Academic journal article Extrapolation

Alien as a Comic Book: Adaptation and Genre Shifting

Academic journal article Extrapolation

Alien as a Comic Book: Adaptation and Genre Shifting

Article excerpt

This article seeks to examine the ties between adaptation and genres, through the adaptations of the first Alien movie. Its goal is to study the interaction between adaptation and genre affiliation, by studying the various incarnations of a story in which generic hybridity is pushed to the fore. After having established the way genre functions in Alien, we shall examine the shift in generic boundaries entailed by the adaptation process and its consequences for both the form of the work and its consumption. The identification of these differences in the context of a work which emphasizes its faithfulness to the original movie suggests the existence of a medium-specific negotiation of genre affiliation.

Comics and cinema are an especially fruitful medium pairing when it comes to adaptation study. Even though they may appear to possess 'incompatible visual ontologies' (Lefèvre, Incompatible Visual Ontologies), they display a number of stylistic and formal similarities, which has led to mutual inspiration at various points in their respective histories (Gardner, Projections 1-67; Lacassin; Gordon, Jancovich and McAllister vii-xvii). Novelization may have a longer history in feature films adaptation than do comics (Baetens and Lits 16), but there is nevertheless a rich history of film to comics transpositions. As a consequence, a number of established equivalences have developed over the years (the frame of the camera and the panel border, spoken dialogues and word balloons, etc.), what Lrancis Lacassin has called "obvious analogies" (11), which make these transpositions non-problematic in a number of cases, even when dealing with baroque or ornate film-making (Labarre). Because of this relative closeness and because of the history of such adaptations, studying generic shifts becomes possible without having to dwell on these many non-problematic systems of equivalence.

Alien, Ridley Scott's 1979 film about a killing monster loose in a nearly empty spaceship has been the focus of much academic attention, mostly for its treatment of gender relations (see the bibliography in Gallardo and Smith 205-10), but also for the way it addresses social hierarchies (Byers; Eaton) and genre (Flanagan). It is on this last point that we wish to focus, keeping in mind that genre affiliations and gender representations are by no means disconnected concerns: for instance, it is Alien's relatively innovative treatment of female protagonists within genre fiction, and notably its use of the then recent 'final girl' figure, which justified some of the attention the film initially received (Clover 46-48; 81-82).

Alien is an overt example of a film blending at least two genres, science fiction and horror. Rick Altman's simplified description of genre as composed of semantic and syntactic elements (Altman 216-25)1S useful in understanding how the two genres are articulated in the film. Using this approach, I would suggest that science-fiction elements are mostly to be found on the semantic axis, as a catalogue of objects and situations (cryogenic coffins, spaceship, planet exploration, astronauts and alien creatures), while the narrative structure-the syntactic axis-owes more to the horror film (the monster chasing and killing members a frightened group in a mostly empty building, full of shadows and dark off-screen space). At the intersection of science fiction and horror, and belonging to both genres, is the monster/ alien. Hatched from an organic looking egg found in an empty spaceship, the creature is an extra-terrestrial, but its form is that of a monstrous hybrid between flesh and metal, perpetually glistening with a thin layer of liquid. It is not uncommon for science-fiction monsters to be used in horror contexts: The Thing from Another World (Christian Nyby, 1951) and its remake The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982) are famous examples, but the atomic monsters found in films such as Them! (Jack Arnold, 1954) are also difficult to locate generically. …

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