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As ‘Alien’ turns 45, those screams still echo through space and time

By Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — “In space, no one can hear you scream.”

“Alien” premiered with that memorable advertising line in June 1979. Nonetheless, science fiction fans being what they are (see “Star Wars” and “May the Fourth”), the film’s de facto anniversary comes this weekend, in the form of an April 26 re-release as a nod to the mysterious moon featured in the original movie, known as LV-426.

Few experiences are more memorable than the night (and early morning) I devoted to director Ridley Scott’s haunted house in outer space 45 years ago, in ways that underscore how movies, and moviegoing, have changed in the long and strange journey since then.

I went to see “Alien” on its opening weekend with my older brother, knowing relatively little about it. Then again, all we could really rely on in that pre-Internet time were reviews in our local newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, and frankly, its critics didn’t much reflect my teenage tastes anyway.

Driving to the Avco cinemas in Westwood near UCLA, we immediately noticed the long line for tickets wrapping around the theater and heading down the block. No, there were no advance sales, and no ability to choose your specific reclining seat with a click from the comfort of home.

The movie itself (and it seems ridiculous to say this, but spoilers ahead) subverted expectations by having a female member of the Nostromo crew, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), emerge as the ultimate survivor, while the captain, played by Tom Skerritt, was among the early casualties.

As it happened, the 10:30 p.m. showing that we intended to see – and thought we had arrived early enough to catch – sold out about five people before we reached the box-office window. Having already waited that long, we bought tickets for a 1 a.m. showing, and no, we didn’t have cellphones to call home and let my mom know.

The intensity of the film – beginning with the stomach-turning (literally, if you think about it) scene in which the alien makes its entrance – held the at-capacity audience in thrall, building toward a moment that might be the funniest I’ve witnessed in a theater.

Near the end, when the Ian Holm character is revealed to be an android in a violent, chaotic sequence filled with spurting white fluid, a young woman, having apparently seen enough, began fleeing toward the lobby. A young man, presumably her date, yelled after her, “It’s only a robot,” and without missing a beat she shouted back, “I don’t care if it’s a f—ing rubber band!” In a much-needed release of tension, the entire theater erupted into laughter.

After the movie ended, we staggered out into the completely empty streets (it was by now after 3 a.m.) and took what felt like the very long walk back to our car. Little did I realize then that poor Ripley would be subjected to future horrors – and more xenomorphs – over a trio of sequels, or that “Alien” would actually birth an enduring franchise that will bring us yet another movie, this one titled “Alien: Romulus,” later this year. The film marks the seventh in the series, set between the original and director James Cameron’s acclaimed 1986 sequel.

As ridiculous as some aspects of that first glimpse of “Alien” sound now, it remains etched in my memory, and parts of it, like waiting in line, surely fueled a sense of anticipation and excitement.

In the modern age, Hollywood has struggled to make moviegoing feel like an occasion. Yet in the 1970s, with films like “Jaws,” “Star Wars” and “Alien,” they seemed to emerge almost organically, yielding screams, either of delight or horror, that, like those memories, have echoed across space and time.

“Alien” returns to select theaters on April 26. It’s rated R.

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