Sunday, 19 March 2017

Nature- Nice or Nasty? (Or... HR Giger vs. Antonin Gaudi- the Ultimate Smackdown)

Ridley Scott’s next ‘Alien’ film (Alien Covenant: Prometheus 2) is soon going to be hitting the big screen. Hopefully it’ll be better than ‘Prometheus’, whose many plot holes left us wondering whether the Alien had secretly been laying waste to Ridley’s intrepid little group of scriptwriters. The next instalment apparently features more explorers arriving on a deserted planet, who discover a crashed spaceship, some eggs and then… well, you can guess a lot of the rest. It’s probably best not watched on a full stomach.

‘Alien’ is one of those shock-horror-SF film/graphic novel franchises that’s been worked to death with sequels of ever-diminishing returns- but the original 1980 film was a knockout work of twisted genius that ratcheted up the tension by using startling visuals with a superbly atmospheric soundtrack from James Horner. Films about monsters aren’t a new idea- but this one knocked the spots off its predecessors with extremely classy pre-CGI special effects (John Hurt’s notorious demise) and some extremely clever cinematography. For most of the time, we hardly ever saw the nasty thing that was bumping off the crew of the spaceship Nostromo. That’s what made it so creepy.

But let’s take an imaginative leap- to Barcelona, of all places. Why? Because my last visit to the city’s Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (Church of the Holy Family) got me thinking hard about Ridley Scott, Aliens, and the graphic art of the late HR Giger, whose visuals informed so much of the aforesaid film.

 You see, Giger’s not everybody’s cup of tea. His artwork is dark, sinister, and creepily obsessed with a nightmarish sexual imagery that could keep several therapists employed for a lifetime. He’s definitely not for tiny tots, teenagers, or anyone of a sensitive disposition. However, Giger really knew how to draw- and the creature he designed for Ridley Scott’s film must be the scariest movie monster in history. His uper-strong double-toothy Alien has no eyes, is instinctively intelligent, lightning fast- and reproduces by parasitism, inserting its larvae inside other living creatures, to then gestate and burst out at awkward moments. Anyone watching the first Alien film will also remember the dark, curvaceous interiors of the giant alien spaceship, the ‘pilot’, and the alien eggs. It’s all very Giger, all very organic, without a straight line anywhere in sight.

Giger based his work on existing natural phenomena, such as the Dragonfly larvae whose mouth parts shoot out to grab their prey, tarantula wasps that paralyse spiders to provide living food for their young, scorpions that use prehensile tails to sting… I don’t know of anything out there with actual acid running through its veins, but that’s probably because I’m not looking hard enough. To the human imagination, Nature can look extremely cruel and nasty at times, almost repellent- and Giger used that disgust to create his giant insect-like horrors.

Why are we repelled? It’s partly because we see the crew being bumped off unpleasantly - but also because we see humans being used to feed another species’ life-cycle. It’s a shocking reversal of what normally happens when human beings encounter the natural world. The crew of the Nostromo nearly all lose their battle for survival because they’re slow to react, and don’t show enough imagination or intelligence to deal with the growing problem until it’s too late. In a battle of wits and strength, they die because they can’t adapt fast enough- and the Alien that attacks them can survive just about anything- except Sigourney Weaver.

So, ‘Alien’ is really a parable straight out of Charles Darwin. There’s no Right or Wrong in this story, just a battle to survive- and most of the humans don’t, because they’re not smart enough or tough enough. Nature doesn’t care about you folks, so get used to it. Cheerful, huh?

So what’s this got to do with Barcelona’s Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família? I’ll tell you next time. Try and work it out for yourself first, if you can…

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Any requests of subjects for future posts in 2016? No idea too stupid for consideration. And yes, I know I am a bad writer, so don't bother saying that unless you can write something better. But maybe there's a topic buzzing around in your head that you'd like to see covered... because I've got a keyboard here, it's loaded with letters, and I ain't afraid to use it.