(Published Sept. 3, 2004)


Alienated


It was a big deal when the director’s cut of  Alien showed up at the AMC in Emeryville a while back.
There are four
Alien films and my son Parker, who’s just rocketed into teenage-hood, and I are big
fans, especially of the first two. So we hustled over on a Saturday morning to see what Ridley Scott
originally had in mind for the first in the series.

In this one, Sigourney Weaver stars as Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley, part of the crew of an interstellar
towing barge on a dreary gig to drag home a few million tons of ore from some poor ravaged planet in
a galaxy far, far away. Who says all the exploitation of someone else’s territory has to be done by
George Bush? Anyway, the sleepy mission goes predictably awry when the crew is ordered to
investigate a mysterious communications signal from an unfamiliar planet. We’re begging them to
ignore the orders, sink back into hypersleep, and just sail home, but of course they don’t listen to us
and soon it’s off to the races.

Alien always makes me think of food. I’m not sure this was Ridley Scott’s intent, but what does he
expect when he throws a big spaghetti feed into the beginning of the story? For sheer office-water-
cooler-talk power, this scene is second only to the supercharged soccer-mom-on-steroids moment at
the end of the next film,
Aliens, when Ripley climbs into the giant self-propelled tweezers and launches
her epic final battle with the alien matriarch by calling her a name that starts with  “B”  and isn’t
“Buttercup.”

But back to the spaghetti dinner scene, where John Hurt tosses his monster cookies. Following the
crew’s visit to the mystery planet, Hurt’s character has unknowingly gestated an organism, and it ain’t
the Gerber baby. The alien within has decided it’s his birthday and takes the nearest available shortcut
to the outside world to celebrate, neatly avoiding such pesky exit barriers as Hurt’s terror-constricted
esophagus, thrashing tongue, and clacking front teeth. Hurt flails onto the table in the middle of the
marinara sauce, his stomach starts to stretch and…well, forget the Lamaze training. It’s pretty much
like dinner at our house, except we probably make more noise.

Coming out of the movie, we were so jacked we decided to spring for the boxed set of all four
Alien
movies. It contains nine disks and runs about a hundred bucks, plus a surcharge for the optional
sherpa to help you carry it home. Parker and I saved up for months.

Came the day when
The Alien Quadrilogy was ours. After our swat-team consultant succeeded in
getting through the shrink wrap, the package unfolded like the tentacle of a space creature and
stretched all the way across our kitchen floor. It occurred to me that this could be the new dimensional
measure of bandbox Albany properties. Real estate agents could crow, “Close to Solano Avenue
shopping, this unusually spacious lot is nine Quadrilogies wide!”

I’m still wondering about all the dough we spent on this venture. But Parker and I did save up. It’s
known as getting the movies you want and pretending it’s an economics lesson for your kids. And it’s
also, of course, one of the primary reasons to have children in the first place.


Life Is a Movie