Tag Archives: Ridley Scott

My Thoughts on: Alien (1979)

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As long as I live I will never forget the first time I saw Alien. I was in college, it was my sophomore year and I was feeling really bored and in the mood for something new. There was an Alien marathon on TV and I decided to just sit down and try them (since I’d never seen them before). And for the record, I did know about the chestburster scene going in, I just didn’t know where in the film it would be.

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Alien, if you’ve never seen it before, is a dark, gritty piece of science fiction horror that is about as far from the sanitized utopia of Star Trek as you can get. The story follows the crew of the Nostromo, a commercial space tug hauling a massive shipment back to Earth. The ship is clean (for the most part) and functional, but it’s not what you’d call elegant. There are no sleek lines or holographic displays here; this is a ship that feels real. The crew is abruptly pulled from stasis when the ship’s computer “Mother” detects a transmission coming from LV-426, a barren moon. There they stumble across the wreckage of an alien spacecraft which is carrying a strange cargo of eggs…and the situation deteriorates from there.

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The story is almost literally a case of “curiosity killed the crew.” Once Kane (John Hurt) is attacked by the alien face hugger, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is the only sensible one who wants to follow protocol and keep Kane in quarantine until they can determine if it’s dangerous. Ash (Ian Holm), the science officer, overrules Ripley and allows Kane to come on board, setting the events for the rest of the film into motion. The facehugger implants an egg, which quickly develops into the iconic alien (in gruesome fashion) and one by one the crew is picked off. If they hadn’t been so hellbent on investigating the alien ship in the first place, no one would have died (probably). Though given how ruthless the Company (later retconned to the Weyland-Yutani Corporation) is implied to be, if the crew had returned with nothing they probably would have met with some kind of “accident” back on Earth.

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Part of what makes the first Alien film so terrifying is how little you really see of the alien itself. This was done by design as director Ridley Scott wanted audiences to see the alien as a terrifying figure and not just “some guy in a rubber suit” (which is exactly what the alien was, but watching the film you’d never know that). There is also no way of knowing when the alien is going to appear next.

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My two favorite examples involve the death of Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) and the climax of the film. In the first scene, Dallas is stalking the alien with a flamethrower…or at least he thinks he is. At an intersection of the ship, Dallas turns with a light and the last thing you see is a jump cut of the alien lunging out of the darkness (it always makes me jump too, even though I KNOW the shot is coming, the way it’s timed always puts me on edge). The second example is even scarier because it’s also a false ending: Ripley has escaped the Nostromo by the skin of her teeth and is preparing to enter a stasis pod until she can be rescued. Just as everyone’s relaxed…THERE’S THE ALIEN! It’s hand literally pops out of the wall as it had burrowed itself into the side of the shuttle to escape detection. Fun fact about this scene? If you examine the wall of the shuttle while Ripley is getting changed, you can just see him sitting there before the moment happens (but you have to look carefully, he’s camouflaged very well).

One scene that makes me intensely uncomfortable is the scene where Ash tries to murder Ripley. I know it was probably designed to make the audience squirm but that doesn’t make it any easier to sit through (in brief, Ash tries to suffocate Ripley by forcing a rolled up magazine down her throat), in fact many times I just skip the scene entirely.

And of course I have to mention Jerry Goldsmith’s fantastic score, which is minimal to be sure, but very effective. Actually, the opening credits were supposed to feature a theme that was more orchestral and Romantic in tone, but Ridley Scott didn’t like it so Goldsmith was obliged to recompose the opening to what you hear in the final cut (he would also grouse that while the first piece took weeks to compose, the piece that made it into the film took all of ten minutes to put together). Despite the difficulties, the score was nominated for a Golden Globe, a Grammy Award and a BAFTA Award (though unfortunately it didn’t win).

Alien is one of those rare films that you can watch over and over and still be scared every single time; it’s definitely one of those films you must see at least once in your life. If you have seen Alien, let me know what you think about it in the comments below and have a great day!

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Blade Runner (1982): A misunderstood gem

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On June 25th, 1982, the world was introduced to the dystopian world of Blade Runner. Starring Harrison Ford and set in the “distant future” of 2019 Los Angeles, the film tells the story of Rick Deckard, a “blade runner” whose job is to hunt down and “retire” replicants (i.e. robots that look identical to humans in appearance) that have illegally returned to Earth from the distant space colonies.

For many years, the only thing I knew about Blade Runner was: don’t watch it, it’s a mess, great concept, bad execution, etc. And then the “Final Cut” of the film was released in 2007, and suddenly (as far as I could perceive), everyone’s opinion of the film began to change. It went from being an awkward cult film to one of the greatest films ever. Or maybe it was always that way and I didn’t notice until now. I think it’s been about two years since I saw Blade Runner the first time (my first copy was the “Director’s Cut”, I only got the “Final Cut” last year) and I remember sitting slack-jawed the entire time.

Really, what I feel the film boils down to is: what makes a human a “human” ? That is, what separates organic human beings like you or I from the “artificial” replicants like Roy Batty, Pris or Zhara, who resemble human beings in every way except they possess unnatural physical abilities (like extreme strength or the ability to touch hot liquids without being burned). It’s clear that the replicants have their own loves, wants and desires, just like humans do. In fact, the replicants appear to want life MORE than regular humans because replicants are only given a four-year lifespan before they die.

Deckard initially regards hunting down this particular group of replicants as a routine job, until he meets Rachael that is. Initially presented as the niece of Mr. Tyrell, the inventor of the replicants, Deckard is stunned to discover that SHE is a replicant also (and what’s more, she doesn’t know it). Over the course of the film, Deckard finds himself increasingly drawn to the enigmatic Rachael, until he finally realizes that, replicant or not, he’s in love with her and he’ll protect her at all costs.

I won’t go any further into the plot of the film, because I really feel that if you go in knowing what’s going to happen, you won’t enjoy the film as much (but seriously, everyone should see Blade Runner at least once in their lives, just don’t watch the theatrical cut with the voice-over narration). There is, however, one point I will address, and that is the question as to whether or not Deckard is a replicant himself. It seems like a question out of left field, because, why should that even be a question? Here’s the thing about the world of Blade Runner: all replicants are implanted with false memories so that when they wake up, they believe that they are regular people, with a past, loved ones, old friends, etc. By the time they figure out otherwise (and not all do), the four year life-span is up and they’re dead. Knowing this, it is distinctly possible that everyone we see on the screen is a programmed replicant, living their daily lives and not knowing that they’re artificial beings grown in a series of factories. And if you say “that’s ridiculous”, keep in mind that Rachael lived quite a long time believing that she was human until Deckard told her the truth.

Despite anything Ridley Scott has said in the years after Blade Runner was released, I believe that the question is never truly resolved one way or another. Deckard might be a replicant, he might be human too. As the one police man tells him, “It’s a pity she won’t live, but then again who does?” I take that to mean that, replicant or human, we’re all going to die some day anyhow, so why not live life to the fullest while we’re still here?

I know that the sequel to Blade Runner is being worked on right now, it might even be filming for all I know, and I’m not happy about it at all. Blade Runner was NOT designed to have a sequel, and I believe that creating one ruins the integrity of the original story.

Have you seen Blade Runner? What do you think of it, if you have seen it? Are you excited (nor not) about the sequel?

*poster image is the property of Warner Bros. Studios

see also:

Blade Runner 2049: A Masterpiece

Thinking about Blade Runner 2049

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