Thursday, January 31, 2013

On Memory

Way back in 1979 - when I were a lad, as a friend of mine would say - the movie Alien came out.  I'm not sure if I saw it in the theaters during its first run or sometime later, but I definitely saw it in a theater before I went to college.

Over the years since, my memory of that experience has become somewhat interesting to examine.  I recall the interior of the spaceship as being incredibly realistic and scary, and it seems there were miles of corridor full of venting steam, all dark and full of hiding places.  I see the egg/face hugger scene in flashes, so it seems truly terrifying, even now. I know I spent a lot of the time studying the tops of my shoes during the movie because I was too scared to watch it closely.  And, of course - being a teenage boy at the time - I remember Sigourney Weaver getting into the space suit at the end.  (If you need an explanation of that, well, you must not be - or ever have been - a teenage boy.  Or you didn't see the movie.)

I've avoided several opportunities to see the movie again, including at least one in college.  Possibly as a result, time has made Alien into something larger than life, something so scary and so real that seeing it again was not something I wanted to do.  But finally, just the other night, I broke down and watched it again.

For reasons that are amusing but too complicated to go into here - except to say "well, I guess Alien is a period costume drama... of a sort" - I now own the DVDs for all four movies in the Alien series.  So I watched the theatrical release of Alien again, just to see how it compared with my memory.

And I can now confirm that my memory is really bad.

Yes, the movie is good, but it's not nearly as terrifying as I remember it.  The sets are nicely made, and the entire thing is well filmed, but a bit less dry ice and steam would have been better.  The infamous scene in the dining room on the ship - you know the one, if you've seen the movie - is still striking and memorable, but the creature itself almost struck me a laughable this time around.  The larger version of the xenomorph is still well done, particularly for the time the film was made, but I simply didn't think it that scary.

But it turns out my memory of Sigourney Weaver getting into the space suit at the end was just about perfect.  Go figure.

Memory is a very odd thing, when it works.