Tag Archive: ridley scott


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I’m going to posit a fairly unpopular opinion right now, but it’s one that I’ve held for a long time now (and my most current viewing of the film didn’t dispossess me of this belief), the original 1979 Alien is one of the more over-rated science fiction films of all time. It is generally held up as one of the greatest sci-fi horror movies ever made, and if that’s true, sci-fi horror must be a sadly dull genre of cinema. Even now, 34 years later, it’s clear that Alien was a crowning technical achievement. And much like Black Rain and Black Hawk Down, it should be obvious to everyone that Ridley Scott is a masterful director with a keen visual eye. Sadly, the pacing in Alien is downright tedious at times and the film never frightened me once. Through in the fact that, outside of Ripley and the character played by Yaphet Kotto, I didn’t care about any of the characters in the film, Alien is a sadly stale if exceptionally technically well made sci-fi horror.

Alien is considered to be one of the premier films of the “less is more” philosophy of horror film-making. And I am a huge supporter of that genre. The original Paranormal Activity crafted a genuine modern horror classic on that principle, and Roman Polanski’s psychological horror masterpiece Repulsion is also from the same vein. But those films succeed where Alien often fails with an understanding of how to fill the scenes in between the horror. Paranormal Activity had the great banter between Micah and Katie and Repulsion had its omnipresent social commentary on the dangers of sexual repression. Alien has its plot and practically nothing else besides its admittedly suffocating atmosphere. If Alien had found a way to breathe life to the characters portrayed by its star-studded cast, it might have been a great film. As it is, Alien simply is not.

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In the future, the commercial towing ship Nostromo holds 7 passengers (plus a cat) as it returns to Earth after a successful mining operation. However, before the ship can reach Earth, the crew is prematurely awakened from its cryogenic stasis when they intercept an emergency distress beacon on a remote planet. An away team consisting of the ship’s two commanding officers, Dallas (Tom Skerritt) and Kane (John Hurt), as well as the navigator, Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), heads down to the planet’s surface to investigate the distress beacon where they find a crashed, derelict space craft with nothing left alive on board. Or so they think. Kane finds an egg in one of the ship’s chambers and a mysterious alien life form attaches itself to his face, even breaking through his helmet, creating a parasitic attachment to Kane’s head. When the chief science officer, Ash (Ian Holm), breaks quarantine rules and let’s the away team back on the ship, the whole crew’s lives is put in danger.

It is quickly apparent once the away team returns that the alien attached to Kane’s face is very dangerous. Warrant officer Ripley (The Village‘s Sigourney Weaver) is angry enough that they let the alien on the ship in the first place, and the engineers Parker (Yaphet Kotto) and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) aren’t too pleased about it either. No one knows what the alien is or why it’s attached itself to Kane’s face, but there’s a ray of hope when the alien seemingly disappears. Kane seems to be alright until an infamous dinner sequence where an evolved version of the alien bursts forth from his chest. And from that point forward, it’s a race against time to either kill the alien or be killed as it evolves and starts to take more and more of the ship’s crew down with it.

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I’ll give Alien credit for the things it does astoundingly well. As I’ve said, this movie is 34 years old now. Other than a hilariously 1970s/1980s idea of what computers will look like in the future (apparently they all still run on DOS), the special effects and general feel of Alien has aged remarkably well. There were only a couple occasions where I thought the effects looked laughably aged (an explosion at the very end of the film being the most prominent one), and like the original Star Wars films, Alien is a film you could show to today’s kids and they wouldn’t laugh at its look. And, beyond the effects, Ridley Scott makes the atmosphere and look of the ship absolutely suffocating and dripping with dread (even if nothing especially scary ever happens). The lighting and camerawork of the movie are superb, and I just wish it’d had a better script supporting it.

The film is also chock full of some of the best character actors of the 1970s and is the film that shot Sigourney Weaver to stardom. And the performances are great. While the characterizations of the people aboard the ship are paper-thin, the actors have a strong chemistry, and the animosity between Ash and Ripley is so strong that one almost wonders if they disliked each other in real life. They legitimately gave the impression that they simply couldn’t stand to be around one another. Sigourney Weaver helped to encapsulate one of the ultimate female bad-asses in movie history, and her turn as Ripley is one of the great parts of the film, although I loved the consistently scheming and disapponted Parker played by Yaphet Kotto. Parker and Ripley were the only two characters in the film that seemed to have any bite to them.

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I’ll draw this review to a close. I hope you can tell that I don’t dislike Alien. It is an inarguably well-crafted film, and it helped bring Ridley Scott’s talents to mainstream prominence. Unfortunately, it’s script is simply alright, and it doesn’t do justice to Scott’s artistic vision and talent. Black Rain is one of the least remembered/discussed of Ridley Scott’s films, but I honestly think it’s better than Alien. It is smart and stylish from beginning to end, and though it’s not some shining example of cinematic art, it always remains fun. Alien wants to be cinematic art, but it isn’t good enough to pull it off. I think everyone should watch Alien. Like John Carpenter’s The Thing, it’s required sci-fi horror viewing 101; I just don’t think it’s the timeless classic that everyone else does.

Final Score: B

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Occasionally, my pacifist political beliefs are challenged. In America’s entire history, there have been a grand total of four wars we were involved in that I felt were justified military conflicts. The American Revolution, the Civil War (in so far as it ended slavery and no matter what revisionist historians tell you, it would not have ended naturally any time soon), World War II, and Afghanistan (at first. not so much 10 years later). In pretty much every other conflict, we should have just minded our own business and stayed out of affairs that weren’t our own. There are, in my opinion, two justifications for military action. Either we’ve been attacked and are defending ourselves to the point that we ensure the offending nation won’t target us again while simultaneously not embroiling ourselves too deeply in the nation’s domestic affairs or we are stopping a genocide or ethnic cleansing (with the assistance of the U.N. none of that unilateral Iraq bullshit). So, actually our involvement in Serbia/Kosovo is okay in my book as well. The film Black Hawk Down is the true story of a U.S. military involvement that I support theoretically but to say that the execution of this plan was a clusterfuck would be an understatement, and Ridley Scott’s vision of the hell that was Mogadishu makes for gritty and compelling cinema even if there is virtually no meat on this film’s bones.

In the 90s, the U.S. (with U.N. assistance) commenced an operation to take down a Somalian warlord whose tyrannical control of his nation had led to the deaths of over 300,000 Somalian citizens from civil war as well as starvation (because the warlord viciously hoarded the food supplied by the U.N.). After weeks of little results (and increasing frustrations with U.S. military presence in Africa at home when the public saw no tangible benefit for our presence), the U.S. military (specifically the Rangers and Delta Force) go on a daring mission right into the heart of Mogadishu, the heavily guarded base of operations for the warlords and his seemingly endless forces. It’s supposed to be a routine mission that will take little more than 30 minutes, but when a stray RPG from Somalian forces causes one man to nearly fall to his death from a helicopter, it’s immediately obvious that things won’t be that simple. The U.S. military comes under constant fire, and when not one but two black hawk helicopters get shot down, the mission to rescue these stranded warriors leads to nearly a day of fighting in the streets of Mogadishu with not enough ammo, water, or men.

Ridley Scott’s direction is as visceral and gut-wrenching as its ever been. I may have felt absolutely no connection to any character in this film (save Josh Hartnett’s role), but Ridley Scott’s eye for harrowing and graphically realistic depiction of war is only surpassed by Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan. Those productions are infinitely superior to Black Hawk Down, but I’ll get to that in a second. The cinematography is immensely impressive. This is probably one of the least impressive films substantively that I’m willing to say this for, but Ridley Scott definitely deserved his Best Director nomination at the Oscars. This movie is 2 and a half hours long and I didn’t know the names of nearly anyone on the screen. I just recognized their actors. But, Ridley Scott’s realistic and heart-breaking of the massive debacle that was the Mogadishu mission kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. It’s really a shame that the writing was so shallow and the characterizations so non-existent that I couldn’t add any emotional layer to my connection to what was happening on screen.

I think I should read the non-fiction book that the film is based on. It’s written by Mark Bowden, who also wrote Killing Pablo which I enjoyed despite its flaws. This film was all bang and no insight. People may accuse me of reading too deeply into this, but I got some slightly racist undertones from it as well. We only saw the genocidal Africans in this. We got no insight (or even display) of the Africans that these soldiers were there to protect. There was some not so subtle political propaganda in the movie. At the end of the day, as an action film, it succeeded. I don’t enjoy action films but this one kept me riveted the entire time. However, as an engaging and intellectually stimulating look at one of the most remarkable military debacles since Prickett’s Charge at the battle of Gettysburg, it was less than impressive.

Final Score: B-