Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Alien (1979) Review

In your home, the whole neighborhood can hear you scream

Okay, I’ve finally changed my mind for review selections I make and I’m going to start reviewing older movies. In some cases I might decide to have a marathon of certain franchises and review all the movies in them, which is what I’ll be doing for Alien (and eventually Predator because of the whole Alien vs. Predator business). As this is my first review of an older (i.e. over 10 years old) movie, I’m going to try my best to refrain from resorting to blind praise and give the movie (and all others after it) a fair, fresh trial.
A resource collecting ship, the Nostromo, is on its quiet journey back to Earth with the crew, Dallas, Ripley, Kane, Parker, Brett, Ash, and Lambert, in hyper sleep. However, the ship intercepts an unknown message from an uncharted planet and diverts from its course to check on the matter. On the planet the crew traces the message back to a crashed derelict ship and find no traces of life except for a massive field of eggs. When Kane investigates the area he is attacked by some kind of a facehugger and brought back onboard with it attached. Eventually the facehugger falls off of Kane and he appears to be fine. But as we know, all is not well.


What happens in the following scene is one of the most shocking scenes of horror I’ve ever witnessed. I’m sure many of you already know what happens, but for those who don’t you can find out for yourself. Needless to say, Kane does not die a happy man. One of the reasons that the movie is so scary is that we care for the characters and their fates. For about a half hour we get to know the characters, how they interact with each other, and what their basic role is on the ship. Brett and Parker are best buddies; Ripley doesn’t trust Ash, etc. Ripley isn’t as gung-ho as her character becomes in the sequels, but she is just as smart with her wits, and Sigourney Weaver injects determination and toughness that begins to crumble as each of her friends is picked off one by one. The other actors all do good work with Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton having good chemistry as Parker and Brett, and Ian Holm giving an icy cool assurance to Ash, who is fascinated by the alien and its uniqueness.

And unique it is. H.R. Giger’s design for the beast is a marvel and is used to fuller effect when placed within the ships claustrophobic setting. The set designs for the film have this grungy, lived in feel but with an oddly organic look that blends the alien in the environment. Like the shark in Jaws the alien merely pops out for brief glimpses early on, enhancing the mystery and tension because we never know when it’ll appear. Also, what other creature has another head on its tongue and acid for blood?

20th Century Fox took a gamble when they hired relative newcomer Ridley Scott for the directing job, but the gamble paid off. The attack scenes are very suspenseful and slow building until BAM, the monster appears, then disappears quickly, and the scene ends. The pacing is purposely deliberate during the beginning scenes and then slowly quickens as the film gets closer to the conclusion. At that point, the movie fires off like a gun and becomes a mad dash towards the final encounter where Ripley must conquer her fears. Some early use of shaky cam, which has become a common staple in today’s movies, is well utilized in the scare scenes heightening our immersion in the moment. Some minor continuity errors occur occasionally, including one where Parker says he saw the alien when he wasn’t shown in the previous scene, but these are small quibbles and don’t hurt the tight flow of the movie.

After 30 years from its initial release, Alien is still one of the best horror movies ever made. Except for a few effects and hair styles, the film and its story are as timeless as they ever were.

Director’s Cut
The label “director’s cut” is a bit inappropriate as Ridley Scott has stated that the theatrical version is his director’s cut. But the studio wanted another version for the quadrilogy set, and this is what Scott came up with. Some of the slower scenes in the beginning have been tightened up in their pacing so that we get the alien faster. During the climatic run to the shuttle, a scene has been added showing two of the crew members incased in the same kind of infestation found in the sequel Aliens. The problem is that this undercuts the fast pace of the ending, halting it for a few minutes until finally starting up again. The plot hole I mentioned earlier with Parker has been remedied so that he does see the alien. The scene where Ripley comes down to see Kane in the lab has been extended showing Lambert bitch slapping her, which helps to better show the distrust that most of the crew has with each other. So there are some improvements, but overall I’ll stick with the theatrical cut.

Both Versions: 4/4

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