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Jameson Cult Film Club: Alien

I had the privilege of attending the Jameson Cult Film Club screening of Alien on Tuesday night, which was a great way of celebrating the release of a whole bunch of images from Ridley Scott’s quasi-Alien-related new film Prometheus. Not that you need an excuse to celebrate Ridley Scott’s Alien, one of the towering accomplishments in the horror and science-fiction genres. I had never seen it on a big screen, and it was an absolute hoot to be invited along. For those Irish readers who aren’t already members of the Jameson Cult Film Club, you can join on their site. I don’t normally do these sorts of endorsements, but they really are the highlight of Ireland’s movie calendar, crafted with remarkable love and enthusiasm for the films that they show.

I hate to admit that I’m in a bit of a rush this week, so I’ll try to get my thoughts down on Scott’s film some time next week. I always feel a bit intimidated discussing a classic film, and that’s at the best of times. It’s daunting to tackle something that is so incredible and iconic and just so very impressive. I’m not arrogant enough to assume that I’ll have any thoughts on the film that haven’t already been articulated countless times by far better writers than my good self, but I like to jot my own thoughts down as a way of making sense of them. Perhaps so I can come back in the years ahead and chuckle at my relative innocence. Either way, I think that Alien deserves more respect than a hastily typed critical analysis late on a Thursday evening.

I’m just really writing this to share some thoughts on the quite impressive job that the Jameson team did bringing the story to life. It’s the same group of ardent film fanatics who help organise the annual Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, and they love what they do. It’s rare to see that sort of energy and enthusiasm. As you can probably tell from the attached images, I didn’t try to take my own pictures, like I did at their fantastic Snatch screening earlier in the year. These are all provided by the group, and illustrate the sort of stuff they tried to do in bringing some of the action out of the screen.

To be entirely honest, I’m a big fan of seeing classic films projected on to a big screen with a nice sound system. If you do that for me, I’m impressed. I love getting to see movies that I never would have seen in that format, as they were originally released. Of course, a great movie is a great movie no matter what the size of the screen – and that’s especially true of the genuine classics these guys are putting on – but something just feels right about seeing a gigantic alien on a huge screen over my head, just as it did drawing in every inch of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown off a cinema screen. So even giving me the opportunity to see Alien in that sort of environment would have been enough to entertain me and leave me more than satisfied.

However, the screening went beyond that. Like Snatch, the surroundings were converted to bring to mind the film in question. I get the sense that the Traveller Camp from Guy Ritchie’s cockney crime thriller may have been easier to construct than the interior of the SS Nostromo, but I give the team full marks for ambition. Indeed, I loved the lighting and the sets that brought the viewers into the bar area. However, for me, the real gem was the more atmospheric touches, rather than the larger elements. The familiar corporate logo, melted with Alien blood while a creature crawled along behind it, the safety announcements that began “this is Mother…” All these elements were fantastic, and I think contributed to an amazing atmosphere.

I would suggest that the next screening take advantage of an establishment perhaps better suited to theatricality. The chairs were all on the same level, which was great for viewing the screen – it was relatively high, so there was never any difficulty there. However, some of the actions took place on ground level. As somebody sitting in the back, it was occasionally difficult to determine exactly what was going on. The tiered seating in the Tivoli Theatre seemed bettered suited for that sort of thing. I got most of it, though, so it’s a minor complaint.

I imagine it’s hard to plan something like this – particularly for a horror film. After all, you don’t want to overplay the theatrical elements, and you don’t want to undermine Scott’s relatively understated suspense. I think the team did an absolutely fantastic job selecting the moments at which to “breach” the fourth wall, without distracting from the film itself. As you can see, John Hurt’s iconic scene literally came to life in an amazing manner, as did his first encounter with the creature. Facehuggers dropped on the audience in one perfectly timed moment. And the finale was absolutely superb. I think the team really outdid themselves this time.

However, I did love the smaller touches even more. For example, a soothing orange light would appear around the screen, and dots would sparkle underneath it during the scenes with “mother”, actually extending the surreal calm atmosphere out of the screen – a technique that made it all the more powerful when the rusty darkness of the rest of ship rescinded back into the screen. Even the faint sounds of the staff clearing glasses leant the movie’s opening sequences an eerie quality, the lightest clinking blending perfectly to Scott’s ambient hum to create the impression of a haunted house in space – a strangely gothic feeling for a science fiction horror.

Anyway, enough rambling. I’ll talk a bit about the actual film next week, and try to make less of an idiot of myself. It really was a wonderful night, and one I thoroughly enjoyed I think these Jameson Cult Film Club nights are the highlight of my cinematic calendar.

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6 Responses

  1. That’s the way movies should be shown! I had the luck of watching a screening of both “Alien” and “Aliens” together in the theater, which was amazing. It’s really too bad most areas do not have theaters that will bring back old movies to the big screen. Watching classics at home on your HDTV is one thing, but in a theater with an audience is an experience that cannot be duplicated.

    • I am actually envious. Ireland doesn’t have an IMAX cinema, so Im considering flying to London to see Dark Knight Rises in the format. Just because there’s something about seeing a movie as it was meant to be shown.

  2. Just be careful that the theater you go to is a true IMAX cinema and not “fake” IMAX. Over the last few years, the IMAX corporation licensed its name to local theaters to convert their larger houses to have a wall-to-wall screen with a digital projection system made by IMAX. The true IMAX theaters have screens several stories tall. While their digital projection system is crystal clear and these screens are better than normal theaters in many ways, it’s not the full-sized film used in the actual IMAX theaters. The problem is, both types of IMAX theaters tend to charge exactly the same for very different viewing experiences.

    Here are some articles that discusses it:
    http://www.giftsandfreeadvice.com/free_advice/imax-screen-size-by-theater-list-real-imax-and-fake-imax-screens/
    http://www.wired.com/underwire/2009/05/imax-ceo-screen-size-isnt-everything/
    http://blog.moviefone.com/2009/05/12/is-imax-digital-ripping-you-off-with-smaller-screens/

  3. as big alien fan, this is most awesome thing i saw/read in long long time. wow

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