Sunday, April 06, 2014

Movies by year: 1979

(Oh, did I mention there may be spoilers ahead?)

Okay, now things are heating up. 1979 was a pretty exciting year for movies – Monty Python's The Life Of Brian caused a huge ruckus, with people who had never seen it telling everyone exactly what was wrong with it. In fact, I went with my parents to see it and we weren't allowed in. 'It's PG,' they said. 'We're the parents and we'll give the guidance,' my parents said. They still wouldn't let us in. That theatre closed not long afterwards, serves them right. Malcolm McDowell was HG Wells to David Warner's Jack The Ripper in Time After Time, a wonderful time-travelling fish-out-of-water tale. Peter Sellers gave us the role of a lifetime in Being There. Steve Martin was born a poor black child in The Jerk. And Bill Murray was everyone's favourite camp counsellor in Meatballs (remember when they were trying to make Christopher Makepeace a thing?). But there's one hands-down fave for me from this year.

Alien


Ridley Scott gave us a masterpiece of filmmaking with this one. It's one of my two favourite scary movies ever (the other: John Carpenter's The Thing).

Let's talk about the crew. Yes, they're on a spaceship, but they're essentially long-haul truckers in space. There's a chain of command that should work flawlessly, except for human (and non-human) nature. The engineers are crude and only interested in their shares; the navigator obviously has a tension with the warrant officer, third in command and the only other woman on the ship; the science officer is brand new to them and an unknown element.

Let's talk about the ship. White and gleaming in command areas, yes, but dark and oily and dripping in the engine room areas. Clunky noises from the computers. This is what an interstellar ship would really look like, it seems completely familiar and liveable. And it's towing a HUGE cargo of ore, dwarfing the ship itself (800ft to the 2 miles of cargo).

Let's talk about the cast. Oh my, the cast. Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, Veronica Cartwright, Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton, plus a ridiculously tall Nigerian student named Bolaji Badejo (7'2") in the Alien costume, lending a further element of the surreal to its appearance. It's a dream team. The chemistry between them all is beautiful to watch, and with five of them in their 40s and 50s (well, John Hurt was 39 but he looked way older) it really added to the realism, that these were actually working stiffs.

Then there's the pacing, which is deliciously slow and deliberate. The sets look amazing. The alien itself, and the wrecked spaceship - both designed by H.R. Giger - have a disturbing, otherworldly feel.

This isn't just an excellent sci-fi movie, it isn't just an excellent monster movie – it's one of the best movies ever made, full stop.

What do you think? Have you seen it? Could you sleep afterwards?

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