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Watching Alien with the kid

The 13yo and I sat down to watch Alien last weekend. He’s been asking to see it for a few months now and we finally found a block of a few hours when nothing else was going on and his younger brother was not around. While it was his first time seeing the movie, it was probably my… what? Tenth? Twenty-somethingth? I don’t even know. Let’s just say I’ve seen Alien a bunch of times.

There were a few jump-scares that got him, especially the scene when Dallas turns around in the ventilation shaft suddenly the alien is RIGHT THERE! The kid nearly jumped off the couch when that happened.

Interestingly, the chest-bursting scene did not have much of an impact on him. I feel like that is one of those “classic” movie scenes that has had so much mythology and import built up around it that it can be something of a let-down at this point. I’ve seen the movie a billion times and I have seen and read no end of commentary and analysis of it, so it is hard for me to really judge the impact of that scene anymore. I couldn’t even say what my genuine sense of it was the first time I saw Alien; even then I had already heard all about the alien bursting out of Kane’s chest.

Overall, the kid really liked the movie. “It wasn’t really that scary,” he said, then added “but it was pretty tense the whole time.” I think that is about right.

For myself, something that struck me watching Alien this time around was how great the movie still looks. We were watching a blu-ray copy on a fairly large TV and pretty much every scene and shot is fantastic. I think it has also aged quite well; the effects are done in a way that doesn’t show their age and most of the production design is pretty classic. The only part that looks dated to me are the scenes when Dallas (and later Ripley) are interacting with the Nostromo’s computer. The room full of blinky lights and the single CRT display that makes printing noises are very 1970s.

I generally try to avoid trying to make my kids understand and appreciate movies and TV shows and music in the same way I do, but we did talk a bit afterward about how Alien works as a film—the simplicity of its structure, how it’s a bunch of basically regular people just doing their jobs, and how at the time, most sci-fi was whiz-bang “futuristic”-looking stuff.

I asked the kid “How much do you think we actually saw the alien in the movie?” His immediate answer was “Oh, a lot!” When I pointed out that it really only had a few minutes’ worth of total screentime over the entire course of the movie, he furrowed his brow and thought about it for a few seconds. Then he said “It’s kind like the shark in Jaws!” and I will admit it was a proud-parent moment for me.

On a side note, we both agreed that while it was great that Jones makes it out of the movie alive, he does get banged around quite a bit inside the cat box as Ripley is trying to get to the escape craft in the final act, much more than any real cat would put up with. Also, when it got to the final scene in the escape craft and Ripley starts getting undressed, his immediate comment was “Well, this seems gratuitous,” which I appreciated.

So that was a lot of fun and now we need to figure out when we are going to watch Aliens, which he asked about the second the credits for this one began to roll.

Whenever we do get around to Aliens, I will be interested to see what he thinks of that one compared to this movie. I suspect he will like it better; I know I did for a good a number of years. While I have always liked Alien, it has only been the last ten years or thereabouts that I have really appreciated the degree to which it is a better movie than the sequel (which, to be sure, I also still enjoy).

And then, of course, there is Alien 3. Flawed as it is, that is maybe my favorite film of the franchise. But I think that is probably a topic for a different post.

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