Alien (1979) – Ridley Scott

alienI love this movie, and I’m so glad the 101 Sci-Fi Movies list brought it to me! Any excuse to throw this on the blu-ray is a good one, so I was quite happy to spend some time with the ill-fated crew of the Nostromo again.

Alien is essentially a haunted-house story, and nothing really scary happens for the first hour, it’s all build-up, a mysterious signal, a strange planet, and a derelict spacecraft.

Awakened from hyper-sleep the crew of the commercial towing vessel Nostromo, learn they’ve been roused long before their scheduled wake-point because MOTHER, the ship’s main computer has intercepted a signal that indicates intelligent life. Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) orders the ship down to the surface of the desolate and eerie LV-426. From there, he leads a team with Kane (John Hurt) and Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) to check the source, while Ash (Ian Holm) watches over them, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) puzzles over the transmission, attempting to decipher it, as Parker (Yaphet Kotto) and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) make repairs.

jockeyThe H.R. Giger designed planet and spacecraft are off-putting, and look bio-mechanical in nature, but that’s just a hint of what’s to come. I remember, much like everyone else, before Prometheus came along, wondering what the story of the Space Jockey was, where did he come from, and WHAT was he…

Kane investigates a cargo area laden with what look like leathery eggs, until one of them hatches, and the contents are flung at his face, burning its way through his suit, and the creature wraps it’s tail around his neck, and impregnates the poor man, leading to something even more monstrous - and leads the classic chest-burster scene, that is still stunning!

Even after the xenomorph is born, we never get to see all of the creature at once, Ridley wisely keeps the creature hidden in the shadows, or shows close-ups of those frightening jaws. By not showing us everything, we are left to create the monster in our imagination. By the time the sequel rolls around (also on the list, and can’t wait to revisit it) the actual shape and form of the Alien was well-known, but that doesn’t make it any less scary going back to the original film that launched the series.

castI love the little details, the fact that the Nostromo is a beaten up bit of space-tug, that the crew are working class folks, that everything on the ship has a reason for being there, and almost every bit of space is used, especially on the flight deck.

And I love, Jerry Goldsmith’s score for this film, especially the opening and closing themes, there’s a quiet sense of mystery weaving through the notes that I really like.

The film created and written by Dan O’Bannon (remember John Carpenter’s Dark Star?) and Ronald Shusett, isn’t like Star Wars, it paints space as a cold, dark place, filled with terror, as the poster’s immortal tagline tells you… In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream.

The Alien, though humanoid in shape, is of course the stuff of nightmares, and Giger’s bio-mechanoid approach to it makes it all the more frightening.

facehuggerThis and Blade Runner (also coming up on the list) are probably my favorite Ridley Scott films, and I can’t help but notice that some of the screen graphics on the computer displays both movies use are exactly the same. I guess it’s no surprise to think they exist in the same universe… in fact on the release of Prometheus, there’s an extra on it, in a letter format, from Weyland, who alludes to the replicant maker in Los Angeles. Kinda cool!

This was also the first film for me, when I was growing up that had a strong female lead front and center, and to me – that is awesome! I love a woman who can kick ass and take names! Sigourney was born for that role, and she was perfectly cast in it!

This movie continues to be one of my favorites, and as much as I love seeing the xenomorphs getting all shot up in the sequel, this film is amazing, and we wouldn’t have had the sequels (good and bad, and bad, and ok) or the spin-offs (bad and bad) or the amazing Dark Horse comics without it.

What’s your favorite moment?

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Poltergeist (1982)

The 101 Horror Movies let me revisit another one of my favorite films, Poltergeist.

I won’t get into the whole “who really directed it dilemma” – I don’t care (though if pressed it feels more like a Steven Spielberg film than a Tobe Hooper film). I just know I like it.

It’s a very simple story of a haunting focusing on a little girl, ages before Paranormal Activity was even thought of…

The Freelings, Steven (Craig T Nelson), Diane (JoBeth Williams – WOW!), Dana (Dominique Dunne), Robbie (Oliver Robins) and Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) live in suburbia, which Steven helps to sell.

We’re not out in some dilapidated old home somewhere, this is our own backyard, which I think adds to a bit of the scare to the film. There’s nowhere to go to distance yourself from it, because it could be your house.

The strange occurrences that start happening around them, at first, seem rather benign, and intriguing, but when the presence in the house uses a rather imposing tree outside Robbie’s and Carol Anne’s window to make an assault on the children, things get very serious, and Carol Anne disappears somewhere inside the house.

While some of the effects don’t necessarily hold up, I find it hard to believe the twister ever held up, the film always seems to work for me.

I find the story and the idea fascinating, I’d love to be investigating these things myself, and quite enjoy when Steven is finally forced to look for help with a parapsychologist, Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight) and her team, who soon realize they may be out of their depth, and bring in some extra help with Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) a powerful medium.

At the heart of the film is a strong theme of family and love, and perhaps the bad effects of television, as well as the healthy belief that if you are going to move a cemetery, move the whole thing.

For me, when I first saw it, this was the film that showed me that parents were in fact people too. Steven and Diane have this wonderful relationship around and separate from their children, they can be goofy, and affectionate, and as we see in one sequence, use a little recreational drugs to relax. Nelson and Williams bring a warmth and depth to their relationship that makes you believe that they have a history together, and are still very much in love.

The film itself was followed by two, less than stellar sequels, though I will say that Kane (Julian Beck) in Poltergeist II is damned frightening.

But to return to the first film, the crawling steak sequence, and the subsequent bathroom scene were two of my favorites, and of course, there’s the creepy clown doll that keeps popping up through the entire film. From the beginning of the movie, as soon as I saw that thing, I knew that wasn’t going to be good. Gah.

Carol Anne is simply adorable, and it’s tragic that Heather O’Rourke died so young, as did her co-star Dominique. She has to be the center of the film, though for almost 3/4s of it she is heard but not seen. So that first bit of the film she has to make an impact on the viewer and she does every time.

The film was originally slated for an R-rating, but the filmmakers got them to agree to a PG classification (there was no PG-13 at the time, that wouldn’t happen until 1984 when Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom came out, fostering the discussion of a need for another rating between PG and R). While yes, there is some scary imagery in the film, the body count is very low, one budgie.

I love the score by Jerry Goldsmith, especially the opening titles, The film’s editing, pacing and story never let up, and even after all these years I still get caught up in the story, waiting for my favorite moments, watching the shots, and just embracing the world in which the story exists.

This will probably be my all time favorite haunted house movies, I think because of the suburban setting, and the fact that someone actually tries to investigate it. Much like The Legend of Hell House, and the original The Haunting, but, as I said, in my own backyard.

What’s your favorite bit in the film? Or what’s your favorite haunted house film?

Ridley Scott – My Top 10

I am so pumped for Prometheus, but we know that. So, while I wait very impatiently for June 8 to return to The Company, Lv-426 and learn the secrets of The Engineers I thought it would be very interesting to run down my list of favorite films by Sir Ridley.

While some people may not necessarily agree with all my selections I stand by them, and I honestly believe he is one of the best technical directors working today.

So without further ado… My list…

10) Thelma & Louise (1991) – An awesome road movie, with two very strong female leads. Leaving their less than stellar lives behind they take to the road in search of more.

It all seems to go well enough until Louise kills a man who attempts to rape Thelma.

From that moment on, they are on the run, racing towards the inescapable ending of the film.

And what a ride!

9) Robin Hood (2010) – This one may raise a few eyebrows, especially coming in higher than Thelma & Louise, but that;s because everyone, I believe, went into the film thinking it would simply be a retelling of all the stories that had gone before, robbing from the rich giving to the poor and the like. This time around it’s a completely different tale, while still incorporating a lot of the familiar trademarks of the legend. Ridley knows how to get what he wants, and each shot is masterful, no matter what people thought of the subject matter. I also have to say, as is apparent from how many times he shows up on the list, I do like when Russell Crowe and Scott work together.

8) Body of Lies (2008) – Ridely show’s his technical proficiency to the extreme with this political techno-thriller featuring Leonardo DiCaprio as CIA operative Roger Ferris who is working on tracking down a terrorist leader working out of Jordan. But in this game, intelligence is the top card and his double-dealing boss, played by Crowe, who put on some weight for the role, proves that he cannot be trusted, twisting and controlling the information, and pulling the strings, screwing Ferris time and again, though they’re supposed to be on the same side of the conflict. This is a movie that you can’t walk in and out of, you have to pay attention to everything, you see, Scott never underestimates the smarts of his audience, and refuses to talk down to them.

7) Matchstick Men (2003) – Ridley doesn’t often delve into comedy/drama but this con-man film is a lot of fun, and it’s neat to see Ridley step away from the action-dramas he usually helms.

Nicolas Cage plays Roy Waller, a con man, who is suffering from a staggering amount of phobias. He works with Frank Mercer (the always awesome Sam Rockwell) on a ‘water-filtration’ scam until his teenage daughter, played by Alison Lohman, shows up and puts a kink in things, by telling her father she wants to learn the business. Like all con films, there are twists, turns, betrayals and surprises, and this one works just fine.

6) Legend (1985) – A straight out fantasy film, Legend stands out for a couple of reasons, the swapping of music scores at the last second, and the fantastic performance by Tim Curry, as the satan-like Darkness. The film was trimmed and re-scored initially, removing a sweeping score by Jerry Goldsmith to replace it with a more synthetic soundtrack by Tangerine Dream. This was before Tom Cruise was a huge name, and the film doesn’t get lost under his ego, instead, the fairy tale nature of the film is front and center, and is lovely to look at, not to mention Mia Sara (sigh). If you seek this one out, make sure you track down the Director’s Cut, as opposed to the original theatrical cut, which lost almost 30 minutes of footage.

5) Black Rain (1989) – American cops out of their element in Japan, lost in a world that deals with things completely differently than the way they are used to on the streets of New York. Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia are the cops, sent to escort a criminal back to Japan, where they promptly lose him through deception, and a complete lack of language and protocol.

When things go really badly, Douglas’ Conklin goes head to head with the Yakuza with the help of a Japanese partner (Ken Takakura) and a ex-pat played by Kate Capshaw. An awesome flick.

4) Gladiator (2000) – Scott’s first effort with Crowe, and I’m sure some of you are wondering why it’s not my number one choice. Now, I do believe it’s a great film, even if Maximus speaks with a mostly Australian accent, but for me it doesn’t have as much repeat watch value as the remaining three on the list. In fact Black Rain almost beat it out for this position. Still it’s gorgeous, the action sequences are fantastic, and as always technically incredible.

Ridley brings ancient Rome to life in a way most viewers hadn’t seen since Ben-Hur, and it’s a bloody good ride. It also features, I feel, one of Hans Zimmer’s best scores.

3) Black Hawk Down (2001) – Based on an actual incident, that ends up being epic in size, this film shows that not only can Scott handle action, create intense war scenes, it also shows he can work with and balance an incredibly large cast including Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Eric Bana, Jason Isaacs, William Fichtner, Jeremy Piven, Tom Hardy, and Ron Eldard. Wonderfully intense, Black Hawk Down is the epitome of wars depicting modern warfare in my mind.

And it’s impact does not lessen with repeated viewing. If you’re able, get your hands on the 3 disc special edition DVD set (this version is yet to be released on blu-ray) there are some fantastic behind-the-scenes and historical documentaries.

2) Alien (1979) – A haunted house story set in space. That’s how its been to described, and at its core, that is what it is. Much like Star Wars, which came two years before, there is a level of detail, and use to the universe that Scott created with this film. It’s not clean or pristine, it’s been lived in, and as we learn, it’s not safe.

I love the fact that the first hour of this film is all set-up. You get to know the characters, you see the Nostromo, then you have the landing, the derelict ship, and of course things go sideways as we see, almost simultaneously that the message they received was not an SOS, but possibly a warning, and Kane encounters the eggs, and the facehugger within.

There’s not an imperfect moment in this film as far as I’m concerned, the model and creature work, the design, the cinematography, the costumes, it all combines to create a completely believable world…

1) Blade Runner (1982) – Alongside Metropolis, Star Wars, Alien, Blade Runner will go down in history as one of the most influential science fiction films ever made. The Final Cut is the version I stand by, more ambiguous and thought-provoking than the original version with voice-over. Scott once again created a lived-in world, that while set in a 2019 that probably won’t come to fruition by the time we reach that year (though it may very well happen in the decades that follow it – I’m not sure about the replicants, but the spinners, and the buildings, and the pollution, and the implied political state).

This is my favorite film by Ridley Scott, though differing from the source material, it created a whole new film genre the future noir.

With these amazing films, is it any wonder I can’t wait for Prometheus? And I if it will find a place in my top 10 Ridley Scott films…

What are yours?

And will you be there June 8th?