Monday, March 26, 2012

Alien

By Sati. Monday, March 26, 2012 , , , , , , , ,
98/100 (117 min, 1979)
Plot: A mining ship, investigating a suspected SOS, lands on a distant planet. The crew discovers some strange creatures and investigates.
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Dan O'Bannon (story), Ronald Shusett (story)
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt and John Hurt

In space no one can hear you scream

With the fast approaching "Prometheus" Ridley Scott's return to the world of "Alien" for the first time in 33 years now it's the perfect time to revisit his masterpiece of space horror, one that's yet to be beaten as the scariest movie ever taking place in space. We follow the events concerning the crew of Nostromo and the mysterious monster whose only agenda seems to be slaughtering them with excitement and with true horror. I wasn't yet born when the movie premiered in 1979 and I was too young to see it when it was re-released in theatres in 2003. But I remember the first time I saw "Alien" as if it was yesterday, in broad daylight, in a house filled with people, the movie still managed to scare me, turning my blood cold many times and sustaining the almost unbearable tension from the opening scene to the very end.

There are so many things that worked brilliantly in the movie - first the setting. We are always with the crew, whether they are on Nostromo or on a bizarre planet. We know as much as they do - we have no idea what the strange eggs on the planet are, what is the facehugger creature that attaches itself to Kane's face and finally we have no idea what is Alien, where does it come from or what does it want. It's almost like it's punishing the crew with its brutality and viciousness, for whatever reason. Or it's much more simple - it simply needs a host to reproduce.
What makes the movie so scary is that there is only one creature and it easily makes it way through the guts and blood of Nostromo crew. Unlike in overhyped "Aliens" where Sigourney Weaver sometimes manages to kill a creature in the matter of seconds, here the crew is struggling to survive for the entire movie. There is also of course the horror movie cliche when the bad guy you thought is gone, comes back. But boy, oh boy, if it ever worked in the movie, it worked here.

But the most unique thing that distinguished this movie from other horror cult classics like "Predator" and "The Thing" is the atmosphere of the film and the creature itself. The dense, creepy and almost suffocating ambiance drips with tension and the fear of unknown. With the accompaniment of Jerry Goldsmith's chilling score we enter the sterile ship and then bizarre planet, where every rock, every stone and every wall seems as it had a life of their own.
The movie is just dripping with sexual innuendos, to the point that H.R. Giger, who is responsible for the creature's look and many of the designs on the set both here and in upcoming "Prometheus", had to change designs several times because of their blatant sexuality. Still, it's no mystery - Alien's head looks like erect penis and the dead facehugger looks a lot like vagina. Then there are all of those elements looking like eggs, semen, sexual organs.

Some even said that the movie is really about rape or giving birth. Both elements are prominent in the story - Kane is raped in a sense his organism is penetrated and he is forced to give birth. Also there is a way, very bizarre way indeed with which Ash chooses to attempt to suffocate Ripley. And then there is that famous outfit Ripley wears near the end of the movie. Perhaps all of that is one of the reasons for which the movie is so petrifying. Is there something more scary than a monster or even a person trying to invade the most private area of human's existence?
In H.R. Giger's original illustrations the creature has eyes. For the movie, Giger insisted that the creature have no eyes, thus giving the bleak appearance of a cold and emotionless beast - the effect is startling. Bolaji Badejo who plays the Alien in the movie was a graphic artist who was discovered at a pub by one of the casting directors. He was about 7 feet tall with thin arms - just what they needed to fit into the Alien costume. He was sent for Tai Chi and Mime classes to learn how to slow down his movements. The fact that the creature moves so slowly adds to the horror - it's slow, it doesn't hurry, but it will get you in the end.

The creature is never filmed directly facing the camera due to the humanoid features of its face. Ridley Scott, determined at all costs to dispel any notion of a man in a rubber suit, filmed the beast in varying close-up angles of its ghastly profile, very rarely capturing the beast in its entirety.Scott was petrified people won't be scared because they will see that it's just some guy wearing a costume. The fear was justified, but people ended up being scared. The few scenes where Alien looked a lot like a person in a costume were cut. We always see him in a mist, smoke or only for a split second.
What makes Alien such a fascinating creature is how much thought went into origins and designs. There are few stages, just as with the human, the egg, facehugger, chestbuster and adult form. Everything about it is disturbing as hell - first of all the way it forcibly attaches itself to its host. Then the birth moment. And then the fact how rapidly it grows. H.R. Giger's initial designs for the facehugger were held by US Customs who were alarmed at what they saw. Dan O'Bannon, who wrote the story,  had to go to LAX to explain to them that they were designs for a horror movie. O'Bannon also came up with the idea of the reproduction of the Alien during reading about spiders. Reportedly it gave him nightmares and he thought it's a perfect thing for the movie.

The rumor that the cast, except for John Hurt, did not know what would happen during the chestburster scene is partly true. The scene had been explained for them, but they did not know specifics. For instance, Veronica Cartwright did not expect to be sprayed with blood.There was a puppeteer sitting underneath the chair, casually drinking coffee. When the scene played out, with the puppet, the fake blood, screams and shock, reportedly few people actually rushed to the toilet to vomit. It was worth it. It is now considered to be one of the scariest and most disturbing moments in the history of cinema.
What I love about the movie is how much imagination went into it and not just the designs and screenplay - the visual effects, awarded with Oscar are amazing and even today you watch the film and there are only few short moments that strike you as a bit outdated. Puppets, wires, models plus the overwhelming effort and creativity went into that movie. I'm amazed by the ideas of the crew, for example the dead facehugger that Ash autopsies was made using fresh shellfish, four oysters and a sheep kidney to recreate the internal organs.

To get Jones the cat react fearfully to the descending Alien, a German Shepherd was placed in front of him with a screen between the two, so the cat wouldn't see it at first, and came over. The screen was then suddenly removed to make Jones stop, and start hissing. And Jones the cat must be my favorite cat in any movie. Alien doesn't chase him unlike other living creatures on Nostromo. Jones the cat survives, while others run around with weapons, the cat simply runs around the ship, ending up victorious in the end. I always found it to be very humorous.
And then there is a protagonist, Ellen Ripley in a legendary performance by then unknown Sigourney Weaver. Ripley who is now one of the most famous heroines in films is a strong woman, but she also remains ordinary. When Alien attacks she simply does everything she can think of to survive. She is still scared, still has no idea what is going on. But she is able to find the courage within. The moment where she signs lullaby to calm herself near the end of the movie is my favorite moment of Weaver's acting in all of the series.

"Alien" 33 years after its premiere remains just as it was all this time ago - compelling, disturbing and paralyzingly scary. Can Scott top it with "Prometheus"? I doubt that, but if he at least gets close to making such an impression on the audience as "Alien" did, it will be a success.

19 comments:

  1. Wow, 98? really? that good? I can now see why you are so excited for Prometheus! As I said before, not really my type, but I can't ignore a 98 score, can't I? I am writing it down on my To See list now!

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    1. Oh, Alien is one of my favorite horrors and one of the very few movies that got such a high score from me, so yeah, I'd definetly recommend it! ^^

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  2. Saw this for the first time this year - completely agree with your rating, it's so, so brilliant!!!! I'm trying to convince my Dad to watch it, but he doesn't wan to :( It's setting and design is so intricate, and so well thought out. Weaver was brilliant!

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    1. I'm glad you liked it! Yes, it's such an intricate movie, I'm astonished how well the story was executed.

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  3. Great review. You made me wanna go back and rewatch Alien.

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    1. Awesome! My goal with writing this one was to get people to see it again.

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  4. I still have a hard time deciding if I like this Ridley Scott version or its sequel by James Cameron because both are soooo different. But I guess if pushed, I'll go for Aliens just for that "Newt" character.

    But here's a premonition, in a few years time Hollywood will get the idea to remake this movie, possibly in 3D, and while it will make loads of money, will be nowhere as good as the original. Just wait and see...

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    1. Yeah I'm sure they will want to remake it at one point, as they are currently doing with "Carrie" which is just a preposturous idea. As for "Aliens" I always thought that Cameron taking an idea and turning it into action from horror really was a downfall for the series - later on people anticipated guns and dozens of Aliens running around, while what was so scary in the first one was that there was only one.

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  5. Fantastic sci-fi horror. Usually if I feel like one of the Alien films I pull out Aliens, but this film is so thematically dense - and is one of the great monster films because it delays the reveal of the alien for so long - that it is an all-time classic. Top cast. Really looking forward to Prometheus.

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    1. I think out of all Alien movies this one captured the fear and the nature of the creature the best. I'm thrilled it's Scott who is directing Prometheus, I'm sure he respects "Alien" and I'm hoping he will create something at least close to the quality of this one.

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  6. Beautiful!!

    You just make me want to watch this again... Thanks for the awesome write up

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    1. Thank you! Every one should see it again before "Prometheus", I think :)

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  7. I was a freshman in highschool when this film came out, but I did not actually see it until many years later. I remember a classmate telling us about having seen it, though.

    SPOILER WARNING:

    He was describing how this creature is loose on a ship in space and the crew are trying to hunt it down and kill it. I asked him, "Why didn't they just open the ship to space?" He looked at me for a few seconds with his mouth open, then proceeded to call me any number of names which I can't repeat here. Part of the reason I didn't see it for so long was that the climax seemed to be so apparent I didn't know if I wanted to sit through a whole movie to see something I already knew was coming. When I did finally see it, I enjoyed it, but I liked Aliens more.

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    1. I do not know much about space, but if they opened the hatch in Nostromo wouldn't important stuff like enginges etc fell off the ship or something? I think she only manged to push Alien out because it took a moment, it was already next to a door and she shoot a harpoon in it. But I may be wrong :)

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    2. Space is a vacuum - no atmosphere. There's an artificial atmosphere in the ship. Nothing would happen to the ship other than the atmosphere would escape from it. If you are trying to compare it to an airplane with a hole blown in it, they are not the same. It is the extreme drag from the atmosphere the plane is flying though that might cause further structural damage around the hole. There is no atmosphere in space, hence no friction or drag on the spaceship. It would still be structurally sound.

      Now humans can't survive without an atmosphere, so the people on the Nostromo would have had to get into their space suits when they did it. The alien, needing an atmosphere in its non-egg state, would have died. If it was close enough to the hatch, it would have been sucked out, too.

      My question falls into the same category with other horror films like "why don't the people just leave?" or "why did they run upstairs?" The answer to my question and those is the same - "Because then there wouldn't have been a movie."

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    3. Ah, I see! Thanks for explaining, I was always awful with physics and science fiction movies when it comes to how things work in them:)

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    4. Actually, that's probably a good thing because so many movies get the science wrong anyway it might just be an extra source of annoyance for you (like it is for me sometimes.)

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  8. I actually rewatched this last Friday! It's amazing in HD, it's really quite astounding that it was made in the 70s as looks just as good, if not better than, contemporary releases. I loved watching it again too. Great review, it's nice to see such a high score for it too!

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    1. Thanks! Yeah it's really one of these movies that didn't get old!

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