Saturday, March 5, 2011

Two good sci-fi horror films--Alien and Pandorum

I keep promising myself that I won’t stay up late to watch sci-fi horror films on cable TV because they usually have a negative effect on my sleep. However, they’re not on all that often, so that when they do show up on cable, I’m tempted yet again to sit and watch them. I have been a sci-fi fan for years; the combination of sci-fi and horror started (for me) with the Alien films (four in all), all of which are excellent films due to tight plots and the terrific job that Sigourney Weaver did with her character Ripley in each of the films. And of course HR Giger, who crafted the Alien monster, did a fantastic job of creating one of the scariest non-humanoid creatures to ever inhabit a spaceship. The first Alien film (from 1979) mesmerized me. It managed to depict a claustrophobic, dark, scary and utterly mechanical/soul-less environment onboard the spaceship, which of course made the film very intense to watch. The scene in Alien where one of the crew goes in search of the missing cat in one of the more remote areas of the spaceship has to be one of the most nerve-wracking ever filmed. You know what’s coming, you just don’t know when and you’re not sure what the scene is going to look like. It delivers, as does the rest of the film. The other famous scene is one of the most revolting—suffice it to say that if you haven’t seen the film, you should be prepared for blood and a violent unusual alien birth. The Alien sequels also deliver, surprisingly enough, since sequels are usually never as good as the original film. This is not true of Alien 2, 3 or 4, which are stand-alone films and just as nerve-wracking to watch as the original, with the same measure of claustrophobia and terror.

I was reminded of Alien last night when I was watching Pandorum, a German-American sci-fi horror film from 2009 with Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster. Pandorum refers to the psychological condition of paranoia and hallucination that the astronauts experience due to their being in deep space. The film tells the story of the (remaining) astronauts who are on board a huge spaceship that is on a long journey to the planet Tanis, which they are to settle since Earth has been destroyed. All passengers on board are suspended in bio-chambers (pods) where they can sleep (a kind of dormance) for the long space journey. The spaceship also carries seeds and plants of all kinds that can be used in the creation of a new society on Tanis. But when the astronauts emerge from the pods they have problems remembering their mission, who they are, and what they are doing on board the ship, and they spend a good deal of time trying to figure out what is going on and what has happened to most of their fellow passengers who have disappeared. The film is pretty scary, with the same kind of claustrophobic intensity and paranoia that Alien has, but unlike Alien, its monsters are not aliens. Rather, they’re fast-moving strong humanoid-like monsters that were once human, but which mutated/evolved into monsters due to a combination of circumstances that the film explains nicely. They have been hunting and eating the passengers on board the spaceship that has become stranded on its way to Tanis. One of the major plot ideas of the film is that the remaining astronauts must repair the ship’s nuclear reactor before it shuts down and destroys the ship, and this quest puts them in constant danger as they must battle these creatures on their way to the reactor. You don’t find out until the end of the film what really happened to the spaceship or what has happened to the captain, which is good because the ending is definitely worth waiting for. Pandorum is a very good film on a par with Alien, and that’s saying a lot.

So I broke my promise to myself and watched Pandorum, which brought to mind Alien, and which led to my writing this post. I’m guessing that my life will be like this for a long time to come—loving and hating being scared at the same time and arguing with myself about whether or not I should watch these films. My husband doesn’t like these types of movies; he will always say how unrealistic they are. My father used to say the same thing. I know this is true, but there’s a part of my mind that’s willing to suspend reality so that I can enjoy such films. You either like sci-fi horror or you don’t. I guess I fall into the first category. I’ll write more about some of my favorite sci-fi films in future posts. 

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