' ' Cinema Romantico: This One Scene in Alien

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

This One Scene in Alien

I have gone long before on my favorite scene in “Alien”, the one where Tom Skerritt’s Dallas goes up in the spaceship’s air shaft to find the eponymous rabble-rouser and flamethrower it. The sequence is a masterclass of mounting dread, cultivated through nothing more, really, than music, Skerritt’s escalating anxiety and those dots on the computer screen. It doesn’t end well, of course. The scene immediately following it, however, is almost as good, albeit in a different way. It is triggered by that final screech through the headset and then a cut to Dallas’s flamethrower being slammed down on the dinner table by Parker, violently jerking us into the next scene rather than gently holding our hand, refusing to let us catch our breath. And then we cut to a close-up of Parker, hovering over the table, because at this point we know the layout of the ship and of that dining room well enough to not require a master shot to get our bearings.

That close-up of Parker is just something else, the whites of Kotto’s eyes popping off the black negative space behind him and his green shirt. He looks, to paraphrase Winston Zeddmore in a movie from a years later, like he’s seen some shit that will turn you white. He explains this flamethrower was all he found in the air shaft. “No blood, no Dallas, nothing.”

From there, Scott cuts between close-ups of Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), looking she’s about to cry or vomit, or Ripley, cooler, considering that she is in charge now that Dallas is gone. Scott cuts back to Parker, who bangs the flamethrower against the table and then snatches it up, like he’s going to use it to kill the alien himself, which he seems to want to go and do, moving around the table to his right.

As he does, Scott cuts to this shot, with Ripley in the foreground and Parker in the background, out of focus, the oddly reticent Ash (Ian Holm) between them.  

It’s among my favorite shots in the movie, because if Parker seems like he’s going to go and play action hero, he still defers to Ripley in this situation, which this framing suggests. Yes, there’s the moment when Ripley blows up, literally screaming at Parker to shut up, but that’s her asserting authority, suggesting that even far in the future a dude might have some trouble taking orders from a woman. But in not cutting back to a close-up of Parker, Scott denotes that Ripley is still the one in charge and that is Parker is following her orders, grumbling under his breath as she explains they will stick to Dallas’s original plan.

Parker is famously established in the opening scenes as not being a company man, making his priority an expected bonus over following orders to investigate the mysterious signal that leads them into harm’s way. Ah, but like anyone under a corporation’s thumb, sooner or later, even when there’s an acid-bleeding alien on the loose, you gotta fall in line.

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