02 November 2010
Alien is about the most classic trapped-in-a-confined-space horror film there is, with the mysterious threat lurking in the dark and nowhere you can run to. The crew reacts intelligently, and distinctly. The main story is not one of personal growth but simply one of survival. The story is told with such incredible forward momentum and a masterful, delicate touch (Blade Runner will always be the more fascinating world and philosophical realm to play in, but Alien is easily Ridley Scott's best-made and tightly-controlled film) that it is almost impossible, after so many viewings, for me to analyze it critically. The detail of the world is engrossing, the construction of the villain/monster is the biggest selling point of all (and why so many sequels would follow), and the tight focus that suggests a broader world is fantastic.
In fact, I recently read an article suggesting stories can either be plazas (environments where you can easily see a global/big picture view of the whole thing) or warrens (environments where only what's in front of you is visible, and the grander view is enshrouded in a fog of mystery, almost impossible to view holistically). The best worlds are warrens. Blade Runner is a warren. The original Star Wars trilogy (especially the first film) is a warren. By contrast, Harry Potter is a plaza. The universe of the latter Star Wars films is very much a plaza. The Alien universe remains a warren, and that's very much part of the appeal. The story is so tightly focused with so little backstory or set-up we barely know what the Nostromo is up to, or why it's out there, but we gather enough. What's important is: a crew of space truckers come across a malevolent new form of life, and it kills them one by one, because it's a predator and a monster. It hides in the dark, doesn't look or act like anything we've seen before, and it's scary as fuck.
I meant to fall asleep here. In fact, I meant to only watch part of it tonight while getting ready for bed and then probably turn it off, but the movie wouldn't let me. It never lets up, it's never boring enough for me to stop it. On the contrary, I could scarcely look away, and I've seen it maybe twenty times or so now. I enjoyed the details of the world, the clear action and geography of the ship, and the endless cascade of schemes and setbacks that make up the plot. The crew remain active protagonists throughout, even as things get more and more hopeless. It's a beautiful script, in a beautiful world, with a wonderful cast. If it weren't for a handful of -- forgivable, for my money -- effects that don't hold up so well (Ash's severed head most notably, and occasionally the xenomorph is too clearly a dude in a black vinyl suit with a funny headpiece), I'd call this film flawless. Nothing to change or complain about. A lot of people seem to consider Cameron's Aliens the best of the series, but to me there's no question that the series opener is the most pure story in the set. Alien is everything it needs to be and absolutely nothing more. It's as elegant and as brutal as its titular antagonist.