Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Alien (1979)

Fig. 1
Ridley Scott's Alien is a science fiction horror, that is best described as "A Gothic set in space" (Canby 1979). H.R.Giger is the genius behind the set design and without this element the film wouldn't be the success it is. Although with many prominent representations within the set are of both male and female genitalia, the design has been very carefully crafted to represent the contrast from organic to industrial landscapes. The plot is basic, the classic haunted house, except in this case its a space craft. The film starts with a crew of seven, but ends with only one survivor and a cat! It is clear by the title of the film who/what is responsible for the deaths! The film has many sexual references throughout, referring to Kane's (John Hurt) alien attack on his face as male rape and the 'chestburster' as violent form of giving birth. Even the alien itself has many representations, the shape of his head of the male genitalia and the layers of teeth representing Freud's theory that males are scared of female genitalia etc.     

Its clear to see the concept art behind H.R.Giger's masterpiece, from the space craft to the alien space craft, everything is delicately placed and interwoven. The colours prominent to the film are of course green and black, this gives the film the sci-fi horror atmosphere and draws the audience into the action. Kim Newman suggests, "Like the space tug itself, all fantasy films carry in their wake a warehouseful of weird and wonderful production paintings. Sci-fi fans eat them up. Alien is no different; a book of sketches was published to coincide with the film, and the journey it describes from doodle to storyboard to screen is compelling, taking in spacesuit drawings by French comic book legend Moebius, Nostromo interiors by Cobb, and airbrushed alien designs by H.R. Giger. It was Giger who cracked Alien, not just with the creature itself (rarely seen in full anyway), but with the organic innards of the derelict ship and its ghostly egg chamber." (Newman 2006) Newman notes the beauty behind the set design from Giger's concept art and commends the success of the design of both the creature and space craft.
Fig. 2
The storyline itself leaves little suspense, even with moments of panic the audience may find themselves disengaged to the deaths unfolding in front of them. This could be due to the lack of character development on screen before the 'excitement' starts to happen. Vincent Canby argues, "Alien's" sets and special effects are well done, but these things no longer surprise or tantalize us as they once did. In a very short time, science-fiction films have developed their own jargon that's now become a part of the grammar of film." (Canby 1979) Canby notes that the set and special effects are to be congratulated, but in another way states that the public aren't as shocked by this as they were years ago. Stating that it is becoming the norm for science fiction films to develop this 'look' to convey space, space craft etc. In another term, generic. However, as the set design is so beautifully developed and appreciated by many a critic and viewer it's hard to see the set as anything but overwhelming.    

Fig. 3
Geoff Andrew observes, "...the limited strengths of its staple sci-fi horrors - crew of commercial spacecraft menaced by stowaway monster - always derived from either the offhand organic/ Freudian resonances of its design or the purely (brilliantly) manipulative editing and pacing of its above-average shock quota." (Andrew 2007) Andrews re-emphasises the success of the set design and its hidden symbolism involving Freud's theory.

List of illustrations

Figure 1. Scott, Ridley (1979) Alien Movie Poster. At: (Accessed on:1/11/11)

Figure 2. Scott, Ridley (1979) Sigourney Weaver as Ripely. At: (Accessed on:1/11/11)

Figure 3. Scott, Ridley (1979) Ridley Scott's vision. At: (Accessed on:2/11/11) 


Empire Kim Newman (2006) Alien. At: (Accessed on:1/11/11)

New York Times Review Vincent Canby (1979) Alien (1979) Screen: 'Alien 'Brings Chills From the Far Galaxy:A Gothic Set in Space. At: Tomatoes (Accessed on:1/11/11)

Time Out Geoff Andrew (2007) Alien (1979). At: (Accessed on:1/11/11)