Posted by David Kalat on July 5, 2014
It was 1979; I was nine years old. It was a Sunday morning and my parents were leisurely enjoying the Sunday paper. I could see there was a front page story, illustrated with a massive photograph of what appeared to be the wreckage of a crashed spaceship on the moon or something. I don’t remember the headline exactly—something to effect that a person (Scott-something, or something-Scott) had discovered alien life.
My heart quickened a bit—somebody’s actually discovered evidence of other life in the universe? But also complete bafflement—this was huge news, and why weren’t my folks showing any interest in it? As far as I could tell, they weren’t even reading this story.
My dad explained that this wasn’t the front page of the newspaper, it was the front page of the Arts section of the newspaper. Ridley Scott hadn’t found alien life, he’d made a movie about an alien. This was just an article about the movie, to get people to go see it.
My bubble burst, but I didn’t feel any disappointment. My excitement just shifted. I went from being excited about the prospect that we were not alone in the universe to being excited at the prospect of seeing this movie. Because, oh man, did it look awesome.
My father, being the kind of parent who believed you shouldn’t take children to see R-rated horror movies unless they asked nicely, happily took me—and it was indeed every bit as awesome as that hard-hitting piece of Pulitzer-worthy investigative journalism made it out to be.
Now here’s something you should know about 1979-me. I was an avid collector of franchise-tie-in action figures. I treasured my Mego action figures of Batman, the Hulk, Star Trek, and Planet of the Apes (I still do). Playing with Kenner’s line of Star Wars toys was almost better than watching the movie. Any store I went to, I always made a bee-line to the toy department to scope out what I needed to start begging my parents to buy me.
But when I came face-to-face with this, my brain convulsed into pretzel-like contortions trying to make sense of it:
What were they thinking?
This is a toy. It’s sold in the toy section, to children. What children are going to want to play with a replica of the most terrifying movie monster ever conceived? From a movie so nightmare-inducing that only profoundly irresponsible parents like mine would ever even have allowed them to know existed?
A similar thought process hit me when Disney’s Great Movie Ride opened, with an audio-animatronic xenomorph threatening an audio-animatronic Ripley on a silly low-speed amusement park ride aimed at families on vacation.
It simply never occurred to me that not everyone saw Alien at a midnight screening when they were nine years old. That maybe the world was actually full of people who enjoyed Alien without ever having been deeply terrorized by it, and who could encounter reminders of it without that triggering visceral panic attacks.
I mean… think of all those poor people, denied the full experience of this powerful film. I have to tell you, seeing Alien for the first time at midnight at age 9, when you are still innocent enough to half believe it to be a documentary about the actual discovery of real aliens, it’s the only way to go. If you at all have the option of doing it this way, I highly recommend it.
Because 35 years later, Alien hasn’t lost any of its hold over me. I just watched it on Blu-Ray with my son (he’s 14, but he saw it the first time when he was 9 or 10. Like father like son) and I still got the sweats. It’s one of those movies I own a stupid number of copies of, but I don’t regret any of them.
The only thing I do regret is not getting that 18’ Kenner action figure back in 1979 or 1980. I just couldn’t bring myself to ask for it—I was unable to fathom having that thing anywhere near me. (Nowadays it goes for hundreds of dollars on eBay).
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