Monday, 24 October 2016

Alien (1979) - Film Review

ALIEN Film Review – “in space no one can hear you scream”

Figure 1. 

The film tells a story about a lonely spaceship that is dragging a refinery and  twenty million tons of ore back to earth.  The spaceship needs to land unexpectedly due to strange transmission signals being received, as  a result the spaceship is slightly damaged.  When the crew exit the spaceship they discover an alien spacecraft and find a large creature as well as some eggs in a chamber. At various points throughout the film each crew member is attacked by the alien creature.
The film’s most iconic image is probably that of the monster bursting through the chest of one of the crew members. H.R Giger created the monster which was part dragon, part machine, part erotic fantasy.  The eyeless monster with a long head and neck, powerful tail and two pairs of dinosaur like teeth first appears as a face hugging creature that causes a crew member to become unconscious before bursting from his chest.
In an article written for the Washington Post following Giger’s death, detail of the filming of that scene emerges.
‘In perhaps the film’s most shocking scene, the embryonic monster comes to life by bursting through the chest of one of the crew members of the Nostromo, played by John Hurt. The scene was shot in a single take, but the cast was not fully informed of what to expect. The special-effects department had filled a box with animal entrails and offal acquired from a butcher.
At the precise moment when the slimy creature emerged, an air cartridge was released, causing the exploding viscera to splatter the cast and crew. The screams heard in the film were real’. 1. 
Giger described his own art as being biomechanical as it combined both human and technological elements.  His designs were also heavily influenced by genitalia.   I am intrigued by  this influence.   In many ways, Alien is actually a disturbingly sexual film. Alien screenwriter Dan O’Bannon explained, “I’m going to attack the audience. I’m going to attack them sexually.”  He does just that. 

‘With O’Bannon writing the script and Giger designing both the set and the monster, it should come as no surprise that Alien is basically one big metaphor for sex, pregnancy, and rape. The entire movie is filled with phallic and vaginal imagery, from gaping doorways to penis-shaped ships. The Xenomorph itself has an incredibly phallic head, and its long, stiff second mouth—used to penetrate prey—is more-or-less the world’s most dangerous erection’. 2. 

In terms of computer generated imagery, animators created miniature surfaces and placed them next to children to provide the perspective that created size and depth.  The illusion of long corridors was created using mirrors.  Alien pushed the boundaries of CGI by making 3D wireframe rasters.  This technique resulted in more detailed CGI effects.  The spaceship, Nostromo’ computer monitors showed terrains that included mountains as wireframed images.
Figure. 2

Figure. 3

Alien is paced well – it takes its time, it builds the suspense and uses silence.  It has been called the most influential of modern action pictures.  It took about fourteen weeks to film.  It is disturbing for the reasons discussed but at the same time compelling, shocking and dramatic.
Bibliography Images:
Figure 1. Andrew Dyce, (2015) Inspace no one can hear you scream,
Figure 2 and 3. Greatest Visual and Special Effects (F/X) - Milestones in Film 1975-1979

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