“Here kitty, kitty, kitty. Meaow. Here Jones.” – Alien, 1979 April 2, 2016Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
Continuing this on again off again series of posts on films of the 1970s (and soon to be late 1960s having just watched The Good, The Bad and the Ugly), and here’s Ridley Scott’s Alien, all the way from 1979.
And a strange film in so many ways. It is very much of its time – post 2001, Dark Star (natch – given those involved), a science fiction film that about an hour in neatly pivots to being an horror film before pivoting back again, sort of. It’s long, almost dream like for much of the time, moving at a slow pace that it would be implausible to believe a contemporary counterpart could do. But that’s a real strength, allowing the characters and the plot and the suspense to unroll smoothly and generating a real sense of the alien as an implacable unbeatable adversary.
The sets, the visuals, the effects? The latter occasionally ropy – some exterior shots of the Nostrum aren’t quite there, but still remarkably compelling. There’s a solidity to it from the off, the interior of the Nostromo looks as real as the crashed alien ship – the former a weird mash up of Discovery from 2001 and an oil refinery. Ron Cobbs set design is the equal of the more feted Tiger (and that is not meant as a criticism of the latter, simply that the overall look is so well done). Let’s not forget that Chris Foss was also involved in early visualisations – including some that made it into the final version in modified form.
Watching it again after decades what surprised me was how short some of the most famous scenes are. The chest-burster? Over in a matter of seconds and the lead up where poor old Kane is shovelling food into himself, presumably and unknowingly to feed the creature is hardly made anything of (indeed I’m wondering now did the novelisation by Alan Dean Foster colour my memory more than I realised). There’s more of the alien revealed from the off than I expected. But not its entirety.
Of course there are missteps. How to explain a future where the ship board computer is accessed by a computer keyboard while there’s an android on board that is apparently indistinguishable from humans? And what of the curious device used by Dallas, the captain, to find the alien in the ventilation shafts which apparently only works on the horizontal but not the vertical. A bit of a problem there one might think. Then there’s some quibbles about the depiction of Ripley towards the end, albeit she is the only genuine adult on board the Nostromo and loses her head almost not at all. Veronica Cartwright gets a far more traditional treatment of women in horror but then the male characters are almost uniformly foolish in the way people are in such films (why oh why does John Hurt suddenly decided to go down a hole on the alien ship?). Ian Holm is kind of great too. The alien itself, a creation of nightmare, even factoring in the jazz hands moment when it catches up with the hapless Dallas.
Yet these are minor minor issues. As a piece or cinema, a fiction, it is near perfect. The sequels are another story again varying between good, odd and entertainingly mad (I’ve never seen Prometheus, and not sure I want to to be honest). I’d hazard the opinion that in some respects it has never been bettered.