Friday, 4 September 2009

'ALIEN' REVIEW - ONLY THIRTY YEARS LATE

Well, it's not so much a review, more of an opinion as to why everyone should watch this movie, regardless of their film preferences.
I first saw this movie when I was about 13/14 years old. It was being shown on television and I wanted to watch it but my mum, bless her cotton socks, didn't like the idea of me watching a 'scary movie'. I managed to convince her that I needed to borrow the spare television from the kitchen because there was other stuff I wanted to watch whilst I wrote a story I was working on and so, after much whining, I got the set in my bedroom. This TV was black and white as it was just a small portable television and I settled down, with the sound turned right down, to watch a science fiction movie.

Now, science fiction for me was simple - it was Star Wars and Star Trek. Big heroes, big adventures, space battles, princesses, cute bleepy robots and all that kind of shit. So, I sat down expecting a movie about a space monster the heroes had to battle and ultimately defeat. Probably with lasers. As you can tell, I never saw a full trailer for the film and knew what it was about only from reading about it in the TV listings.

Safe to say I shit my pants. Not only was I watching this film in the dark I was watching it in black and white! Alien in black and white! Have you seen how many shadows and dark places there are in this film? Black and white only helped to enhance those shadows, turn them even darker. In fact, next time you sit down to watch Alien, turn the colour right down to black and white. You'll see what I mean. Shatpantsville.

This movie changed my whole perspective on science fiction movies. I'd seen Blade Runner not long before and I didn't like it, mainly because all I saw was Han Solo running around a badly lit city talking to himself. No fistfights? No lasers? Bullshit! After watching Alien I revisited Blade Runner and saw it in an entirely different way. Now it's one of my favourite films. This was followed by Outland, Silent Running, 2001: A Space Odyssey... all the films I'd dismissed because it didn't emulate Star Wars were now finding their way into my lovetrunk now that I had seen Alien from beginning to end and it had shattered my juvenile concept of what a science fiction film should be. In fact, Alien probably changed my stance on movies in general. It was like a coming of age, a first step into a larger world (ding!), a realisation that quality is not defined by the number of explosions, firefights and robots on the screen. Alien made me grow up.

So why should you watch this film? Well, it's simple. This film contains everything a movie needs.

- Great direction. The look, feel and atmosphere Ridley Scott invokes is second to none. His use of handheld puts you there, in the ship, with the crew. The man is, without doubt, a genius.

- Amazing soundtrack. Even though Jerry Goldsmith highly disliked what was done with his original score, I have to agree with the decision of the film makers to change it. It's haunting and dark.

- Incredible performances. The natural, ad-libbed dialogue is fantastic in it's ability to make the conversations feel natural and the character dynamics and interaction is a wonder to behold. There are some scenes that make the movie like a documentary.

- Solid special effects. This is pre-CGI and they were on a budget so they made big models, even bigger sets, and played with light, shadows and fog machines. It's an amazing feat.

- Amazing concept that sticks in your mind. The Alien is so... well, alien... in what it does and how it does it that you have no earthly conception of it. The unknown - in this case being out in deep space, on a hostile alien world, inside an organic alien starship and being chased by an inconcievable killing machine - is what scares us the most. Sure, it makes us jump but, be honest, any movie can do that. When Darth Vader turns on Luke's lightsabre when they're talking on the Endor base just before he takes him to the Emperor in Episode VI ('VOOOOSH! I see you have constructed a new lightsabre')... That makes me jump. It's not supposed to, but it does. But that jump is fleeting, as it is in most scary flicks, it's the anticipation and the shock itself that makes you giggle nervously. Not so with Alien. You jump and it stays with you! It stays because you're thinking about the reason why you jumped, and what's in store for you next. And you can't predict what is next because the rules have changed. You're not in a high school, or in a haunted house, or in a babysitter's home. You're not in an environment you recognise and which may give you some form of comfort in knowing where things are or what they do. Everything, everything, is different. You're way out of your comfort zone. It's a perfect setting and it makes you feel uncomfortable. That stays with you long after you've seen the movie.

I'm not going to address the following films, and I have had the memories of the recent 'VS' movies burned from my brain, but I will stick my neck out with this - As much as I love the sequel 'Aliens', I do feel that James Cameron managed to dispel the horror-inducing mystery of the Alien itself, the aura of the unknown that the first movie created. We had no real-world comparison for what the alien could do, why it did it, it's life cycle, anything. That's what made it terrifying. In Aliens, Cameron decided to take the reveal a step further and he introduced the Alien Queen, laying eggs like an insectoid matriarch, served by her drones and workers. And there you had it, your real-world analogy. Gone was the unknown, the mystery - in a hail of 10mm explosive-tipped caseless standard amour piercing pulse rifle rounds and expletives we saw the alien as an insect hive. A giant ant's nest. They were like bees, or wasps, or termites. The mystery was gone, and with it the horror of the imagination. The alien had been reduced to action sequences and moments where you'd jump from your seat and giggle about it afterwards. The alien had become another scary movie.

Alien is my favourite movie. It's my favourite movie because it changed the way I saw not just science fiction but movies as a whole. That's a hell of a thing to happen to a 13 year old boy.