in Film, Reviews, Science Fiction

MOVIE REVIEW | Alien Image

Could I overpraise the sci-fi horror sensation Alien if I wanted to?  I look through my thesaurus and see words like magnificent, brilliant, exalted, superior, remarkable, exceptional and outstanding and conclude that the English language’s strongest adjectives do no more than justice to the film.  Necessity being the mother of invention, and there being no cinematic achievement whose fitting accolades would be too much for Alien, one must suppose the word that hangs too weighty an ornament on that particular tree has yet to be invented.

It has been over thirty years since it came to the silver screen.  Had the studio done to it what was done to so many Orson Welles films and boxed it away in a vault, it could pull it out today and, without touching a single frame, release it to theaters and nary a soul would suspect a thing.  Understand, I do not mean merely to say that it would play well to modern audiences.  Though indisputably true, there are many older films that can do just that.  I have sat in on a showing of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window as it positively thrilled an audience half a century after its initial release.  No, I mean that few would even pause to consider that the film seemed out of its era.

Are the hairstyles a touch off?  Not so much that this could not be ascribed to the costumer’s approach to the gritty, blue-collar realism that informs the film.  Likewise the keyboards and monitors, which admittedly scream Atari, might be overlooked as a further attempt at this effect.  Indeed, the director, Ridley Scott, considered making more futuristic computer consoles and opted to deliberately maintain a low tech feel, a feel that has been referred to as “truckers in space”.  A modern audience would be so carried away with the story that, with few exceptions, they would not bother to question.  Instead, their eyes would drink in the magisterial cinematography, introduced for the first time to the proper framing and lighting that must be used if the image is going to stay on screen for more than a moment, or is not going to bounce around with a hand-held look as if the shots were taken on the lip of Mount Vesuvius.  They would marvel at the courage to use models instead of CGI, at how much more effective models are than computer images, even when the models are obvious.

In the entirety of the movie, the only blatant anachronism I can find is a single pair of white panties.  By the time a modern audience saw this, they would have been sold long before.

Sigourney Weaver getting anachronistic

The movie displays excellence at every stage of the creative process.  The concept is brilliant and stands out from other horror and sci-fi flicks for that alone.  Had it been done as a Roger Corman B movie, as the screenwriters originally imagined, it would have inspired an A-level movie soon after.  The plot holds mystery – and judiciously leaves much of it unsolved – and enough points and convincing twists to keep an audience enraptured.  The acting is first rate and the character development subtle and believable.  Bret’s constant response of, “Right!” to every pronouncement by Parker is the only thing that stands out as an obvious attempt to distinguish a role.  Other than that, one comes to know the characters without even realizing they are becoming distinct in one’s mind.  They are absorbed rather than learned.

The cinematography and sets/costumes/effects have been mentioned; so too must be the directing.  In only his second time at the helm, Ridley Scott brought outside sensibilities to a science fiction tale and confirmed the wisdom of the producers in picking him.  There is a carefulness and thoroughness to his directing, and the editing brings this out.  The suspense and terror of the plot is held in check, in exquisite agony, by the unhurried pace, a combination that makes the most out of the commonplace that it is the wait, rather than the punishment, that distresses the most.

It is also the unseen, rather than the seen, which most terrorizes, and the bulk of the movie, once the alien is introduced, is spent with it lurking somewhere out of sight.  However, if ever a creature’s reality could terrorize as much as its indefinite fright when only imagined, it is H.R. Giger’s design.  It is insectoid, parasitic and completely believable, perhaps as close as any man has ever come to manifesting the awfulness of a half-remembered nightmare.  Alien is a wonder of disparate artists and ingredients coming together yet fitting perfectly, and Giger might be the best symbol of this.

Without hitting the viewer over the head, the movie manages to make some social commentary, though nothing that will excite the libertarian.  There are some grumblings among the crew of the sort that occur between labor and management, although the film gives no indication of siding with one side over the other.  More disappointing is the malfeasance of the company the crew members work for.  There is nothing unlibertarian about this – God knows that Big Business can behave without scruples – and it was not until the sequels that the theme of the corporation working against the benevolent State appeared, but a libertarian cannot help but wonder if someday moviemakers might notice that government commits certain acts an artist might wish to chastise in between complaints about profiteering and predatory pricing.

It has been a long time since science fiction produced a true masterpiece at the movie theaters.  Certainly nothing in the last decade can equal Alien.  It is magnificent, brilliant, exalted, superior, remarkable, exceptional and outstanding.  I am reminded of Ayn Rand’s warning about praising mediocrity; if we were to use these terms for any of last decade’s science fiction, they would diminish and there would be nothing left for Alien. If you have not seen it, make plans to.  Find yourself a block of time, a dark home theater and someone to grab onto.  Someday, after you have recovered, you will thank me.

5 / 5 stars     

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About the Author

Matthew Bruce Alexander Staff Writer

Matthew is a libertarian living in central Ohio. A graduate of Ohio State University, he majored in Spanish and has published a work of libertarian science-fiction called Wĭthûr Wē.

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