Tuesday, 11 September 2012

"The name's Bond... James Bond"

A Review/Essay of 'Casino Royale' and 'Quantum of Solace' by James FitzRoy

WARNING: This review/essay & the connected video contain spoilers.

As it's the 50th anniversary of the big screen adaptations of Her Majesty's suave secret agent and the new film, Skyfall - Bond's 23rd outing - is on the horizon, I decided to combine my various reviews into this new essay of the most recent transition of Daniel Craig as James Bond.

A   S I L V E R S C R E E N   L E G A C Y

James Bond had begun well with a brutal yet playful, and utterly sharp Sean Connery but ever since then, the original concept for the character has been slowly removed from Ian Fleming's original concept. There was a predatory nature to Connery; a look in his eyes that could lead at any moment from joy to danger. He also managed to maintain a suave sophistication and an aloof nature that came with the profession. Although George Lazenby gave the character a fair stab, his bond was locked into reminders of the past. But 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' did rein the action back to realism which helped - concentrating more on genuine tension rather than set pieces. He did however give his James the man's most intimate moment in his love, marriage and the final doom of his wife Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo (played with great gusto by Diana Rigg). After Sean Connery returned for the very peculiar 'Diamonds Are Forever', the OO7 badge was handed to Roger Moore who took the character in a very different direction. Never one for getting too close to the action or stunt-work,  there was always a feeling of separation between man and action. He was more gentle with his manor and quicker with the wit which - along with the large-scale productions and inventive gadgets, pleased audiences worldwide. But when his time came to hand in his licence to kill, Shakespearean actor Timothy Dalton gave the character a darker, meaner burst but never quite married the brutality with the lighter touches. He did however bring much more credibility to a man on a mission for queen and country with 'The Living Daylights' marrying real-world, pre 9/11 politics to slick and inventive secret agent action. His burst of action seemed authentic but his quips when using Q's gadgets never quite gelled. Unfortunately, Timothy didn't stay to help broaden and evolve his interpretation of the role with 'Licence to Kill' effectively killing the screen character for six years. When OO7 returned, it was in a glossy new tux as warn by Pierce Brosnan. To begin with, Pierce was perhaps closest to a unified character of strength, Englishness, action-hero and suave gentleman, but the stories his Bond was placed into became increasingly more outlandish and unrealistic. 'Goldeneye' was a fun film with some lame effects and a silly ending while 'Tomorrow Never Dies' was a terrible film that unravelled its entire mystery in the opening act. This was followed by the increasing pomposity of 'The World Is Not Enough' ("I thought Christmas came only once a year." - audience groans) and 'Die Another Day' which were preposterous excesses in special effects and inventive but unrealistic action.

A   N E W   B O N D   F O R   A   N E W   A G E

Again, what James Bond needed was a complete regeneration. The decision was made to start afresh and turn the first and darkest of Fleming's books into a film (that is, a film of the main cannon that was not a 60's parody). This was now an age of hard punches, gritty fights and realistic, non-gravity-defying action brought by films like 'The Bourne Identity' and its sequels and Bond needed to come back to Earth as had been tried previously in films like 'Licence to Kill' and 'For Your Eyes Only'. This was a welcome return after films of exponentially increasing silliness. Bond needed to become an intrinsic part of his action, he needed to be hands-on and he needed to be at the very cutting edge of a world that was becoming increasingly less black and white.

T H E   A G E N T   P L A Y S   T H E   G A M E

Bond no longer had SPECTRE or the Cold War tension of the 20th century to be concerned by; Post Iron Curtain and 9/11, the world is now a very different place. His (and his nation's) enemies are now bomb-makers, terrorists, guerrilla fighters, militia and - international bankers... Combining these elements with a high stakes poker game in Montenegro was a stroke of genius; here, Bond is playing a game and gambling with more than the stakes at the table. The new Bond would combine tuxedo-clad gambling with bloody-nuckle fights.
Without time to wait to scope the scene, this Bond begins with explosive action - he has a bomb-maker in his sights and isn't going to let his prey go. Even when his target slips into the safe haven of an embassy, it is not enough for this agent. Like a beast of pure fitness and instinct, this Bond doesn't pause for a heartbeat; he continues into the embassy, captures his prey then obtains valuable information from the bomb-maker's bag. Of course, M is not happy with her young, new OO's disrespect of the embassy rule - and perhaps more importantly, the fuss it causes in the media - but this is all mute for the raw agent in pursuit of his target. Still on the hunt, he breaks another cardinal rule and enters M's London apartment to hack into files using her laptop. She is displeased with him but holds back because she knows her man and understands his thirst for the chase. She must have dispatched many a young man (and perhaps woman) to their doom, people who may have gone for queen and country with a spark of passion in their eyes. Yet she begins to believe that she might have a longer relationship with this agent.
The OO7 that grows from the brash man of action to suave sophisticated agent is wonderfully handled by Daniel Craig who brings a boyish charm and a sense of first-time wonder to the moment when he puts on his perfectly tailored tuxedo. It is clear that he loves his job; he loves acting the part and gets energised by the confidence to come face-to-face with his foes. He may be a government agent but it's clear he loves the opulent lifestyle of the super-rich.
Bond is unable to hide his obvious attraction to Treasury official, Vesper Lynd, the beautiful young woman who captures his eye and ensnares him like a classic femme fatale. Yet beyond this attraction, he has a growing appreciation and respect for the woman who understands exactly where he comes from, what motivates him and how to compete with him in a game of brash swagger. Eva Green brilliantly portrays a  woman of depth and intelligence, a woman who understands the power that she can use but battles against her own beauty. A woman who hides a secret that torments her soul. And here is where 'Casino Royale' separates itself from Fleming's books (including his first novel from which this film is based) and the legacy of the Bond films; the women in Daniel Craig's films are cogent, forceful and rounded characters with their own drives, secrets and ambitions. They are not objects that just fall into Bond's path to be saved or abused. There is a definite attempt to move away from the misogynistic past that had always dogged the Bond of previous generations. The OO7 movies had moved quickly from Cold War tensions but it took a while longer for the women to be treated with more respect. Craig's Bond begins as a young force that is tamed by his new status and his connection to Vesper, but there are other aspects to the character that begin to surface. The carnage he leaves in his wake becomes evident; Solange, the woman he takes to bed and whom provides him with the direction to his prey, is left by the roadside.
"Quite the body count your stacking up. She was tortured first, as you'd already killed her husband, she must have been the only one left to question. Did she know anything that could compromise you?" M asks.
"No." Bond replies.
"Not your name? What you are?" She pushes.
"I would ask you if you could remain emotionally detached. But I don't think that's your problem, is it Bond?"
"No." Sounding completely emotionless.

After a sudden and brutal fight sequence, Bond respects Vesper's reaction to the explosive act of violence and shows her a tenderness not seen prior. He does not profess his growing feeling for her, he shows it in a moment of tenderness by comforting her in her time of need. It is clear she has tried to keep up with the sport but is struggling to deal with the bravado and its violent offspring. As he comforts Vesper, it show Bond's new attitude towards woman and fleshes him out as a better man, a man for a more responsible age. Bond has grown up, the stories have left behind the imperialistic politics, and James has left behind an age of misogynistic womanising. Objectifying women had always been a negative aspect of the books and films but things have changed here.

Until a key moment in the poker game, Bond had worn his conceit on his sleeve but when his (he thought) misguided faith in Le Chiffre's tell had lost him his hand and the treasury's money, Vesper had refused to give him a second chance and the game was over. A sudden lack of options reawakens the brash hunter, but CIA agent Felix Leiter reveals himself at the most opportune of moments and makes Bond (the new sophisticated Bond) an offer he cannot refuse. Now that he is back in the game, Bond realises he was right all along in his observations of Le Chiffre's tactics and in this moment his haughtiness begins to settle as he finds patience to match his confidence. This is the beginning of the story of James Bond for a new age, we are witness to the making of a man and this transition happens within and surrounding the poker game with his foe sitting directly across him.
Later, Bond's arrogance in his success clouds him from Vesper's hidden secret and in the film's final stages Bond's mission dramatically shifts gear. Bond is captured after a dramatic car chase and crash, and wakes to find himself in a very delicate situation. Bond at the beginning of his career has stumbled, found success and has fallen for a strong women in trouble, and now he faces an important and very difficult lesson. He stands true to his character and his inner strength. There is no laser-beam inexorably heading towards his genitalia but echoes of classic Bond are reflected as if through a mirror darkly. "Do you expect me to talk?", "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!". The tables have turned and it is now Le Chiffre who has nothing left to lose. It's Quantum's agent, Mr. White who frees Bond and Vesper. He wanted to silence the rouge banker but he also needed Vesper alive, and Bond's death would bring too many eyes in the direction of Quantum. But Bond's intimate connection to Vesper will eventually lead him back to Mr. White. After surviving torture with his manhood intact and a great deal of respect from Vesper, Bond is ready to pack it all in. He is hoping for a new life, a completely fresh start with the woman he loves and a bank account filled with money the US government can afford to lose. And it's in the closing stages that the deeper threads begin to come together. While Bond tries to rescue Vesper, she cannot live with her betrayal and sacrifices herself. Bond's dream of escape is shattered, for OO7 the realisation is that the hunt is never over as there is always a higher threat or a new foe ready to step forward from the shadow of a dispatched adversary. At the moment when Bond becomes a full man, he has lost more than even he dares to admit. He had forgiven Vesper of her treason, understanding that they were both afflicted souls that had briefly found solace in each other.

F I N D I N G   S O L A C E

A 'Quantum of Solace' picks up the story and the emotions directly from 'Casino' and is, perhaps, for Bond what 'The Dark Knight' is for the Bat. Not quite a film to stand on its own but as 'Casino Royale Part 2' it works brilliantly. Thrusting onward, it provides the emotional and physical pay-off that 'Casino' required and it defines Bond as the leading man for this new age of OO7. The youthful Bond established in 'Casino' has now matured. He's captured Mr. White and is on the hunt for Quantum (a secretive organisation of bankers and oligarchs - the manipulative power behind governments with echoes of SPECTRE), the people that drew Vesper to her death. This film is evocative and atmospheric, but it is also brutal and dark in tone and theme. Many of the usual Bondian clich├ęs of worldwide travelogue have been dropped and even 'Casino Royale''s elongated travel-shots have been replaced by dramatic captions stamped on locations and a much pacier urgency to the narrative. The locations matter less as exotic places to wow an audience that can visit every corner of the world for themselves, but they matter to the story and its players. Bolivia and Haiti are countries ravaged by rich businessmen toying with dictators in order to make profits; money that is taken into the depths of Europe to be enjoy on the latest spectacular opera.
From the opening chase sequence to the interrogation of Mr. White, the sensation is that the Bond that played the game in 'Casino' has truly crashed landed here. The story acts like a arid desert leaving you with a dry mouth and a thirsty sensation of characters purely focusing on survival and revenge for their loss in a world manipulated by the rich and powerful. This is a film about realisation: James Bond realises that his 'OO' status brings with it a life filled with pain and affliction. He realises that he will be alone and, fittingly, he starts to drink away pain with a Vesper (the cocktail he invented and named in 'Casino'), his trust in others beginning to dissolve away. And he is not alone, Camille also seeks revenge and learns that the cost of this could be far more than she is willing to sacrifice. It's because of his love for Vesper, not in spite of it, that Bond is drawn to Camille. And with echoes of the relationship between Bond and Vesper, Camille sees a kindred flame burning in him. In a different world and at a different time, their relationship could have blossomed.
As established in 'Casino', Bond is a man who acts with lightening speed, without pause for contemplation, James will snap into action at the drop of a bullet casing. Emotions were usually sacrificed for action but here emotions are allowed to get in the way of, or help drive the action. It is rage and grief that empowers the fresh agent, they bind him to Camille yet also act to overwhelm both sex drive and duty. Much like Dalton in 'Licence to Kill', old-style Bond with his fast humour and quick sexuality is scarified for the mission and its emotional drive. And it's in 'Quantum''s quiet, reflective pauses that we feel Bond's growing isolation as he stares at the oil-drenched body of Fields, holds the dying Mathis in his arms or shields Camille from a inferno that is about to consume them both. Through these moments, Bond is still struggling to work his own conflicted emotions through the maelstrom.

"You might like to tell her your theory about there being no oil. Her lungs are full of it."
"It was Greene."
"No doubt, but why?"
"Its just misdirection---"
"I mean, why her Bond? She was just supposed to send you home. She worked in an office, collecting reports. Look how well your charm works James. They'll do anything for you, won't they? How many is that now? You're removed from duty and suspended pending further investigation."

M is clearly upset with the loss of such a young, innocent girl and echoes of the death of Solange from 'Casino Royale' reverberate as Bond begins to leave a trail of death in his wake.

The promotional material and reviews describe this film as Bond's 'revenge' for the death of Vesper but I think it's far deeper than this: He's after answers and some explanation, which could perhaps lead to a little solace. Although unclear to few but himself, Bond's renegade actions are a smokescreen to dig deeper and when M wants him back his replay is simply that he never left. But here, M is beginning to trust her razor-sharp agent even if she still has to play the part of employer needing to rain in her rebellious employee.

"Do you think you'll be able to sleep now?" Camille asks.
"I don't think the dead care about vengeance." Bond replies seriously.
"I wish I could set you free." Camille reaches over and lightly touches his head, stroking his bruised and battered face. "But your prison is in there."
He leans in suddenly and kisses her as if to say thank you and sorry at the same time.

If Bond believed that Vesper would not care about vengeance, then was he acting for his own gratification? Was his mission as personal as Camilla's in vanquishing the ghosts? As Camille gently deduces, he is still imprisoned by his love for Vesper and it drives an obstruction between them.
From the very opening scene, the film moves at a breakneck pace. Its abrupt and dynamic in choreography and editing alike. Every single shot (and many of these a just a few frames in length) matter to the pace and the process of the action-narrative. Blink and you'll miss important moments that help explain how Bond gets out of these hairy situations. The process of an object as it tumbles to the ground past fighting agents has as much relevance to the action as everything else. Yet beyond the exceptional and bristling energy, the director, Marc Forster deserves extra praise for keeping the emotional resonance as taught as the pace. The cinematography replaces the crisp beauty of 'Casino' for a dry grittiness that matches the punches of action. In an age of overbearing digital effects and green screen unreality, it's a pleasure to see real locations and feel tangible action.
In this time of worldwide economic breakdown sparked by a 'banking crisis' there is little love for those that manipulate for their own greedy ends. Behind the action, 'Quantum' provides a poignant reminder of the modern world with its vast interconnecting markets and fragile environments where a few powerful people maintain evils to squeeze the last remaining drops of water from communities already living in hardship. And here is where the film's intelligent pay-off comes into play: Subtle hints throughout tell us about the need to secure the world's remaining oil supplies (this has been a standard story element of many a film including previous Bonds), but there is a sharp twist in the tale when the prime commodity is revealed as humble but live-giving water. Mathieu Amalric plays the ruthless predator, Dominic Greene brilliantly; he's a quintessential capitalist disguised as an ecological saviour, interested in profit far more than natural resources and willing to deal with anyone much like Le Chiffre had done in 'Casino'.
During one sequence, Bond enters the heartland of the rich and calmly slips into a Quantum meeting conducted during an opera performance. The build-up of drama is matched by the evocative score and the realisation of the complexity of this shadowy organisation. The sequence's bloody pay-off is brutal action intercut with operatic segue moments - itself a performance of blood and death. This is fast-paced, brutal modern cinema at its best and it ends with Bond coming face to face with Greene before killing a double-agent leading to instant trouble back home. In a digital age of instant global communications, MI6 can view a bad situation immediately and act with blistering speed - a difficult situation for Bond who has to act with his own brand of speed and perspective.
In the end, what we have is a film similar to 'The Dark Knight': Where 'Batman Begins' introduces us to a darker, more realistic Batman, 'The Dark Knight' pushes the world and the man, forcing him to come to terms with the realities of his chosen career - challenging him to extremes. This new Bond certainly has influences in the dark brooding grief of Bruce Wayne and the desperate search for identity of Jason Bourne.
With 'Quantum', the use of technology pushes the action rather than slowing it down for an sideways wink. The politics and landscapes are an intrinsic fabric of the narrative rather than a travelogue of picturesque destinations. The characters and performances are focused, deep and driven, fitting snugly into their world of assassinations, revenge and blood-soaked violence rather than the camp Moore or fanciful Brosnan. In this new Bond, fights hurt, loss is felt and a an agent alone in the wilderness has to find whatever he can to survive on a razor's edge between a desert of solitude and death. The fresh rookie introduced in 'Casino' is becoming the hard, alcoholic in 'Quantum'. This is Vesper's legacy to him. As Bond and Camille stroll out of the desert in tuxedo and black dress, they have truly come face-to-face with themselves, what drives them and the realisation of the nature of their world.
Both 'Casino' and 'Quantum' mark a great and ferocious beginning to the new Bond. We have seen the moulding of raw energy into a sophisticated agent and we have also seen the man begin to find solace as he becomes increasingly isolated, realising the destructive nature of the world he inhabits. Whether he is satisfied with the quantum of solace when he drops Vesper's necklace into the snow at the end of the film is a debate for another time...
In this experimental short film, I used UNKLE's 'Against The Grain' track with its evocative lyrics and emotional, sweeping music to lend explanation to the of the film and the newly regenerated Bond.

E X P E C T A T I O N S   O F   S K Y F A L L

What will become of Quantum? Will there be references to Vesper and other threads from the series so far? I suspect that due to the problems with MGM and the delays in bringing Skyfall to the screen, the film will distance itself from previous elements and try to bring back some more classic themes from James Bond's past as well as some of the more recognisable visual cues (the teaser poster makes reference to the gun-barrel seen sparingly so far). I suspect that the silly, big-scale effects bonanza is well and truly dead. In this world of realism, there is little room for the winks to the audience, Q's gadgets or wry humour that so overbalanced Moore's Bond but perhaps some of these elements will return in 'Skyfall'. Having found his quantum of solace, perhaps Bond will be less sad and grief stricken in order to truly becoming the man on Her Majesty's Secret Service. Bond's wit in the face of the totalitarian humourlessness of his sadistic foes had always been a part of his arsenal of survival, and perhaps as he recovers from past torments, he will learn a to use jocularity in the face of doom.
The hope for 'Skyfall' is that we finally get Bond on track as a suave and professional secret agent, and from the trailer, it looks like this could be the case. We have a pedigree director, a great cast, a smattering of blistering action and mystery and the film seems to continue the darkly cinematic look of Craig's Bond magnum opus.
Images & Footage for Video © MGM, Columbia, Sony Pictures
Music for Video by UNKLE - Against the Grain
© Review & Video James FitzRoy 2012

Saturday, 8 September 2012

12Shorts for 2012: September's Short

It was a cool evening on the last day of August and a chill was in the air... I had forgotten to close the window. But it didn't matter, I had managed to finish my 8th story for the year. The Endless Voyage had been a bit of a struggle to complete; as I was writing, it had mutated, evolving into something new while moving away from my original concept. I kept on thinking about ghosts and poltergeists on a space ship and the characters kept taking me back to conspiracy and computer viruses... Perhaps I'll try and write a good ghost story another time in another place... with another title. Not sure if it will be one of 2012's 12Shorts though.

Without a moment's pause from the end of one epic tale, I jump headlong into the next. For some time now I have wanted to create a world set in humanity's distant future. I have wanted to see a world where just about anything is possible, as long as it does not contravene the laws of physics... I was thinking about wormhole travel and complete gravity control and transmutation of matter and cloning new bodies and minds that can exist in a non-corporeal world, where people can live forever if they desire and where technology and capability would give these characters god-like mastery over their lives and their environment. It could be a comment on how we will handle and live with technology in an extremely projected state... or it could just be a ripping yarn.

These ideas were all well and good but I needed something tangible to hang them on and this had been the problem. I had a clear grasp of the science and technology I wanted to fill this universe with but not the humans I wanted to inhabit it. If the characters in this story are to be god-like super-beings, how do I find the quirks that make the characters human, the intricacies that make us interesting? Perhaps what will make us interesting will come from different world, brave new worlds.

I started writing with some vague, ghostly ideas about an agent being called upon to go on a very delicate mission. Yet as I write, I am beginning to realise that I am not quite where I want to be in my far-flung setting. I'm going to see where the story takes me but I don't want to get bogged down with the setting too much... Perhaps the story will have a sequel set centuries further into the future where I can experiment further. A fresh playground for my human gods.


This is the tale of a genetically engineered agent momentarily returning to his corporeal self to complete delicate negotiations and an undercover mission. It's the first story which has properly featured aliens and where technology plays an integral part in the characters and their interactions. The technology is the make-up that connects people; these distant humans are people of the stars and products of science. The agent will be replete with modifications to his body that will allow him to work in the most extreme of environments and he will be given a countdown to an alien destruction of a valuable archeological dig.

It has no title yet but I'm considering 'Departing Infinity Ocean'
A Short Story by James FitzRoy [Work in Progress]

12Shorts for 2012

January • 12Shorts#1 • The Magician • 

The story of a sleazy late-night magician who hides a genuine gift in a city that comes alive at night.

February • 12Shorts#2 • Paradigm Shift • 

A girl goes on an adventure to discover the true origin of her home; humanity's remaining city.

March •12Shorts#3 •  Cosmological Constant • 

In an alternate turn-of-the-20th-Century, an English astronomer discovers gaps in a night's sky filled with light.

April • 12Shorts#4 • Watching the Watcher •

A man and woman share a relationship through several meetings and a game of voyeurism.

May • 12Shorts#5 • The Battle of Words •

The story of a struggling writer left alone for the weekend, desperately trying to make a start on his epic novel.

June • 12Shorts#6 • The Pilgrimage •

A transport ship crashes on a strange alien world with a deep secret, the survivors decide to continue their pilgrimage but are faced with an uncomfortable truth.

July • 12Shorts#7 • Future's Past •

A conversation between two highly evolved forms of Artificial Intelligence reveals observations about humanity.

August • 12Shorts#8 • The Endless Voyage •

A colony ship on its way to a another solar system encounters a series of problems that could threaten not just its 10,000 passengers in cryosleep but the future of the entire human race.

September • 12Shorts#9 • Departing Infinity Ocean •

A genetically engineered agent momentarily returns to his corporeal clone to complete delicate negotiations and an undercover mission.

October • 12Shorts#10 • Miss-Management • ???

A possible comedy tale about inept middle management.

November • 12Shorts#11 • Phase Transition • ???

A possible story about an AI point of view as it studies its creators.

December • 12Shorts#12 • Quantum Entanglement • ???

A story I have been working on for months: The tale of twins separated but sharing a quantum connection.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Long Drive

A Micro Story by James FitzRoy
July-September 2012

3am, is that all it is; 3am? Feels like it should be much later than that. Will this trip ever end? Feel like I’ve been away from home for years. Okay, must stay focused. Still have a long way to go. I feel so strange. Is that an effect of the journey or is something else happening? Should know by now; I've done this enough times; nothing should come as a surprise.

Why does that light look so strange? Is that a UFO? No, why would it be so low? Perhaps it’s landing. God! Why would a UFO be landing on the road at 3am in the depths of Cumbria? Perhaps they are collecting lost souls, there are plenty of them on the road at this godforsaken hour. But that would be conclusive evidence of… oh, wait, it's just a truck with a ridiculous light display. What am I thinking; I don't even believe in UFOs. I’d better try and overtake it before I start thinking about something stupid again.

Great, the road is too winding; nowhere to overtake. Okay, I’ll just sit behind the annoying, flashy bastard. Just sit here. I can follow him for a bit. ‘Least I don’t have to think about the road. What was that fact about airflow and following in the backdraft of a vehicle? Or was it the slipstream...? Can I save fuel by following closely? I may as well use him for a while. Trying to get close but it’s difficult on these roads. At least the proximity will keep me focused.

I’m beginning to lose focus on the lights. The proximity is not helping and I drop back to a safer distance. I know these roads; if the flashy bastard were to break suddenly, I'd be in trouble. Never mind, I don't mind dropping back. I still have a long way to go. Still such a long way. I'm back at 40. The needle on the speed dial begins to blur.

I'm wondering again; off into another universe. Done this trip several times, but although the road is physically nothing new, each time it's a new voyage of discovery. This time it's early summer and I'm off into the wilds of Borneo on the hunt for... what was that she called it? The Supernova, that's it. I had a different, a technical name for it but her name stuck. The drive through the jungle had been arduous; close heat enclosed by a canopy like a heavy roof in a room with no air-con. We had stopped at the Palace of the Gods, where we finally found the Supernova - displayed like a captured jewel from a foreign campaign. But the path out of the jungle had been much harder than the way in. I open the window a little; the night's brutally cold air blasts my face and pulls me out of the jungle. Within seconds, the stale atmosphere of the car is replaced. I wasn't able to do that in the jungle.

That's another 20 gone; least I'm eating up the miles. The truck turns off giving me a free, open road but at 3:30 I'm feeling drained; it's just me and the rolling landscape like a surreal, slow motion roller-coaster. I've been on long drives in many locations but somehow this one feels the most isolating. The landscape of black rolls by with indistinct shadows played out around the car's headlights. The sky is clear and filled by the multitude of the galaxy. A billion possible journeys could be made to those stars but the end-state would not be what I wanted or needed, for they would only take me away from home. And I wanted to go home.

The grey and black world outside is blurring into a miss-mash of vague textures and ghostly representations of the real world. I feel my eyes closing but am powerless to stop it, as if I'm leaving this reality and falling into another. What is reality anyway but a collection of data streamed into the sense organs and then interpreted by the brain which relies on evolved programming, learned knowledge and its own wiring to read reality? The sound of the car's engine becomes a deep rhythmic hum that taunts me, lulling me into a daze of mixed reality. The car feels like a patchwork quilt that I can pull up against the cold. What is our reality but perception and interpretation? But I know that reality is more than perception; that there are unified laws of nature that exist throughout the universe no matter our interpretation of them and this sudden memory forces me awake. My eyes blink repeatedly and I open the window further besides the icy cold air now buffeting my cheek.

Lights approach from behind. Jesus he's driving quickly. The lights bounce from the rear view mirror and penetrate my scull. Must stop myself from speeding up. Not sure if I can match his speed anyway. I'm too tired for that. Maybe I should slow down instead, allow the guy to pass. I start to bring my speed back to 40 but the crazy sod closes the gap, tailgating me. Idiot. Must be an Audi driver; late for some mind-numbing middle-management meeting. Finally, a patch of straight road and the Audi isn't waiting a single nano-second. He spots the opening and as I slow further, he drops a gear and powers past. Yes, I was right; Audi TT in flashy white. Within moments the TT is miles ahead, its red lights like devil's eyes against a pocket of white illuminating the world ahead.

Finally, I am alone once more. I pass a sign: 'M6 South, 2m'. Still have so far to go. M6 South, Lancaster, Preston, Manchester, Birmingam… I won't be home until the sun rises but I can make good time on the motorway. Would have been easier to get a flight but I needed the drive, time to think after the expedition and the momentous discovery of the Supernova. The ocean crossing to the safe-house in Iceland had given us time to make arrangements for the next expedition but the short trip across the North Sea at winter had been bitterly cold and nauseating. The Supernova was now safe in our repository in Iceland where it will remain until my meeting with the team early next year. We had already talked about the next expedition with the primary candidates being the Globe, which was last sighted in the South China Sea and the Heliosphere - the heart of the device, which is rumoured to have been recovered from Siberia by some Russian oligarch or other. We were closer than ever to having all the pieces to the Galaxy - as we were calling the device - but it would still mean many more weeks away from home and many more long drives into the unknown. I didn't want to think about any of that now. This long drive was taking me home for Christmas and that was all I wanted to think about. Robin and the girls would be over-the-moon to see me and the thought of their faces lighting up is enough to make me smile.

I slip onto the motorway and close my window as the car’s speed picks up. I shiver against the cold and turn the dial to blast hot air into the cabin - at least just for a moment. It is dangerous but the cold is just too uncomfortable. I try to cruise at 70 but its difficult with such a flat, open and empty road. I pass the occasional truck; proof that others still existed in this reality. I didn't want to think about how the Galaxy would rewrite our understanding of history. The team were all ecstatic by our progress, of course. The pieces were all in such good condition. Painstaking analyses had proven that the five pieces were created to fit together but were later split up and - eventually - dispatched to the five main continents. My speed keeps on creeping to 90, the road is too straight, connected like a electric cable, plugged from this dark void of semi-reality, into my family home.

I put off the road into the first service station. I just can't do it any more. I want to stop thinking about the Galaxy. I want to stop drifting into this parallel dimension. I need some caffeine. I pull into the almost empty car park and slip into the station. A man yawns behind the counter of a newsagents. A couple of truckers sit at a table and quietly chat. I ask the ghost of a woman behind the counter for a double-strength black coffee.

I find myself drifting as I stare out through the large windows - harsh, peroxide light becomes the black world of possibilities beyond. It's 4:10 and I calculate I still have another three hours. I know the caffeine is going to work, it will help me get through the night and get to my family in time for the festivities. I keep Robin's smile and girls' cheeky grins with me to give me strength. Besides my arduous travels all over the world, my long drive home seems like the longest I've ever taken. Have to stay focused; can't let the Galaxy get in the way of my first real holiday in years...

Reality is the beating heart of the universe but that universe is filled with inconsistencies and none-more-so than the progress of logic in human history. My voyages away from home have been a percept shift in my mind's eye, a paradigm shift establishing proof that our view on the heavens was shifting dramatically centuries before the Scottish Enlightenment and a new dawn for human understanding.

I can see the end-state; I can see the final pieces of the puzzle coming together and forming the Galaxy. It is the law of closure. I can see a two and a half thousand year mystery finally resolving like a car driving out of thick mist. The Galaxy had been constructed to make sense of the heavens to an architect who belonged to an age of enlightenment. The architect had been given the tools and the freedom to observe and question and make calculations and his Galaxy had been an early shining beacon of understanding. It was lost when Athens was sacked by rival city-state Sparta, never to be seen again. If my team and I are correct, the Galaxy - a heliocentric, portable clock for calculating the position of the planets - will prove that the first great human enlightenment would have rewritten our understanding of the heavens and perhaps ended several hundred years of darkness had it been allowed to continue. It had been clear to us that Aristarchus of Samos' observations placing the sun at the centre of our system were deemed heresy when Athens fell and its age of reason went with it. The Galaxy had been broken apart and sent to the winds.

I stare into the dark void and think again about the ultimate what-if question: It is the same question that must have been asked about Charles Babbage's Difference Engine. If the engine had been constructed, might there have been a computer revolution in Victorian England? Would Athens have survived; what might have come of their enlightenment and its product; the Galaxy? Would we now be taking long drives, not around the globe but beyond our system to the stars of our galaxy?

Besides the excitement I feel, I have to put it aside. I still have a long drive home to my family. To the people I love; the real future rather than the long gone past of possible futures.

Friday, 31 August 2012

The Nostromo's Discovery [Alien Review 2]

Alien Review 2: Alien

-----{ INTRODUCTION }-----

23 years after its release, 'Alien' still feels fresh, yet its style, structure and content has been copied a million times over. It's a simple story; a haunted house/slasher movie set in space. But, because of its attention to detail and the original artifice of its threat it becomes far more than its b-movie origins. Setting this horror film in space makes it something very special where even a drop of acid-for-blood can cause disaster by burning through the hull. The characters collect a strange organism and inadvertently take it with them as they continue home, but when the killing starts, they cannot just run away or call for help. They have to face their threat completely alone. The threat is an organism, which, unbound by the rules of evolution on Earth could lead to anything. And in this, it shares its horror with Carpenter's 'The Thing' (1982), itself based on the 1951 original 'The Thing From Another World'. But where 'The Thing' played with physiological identity, 'Alien' focused on the naive humans stumbling into a cold universe filled with terrors and on the process of sexual and childbirth horror.


Huge sets and costumes were built to make the people seem ineffectual and powerless in this dark, dirty and dangerous universe whether lost as specs in an alien landscape, minuscule within the mighty structures of their own ship or as naive pawns for the Company. With the enormity of this scale in mind, during the early stages, the characters are given enough room to breath and small moments to help turn their characters into real people. After a long pan across an alien system for the opening titles and a lingering shot of the huge scale of the Nostromo and its hauled rig, the directer, Ridley Scott, keeps things small, tight, claustrophobic and very much on a human scale. The camera swoops through the empty living quarters of the Nostromo; this place is cold and hard and although an artifice of humanity, it is devoid of human comforts. The camera settles on a console screen that springs to life and cuts to an empty helmet that watches; is this the very structure of the Company looking in, observing, always present because it the architect of the crew's transport and eventual doom? After the early introduction of ship and crew, we slowly begin to see more of the ship and the scale grows until the Nostromo sets foot on LV-426 to follow Company policy to investigate an unknown transmission. And it's when Kane, Lambert and Dallas leave the comfort of Mother (MU-TH-UR) to walk across the alien landscape when the scale truly becomes operatic. The suit helmets are designed to be extra large making the characters look like children lost in an alien playground (children were even enlisted as actors to increase the scale of the Nostromo's landing legs). And here is the reveal of a key theme: The humans in this universe are powerless children 'protected' by a Mother, waking as if being born and now wondering into a vast, cold universe of complete unknowns unaware that the Company will happily sacrifice them to get its prize.

-----{ A FAMILY UNIT }-----

With a group of ten characters (6 humans, 1 android, a cat, an alien and the ship), the story is able to focus on the people and their plight. Like a family, it is clear this crew only just get along; there is bickering and arguments and snide remarks behind people's backs.

When we first see the crew together around the 'breakfast' table, these characters and their relationships become apparent; apart from Ash, these people have known each other for a while and are relaxed in each other's company. They are generally accepting of their places within the hierarchy of the ship but above it all, they are just happy that this long-haul mission away from Earth is over and they are finally returning home. Yet from the beginning, we never hear anything about these's peoples friends or families back home; they are divorced from the world they see as home.

The class differences on the Nostromo also added a little conflict between the decks. There are delicate touches too; third officer Ripley is clearly seen emulating captain Dallas; Kane is keen and excited by the prospect of exploring the unknown; Lambert has no interest in leaving the comfort of the ship and is not thrilled by any of it; Ash is fighting against his excitement at the enormity of his secret directive; Dallas is weary and tired but just following procedures; Brett and Parker know their access to bonuses is via the higher ranking officers but they despise them and can't stand them coming down to 'their' section to 'check' on what they do. The film is filled with little quirks like these that help elevate it and help these characters and their relationships play against the enormity of the sets and the growing plight of their predicament. These touches are not just given to the human characters; Jones the cat is seen several times and becomes like a reminder of Earth that needs to be saved; the ship, Nostromo, is the mother that is supposed to protect her children but ends up providing an environment that could kill them; and of course the alien world, derelict ship and alien itself and filled with subtle nuances.

Kane is the first to rise and the first to fall. Although Dallas' character is the subtle glue that holds them together like a strong but relaxed father, it is Kane with his positive strength and fearlessness who's death is like a slap in the face of the others. And it is clear that they are still in shock when they give him a burial in space. While Parker and Brett bicker about pointless monetary issues and Ripley tries her best to be as officious as the captain, Lambert just tries not to get involved while whinging at everything and Ash tries to keep his secret hidden while his interest in the alien grows and his alienation by human emotions becomes obvious.

-----{ GROWING DREAD }-----

The long, slow, almost ponderous progress of the film's first half is a quintessential part of its success. We know that something bad is coming but for the first-time viewing, that dread must have been incredible as cameras take an eternity to drift around rooms where anything could happen in sets designed with an inordinate amount of shadows. In 1979, this type of horror had never been seen before: the dirty, used and lived-in future that used to belong to the white, antiseptic purview of '2001: A Space Odyssey'. With so much time devoted to the setting and the characters, a great deal of empathy builds for them and their predicament, whether it be the forced landing on LV-426 by Company orders or by the monster they unleash. This build up pays off with a series of escalating problems that barely give the rapidly diminishing crew time to think and plan their next strategy. They were woken after a long voyage, happy to be returning home but find themselves not even half way there. They are forced to alter course to investigate something they have no experience or expertise to deal with and its this realisation that begins their personal dread. What then happens is an escalation of problems in greater severity starting with a simple contamination issue which seems to resolve itself. But after Kane's death they then have a seemingly small infestation problem which needs to be dealt with before they can return to the freezers; this quickly becomes a very big problem as the alien grows with exponential speed. When the captain dies, it seems there is little hope but just battle on until either one or the other wins.


Everything in the film is a construct of the Company...

Swiss painter and sculptor, H.R. Giger was enlisted to bring his wonderfully alien industrial-sexual horror art to the film and cleverly, the production design was split among two other people with Ron Cobb, a trained engineer designing the human ships and graphic novel artist Moebius designing the costumes. This effect really gave the world of 'Alien' a three-dimensional quality; LV-426 and the derelict alien ship really felt like an alien place; an advanced alien craft had never been represented as fossilised bones before and the moon of LV-426 felt alive in its death with terrible storms, unearthly quiet and snorting bursts of steam. This wasn't a moon with a neon green sky or a world that looked like the desert outside LA, this world was based on the science as seen by probes sent to our closest planets. In the cinema (and especially in 70mm) the sequence where the crew of the Nostromo walk to the derelict ship is absolutely incredible: Pinpoints of helmet-light move through a vast and utterly alien landscape. The sensation is that these pathetically small humans are walking in a universe they have little power to control. This was a cold, dark, chilling and immensely unforgiving world of the unknown.

There are hints throughout the first half that something is not quite right with their LV-426 task, most of these concerns centre around science officer, Ash. From the beginning he seems slightly unhinged from the others; Parker even makes the point of cleaning his seat because he does not like the man. Yet in the beginning, it seems that he is just a cold scientist. But it is when Dallas, Lambert and Kane leave the ship in search of the source of the radio transmission when he begins to show signs that something else is at play. He is clearly excited about the expedition and desperate for the crew to find something even though they walk into transmission blackout. And when they return, he overrides Ripley's authority and lets the potential hazard into the ship. From the moment when she wants to take a closer look at the alien signal, through her command on the ship when Dallas and Kane are not onboard, to her concern about Ash, it is clear that Ripley shows signs of being an intelligent, competent commander that warrants her later strengths in deeper dangers. "Why don't you freeze him?" Shouts Parker in yet another attempt to bring reason to a world of growing madness that he and Ripley alone seem to see. But where Parker lacks the intellectual ability or rank to fight for answers, Ripley does just that. Only after Ripley reveals her concerns about Ash and pushes Dallas for answers does the captain reveal to her that Ash was brought in by the Company as a replacement for their previous science officer just before they shipped out. "Did you ever ship out with Ash before?" Ripley asks, confused and concerned. "I went out five times with another science officer. They replaced him two days before we left Thedus with Ash." Dallas says with his weary tone. "I don't trust him." Ripley reveals. "Well, I don't trust anybody." The captain replies like a slap in the face.

Ash: "Ripley, for God's sake, this is the first time that we've encountered a species like this. It has to go back, all sorts of tests have to be made."
Ripley: "Ash, are you kidding? This thing bled acid, who knows what it's gonna do when it's dead?"
Ash: "I think it's safe to assume it isn't a zombie."

And again, when Ripley is concerned about Ash's say on preserving the 'facehugger' life form; "Look, I just run the ship. Anything that has to do with the science division, Ash has the final word." Dallas says to Ripley. "How does that happen?" Ripley replied. "It happens, my dear, because that is what the Company wants to happen." Dallas is exasperated. "Since when is that standard procedure?" Ripley enquires. "The standard procedure is to do what the hell they tell you to do." Dallas reveals.

Did Dallas know about the directive? As Ripley later proved, the directive was accessible by an emergency override command. Was this knowledge and its growing realisation why Dallas placed himself in suicidal jeopardy by entering the air-ducts or was he just apathetic to the Company's orders? It becomes Ripley who alone sees Ash as a danger and - once she assumes the role of captain - finds out the truth that she tried to get Dallas to investigate: Ash has been programmed to get the organism back to the Company on Earth; the crew are expendable.

Ripley: "Ash. Any suggestions from you or Mother?"
Ash: "No, we're still collating."
Ripley: [laughing in disbelief] ... "What? You're still "collating"? I find that hard to believe."
Ash: "What would you like me to do?"
Ripley: "Just what you've been doing, Ash – nothing. I've got access to Mother now, and I'll get my own answers, thank you."
Ash: "All right."

While Ash keeps his desires separate from the others and tells Ripley that he and Mother are "still collating" when she pushes him for an explanation, his respect for the alien grows until the revelation of his secret and Ripley's 'alien' emotions finally make him crack. In a shocking scene when we had believed the alien was the only threat, Ash attacks Ripley and emulates the beast he admires with an aural rape. Yet on repeat viewings, it is clear that Ash is becoming increasingly unhinged from the rest of the human crew; it is clear that he struggles with the outbursts of human emotion and cannot deal with it like a mature adult. Was this due to his hidden directive? Was this because he was not properly gifted with a databank of human qualities so that he could understand and deal with them? Or was it because these were left out by the Company so that their agent would not find heroic respect for the crew and save the day? It is clear that in a future where androids can be constructed so brilliantly, the latter question would make the most sense.

The Company is kept several light-years away here; everything they do they have done through programmed commands and company policy. It is clear they knew about the transmission and knew there was something that needed to be collected from LV-426. It is also clear the Company knew it was an organism and had planted Ash with a mission and embedded a directive into Mother to secure their prize. How it knew about the transmission and the organism is a mute point; they knew and were keeping this to themselves. (Of course, we learn nothing about the future beyond the Company so respects, the Company could own and control everything). What later became the slogan for Weyland-Yutani (the Company) - "Building Better Worlds", becomes a perverse metaphor for corporate greed and capitalism; on the one side building the ships and the colonies that would help humanity to expand to the stars but on the other, sacrificing anything in order to get to its real profit. Whereas 'Blade Runner' gave mention to off-world battles and colonies as places to escape to, in 'Alien' no mention is made of what the Company wants with its organism, what wars are being fought or what other places exist. But like 'Blade Runner', Weyland-Yutani could easily be the Tyrell Corporation; constructing super-humans to work as slave labour.

The Company's implanted directive that leads to the escalation of events is summed up by Ash who has been fully aware of the Company's plans. His final line "I can't lie to you about your chances, but... you have my sympathies." before smiling chillingly, is a portent of greater evils to come.


A lot can be said about the sexual horror within the film and much of this came from the writers in trying to create a different alien threat and Giger who designed the adult beast. Yet the references begin far earlier than the introduction of the alien. The crew awaken in their cryosleep pods like babies being born, resplendent in nappies (a reference never seen again): this crew are toddlers waking to an adult universe filled with unknown horror. They are woken early by Mother, their ship and protector against the harsh elements of space. The cryosleep room even looks like a womb buried in the heart of the Nostromo.

But its when we arrive at the derelict alien craft and the Space Jockey that the sexual connotations begin to form; As the crew investigate the alien derelict it's like they are walking through the inside of an alien body; corridors are made from bones and look more like an oesophagus or a fibromuscular tubular tract; the fossilised remains of the Space-Jockey had been killed by something that burst from its chest, its bones bent outward. The Space Jockey itself looks like a mixture of giant prehistoric beast, technology so advanced its unrecognisable and pseudo-sexual gimp costume and apparatus. There is a hole melted into the floor that looks like an open wound in the body of the ship - a hole into the ship's makeshift womb - and when we enter the bowels of the derelict, thousands of eggs sit, their 'facehugger' occupants in their own kind of cryosleep, patiently awaiting a victim. Of course the connotation of the egg as new life is obvious but how they are activated and spring open and the nature of the baby that is inside is where the true thrills begin. The hatched creature is a simple being that has but one purpose; to fasten to the opening of a host and stay connected while it impregnates the comatosed body. A man (Kane) is impregnated with what will become the second stage in the lifecycle of this alien creature. After impregnation and dreams of "smothering", the sexual horror continues with the birthing scene in what has become known as 'the last supper'. Here, we see the conclusion to the surrogate male impregnation and gestation element; the birth being pain and horror of childbirth from a man's perspective. Later, we see the shed skin from the growing adolescent alien looking like a used condom. When the alien becomes a full-size adult, we have all the ingredients for sexual horror: a phallic protruding mouth, a look of focused terror, dripping with goo, its head shakes as if it in excitement by its penetrative acts of murder.

When Parker and Lambert are alone, desperately trying to prepare for a final flight for survival, the alien finds them. At first the alien approaches Lambert who is frozen by fear; yet the alien makes no quick move to kill her and only when Parker approaches as an obvious threat does it dispatch him quickly and as swiftly as the other crew members. But once Parker is out of the picture, it returns to its approach on Lambert and here we see something very different from the alien. This is not just some mindless beast; it's clear the monster is teasing the weak, fragile and pathetic woman who can not possibly offer it any threat. The beast's long, boney tale is then seen rising between Lambert's legs. Lambert's death is handled off-camera and heard only through a terrifying string of sound over the fully active communication system. Did the alien seek pleasure in the long tortured death of Lambert? Is the alien male and did it look upon Lambert as a fragile woman (no matter the species) that it could rape?

Unfortunately, these dark sexual themes are only touched upon here and never really continued or expanded upon in any of the other films. In 'Aliens', James Cameron ignored almost all of the sexual horror subtext in favour of his story of parenthood while in 'Alien3' this was reduced again to a mixture of beast-vs-humans with a smattering of Biblical subtext that remained like ashes from the story's very different origins. In Alien: Resurrection, most of the horror seen before was viewed as pedestrian and replaced by mutation and black comedy.

For the ending of 'Alien'; the film strips off all pretences and matches (male?) alien against female human in the last confined space available... the escaped shuttle craft. Believing herself free of the threat, Ripley strips to prepare for bed (cryosleep) while the alien silently watches like a voyeur. The alien's phallic second mouth is seen drooling as it extends over the beast's obvious excitement at Ripley's fear. Will it take its time to torture Ripley to death like it did Lambert? It certainly must have felt secure and confident in its little hiding spot after fleeting the destroyed Nostromo with its victim. But a new cinematic hero is born when Ripley combats her fears and uses her intellect to suit up, force the beast from its hiding place then turn her back on the monster in order to open the main shuttle door, all the time nervously singing, "You are my lucky star.". She then uses a harpoon gun to penetrate the beast before blasting it with the engines to make damn sure it is dead. Her final act of violence against the monster that killed her family is revenge mirrored in the destructive detail of the beast's destructive life.

-----{ THE XENOMORPH }-----

When the 'adult' alien, finally arrives in the later stages of the film it is a sleek, skinny beast with chest bones protruding and an elongated, shiny head. It lacks many of the features that we can connect to it emotionally; it has no eyes of facial frame-of-reference except a mouth. A mouth that can show nothing but teeth. It has a body that looks like it was vacuum packed into skin-tight PVC, ready for unspeakable sexual acts. It also possesses a quality of extreme focus; a body with no flab, capable of explosive action and able to achieve extremes in acrobatics. As seen throughout the later stages of the film, it is also a being of great patience, able to hang from dangling chains in the landing-leg room while Brett slowly comes into range. This monster is like a black spider, satisfied to wait for the right moment to pounce.

Without modern digital effects and with the problem that the alien looked like a man in a suit (albeit a skinny one), Scott rightfully kept the monster's presence on screen to a minimum relying instead on the effects of its killing, off-screen sound effects, shadow-play and the close up reaction shots of its prey. Although much is made of the adult form of the beast, its the complete life-cyle that intrigues and fascinates, yet these aspects were copied from nature on Earth - the very same aspects of parasitic nature that had disturbed the Victorian sentimentality about God's perfect creations. Even on Earth, the life-cyles of some creatures are disgusting and filled with the torture of other animals.

Within the deleted scenes (and later included in 2003's Director's Cut), we see the after effects of the alien's work. Ripley stumbles upon its 'nest' only to find the bodies of Brett and Dallas plastered to the wall, slowly being dissolved to become eggs - their biology breaking down to be reformed as facehuggers, no doubt. The scene is quite jarring when re-included into the film (as are some of the other re-inclusions) but it does help to explain a few things; how does the alien continue its species if it is taken away from its hatchery to become a singular adult of its species? Of course, this becomes somewhat redundant when the alien queen is introduced in 'Aliens' but because this scene was originally cut, this aspect of the alien life-cycle was left on the cutting room floor. However elements of it are repeated as the marines in 'Aliens' encounter the alien hive.

Beyond the Xenomorph, the film represents far more than the alien terror presented by the beast; the film's title represents a general atmosphere of dread. It's seen through the cold, metallic, claustrophobic and unyielding design of the Nostromo. It's seen through the unknown terrors of the universe and it's seen through the Company, the employer who created everything in their world and also provided their doom.


Buried within the film's themes of sexual horror are themes of parents and children. In a way, the crew of the Nostromo could be seen as a family with captain Dallas and Ripley as parents to a motley crew of children with Ash as an estranged uncle and Jones as the family pet. They certainly bicker and share meals like a family. But stepping back from this reveals them all as children nestled within Nostromo, itself called Mother. And the Nostromo has an "umbilicus" to the Company's valuable payload; "The money's safe, lets take her down." Dallas declares. As children of their Mother, the crew wake (are born) and first appear in nappies. And throughout the story, there is only one reference made to any life before this one when Ripley pushes Dallas for an answer about her lack of trust in Ash.

This story can perhaps be viewed as a fairy tale much like those by the Brothers Grimm. It's the story of innocent children thrown into a horrifying, dark and alien forest without their consent to face a beast that needs to be outsmarted. These children wake at the beginning and the surviving child returns to sleep at the end, like Sleeping Beauty, awaiting a point in the future when she will be awoken. Yet it is in Ripley that the film breaks away from this tale. She alone finds the strength to sever the umbilical of her attachment to the Company (to Mother) and make her own way in the universe.

-----{ CUES OF PURE GOLD }-----

Watching the film again, it's amazing what a contribution composer Jerry Goldsmith played. Although some of his cues and his end credits music were excised for earlier work (cues from Freud and a classical piece by Howard Hanson from his second symphony, respectively) were used they worked well. Even with this, and although the Freud elements seem to jar a little, the overall score is thrilling. It is always played at the right moments; leaving huge sections in complete or almost complete silence to build the tension. From the quiet tension of the opening titles, through the orchestral swell of the waking sequence to the dramatic landing, Goldsmith proved that he could cover the various visual styles as well as the deeper emotional elements. A key cue was the long reveal of the Space Jockey where Goldsmith's mastery of the classical elements mixed with strange and exotic electrical elements to highlight the scale of the crew's mounting dilemma. Later, he perfectly scored monstrous alien sounds to sit behind the rapid escalation of terror and although he never scored another alien film, he created themes that would stay with the series and the beast.

-----{ RIPLEY'S FUTURE }-----

"Final report of the Commercial Starship Nostromo. Third Officer reporting. The other members of the crew, Kane, Lambert, Parker, Brett, Ash and Captain Dallas are dead, the cargo and ship destroyed. I should reach the frontier in about six weeks. With a little luck, the network will pick me up. This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off."

Although Ripley defeated the beast and survived, the film closes in a quiet, solemn fashion. Ripley's closing statement about the time it will take to return to 'human' space and being the last survivor of the Nostromo closes the story with a mutated, chilling feeling. Ripley has survived but at what cost and to what future? With a powerful corporation that would sacrifice its own hard-working crew to get at a prize now searching for answers. Throughout, Sigourney Weaver's performance is brilliant, evoking a weary strength and intelligence combined with elements of fragile femininity without becoming a passive horror-movie cliche victim. Her outburst of emotion at the discovery of the Company's 'plan' shocks and confuses Ash like the 'chestburster' alien did for the rest of the crew. Her strength began with a deeper observation on what was going on along with a keen insight to investigate the situation further. Unlike previous horror films, Ripley's strength then became physical as she grabs the make-shift flame-thrower and cat box to set the detonation of the Nostromo's engines and make her escape. She truly transcends the origins of her character and becomes the heroic icon for a new age of strong female heroes. The proto-hero seen here would later become the heroine, forced to face her nightmares and try to rebuild her shattered life.

Images copyright 20th Century Fox

[The Alien Review Series will continue with 'War In Hadley's Hope']

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Consistent String of Insipidity

Please read me in a dry, monotonous voice;

Excitement was found dead in her local swimming pool in Deadly Kill City and the CSI unit were brought onto the case - ready to solve the puzzle or hunt for the DNA that would get them their criminal.

They looked high and low for the DNA that could lead them to the murderer of Excitement.

It was a difficult assignment as it looked like an accidental drowning but they were sure they could battle through the odds to investigate the crime in the allotted time, find the DNA and solve the crime of Excitement's murder.

The CSI unit split into two groups so that they could talk to each other about what they were doing just to make sure that the others in the team were aware of their actions at every stage.

Two officers investigated Excitement's apartment where they swob for stuff and dust for finger prints and stuff and use delicate tweezers to find some DNA.

They accidentally bumped into Excitement's neighbour, Creepy Guy, who was a strange young man with an evil glare and a malicious smile.

DNA samples were collected from the pool and from Excitement's apartment and brought back to the lab for examination by the nerdy tech guys.

Lots of jazzy in-your-face effects help us see what was going on with the DNA and in the Petri dishes and through the microscopes and on the swobs and through a funky representation of a computer fingerprint archive.

The evidence is building against Creepy Guy.

Video footage from the pool was scanned and cleaned up revealing information and detail that was never recorded.

A shadow is seen moving out of the pool leaving Excitement all alone.

It looked like the kind of hoodie Creepy Guy would wear.

When the results returned they did indeed find fragments of Excitement's DNA but the CSI team were confused about what had happened to Excitement and why so much of it had fragmented all over the place.

They also found fragments of Creepy Guy's DNA mixed in with Excitement so they decided to arrest Creepy Guy.

In the dark, cold and moody interrogation room, they questioned Creepy Guy who started by being coy and playful and smart but later, as the officer played along with his mind-games, he revealed that he had indeed killed Excitement because she had been too exciting.

They had solved the case thanks to DNA and a full confession.

Unfortunately, Excitement was dead and there was no way of getting her back.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The Greatest Show on Earth

Inspired by the book by Richard Dawkins, I took his reading from a passage of his book as the basis for this experimental short film. During the formation of the theory of 'evolution', Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace had noticed that the supposed perfection of nature as represented by the Christian ideal was in fact inaccurate. Species of animals and plants had not been created to fulfil a specific role, they did not live in harmony as if in an idealistic garden. Instead, all life was locked in a furious battle to complete for limited resources in harsh environments, and this competition gave opportunity for mutation to form adaptation and change. Richard's book helps explain just how far the science and specifically our understanding of evolutionary biology has come in the 153 years since the publication of Darwin's 'On the Origin of Species'. For this film, I shot footage from an idealistic garden with the words highlighting the deeper nature of the biology.