JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: WORDS ABOUT A SCIENCE FICTION MASTERPIECE ON ITS FORTIETH ANNIVERSARY, RIDLEY SCOTT’S “ALIEN” – THE IMPORTANCE OF CASTING IN FILMS IS OFTEN OVERLOOKED – A COUPLE OF EARLIER GREAT SCIENCE FICTION FILMS   Leave a comment

John Chuckman

COMMENT POSTED TO A REVIEW BY ED CUMMING OF A CLASSIC FILM IN THE INDEPENDENT

 

“Alien: How Ridley Scott’s masterpiece has stayed relevant for 40 years

“The intergalactic horror film remains one of the most influential films in recent history”

 

“Alien,” and only Ridley Scott’s original, none of the truly awful sequels, was indeed a masterpiece.

It ranks with the greatest science fiction films ever made.

It had a solid basic story to tell, and it told it extremely well. Great cinematography and editing.

Some of the scenes, such as that of the crew landing on the alien world in response to a beacon call, will remind old aficionados of some bubble gum trading cards of the 1950s – card sets like Bowman’s Jets, Rockets, and Spacemen, 1951, or Topps’ Space, 1958.

_______________________

If you’re interested, I’ve collected them and others on-line:

http://chuckmannon-sporttradingcards4.blogspot.com/

http://chuckmannon-sporttradingcardsvolume2.blogspot.com/

________________________

I attribute a good part of the success of “Alien” not to any special effects, although it does have those and they stand up well after forty years, but to the casting, something so often overlooked in science fiction films.

The cast made a wonderful ensemble, each totally believable in his or her role and each reinforcing the other cast members. You really felt something for this little group of people locked into a terrifying situation deep in space.

That is so true, it is hard to think of changing even one member of the cast without reducing the film’s effectiveness. That is something quite rare, and I can only recall a few other instances.

“The Day the Earth Stood Still,” and only the original 1951 version, has that same quality of everyone being so perfect for their parts that the entire film is lifted. This film also has a woman heroine, Patricia Neal, in what I think of as the performance of a lifetime. It was directed by Robert Wise and uses, somewhat late in the day, many techniques of film noir and uses them superbly well.

“The Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” again only the original version from 1956, and directed beautifully by a young Don Siegel, also had absolutely perfect casting. One of the stars, Dana Wynter, qualifies I think in this film as the most beautiful 1950s-style woman of the decade. Every member of the cast is indispensable. Just perfect.

I don’t know whether Ridley Scott ever identified his sources for the story of “Alien,” but, being an old science fiction fan, I know them.

The main one was a ‘B” film from the 1950s, called “It, the Terror from Beyond Space,” starring Marshall Thompson. All the essential storyline for Alien is there, a low-tech production in venerable black-and-white.

Another “B” film, from the 1960s, “Planet of Vampires” starring Barry Sullivan has a different story, but the sequence with the discovery of the dead giant lifeform sitting in a chair is instantly recognizable.

_____________________

Response to a comment:

Yes, I tried to like Scott’s “Prometheus,” but it really was a failure. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

I think it proves how unimportant special effects can be, because it had them in spades.

But it lacked a solid story to tell, and, frankly, I thought some of the cast quite awful.

____________________

Response to a comment:

Yes, the Nostromo was refreshingly old and shabby instead of all spotless.

And how fitting that it was a giant ore-hauling ship, like one of those monster trucks and diggers that work in the Alberta tar sands.

______________________

Response to a comment about Sigourney Weaver’s role:

A true observation. Sigourney Weaver was terrific.

And when I saw the film again recently, I was struck by how very young she was at the time.

By the way, she made an interesting little film in Canada in 2006, called “Snowcake,” one of the wonderful Alan Rickman’s last appearances.

It’s “small” film, but she is terrific as an autistic woman, and film has some very touching scenes.

LEAVE A COMMENT

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: