Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Planetoid Project: In Homage to ALIEN (Part One)

“My Little Alien Movie” by Steve Nyland. No blood or gore or scary monsters, and actually if you ask me the fun is over once they get back to the ship. There’s a Making Of video on the Planet stuff below & the story of how the did the scenes is pretty far out. I'm inspired enough after forty years to dare and contemplate making my own small version of it at my studio space in downtown Utica NY, and below is a short video outlining what I have in mind.

They filmed the Planetoid & Derelict scenes at Shepparton Studios in England which was then the largest soundstage in Europe, and literally made a desert planet surface inside of it at enormous expense, with sculpted attributes that echoed some of the forms later seen inside of the alien ship. Legend has it that the original “work print” assembly of the film invest almost an hour of time just on the planet surface, of which maybe twenty in all ended up in the final Theatrical Print. Then reduced even further in the Director’s Cut for pacing concerns & to make room for some of the more spectacular footage which fans had wanted to see. The Alien’s carnage is iconic, what took place on the planet, less so.

My lasting single image of the film will always be of the three space suited human explorers approaching the entry way to HR Giger’s very alien looking ship. That instant contrast between the familiar Apollo Program appearance of the humans juxtaposed against the giant gaping space vagina forms threw me for a loop as a twelve year old. And yes, I had a pretty good idea what the door shapes were based on. Sexual metaphors of a young guy about to enter puberty aside, what the image suggested to me was humans encountering or entering a truly “alien” environment where their normal human controls (radio contact, integrity of their space helmets, the fraying of Lambert’s nerves) would be neutered.

And so it stuck with me when images of the grown mature Alien creature biting people’s heads off became less impressive. The full grown Alien is to me an exercise in design right down to the selection of the artist for his signature creations specifically to give the film its “alien mystique”. It is ALL a massive celebration of art and design, including HR Giger’s Space Jockey creation which is the centerpiece of the whole Planetoid segment. People ask what is the Space Jockey? and I tell them it was a sculpture, the alien craft a gallery, and if they’d sensibly gone back to the ship after seeing it the movie would have been over.

The greatest sculpture ever made, and the only way to see it; 
In a space suit.

Instead they had to go poke down below decks through Kane’s bottomless pit. Good thing Dallas was willing to carry that climbing rig all the way there like a dumbass or the movie would have ended there as well. And what the heck, couldn’t they have rigged a shoulder strap for it? Poor SOB. Just by being willing to carry it Dallas strikes me as being woefully unfit for genuine command, and piloting a space tugboat likely the extent of his ability to do anything right. No wonder the Company chose the Nostromo as the ship to re-route.

Though ultimately the reason to have Kane go down the hole was budgetary: There wasn’t the money or time to have Giger design and build the entire flight deck of the Derelict, just enough to frame his Space Jockey shot. The Egg Silo into which Kane descends is the same set re-redressed with one hell of a badass matte painting blended over the sides of the shot. Kane’s willful idiocy aside, for me the main disappointment of the film has always been that we didn’t get to see Dallas and Lambert fish him out of his doom, presumably fashion their stretcher out of the climbing rig, and drag him back across the planet again without the benefit of lunch.

And by the way, propz to the guy(s) behind the “Everything Wrong With ALIEN in 11 Minutes or Less” for pointing out the glaring plot hole encountered when they do make it back to the airlock. The film sets up Ripley on the bridge as having some sort of master control on the airlock door but Ash pops it open with one push of a button after letting her play Captain for a while. Seems as though his ability to override her control on the bridge might be a liability in two departments: It gives a second person the option of breaking quarantine against protocol, and if she did have the only control what would they do in an emergency if there wasn’t anyone on the bridge to thumb the switch she allegedly had sole control over?

What good is great art if we aren't allowed to make fun of it.

So, the whole return airlock sequence is a contrivance and as such I completely bypassed her role in the matter. Dallas says “Let is in” and Ash obliges. After which my interest in the film takes second seat to those who prioritize the monster: I’m still back on the Planetoid ogling the Space Jockey. For the record I have not seen either PROMETHEUS or ALIEN COVENANT and a fellow devotee who has warned me off doing so lest I want my sense of awe & mystery about the subject sold down the river in a way that’s no better than having Greedo shoot first. No, I will stick with my creaky old 1979 ideas and pursue them as I have in regards to the other franchise films: They don’t matter. ALIEN is a standalone tale for my money, with James Cameron’s ALIENS having some usefulness in giving Ripley’s story more focus. Other than that I’m not interested and gave up on the series before ALIEN3 was even over first time watching it. Enough already.

Speaking of WTF, WTF??

More to follow. Much, much more, and if anyone has any thoughts feel welcome to email me

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