Alien (1979)

70cca-alien_movie_posterIn the wake of other Sci-Fi smashes like Star Wars (1977) and Close Encounter of the Third Kind (1977), Alien was a radically different film, since it lacked the same sentiment of its precursors. One would wager a guess that this core variance stems from director Ridley Scott who certainly is no George Lucas or Spielberg. His films are generally darker, more world-wearied, and disillusioned. Blade Runner is a perfect illustration of this, but three years earlier came Alien, a Sci-Fi Horror film of immense critical acclaim and impact even to this day.

The film opens as a spacecraft called the Nostromo gets ready for a return trip to earth after a commercial excursion by its 7 member crew. However, a distress signal halts their plans and the captain named Dallas (Tom Skerritt) resolves to go investigate. On the surface of the abandoned planet are the remnants of what seems to be an ancient alien empire. One member of the crew Kane (John Hurt) comes upon a chamber full of what appear to be eggs and as is expected he is attacked. We knew it was building up to this point.

Back on the craft, Kane is still alive but now he has an octopus-like alien clinging to his head. It’s an acidic situation because it appears to be feeding him oxygen and it has no plans of coming off anytime soon. Next, comes the calm before the much-anticipated storm as the tension slowly increases exponentially.

What ensues is a cat and mouse game between the crew and this belligerent alien which has grown increasingly larger. Its evolutionary adaptations make it seemingly immune to extermination, but the crew tries desperately to destroy it with electric prods and flamethrowers. Soon it’s difficult to know who the cat and who the mice are, but it certainly favors the alien.

It doesn’t help that Jones the cat is on the loose and there is even a bit of mutiny aboard the craft. It feels a bit like a tense Agatha Christie novel with person after person slowly getting knocked off. But that sensation does not last long when we actually see what we are dealing with. This creature has no conscience. No humanity. It only cares about survival by killing its prey. To win you must do the same and beat it at the game.

Thus, although I initially thought it a weakness to only have one alien, it turns out that it makes this film all the more tense. Also, very little of the action actually takes place outside of the ship. They are stuck on board in the middle of outer space fighting for their lives. Not much can be more horrific than that, and it is a very unnerving ride with surprisingly good pacing and many graphically shocking moments

The cast is a nice diverse group of actors including Skerritt, Hurt, and Ian Holm, but Sigourney Weaver is undoubtedly the standout as 3rd in command Ellen Ripley. She is the last one to keep her head and her story would set the framework for the entire Alien franchise. Not to mention the role propelling Weaver to stardom and introducing the archetypal model for future female protagonists.

Alien definitely has a lot to offer and I am excited to see the next installment Aliens. That added “s” has me intrigued.

4.5/5 Stars

A Man For All Seasons (1966)

a4d49-a_man_for_all_seasonsSir Thomas More had the misfortune of getting in the way of perhaps one of the most notorious kings in history, and it proved costly. It is the early 1500s in England, and the Reformation has shaken the world but Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) has his own plans for the church in his country. He is bent on getting his marriage annulled by the pop,e because young Anne Boleyn will be much more likely to give a healthy heir to the throne.

A Man For All Seasons focuses on the position of More who at the time was Lord Chancellor of England. First, in talking with Cardinal Wolsey, More resolves not to sign the letter to the pope on the king’s behalf, because it goes against his conscience. Later, in his dealings with Thomas Cromwell, More resigns rather than to sign an oath making Henry VIII the supreme leader of the church in England.

Except there is more to it than that. More certainly was not a dissident or a rebellious political figure. Far from it. At least in the film, he is portrayed by Paul Scofield as a constantly even-keeled and gracious man in all circumstances. When a young man named Rich (John Hurt) sold More out for a high title, in a Christ-like response More has only pity for the fellow. Selling his soul for the world is worse enough, but Rich did it for Wales.

Not even the pleading of his newly-wedded daughter (Susannah York), or his strong-willed wife (Wendy Hiller) can change More’s conviction as he wastes away in the Tower of London. Sir Thomas went calmly to his death confident that his faith in his Lord would give him eternal peace. He died there for a seemingly trivial reason at the hands of men who used to be his friends. But he died with his conscience intact.

As I acknowledged, Paul Scofield is such a serene force during the storm of this film. The portly Orson Welles and Leo McKern seem to fit their roles well, and Robert Shaw has enough bluster to pull off Henry VIII. A young John Hurt turns in a fine performance as the Judas of the film and Nigel Davenport is commendable as More’s exasperated friend the Duke.

Adapted from a stage play, here is another highly acclaimed film from director Fred Zinnemann. Perhaps it is the period drama, but this film strikes me as very English and it did very well for itself. I suppose because it’s a tale that is universal and audiences love to identify with men such as Sir Thomas More. Zinnemann was always superb at capturing the inner struggles that humanity is often forced to confront, and he did it once again here.

4/5 Stars