Weekend Movie Picks is a segment at Shoton35.com, where every 2 weeks on Friday I will pick a movie that’s shot on 35mm film and tell you something about it.
| When commercial towing vehicle Nostromo intercepts an SoS signal from a nearby moon, the crew are under obligation to investigate. They discover a hive colony of some unknown creature and as one of the eggs is disturbed, the crew do not realize the danger they are in.
In honor of the great news this week that Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien: Covenant’ is coming out May 2017 instead of August, I decided to pick the first ‘Alien’- which in my opinion is the best of the franchise and one of my favourite movies of all time- for this week’s Weekend Movie Picks. If Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey revolutionized what we conceived of science fiction movies, then Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ is the 2001 of monster pictures. It is arguably the most satisfying combination of science-fiction and horror in the history of cinema.
After having written and worked on John Carpenter’s cult sci-fi ‘Dark Star’, Dan O’Bannon decided that he would write another sci-fi space movie, but this time the audience wouldn’t laugh. He decided to work on a new script and after numerous of rewrites the script was sent from producer to producer until one finally wanted to make the movie. After having talked to several acknowledged and experienced directors without really having been impressed with either of their visions or ambitions with this movie, they finally offered the newcomer Ridley Scott a chance at this movie. Although he didn’t plan on making a science fiction movie after his first, the period piece ‘The Duellists’, he still accepted to take up the challenge;
“Five directors passed on it before me. Because I was into Heavy Metal, I read it, and thought, “Wow, I want to do this.” I was on a plane to Hollywood in 22 hours. It was a B-movie and was elevated to an A-plus movie by sheer good taste. I knew exactly what to do on Alien.”
– Ridley Scott, Director
Only being his second film, Ridley Scott has created his best work. Scott was able to blend both horror and science fiction, which had been done before but nothing this intimate. Alien plays out more of a claustrophobic slasher film, having characters be picked off one by one, Scott has definitely taken influences from films similar to its nature like Halloween, Jaws and Psycho. The focus in creating this horror is more on its atmosphere rather than the creature itself. The film creates this slow pace, which requires a bit of patience, as Scott wants the audience to be really invested in the world and its characters. If the movie rushes itself then it would have simply been just a good time and never to be revisited again. This pace allows the scares to build up and to have enough space in between to recuperate ourselves.
Scott has taken the same approach that Spielberg used in Jaws, which was to not show the creature until later on the film. This approach allows the film to feel more suspenseful and frightening; because it is always more fearful when we don’t fully understand the thing that’s hunting us. Scott allows the film to be violent but is very careful in not stepping on the lines of gore, because that would have retracted the survival concept of the creature. Gore in films can be a sign of indulgence, which is a trait that our creature doesn’t possess. The bursting scene at the table was still one of the most terrifying things I have ever seen. The creature used in the film is quite impressive, as the concept is original and also practical. No part of the creature feels unnecessary as it contains a specific function in its survival.
Ron Cobb designed the human element of the film, whereas the great master Giger outdid himself with the alien vessel and creatures. O’Bannon introduced Scott to the artwork of H.R. Giger;
“I was struck by the originality of Giger’s paintings, not only were they frightening works, but they were absolutely, utterly original and beautifully executed. Looking at them I thought, if somebody could get this guy to design a monster for a movie, it would be something no one’s ever seen before. So I went in knowing that I had the cherry on top with the visualization of the thing.”
– Dan O’Bannon, Screenwriter
He always had a style of making surrealistic, dark, organic, sometimes mechanical creatures and structures all making a bizarre, exotic, grotesque, beautiful blend. Just like the design and behavior of the creature which seems to be a bizarre blend of a lot of things with the animalistic destructive qualities, which make it all the more terrifying.
The cast of this film did a fantastic job at bringing this film to life. The chemistry between the 7 crew members feels genuine and it’s definitely easy to believe these people have been stuck on a spacecraft for years with each other. John Hurt, as the doomed Kane, was great and I can’t imagine how different things would’ve been if the part had gone to Jon Finch as was originally set. Tom Skerritt and Veronica Cartwright both contributed strong performances while the chemistry between Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton made for some great moments.
My absolute favorite characters in this film were Ash (played by the ever-awesome Ian Holm) and, of course, the iconic Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). From the very beginning, you can tell there’s more to Ash that what he lets on and Holm does a great job of giving those subtle hints to keep you suspicious of his intent. And Sigourney, well, she just rocks. Ripley has become a film icon as a head-strong, capable, female lead and Weaver was the perfect woman for the role. The animosity between Ripley and Kotto’s chief engineer Parker made for some tense moments and she even managed to carry the movie on her own towards the end.
For cinematographer Derek Vanlint, ‘Alien’ was his big first feature;
“My experience with feature films was very limited. I’d done a couple of small pictures (which I’d rather not talk about), but Alien was to be my first big feature. I had been asked to do features many times before, but had always walked away from them, based on the money difference between director/cameraman on commercials and the money they offer European cameramen to do American films. However, Ridley is a very talented guy and a very graphic director and has always been fun to work with. Since he was to be involved, I knew from the word go that the picture would end up looking nice and that it would do me no harm whatsoever to be involved in it.”
– Derek Vanlint, Cinematographer
Vanlint has done a wonderful job here as he has successfully captured the tension and eeriness that Scott had visioned. The journey to the distress call and their exploration in the mysterious ship uses this approach and gives off a sense that we are actually walking with them. The angles and shots are composed in a way that creates this sense of claustrophobia similarly to what John Carpenter did for the closet scene in Halloween or the bathtub scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho.
Alien is a film of immense quality. It has the capacity to frighten and to deceive. It flows precisely from scene to scene with no wasted shots and most tellingly, does not stray off course by incorporating fanciful special effects or worthless roles filled by fringe characters. While the genre of horror may have moved on, the art of horror is captured perfectly, here, in the blackness of space.