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My Favorite Martians: The Alien

September 2nd, 2009

Ridley Scott’s Alien is often dismissed as merely “a haunted house movie in space” rather than a legitimate science-fiction film. And yes, there are a few cheap boos, including a groan-worthy Cat Scare.

Yet I can’t recall another film that has devoted so much screen time to fleshing out the biology of its xenomorph. On the surface, Alien may seem like little more than an exercise in bone-crunching bloodletting, or an excuse to get Sigourney Weaver into the tiniest panties in film history, but I think it’s really about the act of procreation and the evolutionary imperative to survive at any cost.

It’s not without reason that Scott hired Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger to design his creature. If you are looking to combine skulls and penises, Giger is your go-to guy. And indeed, the head of the Alien is quite clearly intended to be a death’s head phallus.

alien

The sexual content of Alien isn’t at all subtextual. One of the hapless astronauts of the deep-space vessel Nostromo is literally penetrated by a thing that wraps itself around his head and shoves an egg tube down his throat. The critter gestates inside his gut in a mock pregnancy that ends when it tears its way through his belly in a self-Caesarean.

The life cycle of the Alien–egg, face-hugger, chest-burster, adult–is so well conceived that it becomes almost a ritualistic component of later sequels and spin-offs. By the time of Alien vs. Predator, the whole process is allowed to elapse in about five minutes of screen time.

Folks, unprotected sex just isn't worth it.

In a deleted scene (later reinserted for DVD release), Scott brings the cycle full-circle by depicting the adult Alien cocooning its victims and transforming them into a new generation of eggs. That part of the lore was superseded by the introduction of the Queen in James Cameron’s Aliens, and is generally ignored.

The Alien is desired by ruthless businessmen for its potential as a bioweapon. After all, it’s not only a perfect killing machine, but a supreme survival organism. For goodness’ sake, the thing evolved acid for blood just so no one would fuck with it.

For me, the terror of Alien isn’t just the beast itself, but the endless void of space and the sand-blasted hellscape of the world on which the thing is discovered. While Alien is not overtly an H.P. Lovecraft inspired film, I certainly feel that inimical environment is exactly the sort of place in which his extraplanetary gods would’ve spawned.

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