RIP, H.R. Giger, 1940-2014…

RIP, H.R. Giger, 1940-2014 – Boing Boing.

I have always been a first class sci-fi nerd. As a small boy anything involving spaceships immediately captivated my imagination. I was so hungry for otherworldly fantasies that I was incapable of passing critical judgement on them. I was equally enamored classic films like The Day The Earth Stood Still and utter cheeze whiz like When World’s Collide.

As a boy in the 1970s cheesy 50s and 60s sci-fi films were available in abundance on TV. Mostly this was because the films were considered B-grade, made little money in the theaters and could be licenses for broadcast for pennies. When new science fiction films came out they were, for the most part, still B-grade, with lower tier actors and simple special effects.

There were a few stand-out movies. The Planet of the Apes series (with the exception of the final film, which is embarrassingly bad) had fantastic acting and stories that made you forget that the effects and makeup were pretty silly. Logan’s Run was thrilling, again because of a great story and fantastic acting. Then came Star Wars, which looked amazing, was a great and fun ride and managed to be so cool that hardly anyone noticed the poor acting and weird continuity errors. Close Encounters of the Third Kind followed close at hand and was just stunning on all fronts. Gorgeously made, with effects that were mind blowing at the time with a great story and impeccable acting.

It was a great time to be a sci-fi fan. Unfortunately, the film studios rapidly realized that while they needed to spend more on their special effects because of Star Wars and Close Encounters they didn’t have to worry about acting and story so much. Why invest so much time and effort into a big film when you can make Laserblast? Even James Bond got in on the act in 1979 with Moonraker, which stands out as a profoundly silly movie that almost ruined another childhood obsession of mine – James Bond.

Much as I’d loved the original Star Trek TV show growing up, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was so disappointing that I actually think it was responsible for turning on the critic switch in my brain. Pretty, but boring, was my ultimate judgement, and still is. I might have actually moved on, as I moved into adolescence, and left sci-fi behind if it hadn’t been for one film – Alien.

Alien had it all. Everything about the movie was fully realized. The actors were all top notch, with performances so believable that you lost yourself in their world completely. And the story was so mundane it was brilliant – the crew of a deep space mining ship gets woken up on their way home to investigate a distress signal, that turns out to be from an ancient alien ship that was destroyed in some kind of horrible accident that turns out to have been the result of a life form that has evolved to be the perfect killing machine… and they were sent there to bring on home by a the nefarious corporation who owns their ship.

And everything about the aliens and the ship they’re found on makes your skin crawl, but is also amazingly beautiful – and that fully realized, perfectly executed design was the work of H.R. Giger, who passed away today.

Alien got into my head in a way that I don’t think any film had up until that point in my life. Sure, Star Wars was fun, Close Encounters was thrilling, but Alien gave me nightmares. My brother took me to see Alien and the movie scared both of us so much we had to go see it again. The logic was that if we saw it again that would reinforce in our minds that it was a movie. The trick worked. The nightmares of a larval Xenomorph bursting from my chest stopped after seeing it again. But another odd thing happened. On second viewing we noticed so much more that we hadn’t realized we had seen the first time, and none of it was flawed.

A tip of my hat to you, H.R. Giger.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: