It’s the middle of blockbuster season, so you know what that means- that’s right! : a review of a 33 year old film not currently in cinemas! Hooray! Don’t worry, normal service will intermittently resume, focusing on a super number, some monkey planet rising and some crap I haven’t decided on yet. Anyway:
It’s hard to come up with original insights on a genre classic. I’ve seen Alien and Aliens countless times, less so the two others (the AvP series doesn’t count on account of its joyless shittery) and wondered why I haven’t ever officially reviewed them. The Alien films have always stood out to me as an interesting franchise. With most film series there is usually an effort at continuity in terms of a common stylistic thread, running through the films. Each entry in the Alien franchise has its own flavour and directorial imprint on it, be it the thoughtful, bleak crappiness of David Fincher’s Alien 3 or the balls-to-the-wall meathead action of James Cameron’s Aliens. Thanks to the couple of people on Facebook who had nothing better to do than vote for this series, it was made final- I was to enjoy/endure the films again so I could write reviews for y’all to enjoy/endure. So, before I start- here are the “jokes” I’ll be avoiding throughout my reviews: 1) any reference and/or pun relating to the super-famous tagline and 2) pointing out the fact that all the aliens look like shiny black dicks (to the person who eventually Googles those last three words and ends up here, I’m sorry to disappoint. But hey- come for the dicks, stay for the reviews!)
“The pit is completely enclosed. And it’s full of leathery objects, like eggs or something.”
We start with a cargo ship (in SPAAAACE!) called the Nostromo as it picks up a unknown signal from a nearby planet. The crew land and discover a downed alien spacecraft. Blah eggs blah facehugger blah stupid decision to bring Kane (John Hurt) back on board. If you haven’t seen Alien, close this review, slap yourself in the face and then order yourself a copy. A film simply cannot be this influential unless it was good to start with. Every time I watch it, I forget how slow it is. That sounds like a dig, but it isn’t. The film is a masterclass in pacing. There’s no dialogue for a good five minutes or so at the beginning and when the crew awake from hypersleep, it’s shot in a really lethargic, dream-like way. Things obviously quicken up later on once the alien starts getting his merk on, but my point remains. I think the Nostromo crew are great too. Sigourney Weaver is brilliant, Ian Holm surprisingly creepy and one-time Bond villain Yaphet Kotto (who dies the most embarrassing death in Bond history) is bad-ass as Parker.
I remember seeing Alien when I was a kid and it giving me nightmares for a while. Now I’m older, the scares are still effective, but have understandably lost some of their trouser-browning power, be it due to advances in special effects or the fact I’ve seen it a lot. I consider jump scares the lowest form of horror, a cheap move to get the wussier members of the audience to scream and call the film “really super scary 4realz” afterwards. Alien is proof that jump scares don’t annoy me nearly as much when the atmosphere is well done. For example, the bit where Dallas (Tom Skerritt) is in the vents and we hear the “blips” getting faster and faster is masterfully done. Also the famous chestburster scene is fantastic- although I have a problem with the way it scurries away. It looks like a dildo on wheels being pulled on a string.
It’s not the just the big sequences that impress me. I love the creepy touches, like the facehugger pulsing and tightening its horrific grip on the prone Kane’s neck. I like the claustrophic feel of the ship, despite it being massive. The end 20 minutes or so where Ripley is rocking an incinerator is so damn oppressive. We have Mother’s constant countdown, alarms, flashing lights, steam and the possibility of the alien being around the next corner to deal with. It’s tense stuff. Also, I love the design of the alien and the crashed ship. H.R. Giger- you’re a fucked up genius.
“Ash, are you kidding? This thing bled acid. Who knows what it’s gonna do when it’s dead?”
I don’t really have any gripes with Alien. If pushed, I would say the film didn’t need another villain in the form of (invisotexted, but God knows why) Ash, but then again, I can’t see the film working as well without it. Plus, I really like the character. Some of the effects have aged badly, but that’s not the film’s fault. As I said though, the chestburster running away always gets a guffaw from me. It’s tough to imagine the initial impact Alien must have had or calculate the influence it has had on modern sci-fi, but it still stands up to modern, cynical, horror-hating eyes such as mine. It’s a great film, simple as that.