Watching Alien for the First Time

One of life's great pleasures is introducing someone new to a pop culture phenomenon you know and love. The movie Alien is almost 40 years old now, so it's hard to recall the emotions, the surprise, and the terror you felt watching it the first time. Witness @EldritchGirl's reaction as she watched the movie and live tweeted her experience.

When Alien hit theaters in 1979, we had no idea what to expect. @EldritchGirl isn't quite that clueless, but her Tweets take us back in time. A discussion at Metafilter dissects the difference between watching Alien then and watching it now.

An interesting thing about Alien is how brilliantly cast it is. Of course we know who Sigourney Weaver is, but no one had any idea in 1979. Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Kotto and Ian Holm were at that time just That-Guys (as in "Hey, isn't it that guy who was in...?") and John Hurt and Tom Skerritt little more than slightly more prominent That-Guys.

So it looks to us like a science fiction B-movie, featuring actors we kind of recognise.

Our expectations of the form tell us that Skerritt is the hero and Hurt the sidekick, so when they're taken out almost immediately, in terms of genre we literally have no idea what's going on. In 1979, at least.

And, of course, none of the actors puts a foot wrong - the other expectation of the SF B-movie is that the script is unreadable, performed by actors who are barely capable of reading it, yet here's an entire cast who are capable of turning what's essentially a queue of victims into living people (although we're never sure to have the most sympathy with, because our expectations have been swept out from under us, so we spend our time worrying about the cat, who is, ironically, the only creature on the ship that's in no danger at all).

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