How Do You Remember Alien?

17/10/2012 16:43 BST | Updated 17/12/2012 10:12 GMT

I missed Ridley Scott's film at the cinema, and first saw it when it came out on video. Wow. Over the next few years, I saw it repeatedly, and ended up buying a copy when it came out on DVD. It was a great film for use in teaching, because of the range of issues it could raise. But above all else, for about 15 years, I have dreamed of mounting a research project on Alien - or more specifically, on its audiences.

Here is a film which didn't do that brilliantly on cinema release. But it went on to become a favourite for a huge number of people - I hear stories of people having watched it 20, 30 or more times. Its poll rating on IMDb is among the highest of all films (currently 8.5 out of 10). Of course there are people who don't like it - and that interested me just as much. But what got my juices flowing initially was the fact that, more than almost any other example, film academics just haven't been able to stop writing about it.

I've collected all the references I can find, and currently my list stands at nearly 100 substantial analyses and arguments over the film - and what is interesting is that again and again these arguments contain within them assertions about what 'the audience', or (more portentously) 'the spectator', must be doing as they watch. As an audience researcher, that trips my switches nicely.

About 12 years ago, with my friend and colleague Kate Egan, I devised a bid for funding to do a big body of research on this. The bid got turned down. That happens. But what really irritated me was the response of one referee. S/he asked (from the safety of anonymity) why anyone would think that a film like Alien was worth researching. Now that is elitism of a very high order (only 'art' films are worthy of investigation?)...but it also sits so peculiarly with the fascination that so many other film scholars have shown towards the film. This was not to be got away with.

So, at the beginning of this year, when Prometheus came out, the idea of the research came strongly back into my mind. I took the plunge, invested my own money in getting a website and survey created - and now with Kate and two other colleagues and friends I am d*****d well doing it anyway.

What do we want to find out? We want to find out what labels people would attach to the film - labels can say what kind of film they think it is. We want to find out if, as many of those academic analyses claim, men and women have different responses to the film. We want to find out how younger audiences - for whom presumably this is not a 'new thing' in the way it was for people like me - see it differently. We want to find out which scenes or parts of the film have stuck in people's minds, and why - and what part that plays in their overall sense of the film. Actually, we want to find out a great many things, all of them part of making sense of what this film means to different people.

So can we tempt anyone? The survey launched this week, at that address above. To be able to answer our questions with any certainty, we need to get a lot of responses (we have a target of 5,000). And not just from the enthusiasts, but from people also who have reservations, or doubts, or dislikes - or who saw it just once and said 'Thank you, but no'. The whole point is to get as wide a range of kinds of people and responses, so we can see the patterns. We reckon it takes about 15 minutes to complete. But of course that depends a bit on how much you have to say! And then of course it would only take a further minute to email it to your mates, or to post the survey's address on your Facebook page, or to Twitter it, or...

It will take a while to amass the numbers of responses we really want - but as we begin to get results from the survey, I will post them here. That's a promise.

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