Wednesday, October 10, 2012

My Favorite Era: Alien (1979)

We hit our first entry from 1979, maybe the best year for horror movies of all time.  Fangoria started up that year, most of the big names had releases and our subject today was an unexpected smash hit.  Directed by Ridley Scott, Alien is a wonderfully sparse, tense little monster movie that grabs you by the throat from the beginning and never lets go until the end.  Let's take a closer look.
  • First off, I'm going with the 1979 theatrical release.  In cases where there are alternate cuts, I will mention them but take notes from and make comments on the version released to theaters.  In this case, I also recommend getting the Blu-Ray of the movie, it's worth it.
  • I think I was eight when I first saw this movie.  Kind of explains a lot, really.
  • We begin with the opening credits with Jerry Goldsmith's creepy music and the title slowly appearing piece by piece as the credits roll.  It's a great intro as is the completely silent manner in which we are introduced to the ship and crew.
  • As usual, Ridley Scott gives us a intensely detailed setting.  The interior of The Nostromo has a great "lived in" quality to it.
  • The cast is awesome as well with everybody turning in good work.  Hell, even Veronica Cartwright doesn't annoy me that much...and she usually gets on my damn nerves.  Maybe not to the degree Teri Garr does (I'll get to her later, believe me) but you could make a wicked drinking game based on how many films she ends up crying and terrified in.
  • Of all the performances, my favorite might be Ian Holm as Ash.  You just get the feeling something is a little off about the guy, making the reveal that he's an android very satisfying.  Hell, it even works when you know it's coming after having seen the film a dozen times.
  • The script by Dan O'Bannon is very good (as one would expect from the guy) and it's a prime example of how to make lean and efficient storytelling work.
  • I love how Scott drags the movie out.  The pacing is quite good, especially when you consider not a hell of a lot really happens for the first twenty minutes.  The crew of a ship wakes up, gets orders, lands bad at their objective and is stranded.
  • John Hurt and the egg still works today.  Actually, knowing it's coming makes it worse in a way.
  • That being said, you do have to be quite the idiot to hover right over a weird egg after it opens and starts pulsating.
  • The chemistry between Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton is fantastic as they take two guys who are pretty much cannon fodder (as is pretty much everyone except for Ripley) and make then likable, relatable guys.
  • The face hugger falling on Ripley may be a cheap scare but it still works.
  • Tom Skerritt has always been a solid, laid back character actor which makes him a great choice for Dallas.  It's interesting to have a captain who pretty much delegates most, of not all of his authority to subordinates.
  • Speaking of things that still work, the chest bursting scene is still one of the best gory shock moments in horror history.  John Hurt is good as usual in this movie and what a way to go out on!
  • Now is as good a time as any to mention the awesome creature designs by H.R. Giger.  It really says something that 33 years after the movie was released, the monsters still is creepy and unsettling to look at.
  • As much as I love the film, I do admit the cat is a pretty blatant plot device.  Still works though, can't argue with that.
  • Having Dallas offed a little more than halfway through is a good, though in hindsight rather obvious move.  Generally in this sort of film, the strong assertive leader type is the one who makes it to the end of the movie.  It just so happens that in this case, the survivor is Sigourney Weaver.
  • I love how well Scott uses simple silence as a way to build tension.
  • As I said above, the big reveal of Ash's true nature is very effective and of course, Ian Holm plays it quite well.
  • It's rather interesting to note that the film has both a hyper-competent female character in Ripley...And a virtually useless one in Lambert.  To her credit, Veronica Cartwright projects and enunciates quite well when crying.
  • Having the last twenty five minutes or so virtually free of real dialogue is a pretty neat move on the part of the filmmakers as it increases the tension and just lets Sigourney Weaver act her ass off...Which she does very, very well.
Alien is a B-movie done with an A-movie budget, cast and crew.   It has impeccable acting, music, effects, production design and an iconic monster that still works even today.  A true classic in every way.

No comments:

Post a Comment

About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.