S.M. Douglas

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Month: June 2014

H.R. Giger and The Xenomorph

Last month H.R. Giger died at age 74. The Swiss painter, sculptor and set designer is best known for his haunting surrealist imagery. Perhaps the most iconic of his works being of course the Xenomorph featured so prominently in the 1979 classic Alien and that film’s sequels. What many don’t know however is that this design actually went through a long gestation of its own.

The first rendition of what would become the “Alien” or “Xenomorph” appeared in Giger’s lithograph entitled Necronom IV as seen below:


In this image one can easily see the core elements that would lead to the eventual “Alien” (as encapsulated by a unique aesthetic Giger had created and termed biomechanical, meant to describe a fusion of the organic and the mechanic). One of the key elements of the Alien’s design was that after it was implanted in its host it would develop in part by mimicking the host’s own physical features. This progression can be seen in the following drawing as Giger began adapting his original lithograph to the concept that would become the titular character of the movie “Alien”.


In the image above we can also also see extending from the Alien’s mouth the second inner set of jaws extended at the end of an elongated tongue-like appendage. In viewing this image one can understand why Fox Studios was so hesitant to initially approve Giger’s role in designing the Alien; as they feared that his work was so disturbing it would turn people off. However, the final rendition of the adult Alien, as seen below, is so strikingly horrific one cannot look away.


The visceral reaction produced by Giger’s designs, and how the creature developed from “face hugger”, to cannibalistic parasite, to an extraordinarily lethal predator, are the core reasons the film was able to achieve such a striking and enduring reaction that leaves it to this day perhaps the pre-eminent horror film of all time (though the movie was a science-fiction film one cannot deny the centrality of the horror aspect).


To say H.R. Giger was influential is an understatement. His creation’s if nothing else truly do make you think, and the images he birthed do what any great artist would hope; they evoke strong emotions that demand a response from their viewers. He will not be forgotten.

T.R. Witcher has a thoughtful new piece up on The Atlantic offering a number of key metrics for a good movie showdown. In particular he keys in upon elements he defines as “Anticipation, The Weight of the Moment, Vulnerability,  Tangibility, and The Iconic”. Witcher singles out as especially notable in conveying these elements several great showdowns. These include the light saber fight between Luke and Vader in Empire Strikes Back:

And the first fight between Bane and Batman in the Dark Knight Rises:

In both of the above instances he is most certainly correct. To that end he also offers up several other salient examples, and even contrasts where one fight did well in a particular franchise (for instance Neo’s climactic battle with Agent Smith during the Matrix) against others that missed the mark (Neo’s overdrawn fight against Agent Smith in Matrix Revolutions). Witcher ranges back into the 1960’s and work done by Sergio Leone in his superb Once Upon a Time in the West, or in terms of 2001 A Space Odyssey’s fight between the homicidal computer HAL and astronaut Dave Bowman. And as Witcher continues on, offering up example after example of great fight scenes (Ripley vs. the Xenomorph Queen in Aliens, Paris vs. Menelaus in Troy) he regrettably undermines a key component of his arguments. That being that such exemplary fight scenes are rare.

In point of fact classic showdowns are something that Hollywood actually and regularly does a good job of manufacturing. And yes there are the occasional bombs as rightly pointed out by Witcher vis a vis the final Harry Potter battle against Lord Voldemort,  or the lamentable final battle in the Avengers Movie. But overall there are so many more that actually work. Right off the top of my head, and staying within the genres identified by Witcher (i.e. avoiding boxing movies like the classic Rocky I and Rocky II showdowns between Rocky and Apollo Creed), one can single out numerous other examples such as the following:

Qui-Gon Jinn & Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace (just to be clear I despised this movie, but the final light saber fight is one of the best of any Star Wars film):

Sarah Connor/Kyle Reese vs. The Terminator:

Riggs vs. Joshua Lethal Weapon:

Maximus vs. Commodus Gladiator:

William Munny vs. Little Bill Unforgiven:

Brody vs. The Shark in Jaws

Frank Dux vs. Chong Li Bloodsport

And I can go on and on….I could add at least twenty more clips if I did nothing but Clint Eastwood Westerns and Martial Arts films no less 1980’s action films, modern Science Fiction/Fantasy, or even Television such as The Game of Thrones  (Brienne vs. The Hound to name just one) Thus, in conclusion I will say Witcher wrote a fun article with some sound metrics for measuring a great movie showdown, but to say that such things are rare….well that is another story.

Getting Around “The Island”

One of my all-time favorite TV shows. For those Lost fans out there who struggled to understand the geography of the “Island” I think that this is one of the best maps out there. Check it out:



Check out the original movie trailer of one of the all-time best action-adventure movies ever:

The Life and Death of the American Arcade

For our first post I couldn’t think of anything better than one related to a long-time favorite past time of mine: video games. And when I say long time I do mean long time. I distinctly remember those rainy days from my way back when childhood playing my Atari 2600. And of course there were the obligatory hours spent at the bowling alley or roller skating rink playing Centipede, Asteroids, Galaga, Pac Man, and so on… Pac Man Screen Shot As such I would like to highlight a very well done history of the American arcade and it’s Golden Age (which also happened to coincide with a particularly impressionable time in my childhood). If you haven’t yet come across Laura June’s work then I highly recommend you take the time to give her article a look. Enjoy!

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