The Space Jockey was the real eldritch horror in Alien
And I don't mean the 8 foot tall albino bodybuilder in the flight suit from Prometheus
The original Alien, from all the way back in 1979, still holds its own all these years later
You can't say that about a lot of movies from over 40 years ago.
If it weren't for the glimpses of 70s hair styles and fashions, you'd never know it was that old.
As haunted-house-in-space films go, it's the best of the best.
Alien is a personal favorite of mine.
It's an example of how to do almost everything right when you tell a cosmic horror story, for the big screen or any other medium.
The mood, the atmosphere, the feeling of terror, the muted brush-strokes of horror which show far more than they tell, Alien has it all.
My favorite part of the movie happens early on
THE BACKGROUND is this remote backwater solar system. The gas giant with its rings, the three moons hanging out.
Talk about a mood.
It feels like standing out in the desert, 50 miles from the nearest village, which is already two hours to anything worth calling a city.
Except this is space... and space is big.
That feeling of standing in the high desert can't even compare.
Out here, that feeling of isolation is crushing.
The Nostromo crew sets down on the mystery planet tracing the mystery distress call that pulled them off course.
The three crew suit up and head across the dark and desolate landscape only to find...
A crashed spaceship
IT'S OBVIOUSLY of technological design.
No geological process made this thing.
But it ain't human.
One of the character remarks that it looks more grown than built.
Swiss artist H. R. Giger pulled off the biomechanical aesthetic so well that it almost makes the movie. Without that bizarre, nightmarish fusion of living organisms with mechanical design, Alien could have ended up another forgettable monster movie.
The visual look of the monster feels continuous with the derelict ship.
That already raises a lot of questions.
What's the connection of the monster to the ship?
Are they both creations of the same civilization?
What's going on here?
That all comes later. We haven't got any signs of the monster yet.
Before that, our explorers come on to the centerpiece of the film which raises more questions than anything else...
The pilot of the derelict ship, known as the "Space Jockey"
IF THE SHIP IS A MYSTERY it's pilot is question mark of all time.
Ridley Scott felt no compulsion to explain this vaguely elephant-like disfigured mass of machinery and organic tissue.
It's clearly some kind of organism, or part of one.
Long before Prometheus spoiled this mystery by showing us what's allegedly under the tubes, viewers of original film were left with a haunting question:
Who was this guy?
Did he, or his people, create the monster? Was he responsible for all those eggs down in the lower levels?
Were they scientists or soldiers?
Where'd he come from? Humans haven't had any contact with aliens.
You can go on with this for awhile.
And in any good worldbuilding execution, the writer will deliberately create these question-mark moments.
Space Jockey was far more interesting... both in curiosity and in the implied menace... when it was left as an unanswered question.
The more that the sequels and prequels and reboots and expanded universe materials give in to nerd demands for explanations and coherence...
The more unsatisfying the answers become.
As much as I enjoy Prometheus as a film and appreciate its audacious attempt to take the Alien setting in a different direction...
We should have never seen the man behind the Space Jockey's mask
By explaining that surreal creature, the mystery was lost.
You know what it is.
It's no longer an eruption of fangs out of the black noumena beyond human ken.
It's just an 8 foot tall albino bodybuilder.
That's just awful.
The derelict's been there for a long time. Long enough for Dallas to comment that the Space Jockey's been fossilized. That takes ages to happen.
The Prometheus backstory wants you to believe it happened like 10 years ago.
When creators give into "feedback" from the fans, that's the kind of disastrous and juvenile result.
Cosmological ages shrink to like 20 years so that all the other IPs can fit together with it. You get coherence with all the other movies and comic books... at the price of the experience of awe and sublime terror that made the film work in the first place.
The real lesson?
Don't listen to the fans.
Listening to fans is a great way to tell a bad story and ruin the magic in your work
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