Genre: Sci-Fi/ Horror / Prequel.
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Logan Marshall-Green,Micheal Fassbender, Idris Elba, Rafe Spall and Guy Pierce.
Running Time: 124 mins. approx.
Seen At: Didsbury.
On: Saturday, 9th June, 2012.
In 1979, director Ridley Scott made audiences around the globe scream in the isles, with Alien, a worldwide blockbusting phenomenon, that has now become an absolute staple classic. At the time, it distinguished itself as breaking new cinematic ground, as being the very first film of its kind to mix the genres of science-fiction and horror together – with simple, terrifying results. It made a star of Sigourney Weaver, as the heroic protagonist Ripley, one of the first examples of a strong female in the lead, as opposed to the ‘damsel in distress’ figure.
Scott ‘gave birth to’ this genre, as do, in this movie’s case, his characters too - quite literally - in some of the most shocking, horrific and memorable sequences in modern cinema that have ever been committed to celluloid. Of course, it was John Hurt who appeared in: ‘the scene’ as the doomed Kane. His face-hugging, chest-bursting fate is in the same category as Janet Leigh’s dice with death in a motel shower in Hitchcock’s unbeatable slasher Psycho, The Exorcist’s Linda Blair’s three-hundred-and-sixty degree, head-spinning projectile vomit, Jack Nicholson’s maniacal axe-weilding in Kubrick’s The Shining, Clarice’s introduction to Dr. Lector in The Silence of The Lambs, Jamie Lee-Curtis’s babysitting job from hell in John Carpenter’s Halloween in 1978, and of course, Glenn Close’s crazed Alex Forrest putting the bunny in the pot in 1987’s Fatal Attraction, all going down as just some of the most iconic images not only in horror, but also in cinematic history. In celebration of the upcoming release of Prometheus, Channel 4 have been showing three of the original quadology, and while the first three sequels had, shall we say, varying amounts of success, I assure you that as is also the case with Ridley’s return with this film, the original hasn’t lost a single ounce of its impact to absolutely petrify…
Returning to the genre of sci-fi for the first time in twenty years since Blade Runner in 1982 (which he is soon to remake), the visionary director insists that this is not a straightforward prequel to Alien, being instead very much it’s own ‘beast’, but it’s impossible not to see the parallels.
Set before the events of the original, the premise sees a group of explores land on an abandoned planet, in the spaceship of the film’s title, millions of miles from earth. Its stunning opening shot consists of a gigantic waterfall, with a mysterious, sinister figure standing on top.
This installment attempts to answer the ultimate in existential questions: where do we come from? Our heroine this time round is Elizabeth Shaw (played by the first Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace), a scientist who believes that what remains of an ancient civilization, could hold the key to our very existence. In turn, this opens up all kinds of infinitely ongoing debates such as nature versus nurture, evolution verses godly creation, and science verses religion.
The archetypal icy blonde with a heart of glass is also on board, in the shape of the enigmatic and skeptical Meredith Vickers, (Charlize Theron on cool, detached form), a woman shrouded in complete mystery, who might just have her own top secret ‘agenda’ for being there…
As was the case with Ian Holm’s head-twirling, white-foaming Ash and Lance Henriksen’s Bishop before (or rather, after) him, David is the ship’s cyborg, a robot in human form (a polished-speaking but morally ambiguous Micheal Fassbender).There’s a brilliantly eerie, ominous early sequence which sees him silently stalk the otherwise deserted, pristine quarters of the ship to deceptively contrapuntal, lulling classical strings, while all the other crew are experiencing hyper-sleep inside those infamous pods. It’s a scene which sets the very specific tone throughout: as with all effective horror films, it should unfold slowly, ramping up the tension before an explosive finale.
Much of those ingredients do indeed translate terrifyingly well here, Dariusz Wolski’s cinematographic, wonderfully snaking, voyeuristic quality of the camera, creeping around the interiors endless corridors from the alien’s perspective. What set the original apart, providing it with an even more palpable level of suspense, is the fact that neither you, nor the characters, ever quite knew where the elusive creature was.
Newcomer on the block, Logan Marshall-Green, gives one of the film’s best performances playing Elizabeth’s boyfriend, Charlie Holloway, who you think will be the male lead, but is actually, mid-way through, the catalyst of two of the movie’s biggest scares. First, David sneakily takes a sapling of the species’ malleable, kinesthetic, viscous alien gloop from one of the hundreds of vases which carry their eggs, and drops it into Charlie’s drink. The next morning, he finds his eye bloodshot, almost as if a poisonous contact lens has been planted. He soon becomes a lot worse, with his face a mass of throbbing veins as the alien persona slowly takes over him. I was surprised his grizly fate happened quite so early on, but it’s one of the best sequences. It’s the gradual, worsening deterioration that’s so scary.
As if that weren’t shocking enough, Elizabeth herself is suffering from severe stomach cramps, only to next find herself waking up in the medical bay, being told quite calmly by David that she’s been impregnated, similarly to John Hurt in the original. When told that is categorically impossible, he chillingly replies: ‘Well Doctor Shaw, I’m afraid it’s not exactly a traditional fetus...’. What follows is the film at it’s most squeamish, shocking and harrowing as Elizabeth must endure a gruesome, alarm-ringing, surgical ‘procedure’ (without giving too much away), as the miniature monster rears it’s ugly ‘head’ – in an homage to that inimitable scene…
It’s one of several jumpy, highly clever echoes to the original, another being when Rafe Spall’s character falls foolish victim to the movie’s first extra-terrestrial encounter with a small, long-necked ‘being’ that sticks itself to his arm, and wraps around it, before eating its way into his high-visibility hood…
In terms of the alien effects themselves, they’re achieved predominantly through anamatronic puppetry, seamlessly combined with astonishing computer-generated flourishes. Scott obtains the perfect balance of never showing too much of the creatures so that the audience are no longer shocked, but always showing us just enough of a suggestion of them to keep us tantalized. Keep you’re eyes peeled behind those ever-so-stylish 3D glasses though, as towards the end, when it’s the showdown between Elizabeth with an axe and the snarling, tentacled monstrosity, we finally see exactly where the legendarily slimy Alien from the original actually came from. It shows just how far visual effects have come in the thirty-three years since the first film. Stay through the credits to see just how many people are listed under: ‘Digital Artists’. It should surely win the Best Visual Effects Oscar next year, and more hopefully.
Speaking of 3D, those fantastic effects are even further enhanced by superb utilization of the tool. The sheer scale of the rocky, baron landscapes is visually stunning. There’s an exhilarating sandstorm sequence, whereby as paraclastic storm-clouds are approaching, the body count is also rising, with helpless crew members being sucked out the back of the ship, as just another innumerable piece of debris…
In the sequence whereby the characters first discover the cavernous remains of a deserted civilation, with these enormous stone idols carved in the shape of the heads of the gods (which feature in a lot of the poster art), the choice of digital gradient which colours these scenes, are an immersive jade-green sheen, with this gloss acting as a slowly emerging manifestation, a visual metaphor for the texture of the alien itself.
In moments of true peril, Marc Streitenfeld’s understated, synthesized, droning score, puts you directly in the heart of the tension.
In the absolutely huge anticipation surrounding this film, the trailers have been so clever in not revealing all that much, with an editing style that's all flashes and bursts. What’s most memorable from it, is the desperate wail of the ship’s alarm that accompanies it…
What lets the film down the most is its screenplay. The dialogue is often too on-the-nose, and the supporting characters aren’t well enough drawn.
In terms of the cast, the best performance is from Charlize Theron as Meredith Vickers – clearly reveling in a perfect opportunity to be so spiky and authouratative. It’s the first of her two blockbusting ‘evil queen’ figures this summer, as in fact released in multiplexes on the very same day as this, she’s also the famous villainess in the latest re-envisioning of the classic fairytale of Snow White – Snow White and the Huntsman.
Luther star Idris Elba is suitably patriotic and gung-ho as Janek, the ship’s captain, and Guy Pearce is unrecognizable, under the layers of prosthetics as the aged Peter Weyland, the franchise’s founder of Weyland Corporations, the organization who fund the crew’s fateful expeditions…
Tense,terrific and absolutely terrifying, whether you think it reaches the heights of the original is an open question, but for me it is certainly just as heart-pumpingly entertaining, and it is left open for, hopefully, a sequel. The more horribly extreme it is, the more you can’t help but delight in watching through your fingers!
Rating: * * * *