Back in 1979, the crew of the Nostromo found themselves caught off guard by an uninvited guest. After four decades, three sequels, two spinoffs, and two prequels, we're still feeling the impact that cinematic classic Alien left on pop culture.
The film's tagline told us that in space, no one can hear you scream. But here we are in 2019, and Veronica Cartwright's frantic wail that she let loose when the high-velocity blood splatter from John Hurt's bursting chest landed on her face is a sound that movie audiences will never forget. Most likely because that chest-burster scene was never rehearsed and the actors weren't given any idea of what was in store, which made for an organically terrifying reaction for both the actors and viewers.
Alien, which will be shown locally at two Alamo Drafthouse locations this weekend, easily could have been presented as a total B-movie, held in place by all the old familiar sci-fi tentpoles. But the decisions made by director Ridley Scott and writers Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett brought another layer to the terror.
There were no Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers types aboard the ship who were going to save the day. These were blue-collar workers tasked with hauling resources from Point A to Point B for a paycheck, not members of some galactic federation with a sworn duty to defend the universe. The characters were written as gender neutral, a choice that was as revolutionary then as it is now.
And while plenty of scary movies of that era featured female protagonists, there was no one quite like Ellen Ripley. Sigourney Weaver's portrayal of the film's heroine may very well have been the precursor for a changing attitude in Hollywood, one which paved the way for such characters as Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor in the Terminator films and Charlize Theron's Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road.
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The supporting cast wasn't made up of fresh-faced Hollywood youth with more looks than talent. It consisted of men and women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, like legendary characters actors Harry Dean Stanton and Yaphet Kotto. These choices were outside the norm for the usual sci-fi horror fare, and they added another layer of realism that brought it all that much closer to home. Suddenly, the premise of a spaceship crew being chased by a monster didn't feel so far-fetched. It was so much closer than that. Close enough for you to feel it in your chest.
Add in some narrow hallways and tight air vents, and you have a sci-fi horror film that never, ever lets you go. Audiences loved the film so much that they grabbed it right back, so it's no surprise that we're celebrating its big 4-0 after all this time. As is the case with so many other cinematic milestones, Alamo Drafthouse will be firing up its projectors and taking us back aboard the old cargo ship. And with its new 4K restoration, the horror masterpiece becomes even more realistic, as hard as that may be to believe.
We know that in space, no one can hear you scream. But the audiences in the adjacent theaters will more than likely hear you loud and clear.
Alien: Will be shown Sunday, May 26, and Wednesday, May 29, at the Tempe Alamo Drafthouse, 1140 East Baseline Road, Tempe, and the Chandler Alamo Drafthouse, 4955 South Arizona Avenue, Chandler. Tickets are $8 and can be purchased at the Alamo Drafthouse site.