Back in the days before computer generated image technology, the use of miniatures, models, and amazing painted backdrops provided us with astonishing and believable props for all sorts of cinematic adventures.
Some of the amazing models from Alien (like the one pictured below) are breathtaking in their intricacy and authentic feeling.
This brings me to what I consider the main theme of Alien: workers’ rights.
Yes, that’s right. Alien is about workers rights. After being treated to eight or so minutes of the beautiful models and miniatures of the Nostromo spacecraft, the first real topic of conversation is about whether Parker and Brett (the guys in the main picture) should receive full shares of whatever it is that the crew has been mining.
It is obvious that the inequality of income between these two lowly ranked members and the rest causes tension in the crew. Dallas — the Captain of the Nostromo — shuts down all talk of this quickly. The Science Officer, Ash, reminds them later that if they don’t respond to the distress signal they forfeit their share of profits. Even Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has a go at Parker and Brett when they harass her about getting paid more for fixing the ship when they’re stuck on the alien planet.
In another scene where Ripley and Dallas are arguing about whether they trust Ash.
Dallas: Look, I just run the ship. Anything that has to do with the Science Division, Ash has the final word.
Ripley: How does that happen?
Dallas: It happens, my dear, because that’s what the company wants to happen.
After the death of Dallas you find out that Ash — the dipshit that let them a) Bring Kane and the Alien back on board and b) not kill the alien when they had a chance — is a company plant, a robot, that put finding Alien life ahead of the life of the crew. The perfect allegory for the multitude of consultants and razor gangs that companies bring in to help them downsize.
In the end the movie really boils down to what are your rights as a worker?
- Did you read that clause in your contract that says you have to respond to an alien emergency distress signal in the middle of the galaxy?
- Do you have to adhere to your company’s quarantine policy when someone’s life is at risk because an alien being has become fuck-buddies with your crew mates face?
- Is it okay for the company to plant a robot, which is disguised as a human, into your crew so as to try and drive profits up?
- Is the company trying to screw you over?
The answer to that last one is of course: the company is always trying to screw over workers rights.
I’m reminded of the scene in Clerks where Dante and Randal are discussing contractors on the Death Star:
Randal: A construction job of that magnitude would require a helluva lot more manpower than the Imperial army had to offer. I’ll bet there were independent contractors working on that thing: plumbers, aluminum siders, roofers.
Dante: Not just Imperials, is what you’re getting at…
Randal: Exactly. In order to get it built quickly and quietly they’d hire anybody who could do the job. Do you think the average storm trooper knows how to install a toilet main? All they know is killing and white uniforms.
Dante: All right, so even if independent contractors are working on the Death Star, why are you uneasy with its destruction?
Randal: All those innocent contractors hired to do a job were killed - casualties of a war they had nothing to do with.
[notices Dante’s confusion]
Randal: All right, look-you’re a roofer, and some juicy government contract comes your way; you got the wife and kids and the two-story in suburbia - this is a government contract, which means all sorts of benefits. All of a sudden these left-wing militants blast you with lasers and wipe out everyone within a three-mile radius. You didn’t ask for that. You have no personal politics. You’re just trying to scrape out a living.
It also brings back memories of Moon, where the Sam Rockwell’s hapless clone is fooled into thinking he has a wife and family waiting for him all so Lunar Industries can turn a profit.
But on a serious note, spare a thought for all those model and miniature makers who have gone out of business over the past thirty years because of a growing reliance of CGI to create effects.
They’re a dying breed, but at least they’re being killed off because of old-age and not some horrible space beast.