Monday, June 18, 2012

Alien

With Prometheus, the "is it or isn't it" prequel now out in theaters, it seemed the perfect time to take a look at one of my favorite film series.  In reality I don't really need a reason to watch or talk about these films again.  I love the aliens and I love Ripley and that's all there is to it.

If there was ever a movie that I wish I could erase from my pop culture knowledge before watching it, it's the original Alien film.  The film leaves us as much in the dark as the characters until the various details about what they are facing are revealed, and I really wish I could have seen my first facehugger, chest burster, and xenomorph while watching this film.  Even knowing what was coming it's still chilling, so I can just imagine how strong it would be blind.

The Alien series is just something I remember always being there when I was growing up.  The original film premiered two years before I was born and the sequel came to theaters when I was five.  I'm not sure how many years later it was when it had its television premiere, but I remember they made a big deal about it, and for some reason a very young me decided I was going to sit down and watch it.  I think seeing Newt in the commercials somehow made me think it would be okay to watch.  I didn't get very far before I turned it off from fear.  My other main experience with the creatures was during The Great Movie Ride in Walt Disney World, where I may have screamed when the alien dropped down out of the ceiling.

Fast forward quite a few years, and I was an adult and ready to watch again.  It was pretty much love at first sight.  I adored it so much that even when some people tried to urge me not to watch Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection, I told them I already knew I would.  But I'll be letting you know what I think of those films soon enough.  For now, the masterpiece.

I don't like smattering reviews with hyperbole anymore than I like overly snarky ones, but with this film I can't really help it.  The sets are gorgeous and help set the mood perfectly.  The pacing is fantastic, from the slow beginning as we meet the cast of the Nostromo, they get redirected on their way home, and then run into a strange creature which attacks one of their crew members.  But once the alien is fully developed, the pace picks up considerably and moves constantly as one by one the crew is killed and only Ripley and Jonesy remain.

I love that this movie has a cat, and that everyone on the crew seems to genuinely care about him, and that he isn't just used as a way to kill something and make the audience feel bad like so many animals are in these types of films.  I also think it shows you something of Ripley's character that she insists on going back to save him rather than just hightailing it out of there alone.

I hesitate to call Ripley a hero in this movie though, because she's really just more of a survivor.  I think that's one of the things that makes this film work, that the entire crew (well, except for that one pesky android) are just normal human beings.  They react largely how any of us would in this type of extreme situation in all that they want to do is get out there alive.  Ripley does show the potential of being a hero however, in that she's not afraid to question orders and she's always looking out for the safety of the crew.


Something I noticed on this most recent viewing was the obvious influence of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  That's mostly because I hadn't watched that film before my previous viewings, but I think it's obvious that both the ship's computer Mother and android Ash were influenced by Hal, and the slow mood as we scan through the ship reminded me greatly of similar shots in that film as well.  Now of course so many other films have been influenced by Alien, so it's sort of nice to see the connective threads between them all.

Another thing the movie gets right is showing us just the right amount of the alien at any given time.  It's a truly gorgeous creature, thanks heavily to H.R. Giger's designs, but the fact that its gleaming head, spindly tail, metallic teeth and long fingers are only revealed to us slowly make it all the more menacing and freaky.  While it's a masterpiece of special effects to be sure, I think a little too much of it would make it all the more obvious that we were dealing with a man in a suit.  As is, I remain ridiculously giddy whenever it appears on screen, and that never ceases regardless of how many times I watch this movie or the sequels.

It's worth noting that in this film my sympathies are largely with the crew, wanting them to survive against this seemingly indestructible creature.  That doesn't apply so much in the later films...

If you haven't seen this film before, you absolutely must.  If there's any movie that lives up to its hype, this is it.

Tomorrow I will look at the first sequel, Aliens.

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