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Film Review: Alien

Alien (1979; Directed by Ridley Scott)

Ridley Scott’s Alien basically created the sci-fi horror genre, and perhaps we ought not be terribly grateful for that. It’s a genre that has mostly spit up regurgitated versions of his claustrophobic classic in the thirty years since its release (often in the Alien franchise itself). Still, the filmic elements of this progenitor that have been widely praised are strong, indeed. The B-movie inheritances. The oppressive, smothering mood. The naturalistic ensemble (especially Sigourney Weaver and Ian Holm). The painterly depth of the shots. The sound, the sweat, the grime. The way the glacial pace lulls you into a false sense of security, and then wrenches viscerally at your fears when the movie’s pulse quickens. The exquisitely disturbing Giger designs, all part and parcel of the surfeit of suggestive psychosexual nightmare imagery that seeps from the movie’s pores. The mere presence of Harry Dean Stanton. All of this is damned good, to be certain.

Still, there are more little hiccups along the way than the film’s vast admiring hordes tend to recognize. Like a lot of late-’70s sci-fi classics, the remarkable editing work basically saves the film from the tedious, ponderous instincts of its director (many later Scott films could have benefitted from a similar treatment). The Joseph Conrad references don’t really go anywhere beyond the obvious, and seem like writerly sleight-of-hand meant to mimic literary profundity. And the iconic, freakish creature design can’t always obscure the occasional dodginess of the effects.

The more we see of the alien, the more it looks like a dude in a suit (and it looks like it just wants to give Tom Skerritt a hug when it pops up next to him in the air duct). As absurdly shocking as the chest-burster scene remains, the actual worm-larva creature that comes out of John Hurt is a mite silly. The cut from the obvious head mold of the decapitated Ash to Ian Holm’s head is also incredibly clumsy and unconvincing, a clear mistake or at least a poor attempt to cover one. The effects are mostly excellent (especially the spaceship models and the briefer shots of the alien), but those that don’t tend to add up by the end.

And, of course, Ripley goes back for the cat. There’s a killer alien on the loose, she’s trying to escape… and she goes back for the cat. Strictly bush league.

But most of the quibbles are minor, and disbelief is generally suspended in favour of absorbing discomfort and occasional, bursting fear. A classic is a classic, in the end.

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Categories: Film, Reviews
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  1. October 20, 2014 at 8:13 pm
  2. January 17, 2015 at 11:34 am
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