Monday, March 28, 2011

Flick of The Day: Alien

Science Fiction is a genre which I brings out some of the best and worst of modern cinema. On the one hand, it has attracted some of the best storytellers working in cinema over the past thirty years and yet it is the genre, along with horror most given over to the kind of low budget trash that populates bargain basement shelves in video stores the world over. However, when well done, there is no genre so exciting and mind expanding. From the dawn of cinema in films like Metropolis to modern classics like Blade Runner, it has enriched the viewer. Today's film is another such classic, Ridley Scott's Alien.
In space, no one can hear see you scream, so went the classic tag-line upon its release in 1979. It was the Jaws of alien films and its effect can still be seen in cinema today. The combination of science fiction and horror made it an instant classic. The story opens with the waking of the crew of the Nostromo from deep sleep while on their way home from a mission for The Company. It quickly becomes apparent that the crew have been awoken early to answer a distress call from a nearby planet. Upon descending to the planet, it is obvious all is not as it seems with a strange ship emitting the signal. Kane played by John Hurt goes in for a closer look, coming across a nest of eggs. One of the aliens attaches itself to him and he is brought back on board. He initially recovers but soon the crew is in a fight for their lives aboard.
The crew is a fine ensemble cast. Sigourney Weaver is Ripley, the second in command and a fiery personality who will fight to the end. Yaphet Kotto is Parker the ship's Chief Engineer. Ian Holm is Ash, the Science Officer and Tom Skerritt is Captain Dallas. All excel in their roles, helping to build the tension on the ship as events rapidly go awry. All of the characters are easily identifiable and this helps the film immensely. They are all average workers not adventurers. They are there for a wage not exploration. This leads the audience to care what happens to them, their attention is invested in them and as the plot unravels and the scares mount, this matters a great deal. It is something that is so often overlooked in thrillers and genre cinema in general. People have to identify and like the characters or else what is the point?
The film is a tour de force throughout, however particular praise must go to the design and look of the film by the artist H.R Giger. Giger designed all of the alien aspects of the film, giving them an organic and bio-mechanical appearance in sharp contrast to the industrial look of the Nostromo.
Above all this film has the tension and shocks to carry it though and it is at times terrifying. It's an enjoyable kind of terror though, like a roller-coaster ride. Weaver gives a career defining performance as Ripley. She is steely and determined and you would bet your money early on as her being the only survivor. 

Ripley: Ash, that transmission... Mother's deciphered part of it. It doesn't look like an S.O.S. 
Ash: What is it, then? 
Ripley: Well, I... it looks like a warning.

As is often the way with success in Hollywood, the film spawned a series of increasingly dire sequels and prequels, reaching irrelevance by the time the Alien Vs Predator reboot finally killed it off. There is a talk of another film, reuniting Weaver and Ridley Scott so perhaps there is life in the old dog yet. This is one of the scariest pieces of sci-fi to come out of Hollywood and is well worth your time. If the trailer below doesn't sell you, nothing will.

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