JUMPSCARECUT: Alien (1979)

Year: 1979
Directed by: Ridley Scott
StarringSigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Ian Holm, John Hurt

Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

29 years on from its original release, Alien continues to be a masterpiece of sci-fi and horror. At only his second directorial effort, legendary director Ridley Scott put himself firmly in the Hollywood spotlight with both a critical and commercial success in the shape of a terrifying space adventure.

Alien stars a then relatively low-key cast, but today it’s a veritable who’s who of classic actors. John Hurt, Ian Holm, Harry Dean Stanton, and, of course, Sigourney Weaver. Weaver plays the now iconic role of Ellen Ripley, an officer tasked with the job of somehow saving the day from a horrifying, powerful creature which has found its way onto their ship, the Nostromo, in arguably the film’s most iconic sequence. As the crew of the Nostromo begins to be picked off, Alien becomes a tense survival mission as they attempt to escape the creature’s wrath.

Criminally left unwatched until I was 19 years old in university, I’d genuinely avoided watching it despite knowing I should because I’d heard how scary it was. When I eventually bit the bullet late one night, the film lived up to its billing as a harrowing experience. What begins as a mysterious sci-fi, exploring a moon in the far reaches of space, becomes an unrelenting, thrilling experience that I have genuinely never forgotten. It’s well-written, it subverts expectations, it has outstanding production design, lighting, and sound design, and Ridley Scott meticulously balances the tension in order to maximise the impact of its numerous and plentiful scares.

You cannot write a review of Alien without talking about the actual alien. The Xenomorph. To this day, the Xenomorph has no equal as the most feared, and best design creature in film history. Nothing in Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, or Predator can hold a candle to the Xenomorph. HR Giger’s creation is the most iconic thing to come from an iconic film because of its individuality and impactful design that’s equal parts horrifying as it is fascinatingly unique. The mouth within the mouth; the freakishly long, phallic cranium; the slightly humanoid elements (bi-pedal, five fingers) heightened to be so obviously, uncomfortably alien make it unforgettable. Add in its towering height over its human prey and it’s enough to scare even the bravest souls. There’s a reason the Xenomorph hasn’t changed much beyond some in-universe evolvements (the Xenomorph Queen in ‘Aliens’, the weird baby alien in ‘Resurrection’, the white baby aliens in ‘Alien: Covenant’), but the principal Xenomorph never changes because Giger nailed it. Creature designers have tried for years to come even close to the iconic creature and no one has managed it.

In rewatching the film, I thought I’d conduct a short experiment to see how much the Xenomorph is actually on screen. Give or take a few seconds where I had to restart the stopwatch, it came it at less than 4 minutes of screen time. 4 minutes! 4 minutes for it to make one of the biggest impacts we’ve ever seen in horror film history. That takes skill, and it takes the combination of all sorts of factors – building tension, perfectly timed jump scares (I’ve been irrationally scared of vents for the last 6 years since I first watched Alien), and the audience believing in the Xenomorph as a threatening entity, which they surely did – working for it to have such an impact.

Alien is incredible. It has stood the test of time for very good reason and remains as terrifying today as it surely was on its release. Despite the abundance of horror films in the market these days, Alien still stands tall as a scary-as-fuck film, and one of the all-time best scary-as-fuck films, at that.

Quoth the Alien, in space, no one can hear you scream. I’m sure the people of Nottingham heard me scream that night.

RHYS’ RATING:

5

 

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Decade Definers: 1980s – Birth Of The Action Hero

Written by Chris Gelderd

Like most things in life, it’s hard to pin-point the exact formation of something. A season. A movement. A trend. These things just seem to happen when every factor around it comes into alignment and all the signs point to go. Somethings just naturally work with the environment around them. The film industry also does this and has done for over 100 years

The 1980s saw the formation of many things that changed the industry forever. The emergence of special effects allowed film-makers to really let their imagination blossom. Risks were being taken across horror, sci-fi and comedy with franchises taking off left right and centre, content being pushed for teen audiences (the introduction of the US PG-13 rating for such an occasion) and talent was setting the bar high in their chosen genres, such as Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Jane Fonda and Eddie Murphy to name but a few.

Yet the 80s was a decade that discovered a new wave of acting and creative talent that changed the way we look at action movies and their heroes forever, and we can see that winning template is used in films today to cater to new generations.

The world needed heroes, and the right men – and women – came along at the right time to deliver. Not satisfied with your suave Brit Sir Roger Moore and his family friendly James Bond adventures, mature audiences wanted more. More action! More violence! More stars! More outrageous, exciting, balls-to-the-wall popcorn entertainment!

The studios listened. The creative talent put pen to paper. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 1980s and the birth of the action hero!

Ask any film fan to name 5 action stars and they will probably give the same names.  From just a rather small selection of big name stars throughout the 1980s, we certainly got a truckload of memorable and long-standing action films from them. Some spawned franchises that still are going strong today, others simply one off treasures. Either way, they helped shape a genre that inspired much of what we see today on the big (and small) screen.

Let’s take a look at some of the big names that came to be during the 1980s and how they helped shape the action movie itself.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger

One man proved you didn’t need to be the next Charlton Heston of the acting world in order to make shockwaves across Hollywood and the world. Sometimes all you needed was a thick, inimitable European accent, muscles the size of watermelons and the passion to chase the American dream. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the ‘Austrian Oak’, did just that when he launched onto the scene during the 1980s with his imposing, unique frame as a bit player in cheaply produced movies before the studio execs took a risk and cast him in films where dialogue and plot were minimal, but action and iconography where high.

Arnie gave us 9 movies during the 1980s that became classics of the genre and his trademark style of witty one-liners, high violence, break-neck stunts and blending action into sci-fi, fantasy and comedy. From ‘Conan The Destroyer’ in 1982 that tested his boundaries for taking any role seriously and dishing out action in any form he was given, he soon was given movies such as ‘The Terminator’ in 1984, ‘Commando’ in 1985 and ‘Predator’ in 1987.

Each film was unique and different, letting Arnie win over fans and critics not with his acting, but with his ability to be an action hero across any genre who was tough talking, physically imposing and looked like a demi-God with his muscles and strong stance. He used any means at his disposal to eradicate bad guys – and sometimes good guys – and gave James Bond a run for his money with the one liners. Arnie became synonymous with action films and many of his 80s films stand strong today and shape franchise on the big and small screen in a career built on action that doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

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Sylvester Stallone

Stallone gave us two big ‘R’s throughout the 70s and 80s…and 90s and 00s, all things considered. Rocky Balboa was his character for sport and drama, but Rambo was his character for action and excitement. From 1982 to 1988 (and 2008, but we’re not here for that), Stallone carved a new niche for his action ability in the form of John Rambo, a traumatized Vietnam veteran.

After a debut in ‘First Blood’ that actually gave us a grounded action film that used drama, humanity and tension as its main driving points, it’s two sequels “First Blood Part II” and “Rambo III” threw humanity out the window (literally) and cranked up the chaos to 10.

Muscles bulging as he waged war against the Vietnamese and Russians to save POWs and innocent people, Rambo became the invincible one-man army whom America and the world could count on.  Armed with  rocket launchers and sub-machine guns, bow and arrows and hunting knifes, Rambo proved Stallone could deliver the sort of story fuelled action audiences wanted, and it continued over his career with the likes ‘Tango & Cash’, ‘Demolition Man’ and ‘The Expendables’.

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Bruce Willis

An interesting case study indeed when you look at it. Out of all the action heroes of the 80s, Willis looked least likely. He wasn’t imposing to look at, not intimidating to hear talk and his career launched in the 1984 US comedy drama TV show ‘Moonlighting’ and the 1987 comedy romance film ‘Blind Date’.

Fox produced a film based on a 1979 novel ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’, a sequel to the 1966 book ‘The Detective’, which was adapted into a 1968 film starring Frank Sinatra and allowed Sinatra to accept or decline to star in the new film. He declined. Arnold Schwarzenegger declined it as a sequel to ‘Commando’. Who was left to cast? Bruce Willis, obviously.

Now when you say the words ‘Die Hard’, it conjures up a film often agreed to be the greatest action film of the 1980s. A simple story about a New York cop saving hostages inside a skyscraper whilst taking down a small army of European terrorists was just what people wanted. Full of explosive action, snappy humour, a surprising world-weary and iconic portrayal by Willis of NYPD cop John McClane and a villain as dastardly and suave as them come in the guise of the late, great Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber.

‘Die Hard’ quickly became a template to base an action hero saving the day against the odds, and shaped the hero who could be an everyday cop in the wrong place at the wrong time, not just a muscle bound war hero or super soldier. It launched four sequels, video games and also Willis’s career into action orbit and also the greatest debate going in movies today – “Is Die Hard a Christmas film or not?”.

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Sigourney Weaver

The 80s action market was a place for men. Women had little chance to show they could do as much damage as the guys sadly, but one woman took a role, built it up over a franchise and proved that with the right support, it wasn’t just the men who could kick ass and save the world…or galaxy.

Sigourney Weaver has her niche in drama and comedy, but her action debut came in a little known sci-fi film in the late 1970s called ‘Alien’ that had her go up and survive against a deadly alien being in space, where nobody could hear her or her ill-fated male crew scream. The role of Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley was a big boost to female talent at that time, and while Weaver continued her box-office draw in comedy with other classics such as ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Working Girl’, the 80s saw her return to the role of Ripley in 1986s ‘Aliens’.

This time, Weaver led a group of male supporting actors as space marines to return to and wipe out the colony of aliens and their queen to save the galaxy from extinction. Weaver gave just as good as she got in terms of attitude, action and ability. A fine actress of her generation, she carried over a humane side to her tough-talking and ass-kicking Ripley going up against the deadly aliens and held her own, much like John McClane in ‘Die Hard’, being an everyday person up against the odds but who handles weaponry and heavy machinery as easy as breathing. Weaver cemented a successful and iconic role in an already iconic franchise and is one of the few female actors to carve out a successful action hero over the years.

Now, sadly, I have to rein this piece in because I could go on exploring defining actors and their roles for many more pages, but you all have lives and I must let you get on with them.

I hope this small glimpse into what the 1980s gave us in terms of action resonates with you. A handful of international actors helped produced dozens of action films with the support of creative talent such as James Cameron and Joel Silver that would resonate for years to come and also help launch female talent in front of and behind the camera around the world. The 80s gave us simple pleasures without the need for extensive plots, complicated stories and bloated character development. The era is almost a golden age of simplicity and it’s that simplicity that makes it so easy to return to watch any action film of the time for nothing but entertainment and enjoyment.

There are many more stars out there I could have mentioned. I’ll leave you with a handful more here to explore in your own time as ones who also helped define the action decade:

  • Jackie Chan (‘Police Story’, ‘Project A’)
  • Jean-Claude Van Damme (‘Bloodsport’, ‘Kickboxer’)
  • Harrison Ford (‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’, ‘Blade Runner’)
  • Mel Gibson (‘Mad Max 2’, ‘Lethal Weapon’)
  • Chuck Norris (‘The Delta Force’, ‘Missing In Action’)
  • Kurt Russell (‘The Thing’, ‘Big Trouble In Little China’)

Yippie-ki-yay, mother f….

Alien: Covenant – Timeline Explained And The Details You Need To Know

Written by Jo Craig

With the release of ‘Alien: Covenant’ landing this Friday in UK cinemas (US May 19th), and Ridley Scott’s recent blunder unveiling ‘Alien: Awakening’ as the third prequel, preceding possibly another three chapters, heads are starting to roll over the structure behind the franchises timeline. We know ‘Covenant’ will be the official sequel to 2012’s ‘Prometheus’, introducing another crew piloting the titular vessel that discovers an uncharted earth-like planet.

But how will this instalment stand with the previous featurettes, and will the timeline fall into place and tie to the 1979 original?

Let’s take a look at the chronological timeline to date:

‘Prometheus’ (2012) – Year 2091

Kicking things off with the first of Ridley Scott’s prequels, archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a star map to the moon, LV-223 and assemble on board the vessel Prometheus to travel to and excavate the uncharted planetoid, creating our first look at humanity’s interaction with the Xenomorph kind. Despite only encountering Facehuggers, with a brief look at an original Alien in the closing scene, the crew only battle with themselves and the attempted lift-off of the Xenomorph spacecraft. Scott never really revisits the confined ambience expressed in the original 1979 story, but makes an impressive representation of scale on LV-223 with the introduction of humanoid aliens and one of the first droids, David (Michael Fassbender).

‘Alien: Awakening’(?) – Set between 2091-2101

Originally featured in an interview with Fandango, Ridley Scott accidentally divulged ‘Awakening’ as his third prequel title, allegedly meant to be set after ‘Prometheus’ but before ‘Covenant’. This is where the timeline became a puzzle. Judging by the fact ‘Covenant’ is supposed to take place a decade after ‘Prometheus’, this would place Awakening somewhere in these ten years. Hopefully ‘Covenant’ will give some insight into what backstory will be featured in the prequel of a prequel.

‘Alien: Covenant’ (2017) – Year 2101

Sailing through the decagon and we’re presently at ‘Covenant’, where a new colonial ship, equipped with a fresh crew and next level droid, Walter (Michael Fassbender), explores a new planet they consider to be an ‘uncharted paradise’. You can find all the details we know about ‘Covenant’ further down this piece.

‘Alien’ (1979) – Year 2122

Discrepancies over what year Scott’s brainchild, ‘Alien’ was set in is still an on-going talking point among resolute aficionado’s, however the consensus states that the journey of the USCSS Nostromo took place around the year 2122, thirty years after the birth of the ships third in command, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and twenty-one years after Prometheus. During the first act, we’re introduced to the Xenomorphs and the discovery of their planet Hiveworld, where executive officer, Kane (John Hurt) is attacked by a Facehugger, later dying from the birth of its spawn, via Kane’s torso, the Chestburster. Ridley Scott and DoP Derek Vanlint created this oppressive nature with tight shots and choking vignettes that set the bar for future chapters.

‘Aliens’ (1986) – Year 2179

Fast forward fifty-seven years, while Ripley and her cat Jones are in hyper sleep, and we arrive at James Cameron’s sequel, logically placing the year as 2179. Although Cameron removed some of the weight previously seen in ‘Alien’, the terrifying threat of the Xenomorphs continued to terrorize Ripley and her return to a now human inhabited Hiveworld to try and exterminate the Alien species with a team of military personnel.

‘Alien 5’ (Rumoured) 

Neill Blomkamp first hinted at his vision of the ‘Alien’ franchise while working with Sigourney Weaver on ‘Chappie’ in 2015, explaining his rendition would forget the events of ‘Alien 3’ and ‘Alien: Resurrection’ to be “more liberal” with the outcome of ‘Aliens’ characters, Newt and Hicks. With Ridley Scott’s assurance that ‘Covenant’ would go into production first, deterring any overshadowing, Blomkamp’s ambiguous sequel was put on “temporary hold” despite Weaver stating to EW “it’s satisfying to me to give this woman an ending.”

‘Alien 3’ (1992) – Year 2179 (approx.)

After another brief hyper sleep on the Sulaco, Ripley crash lands on Fiorina 161, a correctional facility situated on a foundry establishment. Ripley and the inmates lure and capture a Xenomorph that was birthed by one of the prisoners, concluding with the arrival of a rescue cavalry and Ripley’s pre-meditated suicide. Presuming that Ripley only slept within the same year that ‘Aliens’ was set, ‘Alien 3’ is placed within the same year, assuming she was only asleep for a short period of time. David Fincher helmed the third instalment (at the time) resurrecting the art-house horror effect that Scott produced in 1979.

Alien: Resurrection (1997) – Year 2379

Jumping 200 years into the future, Ripley returns as half-human, half droid from the DNA samples taken before her arrival on Fiorina 161. Droid Ripley is created on the USM Auriga, joining the crew to once again attempt to eradicate the Alien species after the escape of imprisoned Xenomorphs that a team of Scientists were experimenting on. Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s conclusive excerpt in the franchise appeared to be blatantly unaware of the approach of the previous three films, approving bizarre scriptwriting from Joss Whedon and half-arsed character building. Jeunet never harnesses the character of Ripley, albeit she was a clone, but ‘Resurrection’ does nothing to enhance her or continue Scott’s successful tactility.

What We Know About ‘Covenant’

Filmed in Australia and New Zealand, the sixth film of the series has elements pertaining to the poem of ‘Paradise Lost’, the original title for the film. Initially planning to follow Dr. Elizabeth Shaw on her next adventure, Scott explained that “Paradise cannot be what you think it is. Paradise has a connotation of being extremely sinister and ominous” thus revealing groundwork for the current narrative.

PLOT

Travelling to an isolated planet on the far side of the galaxy, crew members, Daniels (Katherine Waterson) and Oram (Billy Crudup) of the colonial vessel Covenant, discover what appears to be undiscovered paradise. Upon this planet, they meet David (Michael Fassbender), the droid survivor from the futile Prometheus mission, and soon encounter an alien life-form that threatens their existence.

It’s clear that Scott wanted to represent ‘Paradise Lost’ from the very start, creating an alleged ‘paradise’ for the Covenant to uncover, later revealing the planets sinister nature when it’s exposed as alien turf.

The film’s original plot failed to hint at Elizabeth Shaw’s return, however after being spotted on an Australian set and added to the IMDB cast list, it is assumed her account will tie into Daniels mission, if only revealed in flashback from David’s account. David is also the only other link that would tie Prometheus to its sequel, as he will surely retell his account of the failed ships endeavour.

WALTER / DAVID   

Firstly, Michael Fassbender is returning to play the previous films droid, David. ‘Covenant’ will explain that after the events of ‘Prometheus’, David travels to the planet of the ‘engineers’, to unearth the creation of mankind and why the Xenomorphs were created (possibly as weapons). “You’ve got to go back and find those Engineers and see what they are thinking,” Scott explained to Deadline.  

Secondly, Fassbender will be portraying an extension to the David-8 synthetic line, Walter, with dark hair and an American accent. While no depth has been divulged for Walter’s role in this film, we know he will be on board the Covenant as part of the crew exploring the new planet.

Ridley Scott’s son, Luke Scott (Morgan), directed a short advertisement, ‘Meet Walter’, unveiling the manufacturing of the droid and the understanding that he has been constructed without human emotions. This is a significant upgrade from David, as Walter is believed to struggle to perceive the concept of friendship with crew member Daniels. Michael Fassbender even described him as similar to Spock.

COVENANT CREW       

Katherine Waterson will play lead, Daniels, alongside Billy Crudup as fellow colonist Christopher Oram. Fassbender will appear as the droids, David and Walter, as well as other crew members, Tennessee (Danny McBride) and Faris (Any Seimetz).

According to the IMDB cast list, Guy Pierce is set to cameo as Peter Weyland, along with a short performance from James Franco, helming the ship as Captain and Daniels’ husband.

RIDLEY’S CREW     

 

While Ridley Scott is directing his third addition to the ‘Alien’ franchise, Scott, Amy Greene (X-Men: First Class) Mark Huffman (Prometheus) and Michael Schaefer (The Martian) will all produce, leaving cinematography to Dariusz Wolski (Pirates of the Caribbean) and music by Jed Kurzil (Assassin’s Creed)

After taking over screenwriting from Jon Spaihts for ‘Prometheus’, ‘Lost’ mastermind, David Lindelof jumped ship on this sequel completely, handing the story over to Jack Paglen (Transcendence) and Michael Green (Green Lantern) with screenplay by John Logan (Gladiator). Green is also penning Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ sequel, proving Scott has a fair amount of trust in Green’s abilities,

With the noteworthy success of ‘Prometheus’, achieving a 72% on Rotten Tomatoes, we can expect ‘Alien: Covenant’ to contend as a commendable extension to the ‘Alien’ prequels, created in the safety of originator Ridley Scott. The duality of ‘Paradise Lost’, a theme that moulds the ‘Covenant’ plot, was hinted at in ‘Prometheus’ through Shaw’s excitement at LV-223’s discovery and was cleverly extended and enhanced for its follow-up. The ship’s crew look like they’ve returned to exist within the original franchise, as the ‘Prometheus’ crew appeared too refined and unbreakable in a sense. Michael Fassbender will lend a familiar layer to another unfamiliar vessel and voyage, as well as the return of the evolving Xenomorph species.

Noting from the trailer, it suggests ‘Covenant’ will be similar to its prequel in portraying grand scale with spectacular open terrain, but also harness the smothering environment and tension on the ship as the 1979 original mastered. Audiences will also be keen to find out how ‘Covenant’ will conclude and if it will perhaps give reference to the beginning of the Nostromo.

Overall, ‘Covenant’ will hopefully draw out the clinging terror that brought about the franchises original success, with ten times more Alien action and characters that you don’t want to be squashed by a spaceship donut.

 

 

Blomkamp Alien Sequel Ready To Go

Neil Blomkamp, director of ‘District 9’ and upcoming release ‘Chappie’, claims Hollywood executives are all set to put into motion his sequel to the legendary ‘Alien’ franchise. Sigourney Weaver is lined up to reprise her role as Ellen Ripley, a role she has played through the four previous ‘Alien’ movies. Blomkamp however, is the reluctant party, with doubts over the plans to reboot the series. Read more here.