Monday, March 14, 2011

Read This Review From Orbit...It's The Only Way To Be Sure

A week or so ago, I reviewed Event Horizon, a rather great space horror film. And today, I thought I would speak on the mother of all space horror films – Alien. So, let’s get right to it, shall we?

For the, quite literally, ONE of you who doesn’t know a thing about this film; firstly – welcome to the planet, and secondly – Alien tells the story of the crew of the Nostromo, a transport and refinery ship that intercepts a partially garbled transmission signal from another ship. Upon reaching the origin ship, they find that that ship has seemingly been overrun by an alien lifeforce which has turned the ship into a nest; so they do what any curious Earthlings would do – go investigating, eventually having one of their own attacked by one of these creatures. Upon bringing him back to the Nostromo, the rest of the crew runs numerous tests on him, all the while an alien is incubating within him, leading to one of the most iconic scenes in film history. As the Alien escapes its once living egg, the crew quickly realise that they are being hunted. While their number quickly dwindle, one crew member, Ellen Ripley, finds out that the ship is under orders to return to Earth with its alien quarry – thus deciding that she must, at all cost, destroy it. As the alien takes down the rest of the crew after they unsuccessfully try to launch the ship’s self-destruct mechanism, Ripley succeeds where they failed, then blasts off in the ship’s escape pod. Once finding out that she is not alone in the pod, she blasts the alien into space. And the question mark leaves it open for a sequel (or three).

OK, first things first – Alien is one of my all time favourite films. Quite possibly in my Top 15, it is. In fact, a few years ago, when I had to give a presentation on a classic film, I managed to talk, off the cuff, for nearly an hour just on two key scenes of the film – the classic “birth” scene and the hunting scene in the refinery set (which is the very model of a tense cat and mouse chase). Which means that I am shocked as to why it is so hard for me to actually do this write-up now, but there you go. I can’t even do a Things I Like/Things I Don’t Like about this, as there is nothing about the film I don’t like. Everything, from the overall visual design[1] to the atmosphere[2] to the acting[3] to the sound design is, to me, as perfect as any film that people who get paid to have such opinions would place as their top films.

I could go on and on about what you see on screen with this film, but just as important are those who worked behind. Sure, this is a Ridley Scott film (and, much the same as the cast, this is a career defining work for him as well); but as much, and possibly more credit needs to go to Dan O’Bannon, the man who actually came up with the story after working on another film with a ridiculous looking alien, and wanting a story that would feature a “real” looking alien that would actually be scary (and he succeeded) and the other hands that helped bring the story to us in the form it is. Even the music, while not playing as huge a part as it otherwise would in other films within the horror genre, is brilliantly composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith.

If you haven’t seen Alien – why the fuck not? It’s not that hard to find, go do it NOW!

[1] And not just the Geiger/Moebius created aliens themselves – which have justifiably become iconic images; but the actual sets, looking exactly like you would picture grunt level spaceships being – a style that I honestly don’t think anyone was able to get a handle on from then up until Joss Whedon’s Firefly series, some 20 years later.

[2] There is a bloody good reason why I keep this film in the horror section of my DVD library, while I house the rest of the series in the sci-fi section; like I said in the opening, I classify this film as straight up horror; just because something is set in space does not confine it to the science fiction genre – in fact, the claustrophobic nature of something like a “standard sized” space ship lends itself perfectly to dread, tension and horror much better than a lot of Earthly locations, in my mind.

[3]  Say what you want about this franchise, in particular the last half of the Alien film series (note, I do not count the Alien Vs Predator movies as part of the Alien film franchise) – but they do seem to bring out something in their actors, leading to some so-called “career defining” roles; even actors who have gone on to have long and varied and successful careers can still have their roles in these films be looked at as their most well known. Not just Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley (a role that pretty much redefined how female characters were looked at in horror and sci-fi, influencing every generation since). Yes, I could talk about the whole series of films, but even in Alien – John Hurt’s Kane, Ian Holm’s fact every human player in this film, their roles are as memorable to me as anything they have ever played.