Alien: Awakening on hold for the time being. As new details arise concerning Alien: Covenant 2 we will be your premiere source and you can find information on the Covenant sequel by visiting the About Alien: Awakening page here.
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