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celluloid relapse: cautionary tales for the 21st century human in alien (1979)

Humanity as a collective has lauded a whole range of inventions throughout its existence, some for no reason at all. The wheel admittedly has proved itself to be utterly indispensible, as has modern medicine, cutlery and welding. The other side of the figurative coin, represented by such blatant banalities as apple corers, sock puppets and certain functions of parliament, warrants no such congratulations.

Difficulties in discerning who could possibly want to purchase parliamentary function aside, this is not a case of rudimentary black and white. This reality is far too complicated to be summarised as a coin. Necessity demands that metaphoric onus be transferred to something far more ambiguous: a nebula. Within the expanse of ambiguity, swirling clouds of chemicals and rock of this ‘Sham-Nebula’ resides a sliding scale of utility and purpose. It is here in this unchartered territory that we find the genres of Horror, Science Fiction and judgement regarding their utility.

The entertainment-use factor of films such as these is not in dispute. It goes without saying that watching gore, aliens, mass death and new worlds is immensely satisfying. It is instead the more profound elements of these genres that remain undecided. As rudimentary studies of English literature has informed us all, there are messages at the interior of every text to be studied. Science Fiction and Horror should not just be considered on mere explosion value. As modern day Fairy Tales and cautionary advice, their lessons should be absorbed promptly by all, especially small children.

Honing in on one of the better collisions of these two genres, Alien (1979) is resplendent with useful advice for every member of society. In spite of the fact that the protagonists of this gory tale find themselves in space, in control of a large ship and later hunted by ‘the ultimate organism’, a great deal of tangible advice can nevertheless be extracted. After all, the plethora of mistakes made by the crew is still that of humans. Alien should cease to be considered as ‘just a film’ and instead revered for what it really is: a How-To Life Guide and a very colourful illustration of what goes wrong when human stupidity stands obtusely in the way of common sense, intelligence and rational female protagonists.

With this in mind, it is essentially very easy to translate the misfortunes of Spaceship Nostromo and its tormented crew into tangible counsel. A large series of novels akin to the seemingly interminable Dune franchise could be written on the subject but in the interests of the time space continuum, this can be boiled down into three principal points that relate to us all.

Firstly, one should abandon any sort of impulse for exploration and discovery into what is known to have caused death and a large serving of suffering. Especially avoid touching slimy, unknown objects inside strange spacecraft that appear to have crash landed. One would think that here an abundance of mucus would be a sufficient deterrent, but apparently this is not the case.

Secondly, take all measures and seconds necessary to close doors behind you. Parents and varieties of adult hounded us incessantly as children on this subject. Whilst their concerns were most likely based on heating bills and preventing pesky insects from entering the house, they certainly had a point. If Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) had thought to close the door of the emergency shuttle as she stupidly went back to look for her remaining crew and that pesky feline Jones, it is likely her troubles would have ended much, much sooner.

Particularly relevant to the current economic climate comes the final point. One should never trust businesspeople, big business and especially mining companies. Muppets such as ourselves are clearly no match against the malign intent and capricious natures of this variety of enlightened beings. Until the requirement that mining magnates sport signs such as ‘Warning! Corrosive’ is enshrined in law, there is no choice but for us to automatically suspect everyone, especially if they’re named Carter and especially if they want something.

It is easy to see how Alien is useful as a source of advice in the 21st century, an era whose relationship with Fairy Tale logic may be diminishing. Monsters, Inc. (2001) bemoaned the loss of innocence of youth and generations desensitised by gore, violence and human misery. It has a point but unfortunately for us, unlike the residents of Monstropolis, we reside in reality. Laughter cannot solve our problems. Let shock value work its magic instead. Let them watch Alien.

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