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#47-49. Alien - Analysis

Alien film posterSynopsis

Seven crewmembers aboard the spacecraft Nostromo are awakened from hyper-sleep when their ship picks up an unknown radio signal from a nearby planet. A team of three astronauts: Kane, Dallas, and Lambert, are sent to explore the ship that has crashed and emitting the SOS signal. Once inside the desolate ship, Kane finds an enormous chamber filled with countless incubating eggs. His investigations prove to be injudicious when the inhabitants of one of the eggs (eventually dubbed a “facehugger”) penetrates his helmet and forcefully thrusts itself inside his body through his mouth.

After Kane is brought back on board the lead science officer Ash, along with the ship’s captain Dallas, try to remove the creature off Kane’s face. Finding out the monster bleeds a liquid similar to acid; the men discontinue their efforts and opt to wait it out. Luckily the creature eventually dies and Kane awakens, but only moments later while the crew eats a celebratory meal, everyone finds out that the monster had in fact impregnated Kane. The newly gestated creature, called a xenomorph, makes a spectacular entrance by bursting through Kane’s chest. This creature rapidly increases in size and begins to hunt and kill each crewmember one by one.

Over several extremely heinous and violent events 3rd Officer Ripley learns of her Company’s ulterior motives, discovers Ash is in fact a robot and ultimately becomes the last survivor of the Nostromo. She decides to blow up the ship, along with the alien and cargo while escape in an emergency shuttle. Of course, the creature follows her in the escape, where Ripley successfully rockets the alien into outer space.

Alien film posterPremise and Opening

The premise of Alien is established only minutes into the film. Seven crewmembers aboard the commercial towing spacecraft Nostromo are prematurely awakened from hyper-sleep when the vehicle’s artificial intelligence system (called Mother) detects a signal of unknown origin. Although it is nearly six-minutes into the film before the first line of dialogue is spoken, the premise of the film is setup within the opening scene.

Writer Dan O’Bannon and director Ridley Scott chose to open the film by establishing viewers to the silent and claustrophobic world of the Nostromo before introducing the crew. The camera slowly moves across the enormous ship exterior allowing enough time for the craft’s unimaginable size to resonate. Quickly the film cuts to the ship’s interior by weaving through the hallways of the Nostromo before ultimately settling at the pilot’s station. The terminal abruptly blinks to life, reflecting off the empty masks of the team. It is after the ship finishes its startup sequences that the audience is finally introduced to the groggy and homesick crew.


Dan O’Bannon’s script uses exposition sparingly. He offers very little back-story to perhaps add to the film’s suspense and paranoia. The film opens with the bleak openness of space, the crew’s vessel the Nostromo, and perhaps the only pertinent piece of exposition in the entire film:

            Commercial towing vehicle ‘The Nostromo’

                        Crew: seven

                        Cargo: refinery processing 20,000,000 tons of mineral ore

                        Course: returning to earth

After this initial information, the film does very little to acclimate the audience to the environment or situation these seven characters find themselves. There are brief introductions, where the audience learns names and rank, and throughout scenes of action the characters’ jobs and responsibilities are made clear. There is another example of exposition in Alien, however slight it may be. It deals with Parker (an African American) and his lackey Brett; the wrench-turners on board the Nostromo. Throughout the first act their incessant arguing over the “bonus situation”, the audience has a glimpse into the Company the crew works for. A simple set-up to what will be a major theme of the film.

Alien film posterDramatic Irony

In Alien the use of dramatic irony is successfully traded for the suitable genre tools of surprise and suspense. From the moment the crew is awakened, the audience is only allowed information when it is given to characters on screen. When the facehugger first attaches itself to Kane and is brought aboard, no explanation to Kane’s condition or details of the alien species is awarded to the viewer until the characters discover it for themselves. This method of storytelling is employed through the film’s ending. While the seven human beings are systematically picked off by the seemingly indomitable xenomorph, there is never an instance when the audience is made aware of the creature’s position in the ship until it shows itself to the man or woman it is about to violently mutilate.  The result is a shared experience of terror between the cast and the audience. The confusion is only intensified by the hysteria manifested on screen, which effectively produces the desired sensation of fear within the viewer.

Preparation and Aftermath

Scenes of preparation and subsequent aftermath abound in Alien. After Kane is attacked by the facehugger and left unconscious, he unceremoniously comes to. He awakes with an aggressive appetite and a great scene of preparation by contrast follows when the six other crewmembers join him for an impromptu meal in the dining room. The mood is light and cheerful because all seems to be working out in favor of the Nostromo. The dangerous acid-bleeding alien they brought on board has expired, in addition to the team member they thought was going to die, miraculously surviving. They joke around, eat heartily and celebrate their close call until the alien makes its terrifically gruesome return by way of Kane’s chest. There is a similar scene of preparation by contrast when Ripley believes she is alone in the escape shuttle in the 3rd act. The audience silently watches as she finally begins to relax and prepare for her long journey back to earth, when in true horror genre fashion, the xenomorph arrives for one final scare.

A perfect example of aftermath occurs at the end of the picture. Ripley, having just launched the alien into the emptiness of space, sits calmly at a workstation recording her final report for the Nostromo. O’Bannon allows Ripley and the audience to reflect on their adventure and absorb the weight of the situation by naming each individual who lost their lives aboard the spacecraft. There are examples of aftermath that do not attempt to meditate on such dramatic significance as well. After Brett’s death at the hands of the xenomorph, the crew reconvenes and addresses the true magnitude of their disadvantage.

Alien film posterMain Tension, Culmination, and Resolution

By the end of the 1st act the alien has been ushered on board the Nostromo by Capt. Dallas after it attached itself securely to Kane’s head. Up to this point it has not been made evident that Dallas is not the actual hero of the film. It is also at the end of the 1st act that corporate greed and ulterior motives of the Company are initially hinted at. It is for these reasons the main tension may ask, “Will the Captain Dallas and his crew be able survive both the alien invader and the company’s ulterior motives while maintaining control of the Nostromo?”

The culmination of the film comes when Ripley finds out the truth behind the Company’s military weapons plan and that Ash is actually a cybernetic robot sent to secure the Company’s interests. It is after this when she learns of this information that she decides the only way she and the two surviving members will survive is by initiating “self-destruct” mode on the Nostromo and fleeing inside an escape spacecraft.

Alien’s resolution comes when Ripley exhaustively watches the Nostromo explode before her eyes. Her witnessing the death of the creature that killed her teammates and the destruction of the ship that guaranteed their fate. This moment in the film allows the audience to relax.


Thematically Alien is a very interesting, very deep film. This science fiction/horror genre picture is attempting to explore and exhibit the permeation of minorities into the traditionally white corporate structure and the desperate battle to maintain control. Throughout the 1970’s, African Americans and female workers had taken advantage of the momentum and rewards their respective equal-rights causes afforded them, placing them in positions once exclusively held by white-males. Ash, the Company’s robotic puppet, symbolizes both the desperation that white males of superior education and position were feeling during that decade. In addition, the determination of the corporate system, still controlled by the white male demographic, to hold onto their control they could feel gradually slipping away. Another prevalent theme of Alien is that of corporate greed and their worthless appraisal of human life. By gaining access to the ship’s computer control system, Mother, Ripley learns the Company’s true motives:


Once Ripley discovers the Company values the alien more than the employee’s lives, she along with Lambert and Parker, decide to blowup the ship that contained the alien and all the cargo on board.  Thus, taking away control from the nameless company they work for and validate the value of human life, but sacrificing any chance of monetary indemnification.  

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