Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Alien (1979) ****

R, 117 min.
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusset
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Kotto, John Hurt, Bolaji Badejo, Helen Horton (voice)
Designer: H.R. Giger

Is it possible that “Alien” would’ve been nearly as successful were it not for the amazingly original designs of Swiss surrealist artist H.R. Giger? Now, that I’ve asked it, I realize it’s an absurdly stupid question. The answer is—of course not. Giger was awarded an Oscar for his work along with the visual effects team. He was remembered for the rest of his life for an art style that without the movie would’ve kept him only on the fringe of knowledge to the public, only known to those within the dark niches of the art world.

What he created was an alien (well, actually two different aliens—one in four different life stages—and an alien space craft) unlike any audiences had ever seen before or would ever see from another source. In many ways, his alien was the very first adult alien to be seen in movies. “Alien” was one of the few space fantasy movies to be aimed strictly at adult audiences, and Giger’s alien reflected that. Even George Lucas’s melting pot of aliens from the cantina scene in “Star Wars” two years prior were still the things of a child’s imagination. With designs based on such things as hammerhead sharks and cloaked children, the sophistication of the “Star Wars” universe of alien beings was simple compared to Giger’s.

Based on the fears we all share of bugs and a strange underlying sexuality that can be observed in almost all of Giger’s work, his alien was the thing of adult nightmares, a corporate asset that existed only to destroy our lives. It was a humanoid bug that had not one, but two sets of jaws to eat us from the inside out. Its blood was acid, making killing it problematical using traditional methods of defense and attack. And the way Giger was able to blend the organic with the mechanical was the foundation of his vision.

We like our worlds separate. This is work. This is play. This is fantasy. This is horror. This is death. This is sex. Giger mashed them all together to create the ultimate adult nightmare of a total loss of control over our expectations of the world. His alien was the physical embodiment of that theme that pervaded all of his work. He was an artist destined to create something like the alien. Without him cinema could never have been the same.

H.R. Giger died today in Switzerland at the age of 74 from injuries he suffered in a fall. His entertainment work extended far beyond “Alien”. He contributed album cover artwork to Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s 1973 album “Brain Salad Surgery” and Deborah Harry’s 1981 solo album “Koo Koo”. His contributed design artwork to the films “Dune”, “Poltergeist II” and “Species”. He was not a company man and often disregarded much of the credit he received for Hollywood films; however, he forever changed the way we all felt about space. “In space, no one can hear you scream.”  Thank you, Hans, I think.

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