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Thursday, September 3, 2009

ALIEN vs. THING: Battle of the Ensemble Casts

If you're an astute reader of the Vault, you may have noticed that I haven't changed up the poll on the right sidebar, despite the fact that the last one has been closed for several days now. The reason for this is that I've been very intrigued with what a heated competition it turned out to be, and how close it was. The question is: Which film has the superior ensemble cast, Alien or John Carpenter's The Thing?

Both movies are superb science-fiction/horror films (perhaps the two best ever), and a big reason why is their absolutely excellent casts, made up of terrific veteran actors who are riveting in every scene. It's fascinating how the movies parallel each other in this way. In the end, The Thing won the vote, but with only 51%. It doesn't get any closer than that! So where do you stand? Truth be told, I give Alien the slight edge, but let's take a look at the players:


Sigourney Weaver as Ripley
The star of the film, and quite possibly the greatest performance by an actress in a horror movie, ever.

Tom Skerritt as Dallas
As the doomed captain of the Nostromo, Skerritt is able
to portray both the exasperation and the inevitable failure of a good man in way over his head.

Ian Holm as Ash
Possibly the film's most memorable performance. Holm brought the rigorous training of the English stage to bear in tackling his
role as the haywire android.

John Hurt as Kane
In his relatively limited time on screen, Hurt is nonetheless unforgettable as the victim of the notorious face-hugger.

Harry Dean Stanton as Brett
One half of the movie's duo of frustrated flunkies, Stanton is perfect as the ultimate put-upon space stoner.

Yaphet Kotto as Parker
And Kotto is the other half, bringing a certain physicality and presence to his role that takes a small part and makes a lot more out of it.

Veronica Cartwright as Lambert
Perhaps the film's most underrated performer, Cartwright play Lambert as the anti-Ripley, a hysterical woman who collapses under the stress of the situation.

In the case of The Thing, there are several more cast members involved than in Alien, so in the interest of relative "fairness", I've left out some of the more minor roles and focused on those who contribute most to the great ensemble work that goes on in the movie...


Kurt Russell as R.J. MacReady
For some, he is the ultimate genre leading man/hero figure in this role. It's interesting to compare MacReady to Dallas, in that MacReady is just as unready, but rises to the occasion so much better.

Wilford Brimley as Dr. Blair
If you only know him as the sweet old man telling you about diabetes on TV, you need to watch Brimley as a serious-as-cancer hardass in this movie.

Keith David as Childs
Speaking of hardasses, David is terrific as always, and of course brings that unmistakable voice with him.

David Clennon as Palmer
The parallel to Stanton's Brett, as the put-upon stoner/slacker of the crew, Clennon provides what little bone-dry humor this movie has to offer.

Richard Dysart as Dr. Copper
Playing "cool-just-on-the-edge-of-losing-it", Dysart is very effective in a situation that has to be any doctor's worst nightmare.

Richard Masur as Clark
A somewhat atypical role for Masur, who made a career of playing semi-comical schlemiels. It's interesting to see how he plays this part.

Donald Moffat as Garry
A capable character actor if ever there was one, although I'll always have a soft spot for him as the tax collector in Popeye...

Thomas G. Waites as Windows
Packs a punch as the disgruntled grunt/techie of the crew, almost an everyman figure.

Beyond looking at the individual actors, there is of course also that intangible "ensemble" factor--the way all these fine performers come together and interact with each other to produce scenes that are absolutely gripping in one way or another. As I've said, I give a slight edge here to Alien, if only because it's a tighter group, but I don't want to prejudice you guys too much. I'm very interested in what others have to say about this. So now it's your turn...

* * * * * * * * * *

In other news, allow me to puff out my chest a bit here and declare that The Vault of Horror has finally attained the top spot at HorrorBlips. If you've never visited it, HorrorBlips is an excellent website which gathers together horror news from sites and blog across the web in one place, and also ranks tons of horror blogs based on traffic and linkage. Yours truly currently reigns supreme at #1, thanks in large part to the support of all you loyal Vault Dwellers. And thanks to that sweetheart BJ-C, who dedicated her post on Day of the Woman this morning to my triumph (and who is also currently ranked #3, by the way).


Doug, UK said...

Got to be The Thing for me. Nice piece on the film in the UK Guardian recently:


I don't have the link, but I've seen some interesting wring on this from residents of real-life Antartic bases!

Doug, UK said...

Here it is:


Mr. Fiendish said...

The Thing definitely has the best one, in my opinion. They are more dynamic and make the paranoia a lot more beliavable. Great entry!

Unknown said...

Stopped by to say congratulations on your Horrorblips achievement, but also that I can't help but be unhelpfully indecisive about the Alien vs. Thing battle.

Of course, Alien has some pretty stellar acting, but The Thing has my vote for all-around ensemble cast. A draw, unfortunately...

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in this duel my vote is for xenomorph, for those one who don't know what is this, is the alien, of course the best duel that this creature has been with predator.
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