February 22, 2021

Alien (1979)

We had a very frank talk earlier in the day about how this project is going, and whether forcing classic movies down Bernard’s throat was actually doing any of us any good. But we decided to persevere, for now, and for this week’s family film night we chose this 1979 classic, and we also decided to watch it on Sunday afternoon instead of Saturday night, partly because we already had plans to play games with Pockless on Saturday night, and also because Karen is a scaredy cat and thought that watching it in the dark might be too intense.

Alien is a film about the crew of the Nostromo, a commercial space ship, who are on a routine trip when they are woken from stasis by the ship’s computer, Mother (basically a room full of blinking lights) to investigate a potential distress call. The film is set 100 years in the future… well, now 50, and dropping… and while some of the predictions for future technology were quite imaginative, Ridley Scott did fail to consider that in 100 years time we may have upgraded our green CRT computer monitors with a resolution of 320×240.

Upon investigating the signal, the crew discover a hive of alien eggs, while making stupid decision after stupid decision in order to apparently ensure that they bring one back on board. Once a few of the crew have died, things take a turn for the worse when the ship’s computer, who obviously serves the company’s interest, declares that bringing a specimen back is more important than saving the lives of the remaining crew, to which Ripley, now the ranking officer, declares “fuck that”, or words to the same effect, and does the needful.

A subject that can’t be avoided, and this is also somewhat applicable to Jaws (another film that we’ve watched as part of this project), is the special effects. The film is from 1979, so there are no computer-generated special effects. The practical effects are unarguably brilliant for their time, but over the last few decades the average moviegoer has come to expect CGI which isindistinguishable from reality, to the point where even Sunday evening family TV has photorealistic talking animals whose lips move perfectly in sync with the audio. As a result, the few shots of the alien aren’t really that scary any more, and Ash’s final scene, again brilliant for its time, now feels clumsy and a bit sixth-form. When Ripley says “Turbulence…” and the cameraman merely shakes the camera about a bit – there’s no magic there. It’s a bit of a shame – we’ve lost a certain innocence, a willingness to be taken in by a puppet, and we’ll never get it back. Fortunately, like Jaws, most of the horror in this movie is suspense created by not seeing the Alien, so that all still works beautifully.

We can also add Alien to the list of films which have a chilling poignancy in these coviddy times. When Ripley says “By breaking quarantine, you risk everyone’s life.” we could not help but nod and grunt in acknowledgement.

As the credits rolled, we turned to Bernard for his assessment, braced for “the B word”. But to our delight, he said “it was alright” which is 14-year-old-ese for “Jeepers creepers, parents, that was by all accounts a gripping and highly enjoyable cinematographic experience!” The project lives to fight another week.

Pete

3 thoughts on “Alien (1979)

  1. One of the things that helped was getting his buy-in earlier in the day, by showing him IMDB and asking him if he thought it looked alright.

  2. > Aliens is go!

    Very possibly, but we may want to give it a few weeks and come back to it later in the project.

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