25 March 2019

Incorrect masks used in the movie "Alien"

During my brief break from blogging, I had a chance to watch part of Ridly Scott's "Alien," and noticed an error in the filming that I hadn't been aware of during previous viewings.  After John Hurt is brought back to Nostromo, he is placed in the infirmary; Ash and Captain Dallas enter and ponder how to remove the facehugger.

For this scene they are dressed in surgical gowns and are wearing masks - BUT the masks chosen for the film are not isolation masks; in fact these masks have absolutely zero filtering capacity.  They are simple oxygen masks.  In the screenshot above, the mask Ash is wearing clearly displays the nipple to which in real life one would attach the green oxygen tubing.  He is also wearing the mask improperly; it should fit under his chin, not be lodged against his lower lip.

Captain Dallas wears the same oxygen mask (and obviously without any oxygen).  When Hurt's body is moved into the scanner, they stay in the room but remove the masks (which would not be appropriate in an infectious environment) until his body comes out of the scanner.

Anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of hospital procedures and equipment should know that these masks are not isolation masks.  I presume the director opted for being able to visualize more of the actors' faces rather than for scientific accuracy.

This error is not recorded at the Movie Mistakes website - but there are 47 others listed, some of them quite interesting.

Reposted from 2011 because next month will be the 40th anniversary of the first screening of the movie.
Over the past four decades, dozens of books, hundreds of journal articles and innumerable college courses have analysed, frame by frame, Ridley Scott’s story of a bloodthirsty creature stalking the crew of the spaceship Nostromo. No other film, not even The Godfather or Psycho, has generated quite that amount of attention.

And now that academic outpouring is about to reach a new peak as the film approaches its anniversary next month. Events will include the release of new Blu-ray versions of the film, the screening of a documentary of its making, Memory: The Origins of Alien; and the staging of a two-day symposium, 40 years of Alien, that will be held at Bangor University in May. Speakers will give talks on “Alien and race, ethnicity and otherness”; “Alien and psychoanalysis”; and “Alien and neoliberalism, post-industrialism and the rise of multinational corporations”. Proceedings are scheduled to be published by Oxford University Press.
There are some excellent observations in the Comments section for this post.


  1. It's not like the crew in alien is shown as being particularly clever or effective is it?

  2. I don't know when I first noticed that mistake (nice pickup) because I can always remember it bothering me because its so obvious. But, after I worked in a microbiology department where people did biosafety level 3 (things like anthrax and plague) research that really stood out to me.

    Whats really funny is that you can see the ventilation holes really well in the side of Dallas' mask in your screen shot. They are literally holes to the outside. Not exactly good quarantine procedure.

    Biosafety level 3 precautions look much more like this http://www.gereports.com/using-emrs-to-help-the-cdc-track-outbreaks-faster/

    That is not even up to the BSL-4 level which deals with mostly hemorrhagic diseases without cures that pose a high risk to humans and spread easily. BSL-4 looks more like this http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_nbADpD65WD4/S_a56kOoM1I/AAAAAAAAeMI/_ML6qHlCn1E/s1600/BSL4work_USAMRIID.jpg (it requires an independent oxygen source so respirators are not sufficient)

  3. When I saw the film, I just used something called my imagination to pretend that they were something fancy from the future -- when this film was supposed to take place. Right?

  4. I wonder if they opted for these masks because they were transparent and therefore allowed for the facial expressions to be more visible.

  5. To be fair, suspension of disbelief is vital in sci-fi! For all we know, these masks have little forcefields built in that make them work better than our current gear.

    The medical shows are what you really want to watch out for - I can't count the number of times I've seen docs wearing stethoscopes backwards in their ears, touching their faces then touching the patient during surgery, giving drugs into the neck, etc. Drives me nuts! :)

  6. Ditto jovino- I would presume technology advanced enough to allow something that resembled something we have now, but with signficiantly different (better) abilities.

    Worth mentioning that smoking occurs in a corporate board room in Aliens. Not exactly correct now, but the "future" is a fickle mistress.

  7. Medical mistakes in films are so common, I have to look away whenever hospital scenes, especially surgical scenes, are shown. Never are they right, unless skipped. 'Return to Me' did fine by only showing it from a visitor of a patient POV, and 'Bringing Out the Dead' by knowing the EMTs were doing it wrong (or the CPR done correctly by John Goodman would have killed the other actor, so they fudged it.) It's NEVER right. Ever. Usually not even close. Easier to find the rare sort-of- correct ones.

  8. I think I have to agree with Jovino, especially considering that sci-fi is the genre in which certain liberties are taken. And considering this is from Ridley Scott, it makes me want to see the film in full entirity.

    However, I have to admit there are instances in which the suspension cannot be really attain, such as movies that deal in the modern day, such as The Core or Armageddon, the latter is used to test employees at NASA.

  9. "He is also wearing the mask improperly; it should fit under his chin, not be lodged against his lower lip."

    It's not that the mask is being work improperly, it's that the mask is a pediatric mask being fitted to an adult. It's just not big enough!

    1. Yep. This is what I came here to say Those are child oxygen masks.

  10. What Ian says. It's a child size mask. And, surprisingly, the design hasn't changed a bit since 1979.

  11. Not to mention Ash is an android and doesnt need as mask. Which leads to the question of why there is condensation on the inside of his mask from his breathing when he doesnt breathe.

  12. Good call! I didn't even know that, but I certainly recognized those exact masks, as I was born during the late 1970s/ had some surgeries between that time and the early 1980s.

    I even recognize some of the hospital equipment that's used as Ash's innards; I especially recognize the I.V. tubing, and the little, colored plastic markers that attach to it.

  13. This is a pet peeve of mine. Who do they hire as consultants on these movies and TV shows...?

    Alien was released in 1979, so attention to detail took backseat to the story. However basic mistakes such as this are common, even on "medical themed" TV shows. As a nurse it is frustrating as hell and once I see this poor attention to detail, it ruins any further viewing.

    Another mistake frequently made in movies/TV shows is when the appropriate isolation mask is worn, it's not uncommon to see the mask worn covering just the mouth leaving the nose exposed. This defeats the purpose of the mask... Breathing in contaminants or (In case of someone with contagious respiratory disease process wearing the mask) expelling particulates into the air.

    Another glaring mistake made, is when the "alien" is trying to rip through John Hurts charachters chest wall, thinking he is having a siezure, one of the other characters tries to forcibly pry open his mouth to place a "bite block," ostensibly to prevent him from biting his tongue. Wrong...

    Once someone is already "seizing" they have already bit down, so any biting of the tongue would have already happened. Forcing the mouth open to place a bite block is pointless and could end up injuring the person. (So DON'T do it)

    The unfortunate by-product is that the general public absorbs much if it's knowledge of medicine from these shows.

  14. To play devils' advocate here... this is a science fiction movie set in the future. It's entirely possible and even probable that these masks work exactly as they're intended to, at least within the context of the specific fictional universe to which they belong.

    Now, it's still a mistake, obviously. I'm just saying, maybe these things use imaginary tech we don't have in real life. There's certainly plenty of that in the movie already.


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