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“Here kitty, kitty, kitty. Meaow. Here Jones.” – Alien, 1979 April 2, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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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.

Comments»

1. gendjinn - April 2, 2016

Alien & Aliens still hold up really well. I though 4 had a couple of great scenes (basketball court & underwater) with some great characters & dialogue.

Now Prometheus. Much better than A3 or A4 but if you think there are plot holes in A & As then get yer double decker ready to roll. Definitely should at least check out the Honest Trailer on youtube for it.

Still I’ve watched it at least half a dozen times and while I acknowledge it’s weak, stepped on shit, compared to the originals, I still find myself cooking up and looking for that vein. Metaphorically speaking.

Of course Bloomkamps’ sequel to Aliens (with Weaver & Biehn!) comes out next year along with Scott’s follow up to Promotheus.

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WorldbyStorm - April 2, 2016

I’ll give Prometheus a go so. I trust your judgement. Bloomkamps one should be worth a look.

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gendjinn - April 2, 2016

On this one I think my judgement is clouded by Scott & Alien franchise. Elba, Fassbender and Theron are outstanding. As are the directing, cinematography, sets. Not to mention glimpses of various alien instantiations.

But there remains an sense of embarrassment for liking it so much and how little the plot holes/clangers actually bother me. Though Aliens and Princess Bride were the two movies my two sisters & I knew by heart.

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WorldbyStorm - April 2, 2016

Aliens great, Princess Bride better!

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gendjinn - April 3, 2016

Wondering when the kids are old enough to really enjoy PB is a topic of conversation for GenXers both sides of the Atlantic.

I’ve noticed a much healthier set of messages in kids movies – Inside Out, Cinderella (2015), Brave for example. Far better than such patriarchal atrocities like Lady and the Tramp.

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2. EWI - April 2, 2016

Prometheus is desperately bad, in my opinion. A mash-up of two very different scripts in which (for instance) certain actors do nothing at all to justify their being there.

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gendjinn - April 2, 2016

Talking with a film geek buddy at work about this. We both feel that if this wasn’t Scott or Alien, if this was a directorial debut, we’d not be giving it the time of day. And yet, because it’s Scott/Alien we are still going to shoot up that weak, stepped on shit.

Have you seen the Honest Trailer for it? Skewers it beautifully but full of spoilers.

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3. Phil - April 2, 2016

I’ve always loved Alien but never seen any of the sequels – not even Aliens, which has a following of its own. (Prometheus was awful.)

I remember a lecturer talking about the Freudian dynamics of feature film – how the female body is set up as an object but also, more profoundly, as an endlessly fascinating mystery. He gave a couple of examples of films with an apparently strong and ’empowered’ female lead who nevertheless feels the need to mark the dramatic climax of the film by taking her clothes off; Coma was one, Alien the other. “So she’s defeated this creature, this alien orgasm, and so what does she do? She decides to have a shower. But what she hasn’t realised is that the orgasm is still there, it’s in the spaceship with her, and so while she’s undressing the alien orgasm is…” He stopped there, wondering why people were laughing. Genuine slip, and – as he pointed out himself – quite an appropriate one.

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WorldbyStorm - April 2, 2016

Heheh, I’ll bet he still remembers that though as you say kind of appropriate. I see Alien and Aliens very distinctly, the latter as an action movie the former as this weird artefact from…somewhere. They don’t make them like that any longer.

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gendjinn - April 3, 2016

I saw a documentary long time ago about the sexual imagery, the rape themes running through the movie. Penetration and eruption. Power dynamics and violation. Even down to the final Cartwright scene with the alien’s tail.

But alien orgasm is sheer genius in it’s recapitulation of the overarching narrative!

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