Friday, February 24, 2017

Steve's Top Ten Films: Alien

I think one of the reasons I am not more of a fan of horror films is that most of them are an exercise in combining and recombining the same old tropes and storytelling techniques with no real attempt to introduce some style or originality.  Not that it is fair to expect every genre film to be completely new and original - there has to be some recognizable qualities for films in a particular genre - but a good director will always try to present the story in way that feels fresh.

What makes Alien so appealing to me is that it finds a fresh presentation by mashing together two tried and true film genres (science fiction and horror) and breathes life into the more tired characteristics of both by switching between the two, keeping the audience in a state of off-balance for most of the picture.  At the moments it feels like a sci-fi adventure while others it is straight out horror with some now classic cinematic scares.

Although the beginning of a very successful film franchise that has managed to maintain a certain level of decent quality for the most part, none of the other films in the series quite achieve the sheer artistry that Alien does.  It is a film with a setting that looks gritty and lived-in even though it takes place in outer space.  It is a film with smart characters who find themselves completely out of their depth in a situation that threatens their very lives.  And, it is a film that gets a visceral reaction out of its audience nearly forty years after its release.  Most of the subsequent films just rehash these qualities.

Coincidentally, my first exposure to the Alien-franchise started with the second film, Aliens.  I was maybe 11 or 12 when I first saw it, and I remember feeling emotionally jostled and completely unsettled afterwards.  Year later, I would read Roger Ebert's review of the film and agree with his description that the sequel is two hours of really bad road.  A couple years later when I finally watched the first film, I found myself appreciating the creepy slow pace of its story and being more emotionally invested in the character of Ellen Ripley.  Of all the Alien films, this is the one I go back regularly.

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