Thursday, 6 September 2007

Alien Topography and Prophetic Misdirection

It's one of the all-time classics. I even scrutinized it in film studies (primarily focusing on the subliminal content).
Fancy taking a look at the chest-bursting scene with me? We'll have a look at how the scene is edited to achieve maximum emotional impact. And I've taken screen grabs to provide you with a visual representation of the emotional topography. (Just compare image one to image three and you'll understand what I mean :o)


KANE: First thing I'm going to do when we get back is eat some decent food.

Here, the emotional topography registers: HAPPY.
The crew are laughing and joking.

The horror genre knows well the art of misdirection.
The viewer is invited to believe that recent grim events are in the past, and the future looks rosy. Kane's expectation for a good meal on his return to Earth is a form of prophetic misdirection. We've looked at this quite a bit. The technique is used an awful lot in movies and literature. This technique was key to my two short stories, and I use it liberally in my novels.
At this point, the scene is building a sense of security, piling on the familiar, surrounding us with friends, titillating our tastebuds, inviting us to feel good about life and about the future.
Because the higher you climb, the further you fall.
And this is contrast.
Compare the effects of holding a dark grey sheet of card up against a black sheet with the effects of holding a white sheet of card up against a black sheet.
Sure, there are times when we want a subtle topography. But I daresay that the audience will remember us more for our ability to create maximum emotional impact through maximum contrast.
Build up; destroy.
So, ready to be destroyed ..?

Now the emotional topography registers: SHOCK.
We get shock from black on white. (Consider, too, the idea of a reveal defined by knowledge and ignorance.)
If Kane had been complaining of chest pains from the moment he awoke, the shock would have been diluted, even nullified.
Instead, the chest pains are introduced only once he is very happy and imagining a future with good food, and only as a very brief precursor to the alien's entrance.

We've also discussed at some length the concept of rapidly switching focus as a means of instilling discomfort and confusion; of removing those crutches that provide the audience with stability, and leaving them to flounder and totter on quivering legs.
This frame is the visual epitome of this concept. What a brilliant moment!
Here, the emotional topography registers: CONFUSION (or What the f***?).
It is the crew's reaction to the event. Chaos, panic, all crutches and focus are removed. Check out the removal of bonding as the crew members have gone from sharing a meal and a laugh to looking in different directions, moving in different ways. Fantastic.

There's an interesting paragraph on editing techniques on wikipedia.

All images copyrighted.
Alien script here.


R1X said...

Did you go out and buy the Alien Quadrilogy too? £18 from Woolworths! What a steal. Shame that Alien Ressurection is alwful - I'm going to do a post on that in a bit.

Alien on the other hand is masterful, if a little cliched thanks to itself :)

solv said...

Lol. Was so tempted, but couldn't really justify it because I have the last three already. I lend my vhs Alien to someone ages ago and I've no idea who. So I bought the dvd from Woolworths for £3.