Focus On: The Alien Films
I first saw ALIEN round my Aunty Pauline’s house when I was about eight or nine. I remember it vividly because I spent the next few months reliving the film’s more iconic moments in the small hours of the night. You never quite forget a film that gives you a serious bout of nightmares, and if you’re like me, that fosters a sort of fondness too.
Watching ALIEN now, on super-definition-awesomeo-scope, I am mainly struck by how fresh it still looks. This claustrophobic haunted-house-in-space tale continues to be scary and effective, and I still screamed at the same two places (I bet you know which two) even though I knew the scares were coming. The special effects, a mixture of model shots and matte paintings, are pretty much flawless, and the actors deliver eerily perfect performances as they die horribly, one by one – particularly Ian Holm, who, when he finally flips his lid, is easily as terrifying as the Space Beast itself.
Watching ALIEN now, on super-definition-awesomeo-scope, I am mainly struck by how fresh it still looks.
Surprisingly, ALIENS suffers somewhat for having just watched ALIEN; whereas the first film is all model shot perfection, here there are some bluescreen shots of spacecraft floating oddly against cloudy skies that just look peculiar. Once the marines start dying hideously and the extent of the threat is revealed – lots of aliens, lots and lots of aliens – then this is a sequel that is pretty hard to beat. Aliens still embraces the horror, but it gives it an edge of action that keeps your pulse thundering in the pauses between scares.
And so on to three and four (by this point in my re-watch I’m having xenomorph nightmares again – hooray!) where everything slips a little. ALIEN 3 is an interesting stab at a follow up, full of gothic visuals and grim atmosphere. There’s a lot of fun to be had playing “spot the British character actor” but reducing the threat back to one (slightly cute) alien doesn’t really work, and in the end you can’t feel a lot of sympathy for a bunch of murderers and rapists, even if they were in that episode of The Bill that one time.
ALIEN 3 is an interesting stab at a follow up, full of gothic visuals and grim atmosphere.
ALIEN RESURRECTION remains, for me, the worst of the lot. I hadn’t seen it for a number of years and had hoped that it wasn’t as bad as I remembered, but the opening shot of a gurning insect with an alien face being smooshed across the screen…yeah, it’s as bad as you remember. Jeunet is a weird choice for director, and the slightly whimsical tone feels very odd indeed when you compare it to the cold claustrophobia of the original. Only Weaver comes out of it with any dignity, playing an alarmingly predatory Ripley that makes you wish a similar idea had been given to someone else to fiddle with.