“In space, no one can hear you scream.” That’s all it took to capture the zeitgeist and put butts in theater seats. Like Jaws just a few years prior (“Don’t go in the water.”), 1979’s Alien hinted at a terror lurking hidden somewhere in the vast nothingness.
Is it any wonder that we are still talking about the house of horrors that Scott and Giger built 37 years later? As a whole, the Alien franchise works on a visceral level. Its indelible impact is a terrifying, shared experience that stretches across four movies, a prequel, multiple games, and a slew of comic books and novels. We clearly like to be scared. And Alien, in its many multimedia forms, hinges on us remaining unsettled with our vulnerability as humans when compared to the universe. It forces us to acknowledge the fact that we’ve barely scratched the surface in terms of space travel. That somewhere in the back of our mind — once we’ve put aside our optimistic talking points about exploration — we have to wonder if whatever is out there is as hostile as we are. Or worse.
For that reason, everyone has a moment from the Alien saga that struck them especially. Which is why we at Action A Go Go wanted to do something special for #AlienDay426 by talking about our personal favorite moments from the series as a whole. This is…Great Moments in Action History: #AlienDay426 Edition!
Angela Night’s Great Moment: QUEEN TAKES BISHOP from Aliens
Ripley, Bishop and Newt are back on the Sulaco, exiting the drop ship used to escape LV-426. The framing is simple and there’s no music, indeed it looks like the sort of scene that would be used to wrap things up before the credits and I imagine that when people originally saw Aliens at the cinema this was the moment where they might have started to put coats on in preparation to leave. The nest is destroyed, the survivors are relieved and triumphant, and Bishop the synthetic (or artificial person if you’d prefer) is the hero of the hour.
Without Bishop there would have been no survivors, it is Bishop that spots the emergency gas venting, Bishop that crawls the terrifyingly claustrophobic crawl space to remote pilot the drop ship down from the Sulaco and Bishop that arrives just in time to pick Ripley and Newt up before the planet blows. Ripley tells him “Bishop, you did ok.” The moment is his, he has finally won acceptance, he is one of them. An acid burn by their feet is the only warning they get before Bishop is impaled through the back by the Alien Queen. The pale synthetic blood begins to jet from his mouth as Ripley tries desperately to free him. Bishop is lifted from his feet and the tail withdrawn before he is torn in half and tossed aside, allowing the Queen to unfold herself from the back of the drop ship.
Bishop’s fate at the hands of the Alien Queen is a masterclass in practical film effects, still looking stunning 30 years later. Bishop’s status as a synthetic only barely takes the edge off the horror of the aesthetic, which would have been a level of gore worthy of movies like Hellraiser if the character in question had actually been human. Lance Henriksen’s fantastic performance as Bishop represents both a reminder and a reversal of Ash, the murderous synthetic from Alien. Bishop spends the movie flawlessly walking the line between a creepily robotic intensity and an endearingly childlike desire for approval. Bishop has hovered on the outside, he is a synthetic and works for the company therefore he has been feared and distrusted by both Ripley and the colonial marine unit. To have his moment of glory snatched away so brutally is the perfect set up for the confrontation between the Alien Queen and Ripley. It reminds the audience of the true nightmare of the Xenomorph and sets the stage for what is, in my opinion, still one of the best fights in cinematic history.
Greg Sahadachny’s Great Moment: THE NARCISSUS ESCAPE from Alien
Depending on who you ask, Alien (1979) is either a high point or an origin point for modern science fiction in film. That is a heavy crown to wear, but the film has always held up against the dozens of challengers and copycats over the years. It is a perfect storm of a film — direction, acting, cinematography, writing, creature and art design, music, on and on. That is not up for debate. It is also easy to gloss over how effective a suspense yarn it is. Evidence of note: its pacing; slow, plodding, terror-building. Compared to most modern horror even, Alien is more Hitchcock than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
So, we’re all here today to talk about our favorite moment, and mine serves as the crescendo to the slow burn terrorism that is Alien. The oft-imitated (even within the same series) ending that involves blowing the Xenomorph out of the airlock to bring peace and tranquility back to the universe. However, I’m not going to talk about victory. The scene, for me, is about Sigourney Weaver’s vulnerability and strength, and how sexy all of that is. Alien is a perfect film to see when you are a teenage boy: it has the violence, shock, smart world-building, and the nightmare-inducing adult content that every teen seeks out. It also has a strong female lead that every (heterosexual) boy like me drooled over. Weaver’s performance is understated and superb, in the way she grows into a leadership position while maintaining vulnerability.
Ripley is as influential on film heroines as Alien is on sci-fi. And she came along at the exact moment of my puberty. I can’t think of a better female to be enamored with at 12 or 13 years old — a person who, in a state of fear, uses her intellect and instinct to improvise a solution to her impending doom. No gender drawbacks here. Of course, at that age, I was also focusing on her underwear and t-shirt, her long legs and mid-drift. But, there’s something to be said for sexiness being more than the physical attractiveness of your star, and realizing, if only subconsciously, that the whole package including her wit and brains would be the gift that would keep on giving after many viewings of Alien, over the years. Beyond surface appeal, Ripley is someone I respect as well as admire for her humanity, aspects that are only deepened in James Cameron’s sequel.
Andrew Allen’s Great Moment: RIPLEY’S CHOICE from Alien 3
My favorite Alien franchise moment would have to be the finale of Alien 3. The third Alien film — the Assembly Cut at least — is far and away my favorite in the series. It mixes the high-energy, colorfully characterized tone of Aliens with the creepier, more nuanced, psychosexual/existential horror-driven approach of the original Alien. The balance between the two styles is perfect, the combined power of which create the most compelling and richly conceived entry in the franchise. Rarely is this more apparent in the film than its final act, beginning with a tense chase sequence through the grimy, industrial corridors of the prison planet the film is set on. But where the film really sticks the landing is the moment, and the moments leading up to the moment where Ripley has her final face-off against the goons of the Weyland-Yutani corporation.
As Ripley and her ever-diminishing squad of inmates trap and destroy the main antagonist Xenomorph, the scenes are intercut with shots of ghoulishly masked Weyland-Yutani personnel arriving on the hellish, rust-tinted landscape of Fiorina 161, coming to make one final play at capturing the monster they’ve been so desperately hunting across the original trilogy of films. It’s an urgent race against the clock, all coming to a head when Ripley denies Weyland his prize by throwing herself into the molten furnace, taking with her the last specimen of the xenomorph species which had been gestating in her chest throughout the film. It’s a powerful, iconic moment to end Ripley’s story, made all the more haunting by the closing shots of the derelict prison overlaid with the sound of Ripley’s audio log from the final moments of the original Alien. The franchise at its most resonant and impactful.
The Gaming Anarchist’s Great Moment: ALIEN TRILOGY THE VIDEO GAME
Back in 1996 when first person shooters were a rarity on consoles (to any teenagers reading this: pick your jaw off the floor, this was a thing), Acclaim published a Doom clone (really) loosely based off the first three Alien films. Alien Trilogy The Video Game turned the run and gun slaughter of Doom into a tense action horror game. On the surface it was an abomination. Particularly, because it turned Ellen Ripley into a Colonial Marine (heresy) who fights her way through areas like LV-426 and the prison from Alien 3. It also used the iconic weapons from Aliens and motion capture technology for the Xenomorphs.
Picture the scene: You are in the dark, holding a PlayStation 1 controller in the days before analog controls were introduced. The familiar bleep of the Marine motion tracker goes off. Something’s in here, you can’t see what or where. A face hugger leaps out. You try to strafe to shoot but the d-pad is so clunky (or you are too rubbish). You miss. It’s out of your field of view. You try to move back to get a shot and then….BAM! Your screen is filled with facehugger and your heart is in your mouth!
It might not hold up to modern standards when it comes to controls, and it butchered the story, but Alien Trilogy The Video Game‘s use of iconic sights and sounds as well as the effective tension made for one of the most engaging experiences in the history of the franchise for me.
Shack House’s Great Moment: THE KNIFE GAME from Aliens
The first movie in the Alien franchise was produced as a horror movie in outer space. Its plural sequel, 1986’s Aliens, was a science-fiction action-drama done by James Cameron. Taking place 57 years after the events of the first film, it follows the protagonist Ellen Ripley and a team of intergalactic marines and their mission to destroy the Xenomorphic Aliens. One member of the Ripley’s unit, Bishop, intrigues me the most. Played by Lance Henriksen, he’s a human android with more-than-efficient physical and intellectual capabilities as well as no emotional impediments.
My favorite scene from Aliens is the “knife-game” scene, in which Private Hudson (Bill Paxton’s character) had his hand forcibly held flat on a table with Bishop stabbing the spaces in between each finger. The objective of the game is to perform the trick at the fastest speed possible without hitting (and therefore injuring) any part of the hand or fingers. Bishop gradually rose to superhuman speed with it and had Hudson (and the audience) anxious about his precision and eager to see the result.
Derek Scarzella’s Great Moment: DALLAS’ DEATH from Alien
For me the Alien franchise is at it’s best when it’s all about Marines blowing stuff up and Xenomorphs screaming, but the moment that always gets me is the tunnel scene from the first movie where Dallas bites the dust.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was a little kid watching this movie with other little kids trying not to act scared. By this time we’d seen the eggs, the chestburster, all of it! Then Dallas, the captain, goes into the tunnels armed with a flamethrower…and the short cat and mouse scene begins. The tension is ratcheted up beyond belief and then…BAM! A pair of Xenomorph arms reaching out with that disgusting face roaring!
Why is this my favorite moment? Because ’til this day it is the one jump scare that actually shook me to my soul, forever sealing my fate as an Alien fan. Like the whole film, this scene is a masterclass in terror and horror. But above all others, it is a lesson in how to get someone ready for a scare and delivering in full.
James David Patrick’s Great Moment: A NEW BEGINNING from Alien 3
My first inclination was to pick any one of Alien’s dozen scenes of claustrophobic paranoia as my favorite moment from the franchise. But there’s one specific image from David Fincher’s Alien 3 that stands out – that perhaps best represents not only the series’ greatness but also its bold, creative direction as a subversive statement on gender.
Ripley wipes clean the foggy mirror, revealing her newly shorn head. It’s a jarring reveal, having grown accustomed to Sigourney’s flowing, wavy locks. Throughout Alien and Aliens, Ripley represented powerful femininity against a backdrop of impotent male bravado, best showcased in Bill Paxton’s blowhard Private Hudson. Now beautiful and bald, Ripley has also usurped their masculine visage. Fincher made a bold stylistic choice, daring to position Ripley as an action hero that is both masculine and feminine. He’s stripped away the Hollywood pretense of defined gender roles. As a result, Alien 3, in many ways becomes the most interesting and innovative entry in the series – not even studio tampering could wholly undermine Fincher’s unique vision for the Alien franchise.
Tabatha LeStrange’s Great Moment: GORMAN AND VASQUEZ from Aliens
My favorite scene involves my favorite character, Pvt. Janette Vasquez from the sequel, Aliens. It’s hard to choose just one favorite Vasquez scene — the burn on Hudson when she and Drake were doing pull-ups, her heroic end in the air ducts with Gorman — but for the sake of choosing, I will go with one that always prompted a shaking, balled fist and a “Hell yeah” out of me. The camera pans on firearms laid out on the table as Drake and Vasquez in unison, equip their smart guns and look at each other, acknowledging that are ready to f some sh*t up. Simple.
Not only was that scene hot, it showed their camaraderie. And I just loved seeing a woman on the same level of badassery as a man.
Jon Jebus’ Great Moment: EMERGENCY C-SECTION from Prometheus
Ah, Prometheus…the inky black primordial ooze of the Alien franchise. While it didn’t quite live up to its mythological name, I consider this movie canon as much as any film in the series. Understandably, some of the controversy surrounding the film stems from the 2 + 2 = 5 math derived from Prometheus‘ bizarre ending. However, whatever gripes one might have, it still literally gave birth to one of the best moments in the garbled continuity.
Archaeologist Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, who does a great job filling in the alien stomper boots of Sigourney Weaver) finds herself impregnated and having her guts rearranged by a rapidly growing nascent alien. Fearing for her life, she does what any self-respecting badass would do: She has the creature surgically removed while being fully conscious. The scene is a terrifying rush of adrenaline.
Now, just to go Mythbusters before I leave, some might argue that the trilobite was not her love child, but frankly if I’ve learned anything about the Xenomorph universe, it’s that no creature is conceived without an orifice being savaged. That’s how babies get made.
Happy Alien Day, people.