I admire its purity.
There are some debates so ingrained in geek/nerd culture that they almost seem comfortable. Star Wars and Star Trek, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi… and Alien and Aliens. Many people have been known to write off the first Alien film as the second best of its franchise simply because it doesn’t have the same level of action and mayhem as its successor.
And it’s true Alien doesn’t have the military hardware, shoot outs, or power loader duels of Aliens. But while it seems more simple… Alien is actually much more complex once you peek under the film’s hood. In a new analysis on the youtube channel The Long Take, which did that great Godzilla comparison video from a few months back, youtuber Rafa really gets into the thematic richness that makes Alien such a masterpiece. Check it out:
So, what’s so complex about Alien?
Well, you should definitely check out the video for the answer to that question. However, while Alien may seem like a simple monster movie there’s actually a lot of exploration of the human condition being done.
The designs associated with the Xenomorph, as well as how it operates, are all overtly sexual in nature. In order to reproduce, after all, the Xenomorph has to orally rape you and impregnate you regardless of gender. The brilliantly disturbing thing about this construction of the creature is that the “rape” isn’t gender specific, thus allowing men to feel the same anxieties and fears women have to live with every day.
Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon once said with Alien he wanted to create a film that made the men in the theater want to “cross their legs.” Given the fact men were actively throwing up in the theater at the film’s release… he did his job pretty well.
There’s also a ton of political subtext to the film that ties into the feeling of betrayal that was very central to American culture in the post Vietnam and Watergate world, but you should really check out the video for more on how that impacts the film.
How does this compare to Aliens?
The simple fact of the matter is that it’s a little unfair to compare Alien and Aliens… despite it happens all the time. Perhaps it’s a common occurrence because they’re both by far the best films of their franchise, so there’s really nothing to hold up to them except each other. However, Alien and Aliens are two completely different genres, each being a paragon of their respective one, and should be taken into consideration with that in mind.
That said, Alien on the whole has better defined characters, is better shot, and despite the lack of military hardware is actually much more briskly paced. Aliens is a Reagan era action film in the vein of First Blood Part 2, which was also written by James Cameron. As such, it’s a far less complex film that has much less to say than its predecessor, though still an absolutely fantastic action film in its own right that helped define the genre to this day, but we’ll leave that discussion for when Rafa posts his Aliens essay down the line.