Today is March 7, 2019. This means that we here at Three Nerds and A Movie only have to wait one more day before we can head to the theater and see Captain Marvel (unless we’re Karen, who got her tickets for tonight months ago).
We’re all pretty excited about this one. And not only because it’s the next installment in the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe (a franchise that we’re all three pretty fond of). But because it isn’t very often that we get to see quality action-packed films that have a female as the lead protagonist.
Is it a coincidence that Captain Marvel is being released on International Women’s Day? We don’t think so.
To celebrate the release of Captain Marvel, not only are the three of us going to be putting a spotlight on our favorite movies that feature a woman who kicks ass, but we’ve selected a Movie of the Month that also features a strong female protagonist. It’s a science-fiction film. It’s a terrifying horror film. It’s the genesis of a pretty major film franchise all on its own.
It’s also one of the greatest movies ever made.
Three Nerds’ selection, March 2019: Alien
Who Directed It: Ridley Scott
Who Wrote It: Dan O’Bannon
Who’s In It: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, John Hurt, Harry Dean Stanton, Ian Holm, and Yaphet Kotto
What does everyone else say about it: Rotten Tomatoes score: 97% (critics), 94% (audience), IMDB user rating: 8.5 (out of 10)
Where you can see it: DVD/Blu-Ray and four streaming services (Fandango Now, Google Play, Vudu, and Prime Video).
The Nerds Weigh In
Aaron: In seventh grade, some friends and I became obsessed with Aliens, James Cameron’s 1986 sequel to Alien. We had a VHS of the film dubbed off of HBO that got passed around and watched repeatedly. By myself, I might have watched the movie thirty times, and that doesn’t include the partial viewings or the times it was viewed with other people. My circle of friends really, really, really loved this movie, but were, admittedly, somewhat oblivious to the fact that it was a sequel. I finally saw the original in high school (mostly because I had become enamored of the work of Ridley Scott). It gave me nightmares. I’m not kidding. Alien scared the everloving hell out of me. Now, two decades later, there are things about Cameron’s sequel that I much prefer to the original. I think the special effects are better. I think the characters are more endearing. I think the seeds planted for the over-arching franchise plot are incredibly intriguing. But none of the subsequent films have frightened me. For that reason, the original gets the edge.
Karen: I didn’t watch Alien until I was older – later in high school, I think. At this point, my kinship with sci-fi was firmly rooted and I was voraciously reading and watching as much as I could. But I was never really jazzed about watching Alien. There was a cardboard cutout at the local video store for years (the upstairs part) and I always walked past it with mutual feelings of both indifference and unease. When I finally got around to watching it, I thought I knew what was coming. Like with most things to which humans assign expectations, I was wrong. I anticipated action and gore, which it obviously has in spades. But that really isn’t the point of Alien. Like all good sci-fi, it presents the viewer with insight about current reality through imagined fantasy, and it does it impactfully. I didn’t fully comprehend that on the scope that I do now, but I got a sense of it then and look back on it now with admiration and sincere respect for Scott’s masterpiece.
Greg: Alien was played on HBO and was rented on VHS in our house once or twice when I was a kid; maybe not so much when I was a small, shorter-than-I-am-now boy, but certainly when its sequel, Aliens, was introduced to audiences somewhere around the time when I was not the tallest person in my classroom, but somewhere, in height, between the otherwise tallest kid and the teachers. When Aliens came out, I do remember the film being the rave. And, since those I knew doing the raving were my older siblings who, at the time Aliens‘ predecessor, Alien, was released, were either too young to have seen the first in this series, or were unaware that a first in this series existed. Anyway, ’twas the mid-80’s when Alien was making its rounds around my family, and every time I tried to force my way into the room to join the crowd, I was always greeted with the “you’re too young to watch this” response. So, I did what any determined “too-young” movie lover would have done: I watched it anyway. Let me say simply this: “grown-ups know better.” At first, I was bored out of my mind. To a kid waiting for something exciting to happen, nothing does. And then it does . . . and then it does some more . . . and then you can’t un-see what you’ve seen . . . and then the swirling yellow alarm lights, and the fog, and then the alien-that-doesn’t-really-look-like-a-guy-in-a-suit-but-kinda-looks-like-a-guy-in-a-suit haunts dreams for a long time to come. Anyway, as I eventually grew into my teen years, I appreciated the film for its nuanced genre-mashing send up of a helluva great story. And those first minutes when nothing happens and I was bored out of my mind? Heck, I ending up loving those moments the best because they taught me the value of suspense before I ever learned to appreciate the word “Hitchcock.” And then, as I grew even older, I came to respect Sigourney Weaver not just as a dog-possessed, Pete-Venkman-loving/hating, Marshmallow-Man-soaked, gate-keeping resident of Central Park West, but also as a bad ass, alien-killing, controlling, dominant force of nature to be reckoned with. In Alien she is, at all times, even when she is scared, strong, confident, domineering, a pain in the ass, un-flinching, and indefatigable hero of all heroes. I was excited that this is our theme movie of the month. I am looking forward to a few weeks from now when I get to talk about not one, but two strong women movie characters who, when ya’ get down to it, take us all for a ride down a spiritual highway of growth and strength. And were it not for the strong woman in Alien (and the film’s director, who consequently also directed the film serving as my entry for this month) we would not have had, well, my entry for the month. Personal question: do you guys, when you reach the end of my posts say to yourself, “Jesus, that was a long post,” the same way I do when I proof it real quick after writing it?
Lil Bit O Trivia – Alien
1. The script for Alien went through many revisions before it became the script that would eventually be shot. In the original script the characters names were all different and Ash did not exist. The script had a clause included stating that all characters were unisex and that it did not matter if they were cast as male or female. Over the years, there have been many rumors circulating about elements of the script that were written and never filmed, including a sex scene between Ripley and Dallas, a lesbian relationship between Lambert and Ripley, and a much darker ending. Reportedly, Ridley Scott had conceived of an ending where the Alien stows itself on an escape shuttle, eventually bites off Ripley’s head, and then mimics her voice to make a final log entry for her superiors.
2. Ridley Scott originally wanted to use animatronics to portray the Alien, but special effects at the time were not sophisticated enough for what Scott had in mind. This was a dilemma that could have potentially killed the film, but the casting director stumbled upon a Nigerian graphic designer named Bolaji Badejo in a pub. Badejo stood over seven feet tall and was incredibly thin. Believing that Badejo had the potential to make the Alien look more insect-like than humanoid, Ridley Scott consented to his casting. Never having acted before, Badejo was provided with Tai Chi classes and mime training to slow down his movements. But he was also forbidden by Scott to fraternize with his co-stars, as Scott wanted them to be naturally terrified of him. Badejo spent fourteen very lonely weeks on the set of Alien. In a costume that was so cumbersome that a specially-constructed hoist had to be used since the tail of the Alien suit prevented him from sitting in a chair. Alien is the only film Badejo ever appeared in.
3. According to Sir John Hurt in a DVD commentary, he was considered to play Kane from the very beginning, but was forced to decline as he was already committed to a movie that was being filmed in South Africa. Jon Finch was given the role of Kane instead. Two separate incidents occurred, though, that eventually got Hurt the role. First: the government of South Africa banned Hurt from entering the country as they mistook him for an actor named John Heard, who was a very vocal opponent of apartheid. By this point, Finch was forced to drop out of Alien because he became seriously ill from diabetes on the first day of shooting. Ridley Scott immediately contacted Hurt, pitched him the script over a weekend, and Sir John Hurt arrived on set the following Monday morning.
4. Dan O’Bannon’s idea for the screenplay was inspired by work on two previous projects. He had worked as a writer and special effects supervisor on Dark Star, a 1974 science-fiction comedy directed by John Carpenter. Dan O’Bannon decided halfway through filming that his initial premise worked better as a horror film so he began work on a script entitled Star Beast. Dark Star was a major failure commercially, but it had been seen by Chilean-French director Alejandro Jodorowsky, who had recently acquired the rights to Frank Herbert’s classic science-fiction novel Dune. Jodorowsky hired O’Bannon to help him with the book’s adaptation, causing Dan O’Bannon to sell all of his belongings so that he could move to France. While working on this ill-fated film, Dan O’Bannon met and worked with a series of influential artists, including H. R. Giger, the artist who designed the look of the Alien. When Dune eventually halted production due to lack of funding, Dan O’Bannon took the creative team to work on Star Beast, which was now titled Alien, using many of the designs that had already been created for Dune.
5. Over time, Alien would become one of the biggest franchises in science-fiction, spawning three sequels, two prequels, several comic book series, more than a dozen original novels, a digital web series, toys, and numerous games (video, roleplaying, and tabletop). The Alien franchise has also crossed over to the Predator franchise. This crossover has spawned comic books, video games, two films, and several original novels. Ridley Scott, in a recent interview, confirmed that not only do both franchises exist in the same created universe, but that his own classic Blade Runner (1982) also exists in that shared universe. Yeah, that doesn’t make any sense to us, either.
Well, that’s enough for this month, friends. Be sure to check back next week. Aaron wants to tell you about a science-fiction film that definitely deserves more love.