Sunday, May 25, 2014

An Alien Experience

"In space no one can hear you scream."

"Alien" tagline

It was my own fault.

I had been to see director Ridley Scott's "Alien" not long after it hit the theaters on this day in 1979, and I knew how many scary scenes there were in it. Before I went to see it, I saw Sigourney Weaver making what I assume was her first appearance on The Tonight Show, and I remember she told Johnny Carson that "Alien" did "all the things a piece of celluloid is supposed to do."

After I heard her say that, I had to see it.

Anyway, I went to see it by myself the first time. I didn't know much about it, other than it was supposed to be one of the scariest movies in years — and it was. When I left the theater, I felt drained.

Not long after that, Mom was making noises about wanting to see it. She had been hearing and reading a lot about it, and she was intrigued.

Now, when Mom was alive, I enjoyed watching movies with her, and I watched many of the best movies that were ever made with her — sometimes at the theater, other times at home on our TV set. We talked about the movies after we watched them, and she often pointed out things to me that I had missed. I have often longed for those conversations since her death.

I knew that intense movies had a particular effect on her, though. See, whenever Mom was watching a (pardon the pun) gripping movie, she had a tendency to grip the arm of the person sitting next (or perhaps I should say closest) to her in the especially intense moments — preferably someone she knew, but, if it happened to be a stranger, well, she wasn't bashful about grabbing that person's arm.

If it was an arm and it was close to her, it was fair game.

I suppose Dad had been to enough movies with Mom to know better than to go to a scary one with her. He didn't mind going to the comedies with her, and they often went to dramatic movies together, but he left the task of taking her to scary movies to others.

On this occasion, I miscalculated.

See, I figured that, since I had seen "Alien" before, I had a pretty good idea how intense it was — and when the especially intense scenes were coming up. I must have figured that I could be prepared for Mom's reaction to those scenes. I figured wrong.

Before the movie was over, my right arm was a mass of bruises.

"Alien" was really one of the first sci–fi/horror movies to be set in the dark depths of space — and the promoters capitalized on it.

"In space no one can hear you scream" was the tagline on the trailers and the movie posters. I feel it had to be the inspiration for the scary movies set in space that came after — although it certainly wasn't the first.

It just gave a fresh — and plausible — spin to an old theme.

The American Film Institute ranks it seventh among the sci–fi movies. It continues to be cited as a groundbreaking movie that still influences filmmakers today. Yet it won only one Oscar (visual effects).

Still, it was hugely successful, earning more than $200 million after being made for a paltry (by comparison) $9 million — and it can truly be said to have launched Weaver's career.

The movie was nominated for two Oscars, winning for visual effects.

I wonder how many other arms were bruised during the showing of that movie.

(P.S. H.R. Giger, the artist who designed the monster for "Alien," died less than two weeks ago at the age of 74.)