Film opening analysis – Alien


For this post I will be analyzing the 1979 film Alien and its title sequence. Alien is a Sci-Fi horror film that was directed by Ridley Scott. The title of the movie refers the main antagonist on the movie, which is an extraterrestrial creature, or in other words an alien. The film, released worldwide on the 25th May, 1979 was met with great reviews and garnered critial acclaim. To add to this the film was a box office success pulling in $3,527,881 on the opening weekend and with a lifetime gross of just under $105 Million. The budget for this film was $11 Million.  Due to the massive success of the first film a media franchise was created that comprised of novels, comic books, video games, and toys, as well as a further five films.

Genre and genre conventions

The film Alien has two genre’s, those being horror and sci-fi. Both of these genre’s allow for a broad range in terms of storyline and the Mise en scene of a film. Some genre conventions for the horror genre include old, dark and isolated locations. This gives the film an eerie feel to it as well as a sense of mysteriousness. Having an isolated setting can also create a strong sense of terror as the characters wouldn’t be able to easily get help should anything bad happen. Alien goes with this convention as the film is set in a spaceship. Obviously the spaceship is isolated as it is in space. The fact that the film is in space adds tension to the film as the crew are basically stuck in a metal container. Furthermore space is a vacuum so they cant even leave the spaceship.


Alien is often considered a quintessential hybrid Sci-fi horror film. This is due to certain themes in the film such as characters being stalked by their killer and then being killed off one by one. This added to what I previously said about the isolation and the fact the film is set in a futuristic space ship in a futuristic time period. This plays on the audiences monophobia, the fear of being alone, in Alien in particular this is exaggerated as the franchise is set in space. Furthermore the main colour in the film opening for Alien is black, in addition to this black is a colour that is widely used throughout the horror genre. This is because the colour black connotes danger and a sense of mystery. Unfamiliar shapes are also created by using the colour black as well as a fear of the unknown.


Another convention of the horror genre is the use of long takes and slow editing. This slows the pace of the film down and helps to add tension the scene as well a the entire film. This can be seen in the opening for Alien as the entire sequence is one long take. Furthermore the opening sequence is really slow in the way that the white bars come to form the title of the film. This is a clear example of slowing the pace of the film. On the other hand having long takes creates a sense of anticipation as the audience knows that something, probably bad, is going to happen. In addition having long takes makes it easier to have jump scares. This is because the audience will stop paying close attention to the scene as they are pretty much looking at the same scene for an extended period of time. This allows a jump scare to have an added effect as it shocks the audience as it is completely unexpected, in some cases.

Long cuts can also be seen in the 1980 horror classic The Shining. In the clip below you will see that the director uses long takes and then cuts to a few horrendous scenes that frightens the audience. The takes in this scene aren’t as long as takes in other films but it is a great example and does what its designed to do extremely well. The Shining has a percentage rating of 91% and 93% from critics and the audience respectively according to The film performed just as well in the box office with a total lifetime gross over just over $44 Million. The long takes are effective in this film as adding to the tension and the horror moments. Since the audience is used to quicker takes it makes them expect something which heightens their apprehension. When something finally does happen, such as a ghost appearing, the audience’s fear reaction is seen.


Technical codes

Sound is one of the most important things to get right in a film, and especially the title sequence of a film. The sound that is used can ultimately decide whether a film will be a success or a complete failure. In my opinion the sound used in the title sequence for this film was excellent. The music that is used gives an eerie feeling to the entire sequence. This is a common thing to do in this films title sequence as well as the majority of other horror films title sequence. As the sequence goes on you will notice that slowly the sound builds up. This is done by the addition of more instruments, the addition of instruments such as the violin add tension and create suspense. Collectively all of the techniques used to create this soundtrack bring the audience down into the atmosphere of the film. This is good to do as it makes the audience feel invested in the film before the film has started, therefore they are more likely to stay for the duration of the film.


Symbolic codes

The title sequence for this film is very dark, mostly being pitch black. Instantly this tells the audience that the film is going to be set, or based around something that is either pitch black or the connotations of the colour black. As we know the film is in fact set in space, some members of the audience would probably be able to work this out when they add this to the fact the film is called Alien. This tells the audience parts of the film without revealing anything to do with the storyline to the audience. I think this is a great thing to do because it gives the audience a feel for the film and they can early on decide whether they like it or not. When the audience realizes that the darkness they see connotes space, an eerie feeling will set in as they think about the vastness of space and how they cannot actually see anything. This instantly adds a new meaning to the word isolation. Which ironically is a word they used in the title of a video game Alien: Isolation which was released in 2014.


Key signifiers

The main word in the title sequence, which is also the name of the film is the word Alien. This particular word alien has many different meanings but they all have common key themes, these being unknown and foreign plant or animal species. Therefore this would apply to an extraterrestrial from another planet, this is the most thought of definition of the word alien in todays society. This is mainly due to the Roswell incident and the conspiracy theory that the US government are working with and analysing extraterrestrial beings and their spacecraft at a base in the Nevada desert known as Area 51. The word alien therefore signifies that the film will include an alien to some extent in the plot. The audience will automatically think of an extraterrestrial when they see the world alien and in turn will expect to see aliens in some form in the film. The background of the title sequence is mainly black. This, along with ‘Alien’ suggests that the film will take place in space, possibly in a place that is ‘alien’ to humans, such as an alien planet or in deep space. Basically anywhere in the universe. From the picture below we also see that there are what could possibly be rings, like the ones that circle around Jupiter, Saturn or Uranus. This could possibly give the viewers a location where the film could possibly be set, either on, or around one of these planets.




From the opening sequence of Alien I expect the film to take place in a dark, isolated area. This is because the entire sequence is cast in darkness. This also gives me the impression, and expectation, that the films plot will probably have some dark connotations such as death and mystery. The darkness of the sequence also gives the audience a sense of the unknowingness and again mystery. Therefore the expectation is the film will be set, and/or the plot will be based around that unknowingness and mystery. The unknown aspect of the title sequence can be linked with a stalker character as obviously stalkers are in the shadows and you probably wouldn’t know if you were being stalked. If any of the audience would be able to make this somewhat complicated connection they would in turn expect to see this in the film.

Target audience

As with the majority of target audience’s for horror films I think that the target audience for this film are between the ages of 16 and 24. This is because the film includes death and other mature themes. We know that the film isn’t targeted at a younger audience because an alien that stalks people before killing them will most likely scare younger people. On the other hand I also don’t think the film is targeted at older people as the film is set in space and has a lot of futuristic technology that an older audience would not understand. This is another reason why I think the film is targeted at an age range of 16-24. People of this age understands and uses modern technology and would therefore understand and increasingly believe the things that are in the film.


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1979 – Alien(Ridley Scott)

1980 – The Shining(Stanley Kubrick)


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