(courtesy of moviepictures.tk)
I’m sitting on the couch as I write this, one eye on my monitor, the other focused on the television where ALIEN is playing. Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) is looking for Jonesy the cat and has just discovered the discarded skin of the horseshoe crab-like alien. Now he’s in the dark, wandering around. There’s not a sound, not a smidge of background music to tell you what’s going to happen next, but you know it’s going to be B-A-D.
Yup. He’s toast.
I saw this movie for the first time when it was released in theatres in 1979. The 70s spawned a lot of science fiction films, some good (ANDROMEDA STRAIN, SILENT RUNNING, A BOY AND HIS DOG, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, STAR WARS) and others not so good (the endless train of PLANET OF THE APES sequels and WESTWORLD come to mind). But for me, nothing punched my holy-shit button quite like the story of the Nostromo’s hapless crew and the heroic Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver. (How can you not love a woman who kicks serious butt AND refuses to escape danger unless she rescues the cat?)
The movie scared the total bejeezus out of me. An outer space haunted house inhabited by Jaws! Who could ask for more?
I’ve watched ALIEN several times in the 33 years since its release. (Good Lord, can that number be accurate? I can’t possibly be 54.) While it no longer frightens me (well, not entirely at any rate; there are still a couple of scenes that give me a good case of the heebie-jeebies), it remains a favorite.
I was in the theatre with my best friend when STAR WARS made its debut in 1977. (Met some very good friends for the first time that night, too.) I’m embarrassed to admit how often we returned in the first year alone. It was often enough to garner an invitation to the One Year Birthday Party the theatre threw (including cake). By the time STAR WARS aired on network television (1983 or so), I was living in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. The woman with whom I shared an apartment made me sit behind her, on the opposite side of the rom, because I drove her crazy mouthing dialogue not only with the characters, but ahead of them. I couldn’t help it.
The list goes on, endless viewings of E.T., THE FIFTH ELEMENT, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY, GALAXY QUEST, THE ABYSS, PREDATOR, THE TERMINATOR, GHOSTBUSTERS, and ALIENS (Sigourney Weaver again, plus Michael Biehn, Lance Henricksen, and the best array of weaponry ever — WIN!) But why is it — in the face of the enormous number of movies being produced — that we come back to the same ones over and over?
Entertainment value must be part of it (although I’m not sure why I still find entertainment in a movie I know so well I can recite it line for line), but I believe the big draw (at least for me) is the familiarity of well-loved characters. I know them — their likes and dislikes, loves and hatreds, weaknesses and strengths. On days when I feel like the world is against me, it’s nice to know that someone can come out on top. On evenings when I’m alone, it’s comforting to enjoy the company of old friends.