Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Alien (1979)


Title: Alien (1979)

Director: Ridley Scott 

Cast: Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, Harry Dean Stanton, Ian Holm, Veronica Cartwright, Yaphet Kotto

Review: 

Alien is what this Film Connoisseur calls a perfect film, not a single thing is wrong with it, every single moment, frame, shot, performance, effect is top notch perfect. Without a doubt, one of the greatest science fiction films ever made which is why I am excited as hell for Ridley Scott's Prometheus (2012). Why am I excited for Prometheus? Well, let me count the ways. First off, Prometheus marks Ridley Scott's return to science fiction, a genre he hasn't revisited since he made Blade Runner (1982) all those years ago. The thing about Ridley Scott is that he's the kind of director who likes jumping from genre to genre. He'll do a sci-fi, he'll do a sword and sandal, he'll do a chick flick, he'll do a period film, a war film...you name it, and Scott has visited that genre. One of the few genres he hasn't done is a western, but I bet if he did a western, he'd do the best damn western you'll ever see. And thats the thing about Scott, whatever the genre he is tackling, you can rest assure that he will do it justice. You can rest assured that the film he is working on will be a good representation of the kind of film he is making. For example, look at Legend (1985) Scotts foray into the realm of fantasy films. Without a doubt, one of the best fantasy films ever made. So yeah, of course I am jizzing in my pants over Prometheus premiering next week. The previews let me see that I wont be dissapointed. It just looks like it will blow my mind, I hope that it will. Scratch that, I'm damn near sure it will, it's a rare occassion when Ridley Scott dissapoints with a film. So all things considered, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit Alien, the film that started the highly successful Alien franchise, and the film that directly connects to Prometheus

Prometheus will finally shine some light on this dead aliens origins

Alien is all about these space miners traveling back home on their spaceship 'The Nostromo'.  They are ready to kick back, relax and take that ten month journey to earth. Who knows, maybe they'll even get a bonus. Unfortunately, along their treck home they come across a beacon from a nearby planet. What could it be? Is it a distress signal? Where is it coming from? Wayland Yutani, the corporate monster that pays these space miners, sends them to investigate the alien planet with the insentive that they'll get a share of whatever they find. Could it be an alien spaceship? Could this be humanities first encounter with a lifeform other than themselves? 

Weaver plays Ripley, the heroine of these films

This film has many good things going for it. I love it because I am enamored of films that take place in the deep recesses of space. I've always loved this setting for a film because it alienates the human from its home planet, it creates an isolated environment which is the perfect mix for a horror film. And yes, make no mistake, Alien is a horror film, which makes it all the more interesting because I believe it's the one and only horror film that Ridley Scott has ever made, and again, it's a damn good one. Its a damn perfect horror film actually. How perfect is it? Well, I've seen this movie many, many times over and there are these moments in the film that still get me no matter how many times I've seen it. The suspense can be cut with a knife. Ridley Scott really knew how to orchestrate a film that would scare the pants off off anyone who saw it; which is why I'm also looking forward to Prometheus. Scott has gone down saying that all he wants to do is scare the pants off his audience and I'm looking forward to that! Especially when it's such a masterful director doing it. 

Ridley Scott was 40 when he made Alien

But what elements make Alien such a perfect blend of science fiction and horror? Well, the talent behind this film is astonishing to say the least. The people involved in it were some of the best writers, artists and filmmakers the world had to offer. First up, Dan O'Bannon wrote the film. Dan O Bannon wasn't just any old writer, this was a guy who knew the horror genre, he knew science fiction films in and out. He was a geek supreme; he knew what was cool, what worked. For example, one of Dan O Bannon's first forays into filmmaking was a little indy sci-fi film called Dark Star (1974). Don't know how many of you guys out there have seen Dark Star, but it was John Carpenter's first full length film. It's not the best film ever made, but it showed promise. Is the film horrifying? Is it trying to be funny? I still dont know exactly how to define it. To me Dark Star was simply a group of hungry, yet extremely creative people testing their filmmaking skills for the first time, trying out this filmmaking thing. The results are amusing, but obviously very low brow, very low budget. The monster on that film was a beach ball for christ sake! You have to see it to understand what I'm talking about. Ultimately, Dan O Bannon wasn't too satisfied with the resulting film, but this was a good thing, because it's what propelled him to write and have a burning desire to make a serious, more threatening science fiction film. He was going to make sure that the creature on his next science fiction film was not a beach ball. This burning desire to make a more convincing and horrifying villain is probably what gave birth to one of the greatest monsters in all of filmdom: the alien. The result of O'Bannon's frustrations was a screenplay called 'Star Beast', ultimately, O'Bannon himself changed it to 'Alien' because of how many times the word Alien appeared on the script. And so, the first steps towards getting Alien made had been taken. 

H.R. Giger's 'Necrom IV' the painting that decided how the titular alien was going to look 

But it wasnt just Dan O'Bannon's excelent script that made Alien a winner. The conceptual artists behind the film where some of the best science fiction/fantasy artists to ever walk the face of the earth. I'm talking about Jean Giraud a.k.a. 'Moebius' and the always excentric and down right creepy fantasy artists known as H.R. Giger. Ridley Scott was worried about how the alien would look, it was one of the few things that truly worried him during pre-production for the film, but once he saw H.R. Giger's painting known as ' Necrom IV', he knew his worries were over. He immediately contacted Giger and asked him to work directly in the design of the Alien, the results where nothing short of memorable. Giger even designed the interiors of the alien spaceship! While Giger worked on the creature designs, Giraud contributed with the look of other elements onthe film. Giraud's style is present on the Nostromo's many hallways and the spacesuits that the miners use. Giraud was a great asset to this films set designs and art direction. Moebius was a true visionary, he never stopped drawing fantasy and science fiction. He contributed on many film projects; for example, he was responsible for the look of Luc Besson's The Fifth Element (1997), the look of the glowing suits in TRON (1982). He worked a bit on Masters of the Universe (1987) a film that looks a whole lot better than it should thanks to Giraud's contributions. Point is, whatever film he was working on, you could rest assured that it was going to look that much more unique and interesting, he was going to make it a better film simply because of his involvement. Sadly, this hero of mine recently died on March 10, 2012. He left a lasting mark on the art world, and on many of the films he helped create. Just remember, whenever you see those cool looking suits and spaceships on Alien, that's Jean Giraud's contributions to the film. The mechanical creatures built to bring the alien to life where constructed by the legendary Carlo Rambaldi, the guy behind such creations as E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982) and the giant sandworms of Dune (1984). So I think it's safe to say we had a powerhouse creative crew behind this film. Topple that with the fact that Ridley Scott was behind the camera and you got yourselves a masterpiece my friends. 

Jean Giraud contributed largely to the look of the film

So yeah, we had an incredible group of creative geniuses behind this film. Whenever any film gathers such an amazing group of individuals, you can be sure that the film is going to be something special. And Alien turned out to be just that. It was a huge financial success, it spawned three direct sequels and two spin off films which pitted the Aliens vs. the Predators from the Predator films. Comic books, video games, toys have all been made based on the film, and lets not forget the many rip offs that this film spawned! Dont believe me? Well, heres a couple of films influenced by Alien, check them out and tell me if I'm not right: Leviathan (1989), Galaxy of Terror (1981), Outland (1981), Inseminoid (1981), Creature (1985), Star Crystal (1986) and the Italian Rip Offs (we couldn't leave those out now could we?) Contamination (1980) and Alien 2: On Earth (1980). And that's just the tip of the iceberg, Alien influenced many more films then the ones I've just mentioned. Whenever a film impacts the film world in this world, it means it's made an impression on people, it means that it's not just any film, but a special film, and this my friends is what Alien is, a special film that still manages to spook and amaze with it's pitch perfect suspense and astounding visuals. Ridley Scott amassed this amazing amount of talent for this film because he himself is an artist, a visionary. Many of the shots on this film could be paintings, you could just freeze frame these and put them on your wall, which makes Alien not just a sci-fi/horror film, but a work of art. Each film in the Alien franchise is special for its own different reasons, different directors have brought their unique visions of this universe, the result is an interesting bunch of films, but with Prometheus, Scott is returning to the universe he helped create which is why I'm so looking forward to seeing it. Look forward for my review of Prometheus in the coming weeks, hopefully it will be another genre defining film, from a director who loves wowing us, and as far as I'm concerned still has the capacity and creativity to do it. 

Rating: 5 out of 5

This moment still gets me ever single time I watch the film! 


10 comments:

Anonymous said...

well, i have seen Prometheus and it's good. Not so good as the first Alien, but still it has its memorable moments.
The biggest problem with Prometheus is they left some questions unanswered, probably for a sequel.

Jack Thursby said...

You're right this is a near perfect film. Brilliant acting, brilliant atmosphere, brilliant story. If I had to pick one tiny fault it's the horrible fake latex head they use when Ash gets his head knocked off. As much as I hate CGI "enhancements" in old movies I really wish Ridley would alter this

Interested to see how Prometheus measures up with this. Assume you've reviewed this in preparation. It's got some pretty mixed reviews which have knocked the wind out of my enthusiasm a bit.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

I'm as excited as you, but like Jack, some of the reviews have taken the wind from my sails a bit. Still, mostly good reviews and that's good.

But Franco I couldn't agree with you more on Alien. It's a damn near perfect film. I have nothing but praise for it too. It's a beautiful piece of science fiction film.

I've said it before and I'm sorry to say it again. Never could get the adoration for Legend. I count myself among those who see this as a Ridley Miss. Blade Runner is up there with Alien in the untouchable category.

As far as Westerns, and it's not a true western but Thelma And Louise is about as good as it gets. He would make a great one.

But you're right, he's all over the map. How about Matchstick Men? Very good stuff!

I really expect to see you return with your thoughts [minus spoilers] on the new film, if not a separate review altogether.

I intend on seeing it Saturday or Sunday. I have two baseball games to coach and will get there at some point between the balls and strikes.

It's also worth noting Brian Johnson's beautiful contributions to this film, a man who helped establish the look of Space:1999 and Thunderbirds. It wouldn't be the same without him either.

But you're right this is a certified classic and its influence is felt on many films. I'll add Rutger Hauer's Split Second. The Giger look is everywhere.

May the film be at least 2/3 of what we hope.

Best

sff

The Film Connoisseur said...

Jack Thursby: Yeah, I rewatched this in preparation for Prometheus, they both connect, so it made sense. I'm trying to avoid reviews for now, to try and avoid any sort of preconceptions of it, my excitement for it hasn't gone down thats for sure!

I hear ya about the fake head, but still, I think it's decent, considering ASh is an android, but I know what you mean, for a couple of seconds there it just looks too stiff. But hey that was 1979, it must have been cutting edge stuff back then.

But aside from that, the film keeps me mesmerized its entire running time, it has so many great moments. That whole sequence where they are landing on the alien planet, entering the ship, finding the eggs, all thats golden stuff. The art direction is still amazing, I mean, back when they actually built sets! Everything feels so real.

The scene in the air ducts, in the darkness...and then that alien pops up, gets me every time. Rewatched it and loved every second of it, a great horror sci-fi.

@The Sci-Fi Fanatic: My love for Legend is never ending, I've always kept it on my top favorite fantasy films ever. Same as many of Scott's films, he takes this fantastical setting and makes it complex and real. The make up effects work and art direction is fantastic on Legend...I've always been fascinated by it. I love Tim Curry in that movie, he kicks so much ass as Darkness, Rob Bottin's make up effects work is so amazing on Legend, it's really one of the big draws for me.

I will be reviewing it as soon as I see it, sadly, it premieres a whole week late here in puerto rico. It will start on June 14th, so I guess I'm going to be late on the Prometheus review band wagon, but expect my review for it none the less.

You mention Brian Johnsons contributions to the film, and I agree, theres many other notable people who contributed, for example Ronald Shusset also added some scenes to the film, the whole thing with Ash for example, was added into the script by him. There was no Ash in OBannon's script!

Ron Cobb's another excellent conceptual artists who's gone on to work in many films like Total Recall, The Abyss and Raiders of the Lost Ark among many others.

I hope Prometheus doesnt let us down either man, I seriously doubt it, Scott's always delivered in my book. The only time I didnt love one of his films was that Robin Hood film he did, and even that one was well shot and a work of art.

Jack Thursby said...

Yeah, I'm sure in one of the making of's they explain that they left the model head in oven too long and it shrunk!

Yeah, I think best of avoid reviews of Prometheus - go in fresh.

I've got to say I too love Legend - particularly the short cut with the Tangerine Dream score. That movie has one of the most dream-like atmospheres ever captured on film.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

I agree with you about Ridley's work. It's stellar. I like Legend for all the reasons you mentioned but that was it for me. I don't want to discount all of those amazing things you noted because they are spectacular.

Regardless of the delay, look forward to your thoughts on the new film. Cheers Sff

Planet of Terror said...

I think what's most intriguing about Prometheus is that it isn't your prototypical summertime blockbuster. It's a film that seeks to ask questions about the origin of lie, where we come from, and our place in the world. Maybe not on a direct level but certainly in a metaphorical sense. I think that's why reviews have been so mixed or even negative. It doesn't feel like your standard fare summertime flick.

I say screw conventions. I for one am excited and I can't wait to see it!

The Film Connoisseur said...

@Jack Thursby: Hey Jack, I have this thing about both versions of Legend, my favorite is the theatrical cut with the Tangerine Dream score, because it's the version I'd been watching for years before the new one was released on dvd with the Goldsmith score, but I wouldnt mind seeing a version that mixes both scores.

I love the extended version of Legend, because it shows so much more of the film....I love the extended Meg Mucklebones sequences, I've always loved that character, and seeing her for a longer period of time on screen was a real treat!

@Planet of Terror: I'm with you on this one dude, I LOVE films that are philosophical in nature, even more so when they tackle THE biggest question of all: where the hell we all truly come from! Looking forward to it a lot, expect a lengthy review of it as soon as I see it, which should be some time next thursday.

Thanks for your comments everyone!

Dan O. said...

Good review. Total horror/sci-fi classic and still gives me the chills even after seeing it about 3 to 4 times now. My only problem: that damn cat!

The Film Connoisseur said...

@Dan O: I did notice that classic horror film scare: the cat jumping out of the darkness, it's so overused in films, one almost expects it!

Ripley's cat also appears on ALIENS, in that one her cat rips Ripley's stomach apart during a dream sequence.

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