Tomorrow is the big day. Prometheus will finally be released in North America. Ridley Scott’s return to science fiction is what we’ve all been waiting for. Until we reach this point in twelve hours (one of which I have waited two years for), let us wrap up the original series marathon with the best of the best. Here’s a look at the first Alien.
We all dream about seeing a film that defines what filmmaking is. When people talk about movie magic, they are obviously referencing moments in cinematic history that stunned them and changed the art of movie making around. Even the moments that may bring you out of the film, you forgive just because of how well it is executed. You are given a world that seems too real and impossible to create artificially. You are given characters that honestly feel like they have lived longer than their life in the film and that they each have secrets and ideas you will never find out. Movie magic is the rare occurrence of a film being real to you, and Alien possesses that magic.
The beginning takes its time, and although it may seem slow it isn’t as slow as you’d think. You’ll reach the half hour-in point and not even realize it, even though the world is still being introduced to you. The movie may not work in real time, but the pacing definitely feels that way, and the pacing in this film is honestly some of the best in any film. You feel like you are a part of the crew; Surveilling this new area around you, taking time to notice each ridge in the wall or each drip off the ceiling. Once things spiral out of control, you have no time to pick up your things. If you don’t react quickly enough, you will be left behind. This is what makes the reactions of the characters all the more realistic. In this film, there is no leader for the majority of the film. In fact, the characters are just as vulnerable and left out as you are. 2009’s District 9 did a similar form of story telling when it started off as a mockumentary and suddenly exploded into an all out science fiction battle. The difference here is that Alien never pretended to be a real film; it just felt that way. You could feel how cold the room is or how closed in the dining area is when you aren’t even there.
Even though it is a horror film, it never feels like it should be a horror film. Of course the film uses scares to frighten you, with some of the most terrifying moments in any film (the infamous John Hurt scene, anyone?), but it never feels staged. If you watch the film not knowing what’s going on, you won’t expect anything. The music doesn’t guide you into not being scared fully. You’re just left feeling that something is not right the entire movie, and this is where anything, even the most innocent of events, seems like a sign of bad things to come. If you’ve ever walked in a forest alone and have been caught off guard by a squirrel jumping out of nowhere, you won’t even have experienced an iota of what this film is about. However, you’d get the general idea of why this film is so downright creepy. There isn’t some guy in a hockey mask or some guy with pins coming out of his face. You don’t know what it is, because it’s an undiscovered species. The crew figure out how the species work the same time as you, and this lack of foresight is something you really don’t get in most supposed scary films.
The most brilliant part about Alien is how it leaves you out in the cold and the dark in every single second of the film except for its conclusion. It doesn’t leave you feeling unsatisfied, but instead helpless until just the right moment. It’s thrilling because there are no rules and anything can go. It plays on the idea that science fiction can introduce any concept to the story without going over the top and using “science fiction” as a shoddy excuse to lazily fill in plot holes (Ahem, Phantom Menace). Everything works, and the story is complex enough to add to the basic, easy to follow story (but not overly complicated to seem pretentious either). The story feels so natural as well, as if everything that happens really was on the fly and based on the decisions of the characters. In Aliens, there seemed to be a kind of game plan. Here, there was nothing. You didn’t even know who to trust out of the good guys, whether they were secretly bad or if they were safe and a quality leader.
This is the reason why people have been aching for Ridley Scott to return to science fiction (well, that and Bladerunner, of course). Most science fiction films just don’t cut it anymore, apart from the odd exception (Inception District 9 for example), and don’t get me started on how the horror film genre is doing. Having a loose Alien prequel would seem iffy if it wasn’t for the return of Scott. We’re anxious to see what he could do with modern technology, because, in the end, let’s face it, Prometheus may or may not be the movie of the year or summer. There are many more coming out that are sure to be excellent. Who knows if the story will hold up or if we will get as much out of the morals as we’d hope. In the end, the bare minimum we will get out of Prometheus with Scott at the helm is an incredible experience. If he utilizes the same tactics he did with Alien (claustrophobia, mystery, ambience, the feeling of being helpless), it probably won’t hold up to that film, but it will remain memorable. As for Alien, you can watch it as many times as you want and it will still hold up and be fantastic, but the true magic behind this film is how it makes your first watch of it unforgettable
Okay so tomorrow is the big day. Let’s see how it goes!