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Review: Alien Blu-ray 'Anthology' transfer - by Alien's art director

REVIEWS - BLU-RAY REVIEWS

The man who synthesised the 'Nostromo' checks out the new Blu-ray edition of this classic horror/SF franchise...

Alien Blu-ray anthology - reviewed by Alien art director Roger Christian

Roger Christian was the art director in charge, amonst other aspects, of the 'Nostromo' environment during the shooting of 'Alien' at Shepperton studios in 1978. - Ed

"It was with some trepidation that I placed the Alien Blu Ray into my player and pushed play. I wondered if the superior quality and sharpness might show up the sets in a different light, and expose the underpinnings of scrap..."

It is amazing to me how thirty years vanish in an instant the moment the opening credits of Alien begin, and that evocative music connects to an inner memory of haunting fear. Even having worked on every frame of the film, watching the movie again, it instils the same tension-building thrill as the first time. I think this is indicative of the amazing power this movie has, and its enduringly unique quality.

The seventies and early eighties were a period of revolution in creative arts, equally powerful in America and the UK and Europe. The world changed as the sixties broke the grey bonds and traditions of Calvinism and suddenly all was becoming possible. Alongside this worldwide cultural revolution came a massive change in cinema. Two films were directly responsible for this change. Star Wars and Alien.

Star Wars gave the world its first global blockbuster, a legend in the same vein as King Arthur or the greatest German and Indian myths, which partly explains its massive success. It was also the first realistic space fantasy that audiences could connect to. No longer was the future depicted with sterile uniforms and plastic ray guns that beeped like toys. I played a major role in creating the oily used spaceships and reality-based atmospheres for Lucas, and this allowed audiences to connect to a world they could feel and smell, not so dissimilar to their own.

Alien went much further. The reviewers and blogs still remark to this day how the sets looked so real and played a huge part in the movie's success. How it looked like we had rented an old space trucking craft and filmed inside it. Alien created the first science fiction horror film, a claustrophobic nightmare of a crew trapped inside a working spacecraft. This was Ridley Scott’s vision: he told everyone he wanted the film to be about space truckers, and the script read exactly that way. A crew bickering about wages and percentages, and the lower decks trying to annoy the upper decks crew who they think are better off than them.

"I stopped and went back and looked again at the corridors. We were in a real ship; nothing betrayed the fact that this was dressed from all manner of old scrap. My relief was immediate and I pushed play and watched the entire movie..."

I was again at the heart of creating this look of the interiors of the Nostromo for Ridley, using the techniques I had been forced to invent on Star Wars through lack of budget to make everything from scratch. Also to create a reality-based authenticity to the ships I personally found excruciatingly lacking in any previous science fiction film. I invented the techniques of using scrapped airplane junk to build the working interiors of the corridors and cockpits, and any set or action prop that required this look. On Alien I was able to go much further and create that military feel, encrusting the corridors and bridge, the infirmary and lower decks, using miles and miles of PVC tubing and endless piles of junk from scrapped airplanes.

It was with some trepidation that I placed the Alien Blu Ray into my player and pushed play. I wondered if the superior quality and sharpness might show up the sets in a different light, and expose the underpinnings of scrap. Ridley used incense smoke in all the sets to diffuse the atmosphere and soften the look -  a far better way than sticking a filter in front of the lens, which artificially softens everything. Smoke in a set diffuses with depth and layers the diffusion naturally.

That haunting music of Jerry Goldsmith played, and once again I was sucked in as those mythic tracks round the empty ship unfolded like a science fiction version of the Mary Celeste. I started to reminisce on moments, like the air conditioning blowing the papers on the cockpit controls (I was under the set blowing them with a hair-dryer, the simplest way to quickly achieve the effect). And then, the computer images as the ship wakes, reflected in the space helmet. I had sourced the helmet from fighter pilots' junked suits, and had my prop maker Roger Shaw rebuild it into one for the Nostromo Bridge, and I had suggested and got made the method of projecting the graphics into the visor. This was the era of no CGI, and layering animation in optical printers was not in Ridley's agenda, he wanted it all real.

"This Blu-ray version...looks like a mega-production that could have been made today"

I stopped and went back and looked again at the corridors. We were in a real ship; nothing betrayed the fact that this was dressed from all manner of old scrap. My relief was immediate and I pushed play and watched the entire movie. The experience was heightened for sure with the amazing sound and visuals the Blu Ray offers. The sets looked crisp and detailed, the faces of the actors betray every emotion. This is like watching it on the big screen again.

I loved watching Ridley explain his Director's Cut, and why he did it. The few scenes he added were not a large change, but the cocooned Dallas didn’t seem to slow the action down at all this time, which is the reason that it was never included before.

It was a surprise on a personal level as the third shot of Ridley directing on set in this Director's Cut is of myself working alongside Ridley on the bridge. I had offered to become the standby Art Director on set throughout the movie, so was there at the start of it all. It was a horrendously tough movie to make. The budget was miniscule in direct contrast to the ambitions we all had, but seeing this Blu-ray version, it looks like a mega-production that could have been made today.

The other Alien sequels had exactly the same effect. They are powerfully enlarged with the Blu-ray sound and crispness. This is one of the most enduring series of films ever made, and it’s of great comfort to the millions of fans that Ridley Scott is back in the saddle to make the next instalment and bring the franchise back to the level it deserves.

(As a small note of interest, my interviews in the 'making of' documentary on disc 5 were filmed on a Bollywood stage, since I was making a film in India at the time, somewhat ahead of the present infatuation with India and cross-over movies. They were shooting a mythological at the Bollywood studio, and the CEO of Creative Eye, Dirij Kumar kindly loaned me a crew to film my segment.)


The Alien Anthology is available on Blu-ray now.

We'll have an extra review of the entire 'Anthology' Blu-ray up shortly.


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