Sunday, June 10, 2012

Alien (Ridley Scott)


Not that I was truly compelled to rewatch "Alien" solely because of "Prometheus'" release, as viewing the former once more was already in the back of my mind even before the latter was even green lit. And watching it after more than 5 years, it was as if I'm seeing something new altogether. 

Perhaps my slight cluelessness brought about by the years of not watching this film is, in a way, a thing of envy for die-hard "Alien" fans and even a fantasy realized for most movie watchers. As a long-time film lover, I know that there's this ever-recurring yet far-fetched idea among compulsive cinephiles of being able to wipe their memories clean so that they can enjoy all of their favorite films once more without knowing what's going to happen next. 

I, for one, would love to watch "Predator" again without any 'action hero' bias towards Arnold Schwarzenegger so it will once again be a genuinely thrilling experience. 'Who will die next?' A simple question that is indeed one of the guilty pleasures in all of cinema and one of the meager delights of an avid suspense fan. Perhaps that's what I have felt while watching "Alien" once more, and it was indeed a wonderful high. 

Of course, one can't deny how well-made this film really is and how its simple premise has brought it to its legendary status that we all know of today, but I have never remembered it, more than half a decade ago, to have contained such exceptional performances. Sigourney Weaver's performance for instance, after watching it again, has been enhanced to a certain extent and was even more believable than I last remember it to be. 

Her transformation as Ellen Ripley, from a dead serious female crew of the Nostromo to a brave heroine by circumstance, is such a powerful slow-burner that her intense metamorphosis is still being repeatedly used as the model character arc for sole survivors in many films of the same kind even to this very day.

But although this 'zero to hero' arc has been used a year before "Alien" was released in the form of Jamie Lee Curties as Laurie Strode in "Halloween", Ellen Ripley is a hundred times more chilling in how she has responded to her situation mainly because the survival rate in space, paired with a murderously invulnerable Xenomorph, is relatively low compared to a suburban neighborhood hunted by a slow-ass, Captain Kirk mask-wearing Boogeyman. And also because, let's admit it, playing this little survival game in space is infinitely more intensely terrifying to behold. 

But the "Alien" experience, as we all know, wouldn't be that unforgettable if not for Ridley Scott's exquisite direction, Dan O'Bannon's (rest in peace) simple but effective writing and H.R. Giger's iconic creature design. Taking one out of those three will surely render "Alien" quite deficient and lacking so it's fortunate that they have created a film so good that it has bred an expansive franchise and even cross-over films, much, of course, to the delight of fans who wanted more of it.

And then there's the rest of the cast, which consists of Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Veronica Cartwright and Yaphet Kotto. If I am to look upon that particular line-up of actors without a further knowledge that this is indeed a science fiction film about a murderous alien in a spaceship, I would have mistaken this to be an elegant ensemble drama. 

Indeed the talent of "Alien's" cast has made O'Bannon's writing more natural on-screen, as they have truly provided it with human spontaneity that an otherworldly and literally alienating film like "Alien" crucially needs. Their performances were not legendary by any means, but their chemistry exudes a certain relational authenticity that it has been the strong, primary highlight of the film just second to the very arrival of the extraterrestrial slaughterer itself. 

Now, look at it again: The Nostromo's crew sitting around a white, futuristic table, eating futuristic foods while taking about home. Aside from the creature itself, isn't that what you'll remember most about "Alien"? 

But after all, what has really made "Alien" a legendary classic? Well, if you look at it, the story is too simple to even qualify as such, which plainly concerns the crew of a commercial spaceship named "Nostromo" and their unlucky encounter with a not so accommodating creature that serves as the antithesis of Spielberg's "E.T.". "Alien" does not even possess "2001: A Space Oddyssey's" mystical ambiguity or even "Planet of the Apes'" revolutionary utilization of a twist ending.

So what, then, has made "Alien" so special? I believe it is how the film exemplifies the greatness of having just the right amount of everything. It's a science fiction film that does not bite more than it can chew, it's a suspense movie without the usual overkill and it's a monster movie without the visual excesses. The performances do not dominate and even the creature lurks in the blackest darkness, teasing you with the terror that it entails rather than scaring you with its physical wholeness and its tails (Why? I want to make a rhyme, damn it!). "Alien" is a film that wants you to look at the vast emptiness of space not as a purely meditative speculator asking the 'whys', 'wheres' and 'hows' but as a cautious spectator asking the most perverse 'what ifs'. 

"In space, no one can hear you scream". Just reading that tagline alone is enough to send genuine shivers down your spine. Watching the film is even a taller order for your nerves to handle. Beware of its scares but be compelled by its greatness.


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