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ALIEN Analysis

04/23/09

Permalink 09:25:26 am, by admin Email , 1287 words   English (US) latin1
Categories: Spec script advice, Tips From the Pros, Analysis of Current Releases

ALIEN Analysis

I've said it before, but when you're trying to sell a screenplay, one of the best things you can possibly do is watch and analyze film in your genre.

We did this with DAWN OF THE DEAD a couple weeks ago and got a fantastic response. And since we've also been getting so many horror scripts lately, I decided to analyze a classic of the genre for you: ALIEN.

I did this on the fly without the script in front of me, but I think it's a pretty accurate analysis, aside from not mapping out a couple different subplots. Enjoy!

ALIEN (1979) Analysis

PLOT SKETCH:

Act One.

1) The Nostromo glides noiselessly through space. Its corridors stand empty. Then light come on, and awaken her cryogenically hibernating crew. 6:40 (+)
2) The characters discuss golden time, full shares, etc. "Mother," the ship's computer, begins beeping, wanting to talk to the Captain. 8:00 (-)
3) The crew realize they are not in their solar system. 10:40 (-)
4) The Two Grunts complain that nobody comes down into their part of the ship because one of them doesn't have a personality. The Captain tells them that Mother awoke them because they intercepted a possible emergency transmission. Despite the Grunts' complaints that they want more money for this work, they decide to go to the site of the transmission. INCITING INCIDENT OF THE CENTRAL PLOT 12:00 (+)
5) They reach the planet. As they touch down, the pressure causes a hull breach, nearly igniting their ship. It will be at least 25 hours before they can take off again. 18:30 (-)
6) They decide to go out to explore, with weapons. 20:20 (-/+)
7) Ripley tells the Two Grunts they'll get their money. They get back to work. 22;50 (+)
8) Ripley tries to work on the ship, but looks frustrated. 24:00 (-)
9) The crew outside reach a crashed ship, enormous and unlike anything Ash has ever seen. 25:50 (+)
10) The crew enters the spooky ship, find a dead alien with a hole in its fossilized chest. The final image is the alien's skeletal face, contorted in terror. 30:30 (-)
11) Ripley says she wants to go find the crew, but Ash says she should say put. 31:00 (-)
12) They find the eggs in the crew. A creature (facehugger) burst forth from one and attaches itself to the face of Kane. 34:00 (-) ACT ONE CLIMAX OF THE CENTRAL PLOT.

Act Two.
13) Ripley refuses to let them in because of quarantine procedure. However, Ash opens it anyway. INCITING INCIDENT OF SUBPLOT A: ASH. 36:20 (-)
14) They decide to try to slice the facehugger off. Ash doesn't want to, but ultimately allows it. ACT TWO OF SUBPLOT A: ASH. It sprays its acid blood, which eats through several layers of the ship. 41:50 (-)
15) The Grunts talk about going home. 42:30 (+)
16) Ash examines the creature's blood. Ash tells Ripley of its molecular makeup, then she accuses him of disobeying her. Tension builds between them. ACT THREE OF SUBPLOT A: ASH. 45:50 (-)
17) Ash informs them that something odd has happened to Kane: The facehugger had detached itself from him. They explore the room for the facehugger. They find it dead. 49:00 (+)
18) Ripley says they have to kill it, but Ash insists they don't: It's an important scientific find. 50:00 (-)
19) The Captain tells Ripley they have to do what the company says. Ripley informs her that they can now take off. 51:00 (+/-)
20) They take off and dock with the main ship successfully. 52:50 (+)
21) The crew find out they're still ten months from Earth. Ash tells everyone to go down to see Kane. 53:40 (-)
22) Kane seems fine, and doesn't remember anything but "an awful smothering dream." They decide to have one last meal before going back to the hibernation beds. 54:30 (+)
23) At dinner, a creature burst out of Kane's chest, killing him. 57:00 (-) MID-ACT CLIMAX.
24) They launch Kane's body out the hatch, into outer space. 58:20 (-)
25) The ship goes through outer space, alone. 58:30 (-)
26) They gather a weapon and motion tracker, preparing to go after the beast. 60:00 (+)
27) Ripley leads The Grunts. They believe they've found the chest buster in a locker, but it turns out to be the cat. 63:30 (-)
28) White Grunt goes to find the cat. He finds that the chest buster has shed its skin. The alien kills him. 68:00 (-)
29) They decide to try to drive it into the airlock and blast it into outer space. 69:50 (+)
30) The Captain tries to ask Mother what it should do, and what his chances of success are. It says, DOES NOT COMPUTE. 71:00 (-) Note: This new "let's get the monster" sequence differs from the original, in that it has this scene first. In other words, it doesn't go off the fun adrenaline rush of the initial plan like the other one. It has a linking scene that alters the mood, even beyond the White Grunt's death, and thus creates a different dynamic as we head into the second of the two "Let's get the monster" sequences.
31) The Captain goes into the airshafts in an attempt to flush the alien out. Note: Fantastic use of claustrophobic space. The motion detector goes on the fritz. The alien kills Dallas. 75:50 (-)
32) Ripley says they'll proceed with the plan. Ash says he doesn't have any suggestions yet; Ripley responds that she'll talk to Mother herself now. ACT FOUR OF SUBPLOT A: ASH. 78:20 (+)
33) Black Grunt goes to find the alien himself. 78:30 (-)
34) Ripley finds out the Company knew the alien was on that planet, and that the Company considers the crew expandable. 80:30 (-)
35) Ash attacks Ripley, then attempts to kill her by suffocation with a phallic rolled magazine. Black Grunt kills him, and Ash is revealed to have been a robot. NEGATION OF THE NEGATION 84:20 (--)
36) They interrogate the destroyed robot. Ash tells them they have no chances, but Ripley says they'll blow up the ship and take their chances in the shuttle. 87:10 (+)
37) Getting ready to detonate the ship, Ripley hears the cat. Woman and Black Grunt get bottles in preparation. Ripley goes to look for the cat. Ripley finds the cat. 92:30 (+)
38) The alien kills Lambert and Black Grunt. ACT TWO CLIMAX OF THE CENTRAL PLOT. 94:00 (-)

Act Three.

39) Ripley initiates the detonation sequence. Note: Intricate and visually interesting. 96:00 (+)
40) Ripley encounters the alien and must flee without the cat. 98:00 (-)
41) Ripley attempts to stop the detonation countdown, but gets there too late. She goes back to get the cat, risking her life in this countdown for the cat. Note: The continued descent of the ship into a combusting, hell-like catacomb. She finds the cat. Note: She has transformed into someone who will risk her own life for others. She makes it to the shuttle. 102:00 (+)
42) The ship explodes in a fantastic detonation. 105:00 (+)
43) Ripley prepares for cryogenic sleep. The alien appears in the ship. Ripley dons a space suit (Note: Filling the empty human) and blasts it into outer space. It grabs onto the door. However, Ripley shoots it with a spear gun. HOWEVER, the gun gets caught in the door as it shuts. The alien tries to crawl back through the afterburner?but Ripley turns it on and blasts it finally into space. 112:30 (+)
44) Ripley, with the cat in her lap, makes a recording of what happened. She goes to sleep. 123:50 (+)

-

OPENING IMAGE:
The cold, lonesome depths of space.

PROTAGONIST'S CONSCIOUS DESIRE:
To survive.

PROTAGONIST'S SUBCONSCIOUS DESIRE:
To become a caring person.

THE IMAGE SYSTEM(S):
o Fake life
? Empty helmets "watching" the screens in the beginning
? The android
? The pecking chicken toys in the beginning
? The bedroom feels both like womb and crib
? The computer's name is Mother

o Threatening or dangerous sexuality
? The "rape" of Kane
? The phallic chestbuster
? The entry to the crashed alien ship explicitly resembles a vagina
? Ash's attempt to "rape" Ripley


CONTROLLING IDEA:
We survive only when we accept our own humanity.

COUNTER IDEA:
Death comes to all blindly.

VALUE, CONTRARY, CONTRADICTORY, NEGATION OF THE NEGATION:
Life, near-death, death, death masquerading as life/death of the Self.

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2 comments

Comment from: Erin [Visitor] Email
ErinWowsers. I should try doing an analysis like this. Is it easier when you are familiar with the film?

I'm not a screenwriter (BA in English, so criticism is all I'm trained to do) so this may be a dumb question, but are screenplays ever written in that format first?

I especially like the image systems.
04/23/09 @ 19:30
Comment from: admin [Member] Email
adminErin,

It can help if you're familiar with the film, but it's not necessary (and actually sometimes can make you less able to see the parts apart from the whole). When I watched and analyzed ALIEN, I hadn't seen it in about eight years; so, effectively, I was watching it "fresh."

No, it's not at all a dumb question! Many screenwriters do indeed use something similar to this to help outline their films. It's called the Notecard Method: just take a stack of notecards and use one per scene, describing each scene in a sentence or two. Also note the value charges (+/-) and how and to what they change by the end of the scene. Finally, on the back of the notecard, also take note of what purpose the scene serves structurally - i.e., ACT ONE CLIMAX OF THE CENTRAL PLOT, INCITING INCIDENT OF SUBPLOT C, etc.

And yes, image systems are wonderful: They can elevate a film subliminally from good to great.
04/24/09 @ 06:05

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