Thursday, August 16, 2012

Movie Appraisal: Alien (1979)

So, I'm back and ready to review! I'm almost sorry to review Alien though. It's a movie I've avoided watching for a very long time. I think it was mostly because I didn't want to be disappointed. I'm such a huge fan of space horror as a genre, and Alien is really the granddaddy of all modern space horror. I mean, Event Horizon, Pandorum, and Sunshine are some of my favorite films of all time. No, they're not just some of my favorite horror films of all time, but some of my favorite movies period... of all time. That's quite the accomplishment, especially when I'm pretty finicky about movies in general. I know how much influence the Alien movies and especially this one have had on this weird and niche subgenre of sci-fi horror.

So, for the first time ever I checked out Alien. I usually am very fond of Ridley Scott. I usually like movies that have this kind of premise. I think you know where I'm going with this. I found Alien to be pretty mediocre. And there were large tracts of the movie that I didn't like at all. The story was pretty good. But the characters felt so weak in response. Okay, let me elaborate. I found the story to be very standard for a movie of this type, certainly derivative of some earlier sci-fi films like Planet of the Vampires and Forbidden Planet, but with a much more serious tone and a horror focus. And that's fine. Honestly, that's a good thing. I like the early sci-fi movies, but I have to admit to loving the more serious efforts of the 1970s and 1980s. The problem with this movie wasn't its derivative story or the quality of that story, rather it's really the lack of a focus on characters. I mean, I felt nothing for any of the characters. None of them had a well-developed story or anything interesting about them. I felt that I couldn't relate to any one of them whether they were male or female. There simply wasn't enough to establish the characters as actual humans. Instead every last one of them felt so generic and boring that their deaths were meaningless to me. The whole movie was basically meaningless for me.

A lot of the issues that I saw in Alien were fixed in other later space horror movies. You look at a movie like Event Horizon and you can clearly see the improvements from this baser movie. At the same time, despite the characters having literally no depth at all, the acting is fairly well put together. I'd put a lot more blame on the script and the pacing than I would on the actors. And the thing is... this is an absolutely all-star cast. Maybe they weren't all-star then, but nowadays you hear the names of Ian Holm, Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, and Harry Dean Stanton all being in the same movie, you'd definitely be interested in the movie. Hell, Ian Holm in a movie is enough to get me interested in it. So the acting is solid, but I have to say that the performances of Ian Holm, John Hurt, and Sigourney Weaver should have a special mention. Each really tried to bring a life to their respective character. John Hurt, although he has limited screen time because of... well...

...uh... yeah...

...let's say reasons and leave it at that. He really does a great job with the time he is on screen, really making Kane one of the only characters that has any memorable qualities at all. Ian Holm was also quite good, and his characterizations actually made a lot of sense. He also happened to be my favorite character for much of the movie, but that's less about the character of Ash, I suppose, and much more about how much I like Ian Holm. Sigourney Weaver and her Ripley is obviously the famous character, but I honestly can't see much of the character in this movie. Sure, she's tough and survives, but all-in-all she comes across as more of a generic female heroine than the icon she would eventually become. Now, this might be because I'm watching it over thirty years after this movie came out, and it was groundbreaking in its time and just hasn't aged as well as I would have liked. That's fair. And I can't argue that as much or as effectively as I'd like to argue the point. I doubt that there were too many female heroes of Ripley's calibre back in 1979, and it stands as a testament to the movie that it was a huge movie that happened to have a female lead. I respect it for that, but I still have trouble liking it.

The movie was incredibly slow-paced at times, but they were all the wrong times. When the movie should have been slower, to establish characters or the titular alien, it moved quickly and without remorse, and when it should have moved more quickly in action intense scenes or hectic times, I felt it dragged on and on, often focusing on character faces and such for long periods of time while more interesting things should have been focused on. I'm certain it was an artistic decision... or maybe one to remove copious amounts of gore from the movie, but it seemed really awkward throughout. Having an intense moment with a character who is about to die only to have them die off-screen while another character is focused upon became incredibly frustrating. I couldn't enjoy the movie if it literally shielded me from the scarier moments like I was a baby. It felt terrible. I hated that feeling of the movie literally not letting me feel tension or not letting me feel fear... I go into these horror movies wanting to be creeped out, but with this movie I only found myself annoyed at the lack of actual horror. Kane is the only character truly shown to die. The rest are either off-screen or their faces are so focused upon when they die that you have absolutely no idea what's going on. Dallas, played by Tom Skerritt, and Brett, played by Harry Dean Stanton, completely die or are taken or whatever offscreen. Nothing is shown of their fates (yes, there are deleted scenes, but that's not what I mean) and they basically just disappear from the movie without any establishing character moments, without any heroics, without even showing their deaths or really even reacting to them. I found it so badly done that I seriously thought that I had missed a scene or the DVD had skipped or something. The same thing is true for Parker, played by Yaphet Kotto, and Lambert, played by Veronica Cartwright. They kind of get killed by the alien, I guess, but I have no idea because the scene flew by with quick shots of their faces that I had literally no idea they were dead until Ripley saw them and was like, "Oh they're dead." without even checking them to see if they were dead. I guess they must have been very obviously dead, but I couldn't tell.

I guess that all comes down to the script and the editing. And I have to say that the editing was really not my style. It was, in my opinion, really badly done, to the point where I literally could not tell what was going on for large portions of time. That should not happen. I should know what's going on in a pretty simple movie that I already know the premise of. Instead I was more confused than anything else, finding flaws all over the place in the editing of this film that should have been scary and should have been good, but instead came off as fundamentally flawed.

I will say that the set designs were well done though, as were the actual artistic assets done by H. R. Giger. The man can certainly create an alien image that looks creepy on a fundamental level.

One way or another, you look at the alien there and you feel slightly unsettled. I think the designs were incredibly well done for the time, and it was easily the most compelling part of the entire movie... although there were times that I found the alien unintentionally hilarious and kind of awkward looking, but that might just be because I'm a jerk whose really hard to scare.

Anyway, for the most part I was very lukewarm on this movie. It had great designs, good acting, decent direction by Ridley Scott, and an interesting story that should have worked for me, but the editing of the movie, the script, and the lack of characterizations really hurt this movie on the most basic of levels, so much so that I can't even recommend this movie. It wasn't fun for me to watch. Hell, I enjoyed watching Nightflyers and The Dark Side of the Moon a ton more than this FAMOUS POP CULTURE MOVIE. Eh, well, I'm not changing my opinion. The movie didn't suck, but its flaws outweighed any good feelings I could have about it.


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