Saturday, September 24, 2011

Look into my eye

I went to see the film Aliens when it first came out (astonishingly, this was in 1986: this film is now 25 years old). My mum was there, and my brother and sister: probably one of the last times I ever saw a film with all of them. I've always had an abiding love for sci-fi, starting with Silent Running, which made me cry real tears for those lonely little robots when I saw it at my Granny's in the 1970s; and the wonderful, mysterious 2001: A Space Odyssey, from the year I was born, which I first saw on a  family trip to Arran in 1977 just after Elvis died, in a village hall, on an antiquated reel-to-reel projector that required a change of reel half way through, to shouts, jeers and moths fluttering across the screen.

My sister's friend Cathy was obsessed with Aliens, and had gone so far as to tape it off a rented video so she could play it in her bedroom. As a result she knew the dialogue by heart. I'd just started at Glasgow University and was very homesick for Edinburgh (this lasted about 6 months, or until I met a Glasgow boy, and after that Edinburgh was dead to me), so I used to come back on the bus every weekend and arrive on a Friday night at Cathy's flat in Gilmore Place. Sharing a bottle or two of (cheap, nasty) QC sherry, Aliens on the video, me and my sister and Cathy and her sister Jackie would get drunker and drunker until we'd start on the Thunderbird (see the Wikipedia entry for "low-end fortified wine"), maybe going out dancing later; idyllic times.

The pedestal upon which I've placed Aliens is, of course, partly due to those memories; but there are a few more reasons why I'd claim that it's the Best Film Ever Made, against which all other sci-fi films must be compared and, inevitably, found wanting:

  • The heroine, Ripley, is one of the few really excellent female characters ever to appear on film. She's neither sexless nor a sex object (the appalling Sucker Punch (2011)  is the antithesis of this: a borderline prurient film, where even in the midst of a lethal kick, the heroine's skirt is flying up to show her knickers) . She's someone to be taken seriously, she can carry and use a gun, she doesn't lose her head and/or scream witlessly under pressure, but she cares about the people around her. A genuine role model for women.
  • The dialogue is peerless. It manages to be serious and funny and believable all at the same time: I've never seen a better encapsulation of the cameraderie between soldiers. These are people you'd want to spend time with; and you know they'd have your back.
  • It hasn't aged. It's set in the future, of course, but there's nothing quaint about it, no silver foil, or over-the-top outfits, or hamfisted teleportation, or any of the other features of sci-fi that date badly in comparison with reality. Instead, the sets are utilitarian and the clothing is practical and unflashy.
  • The aliens are still genuinely scary. Sci-fi films are often a disappointment from the moment the monster appears; the build-up and anticipation is better than the reality, the creatures are often all too human. H.R. Giger created a completely believable, absolutely non-human and completely other creature. A creature with concentrated acid for blood...
  • It works on many different levels. As a really scary horror film; as a believable vision of the future; as both an indictment and a celebration of human behaviour; as a paean to teamwork; as a thriller; and as an action movie.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ah! plus ça change, ... yes yes, what a film! A rare thing, a sequel that can stand alone; better than the original some might even say, but one which always was always standing on the shoulders of a giant. Ridley Scott's seminal 'Alien' made in 1979. The character of Ripley (written as a male character and cast as a female, it has been claimed) and the incredible conceptual artwork of HR Geiger common to both films.
Although multiple viewings were as much borne of the mind numbing trawl through the straight-to-video second-rate american pap that built the internal walls of the late '80s video rental store. There wasn't much to chose from frankly. Something easy to forget in this multi-channel on-demand age. Later discoveries of European cinema thanks to the Edinburgh Filmhouse brought the films of Jean-Jacques Beineix, Leo Carax, Krzysztof Kieslowski and so many more. And the video rental store was abandoned. I still like a wee sherry though .... c'est plus la meme chose... (Sister Claire's friend Cathy)

LottieP said...

I think that part of Edinburgh was pretty well served for cinemas, Cathy, and I have fond memories of late night double bills at the Cameo (Blood Simple/Evil Dead?) - a proper cinema, as opposed to the self-conscious austerity of the Filmhouse.

Haven't tasted QC sherry in years, but I'm sure it would bring back total recall of Friday nights at Gilmore Place and your slowly decaying and much-played tape of John Sessions' solo stand up ("Could be... who knows..." and "Let the oiled-up man beat the gong for no apparent reason!").

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Claire said...

And don't forget The Fighting Temeraire. I would love to see that video again.