Thursday, November 08, 2007

Alien

1979, UK/US, directed by Ridley Scott
For all the portentous echoes of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey in the early going, Alien is essentially a sci-fi update of the "old dark house" genre (with James Whale's 1932 The Old Dark House perhaps still the best exemplar, both for title and atmosphere, though not for fans of blood and guts). The film's action is relentlessly simple: after a slow opening that establishes the relationships between a blue collar space crew, interspersed with plenty of impressive technical work, an alien is discovered, and the crew attempt to survive the creature's attacks. Inevitably, not everyone is destined to survive, further sharpening the narrative line, which initially cross-cuts between the various crew members as they search their vast vessel.

As is often the case with his films, Scott is more interested in atmosphere than in character development, creating sometimes dizzying effects with strobe lights and fog, but often reducing the players to ciphers. By contrast, James Cameron manages to make Ripley much more memorable - as well as more kickass - in the subsequent Aliens, while he takes the time to establish more nuanced relationships between a similarly blue collar group in The Abyss. Still, there's no denying the cumulative power of the stripped-down storyline, nor the eerie menace for a crew thousands of miles from home, while a number of the shock moments retain their well-earned visceral power almost thirty years on.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States