When screenwriter Dan O’Bannon sat down to write the science-fiction monster movie he’d been itching to create since working on John Carpenter’s Dark Star, it’s fair to assume he had little inkling just how successful his idea would be. Entitled Star Beast, O’Bannon wanted to ‘pay homage’ to the space monster movies of the 50s. In his own words, “I didn’t steal Alien from anybody. I stole it from everybody!” There’s certainly no denying that the basic premise of Star Beast was far from original. Even with several rewrites from other writers and a new title, Alien, it still seemed to be nothing that hadn’t been seen before.

However, sometimes it’s not the idea but the execution that makes all the difference, and after the introduction of a young, English director (Ridley Scott) and a slightly unhinged Swiss artist (H.R. Giger), Alien became far more than the sum of its parts. Scott was determined that Alien would be more than just a cheesy B-movie. He wanted something dark, moody, gritty and most of all, scary. Not so much Star-Wars-with-a-monster as The-Texas-Chainsaw-Massacre-in-space.

Realising that a huge part of the movie’s success hung on the monster, Scott turned to Giger to bring his psycho-sexual nightmare imagery to life in the creation of what has since become the most iconic and inventive monster in cinema. Part human, part skeleton and part penis-with-teeth, Giger’s creature truly is the stuff of nightmares. From its mouth-rape impregnation to its chest-bursting birth and brain-eating maturity, this is about as far removed from the rubber-tentacled invaders of 50s hokum as possible.

Together, O’Bannon, Scott and Giger created something special. James Cameron later added his own brand of lunacy to proceedings, but continued success was not to be. The Alien franchise is the perfect example of how easily a great idea can be milked to exhaustion. It is also a great example of an idea coming full circle. What started as a low-budget, B-movie script was elevated beyond its apparent potential by a superb direction and inspired design. However, thirty years and six films later, the franchise ended up right back where it started. With talk recently turning to Scott’s return to the franchise with a possible prequel, Prometheus, Celluloid Zombie takes a look back at the Alien saga’s sliding scale, from excellent to dreadful.

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Alien

Ridley Scott – 1979

The crew of the cargo ship Nostromo land on a remote planet after receiving a distress call. They discover a derelict vessel on the surface and when one of the crew is attacked by an alien parasite, he brings aboard a nasty life form.

You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? The perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.”

The original and still the best. Ridley Scott could have made an all-out, rampaging monster mash, given the material, but instead gives us an atmospheric and terrifying horror movie. Almost a haunted-house-in-space flick, where the focus is on suspense as much as shock. Hyper-realistic performances, and much ad-libbing, from an accomplished cast give proceedings a believability which makes even the more outlandish events far more convincing. Alien also features some of the finest design work seen in any genre, with Scott’s decision to use completely different artists for the human environments and the alien environments paying rich dividends. The contrast is stark. Giger’s work on every aspect of the alien’s life cycle gives the title a rare veracity. Rarely has horror been quite so beautiful.

The Alien: Tall, vicious and utterly… well, alien. Despite all the CGI and model work that has been employed in subsequent interpretations of Giger’s creation, Scott’s man-in-a-suit still remains the most imposing, chilling and effective incarnation. The creature never quite seemed this menacing again.

Rating - 5 Stars

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Aliens

James Cameron – 1986

57 years after the events of Alien, Ripley is found drifting through space in hypersleep. She awakens to find that the planet where the alien was found has been colonised and returns with an army to determine why the colonists have stopped transmitting.

Just tell me one thing, Burke. You’re going out there to destroy them, right? Not to study. Not to bring back. But to wipe them out.”

Perhaps only James Cameron would have the chutzpah to attempt a sequel to one of the most successful horror movies of all time, seven years after it was released. His answer? Simple, don’t even try to make another horror movie. It’s an inspired decision. Although there are aspects of horror to Aliens, it is essentially an action flick. And a damn good one, too. This was the movie where the character of Ripley became as big a star as the monster, and Sigourney Weaver rises to the occasion admirably. But all-in-all the performances are a lot more comic-book this time around. In many ways, this is the rampaging monster mash the original never wanted to be. Rarely has a sequel had so much respect for its progenitor, developing its own magic rather than trying to recreate the original’s.

The Alien: Cameron employed effects guru Stan Winston to put his own spin on Giger’s alien, making them smaller and more insect-like than before. And while Aliens adds to the life cycle of the creature by introducing us to the thing that lays all those eggs, the mighty Queen, it suffers a little by diminishing the original creature. Because there are more of them this time they become somewhat more disposable, and in turn a little less frightening. However, Cameron does wonders with the facehuggers, and the battle between Ripley and the Queen at the end is very, very cool.

Rating - 5 Stars

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Alien 3

David Fincher – 1992

Ripley, now the sole survivor of the Sulaco, crash lands on the prison planet ‘Fury’ 161. Finding herself the only woman in a prison full of men, Ripley also finds that an alien has landed with her. However, this is a prison and there are no weapons with which to fight it.

“You’ve been in my life so long, I can’t remember anything else.”

This is where it all started to go wrong for the franchise. A troubled production from the very beginning, the script and story went through way too many changes, even during shooting. That, coupled with budget restrictions and studio interference, left first-time director Fincher with an almighty mess on his hands. Alien 3 was an attempt to return to the single alien threat of the original, but it just doesn’t measure up. The script is awful, with too much pointless running around and very little for the characters to do. In the hands of a lesser director this could have been truly dire but Fincher injects enough mood into proceedings to rescue it. There’s no doubt that Alien 3 is the most depressing, bleak and uncompromising episode of the franchise and ultimately it is this which prevents it from falling into total mediocrity.

The Alien: The first time the creature emerges from something other than a person. Born of a dog, this alien runs around on all fours and only occasionally stands up. While it’s a novel idea, it doesn’t really work. Also, the early CGI used for the dog alien fits so badly with the guy-in-a-suit used for the standing poses that you have to keep reminding yourself that there aren’t two different aliens running around.


Rating - 3 Stars

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Alien: Resurrection

Jean-Pierre Jeunet – 1997

It has been 200 years since Ellen Ripley died, but scientists on a military space ship manage to clone her in an attempt to clone the alien Queen within her, too. While the scientists begin experimenting on the freshly born aliens, Ripley finds that she is not quite human anymore.

“There’s a monster in your chest. It’s a really nasty one. And in a few hours you’re gonna die. Any questions?”

French director Jeunet continued the franchise’s comfort with maverick directors, but even his unique style couldn’t save this next-step-down for the ailing franchise. Anyone who has some familiarity with Joss Whedon’s writing will search in vain for his trademark snappy dialogue as the rather weak, confused story creaks along. Ripley and a group of tough-by-numbers mercenaries try to escape the vessel after the aliens break free, but the threat is now predictable and tired. The only real saving grace is Weaver’s turn as the new, slightly psychotic Ripley, now with added alien DNA. The movie’s attempts to add new angles to the alien merely serve to reinforce that this is a franchise with nowhere left to go.

The Alien: Same old, same old for the most part. The aliens are rendered with improved CGI, we even get to see them swimming for the first time, and there’s another appearance from the Queen. But by now the novelty has worn thin and the grace and dark beauty of Giger’s original is all but lost. Worse, however, is to come with the introduction of Ripley’s half-human, half-alien baby… thing. It’s crap. And ridiculous. And looks like a really bad Muppet.

Rating - 2 Stars

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Alien vs. Predator

Paul W. S. Anderson – 2004

Present day earth, and a research team travel to Antartica to investigate an ancient structure buried in the ice. Once inside, they discover a bizarre temple containing alien eggs. When some of the team become hosts to the aliens, a group of Predators in orbit arrive for the party.

“When that door opens, we’re dead.”

So, just when you think it can’t get any worse, some studio exec has a bright idea. Why don’t we mix franchises? Huh? Huh? After all, the comic books have been doing it, why not the movies? Well, here’s why. Alien vs. Predator. It was a dumb idea way back when Universal decided to put Frankenstein and the Wolfman in the same picture and it’s a dumb idea now. Coming off like a cross between Tomb Raider and Alien: Resurrection, AvP (as it likes to be known) ends up being worse than both. Not even the great Lance Henriksen, reprising his role from Aliens (sort of), can save this movie from being far too occupied with cool to remember that we’re supposed to be scared. Or at least thrilled.

The Alien: Nothing surprising, imaginative or creative here. Aliens, a Queen, Facehuggers and some Predators (who are also aliens, so why isn’t this called Alien vs. Alien?) all make an appearance, but none retain a semblance of the dread they evoked in previous outings.

Rating - 1 Star

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Alien vs. Predator: Requiem

Colin and Greg Strause – 2007

Following on from the events of Alien Vs Predator, the Predator’s ship crashes in the forests outside the small town of Gunnison, Colorado. A group of Facehuggers, and the newly born Alien/Predator hybrid, escape and overrun the town. Another Predator arrives to stop them. Yawn.

“Her stomach… It was gone.”

Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse than worse… well, brace yourselves. The once innovative, proud and glorious creatures finally find themselves picking off teenagers in a small, American town. The equivalent of horror movie retirement. There is pretty much nothing to recommend this train wreck of a movie. The dialogue is dreadful, the acting on par and it’s so badly shot that you’re hard pressed to see what’s going on for the most part. Among the fantastically original characters are the reformed bad boy returning to town, the small-time Sheriff out of his depth, the weedy kid with a crush on the hot blonde and the bully jock. The franchise returns to the B-movie dross that gave birth to it, finally becoming the very movie it so successfully avoided being back in 1979.

The Alien: The aliens run around, the Facehuggers do their thing, the Predator follows them and throws things at them periodically. That’s about it. And then there is the ‘Predalien’, which is neither Predator enough to be cool, or Alien enough to be scary. It just looks like what it is, an alien with dreadlocks. Dumb.

Rating - 0 Stars

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Robin Hood

Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max Von Sydow, Mark Strong, William Hurt and Danny Huston

Director: Ridley Scott

When I first heard about this movie, I groaned and rolled my eyes. Does the world really need another Robin Hood movie? I’m still recovering from Kevin Costner’s dreadful effort. Still, I’m a sucker for historical movies so I thought I’d give it a try.

Ridley Scott doesn’t seem able to make a movie these days without calling for Russell Crowe and asking if he can come out and play. And while Robin Hood may seem like Maximus Hood on the outside, it’s a better film than Gladiator. Throwing out much of what you would expect from a story about the famous outlaw, this is instead an origin movie. Setting itself around historical events, Robin Hood explores how the man developed his penchant for the redistribution of wealth. Beginning as a bowman for Richard the Lionheart’s crusades, Robin Longstride returns to England after the King’s death to find the country subject to the tyranny of the new King, John, and the machinations of Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong in his default ‘evil’ setting), who is secretly aiding a French invasion. Robin (not a merry man) travels to Nottingham, with three of his comrades (who actually are merry men) in tow, to return the sword of a fallen soldier. There he meets Marian (not so merry) and takes the role of her dead husband in order to save her land. From here he begins his journey toward becoming the world’s most famous hoodie.

Scott has a talent for big scale battle scenes, and Robin Hood is bookended by two of his best. The siege of Chalus-Chabrol at the beginning and the beach defeat of the French army at the end are both beautifully realised. Crowe carries the movie with his usual surly manner, albeit with a sometimes dodgy accent, and he is ably supported by Blanchett and an excellent Von Sydow. Mark Strong seems to be permanently stuck in the role of dastardly villain, but hopefully he’ll be able to elevate himself beyond that in Hollywood, as he did on British TV for years.

Ridley Scott decides to take a few historical liberties.

Robin Hood was a lot better than I expected it to be, certainly the freshest and most realistic interpretation of the legend to be put on celluloid. There are a few historical inaccuracies, but they are minor quibbles, rendered irrelevant by the mythical nature of the subject, anyway.

 

Rating - 4 Stars

I got tagged by Peter at Magic Lantern Film Blog for this Meme. The mission? Come up with 15 filmmakers that helped shape the way I look at motion pictures. These are the filmakers whose movies not only inspired (or fanned the flames of) my passion for cinema, but taught me the rich language of the genre. The education never ends, of course, which is why I love it so much.

I’m running late, due to a two week holiday, but here I am and here it is. Enjoy, discuss, mock or admire.

1. Steven Spielberg

If you were to perform some crazy chemistry experiment and dilute cinema down to its purest form you would probably end up with a Steven Spielberg movie in a test tube. You can write him off as a bubblegum filmmaker if you like, but few directors can boast such a distinctive style and absolute grasp of the visual medium as this guy can. Able to inject his work with simple human warmth or terrifying human cruelty with equal ease, Spielberg understands his audience and how to entertain them. His influence is everywhere, in a generation of talent, and his adoration for the moving image is tightly woven into every frame he shoots. Absolutely peerless.

Signature movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark

2. David Fincher

One of the most striking and unique filmmakers to emerge in the last twenty years, Fincher’s lens peers into the darkness and brings it to life. He survived the studio and star nightmare of Alien 3, picked himself up and moved from strength to strength. Unlike many of his imitators, Fincher combines style and content, making intelligent and brooding films. Innovative title sequences, dizzying camera work and stark imagery that burns itself into the mind are the hallmarks of a Fincher movie. That, and his often surprising project choices. Frankly, he’s the only director who could make me interested in seeing a movie about Facebook.

Signature movie: Fight Club

3. John Carpenter

Carpenter has waned considerably over the last twenty years, and yet I still look forward to his upcoming The Ward simply because this could be the movie where he gets his mojo back. And Carpenter with his mojo is a force to be reckoned with. With Halloween, Carpenter demonstrated a mastery of suspense that few have matched. Of all the carbon copies that followed, not one ever measured up. And they’re still trying 32 years later.

Signature movie: Halloween

4. Alfred Hitchcock

Obvious choice, of course, but how can you avoid this one? Hitchcock may or may not have been the greatest filmmaker of all time , but he was certainly one of the most inventive. Without Hitchcock there might never have been the Dolly Zoom, director cameos, the slasher movie or Brian DePalma. Hitchcock constantly came to blows with the censors and pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable, plausible and possible in filmmaking, paving the way for modern cinema.

Signature movie: Vertigo

5. Francis Ford Coppola

If you need a lesson in the pitfalls and insanity of filmmaking, look no further than the CV of Francis Ford Coppola. From the daily battles with studio execs which haunted the production of The Godfather (where Coppola was often shadowed by a replacement director in case he was fired) through the Hurculean task of getting Apocalypse Now made (a production so troubled it got its own documentary), to the single-minded madness of One From the Heart (the cost of which eventually bankrupted him), Coppola is the guy who gets what he wants on film, at any cost.

Signature movie: Apocalypse Now

6. Martin Scorsese

The little guy with the big talent, Scorsese is the director you would want as a mentor. A walking encyclopaedia of cinema, he talks with the same frenetic pace that his movies use to tell their stories. With incredibly long tracking shots, slow motion zooms, fast zooms and quick cuts, Scorsese’s camera is an extension of the man’s boundless energy and is rarely still. He is also one of the industry’s best arrangers of soundtrack music, always choosing the perfect song to complement his scene.

Signature Movie: Goodfellas

7. Ridley Scott

His style has mellowed a little of late, his movies becoming grander in scale, but early on in his career Scott was one of the most visually unique directors around, producing two of cinema’s most influential Science Fiction films. Taking a B-movie script called Star Beast, Scott added his inherent eye for design, a desire to elevate the movie beyond the B, and gave us the outstanding Alien. He followed this with Blade Runner, which set the standard for visions of the future for years to come. Design has always played an important part in Scott’s work, and it is an area in which he excels.

Signature movie: Blade Runner

8. John Hughes

As a kid developing a passion for movies in the 80s, it would have been impossible for me not to include the late John Hughes in this list. Hughes was a capable talent behind the camera, but his true strengths lay in his screenwriting, his ability to coax career-best performances from his teenage casts and the warmth he instilled into his movies. Few filmmakers before or since have possessed Hughes’ skill for representing teenage angst without falling into the more patronising traps of lesser efforts. Hughes was a man of his time, who struggled when that time was over, but he was the best at what he did.

Signature movie: The Breakfast Club

9. The Coen Brothers

From the release of Blood Simple onwards, the Coens have continually marked themselves out as true originals with a remarkable record of hits. Save for only one or two exceptions, every Coen movie has been both singular and excellent. The next Coen project is always worth looking forward to. As accomplished as screenwriters as they are as directors, you are guaranteed cracking dialogue, inspired visuals and characters that are just a little larger than life. You will also most likely get screaming fat people, repetition of a single line for comic effect and at least one speedy tracking zoom. There’s no movie quite like a Coen movie.

Signature movie: The Big Lebowski

10. Sam Raimi

Joel Coen began his career helping out on the editing of a friend’s debut movie. That movie was The Evil Dead, and the director was Sam Raimi. Made on a shoestring budget, The Evil Dead showcased the arrival of an inspired, and rather crazed, talent. Raimi delivered the kind of camerawork usually reserved for those with far more expensive equipment at their disposal, and a few of his techniques can be seen in subsequent Coen movies. However, Raimi’s anarchic style seemed a little lost in mainstream cinema until the arrival of Spider-man.

Signature movie: Evil Dead II

11. Terry Gilliam

The least seen member of the Monty Python team, Gilliam makes movies brimming with the singular and surreal imagination which was present in his Python animations. Usually working with the most meagre of budgets, allowing him to retain creative control over all his work, Gilliam has sometimes struggled to get his projects completed. However, when they are completed they have a magical style and a sensibility all their own. They usually feature characters whose imagination is too large for the world they live in, crushed by the mechanics of a clockwork society. The irony is clearly not lost on Gilliam.

Signature movie: Brazil

12. Sergio Leone

The man who made Clint Eastwood famous with his trilogy of ‘Spaghetti Westerns’, Italian director Leone took the western genre and made it look ugly. Rejecting the good guy/bad guy set-up of classic American westerns, Leone’s contributions were simply filled with varying shades of bad guy. Even Eastwood’s ‘Man with No Name’ is merely the best of a corrupt bunch. The characters are unwashed, morally vacant and greedy, the landscapes unforgiving and barren. Leone’s frontier is a harsh place to be. Often utilising both extreme close-ups and haunting long-shots, Leone has long been held by Eastwood as a major influence on his own directorial style.

Signature movie: Once Upon a Time in the West

13.  John Landis

During the 80s, Landis was responsible for some of the best comedies of the decade, including The Blues Brothers and Trading Places, but it was when he introduced horror into the mix with An American Werewolf in London that he really reached his peak. Landis made comedies that looked as good as any of the more high-brow movies, each littered with his unmistakeable trademarks (static shots of watching statues or paintings, and references to ‘see you next Wednesday’). His career tailed off toward the end of the decade, but perhaps the forthcoming Burke & Hare will be a return to form.

Signature movie: An American Werewolf in London

14. George Lucas

As a director, George Lucas is included in this list on the basis of one film, and one alone. But what a film. Star Wars changed everything. It’s impossible to gauge exactly what impact that movie had on the 7-year-old kid I was, but I know it was profound, as it was with almost every kid around my age. Star Wars was like saying hello to the wonder of cinema for the first time. We’d never seen anything like it. There were a few flashes of that directorial skill in the three prequels, but for the most part those films were engineered rather than directed and Lucas would not have made this list based on those. But for changing the way we viewed cinema, his one contribution cannot be underestimated.

Signature movie: Star Wars

15. John Lasseter and Pixar

Before Toy Story, the feature length animated movie industry was sputtering along at an uninspired pace. Disney’s output had suffered a gradual slump in both quality and popularity, boosted only by the success of The Lion King. Pixar, a computer company which was originally part of Lucasfilm, had been experimenting with computer animation for years and entered into a deal with Disney to produce three computer animated movies. Toy Story was the first, directed by John Lasseter, and the rest is history. Not only did Pixar revolutionise how movies were animated, but they also completely modernised the storytelling. Suddenly, animated movies were not just for kids, but were written with a sophistication which could appeal to all ages. Pixar kick-started animation, with other studios quick to follow suit, and they are yet to produce a bad film.

Signature movie: Toy Story

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Okay, my turn to tag. Apologies in advance if you’ve already done it and I missed it.

Cantankerous Panda at Back in the Day

Rory Dean at Above the Line

John at John of the Dead

Dan at Top 10 Films

Sometimes they are mini-movies in themselves, sometimes they are scene-setting primers for what is to come, and sometimes they are actually the best thing about the movie. Either way, the title sequence is an overlooked art form. Hitchcock would often bring in established artists, like Saul Bass, to create his titles, such importance he placed on them. They are the doorway into the movie, a taste of what is to come. They run, tragically ignored while the audience settles down, stops rustling the damn tubs of popcorn and chatting and generally getting up my nose…

Sorry, wrong blog.

Anyway, for your consideration, my top ten title sequences. Enjoy.

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10. Shaun of the Dead

A short one, this, but the opener for Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead is a little work of genius. It gives us an amusing perspective of everyday life in Britain, before most of the population are transformed into shambling zombies. The question it postulates is very simple; what’s the difference? The fact that Simon Pegg’s Shaun later nips to the Newsagent without noticing the walking dead around him, and you totally believe it, just reinforces the gag.

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9. Vertigo

Most people choose North by Northwest as their favourite Hitchcock title sequence, and while that one is certainly highly influential (see David Fincher’s Panic Room opener) I’ve always preferred Vertigo. Saul Bass created what could be the signature title sequence for all Hitchcock’s movies. The fixation on a woman’s frightened features, turning blood red as the title appears, mixed with Bernard Herrmann’s spooky score, tell you all you need to know about the big man’s favourite pastime; basically, torturing beautiful blondes. Naughty Alfred. The spirals signify James Stewart’s fear of heights, his uncontrollable compulsions, and are also reflected in the hair of Kim Novak.

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8. Contact

Not, strictly speaking, a title sequence at all, but still one of the most effective openers to a movie. Robert Zemeckis’ underrated adaptation of the novel by Carl Sagan immediately shares with us Ellie Arroway’s (Jodie Foster) awe at the expanse of the universe, and the unimaginable possibilities of what may exist out there. For me at least, the sequence truly inspires a sense of wonder, but also a feeling of the crushing loneliness and isolation of our tiny little planet. Is anyone out there listening? Brilliant.

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7. Alien

Ridley Scott ditches Jerry Goldsmith’s original score, keeps it simple, and it works a charm. This is the dark side of Contact’s sequence, in that it perfectly encapsulates the despair, foreboding and the unknown dangers of deep space. The skeletal score, nothing more than a series of strange noises and a random tune, does indeed seem alien. This is a frightening place, very far from home and you feel it. Rarely has a title sequence so perfectly suited its title.

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6. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Steven Spielberg had long wanted to shoot a Busby Berkely style showstopper, and with his second Indiana Jones movie he got the chance. Set on the stage of Club Obi-Wan (one of the series’ many in-jokes), Kate Capshaw’s small scale rendition of Anything Goes, in Cantonese, soon escalates into a massive, glittering dance routine. Yes, it’s a little ridiculous that the tiny stage can suddenly accommodate this huge production, but this is a director indulging himself a little. If Spielberg (all praise his name) wants to give his future wife a huge entrance (snigger), who are we to deny him?

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5. Zombieland

Zombies again, this time from the other side of the pond. It’s ridiculous, it’s gruesome, it’s fun! Yay! Ruben Fleischer’s Metallica backed title sequence couldn’t set you up better for the insanity to follow. The madness of zombie attacks, in ultra slow-motion, is somehow inherently funny and Fleischer milks it for all it’s worth. Add to this the movie’s continuing interaction between the real world and the words onscreen, and you have a good old, undead chuckle fest.

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4. Ed Wood

Tim Burton’s celebration of Hollywood’s worst ever director, Edward D. Wood Jr., had the perfect opening sequence. This is such an affectionate homage to the tacky, B-movie ethics of its subject, that there’s no doubt the man himself would have adored it. Howard Shore’s Theremin laced score is absolutely spot on, and the construction of a miniature Hollywood for the final tracking shot is breathtaking. Burton at his best.

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3. Watchmen

Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the graphic novel opens with this master class in condensing an entire back-story into a short sequence. Giving us the story of this alternative universe’s superheroes, right up until the main movie’s 1980’s setting, we see a history of the 20th century as it may have been with the addition of masked vigilantes and a superhuman. Bob Dylan’s classic folk song makes the perfect accompaniment to the beautiful, slow-motion scene-setting, and every frame looks like it was ripped straight from the pages of a comic book.

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2. Lord of War

Andrew Niccol’s study of a morally conflicted arms dealer (Nicholas Cage) was a fairly average movie, but what it did boast was this outstanding title sequence. Almost a mini-movie in itself, the POV journey of a single bullet from production to ultimate use is original, telling and ends with a depressing suddenness. The CGI already looks a little dated now, but that in no way detracts from the scene’s effectiveness. Very clever opening sequence.

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1. Seven

So many subsequent thrillers have imitated Seven’s dark, twisted title sequence that the power it held at the time may seem somewhat diminished. However, David Fincher’s opener to his second movie is still the Daddy of all title sequences. Unnerving, sinister and bleak, this left you in no doubt as to what you had in store. Part of its genius is that many aspects of what you are seeing are not revealed in their meaning until the second viewing, when you realise who it is you are watching. Coupled with a totally stripped down version of Nine Inch Nails’ Closer, this is the mind of a lunatic at work and play. Chilling.

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They say the best movie soundtracks are the ones that you don’t notice are there. They feature music that enhances a film but never tries to compete for your attention. That’s all well and good, but personally I like the soundtracks that do both; the music that you find yourself humming later on and then buy because it is good enough to survive on its own.

I’ve been listening to soundtracks for as long as I’ve been watching movies, and that’s a long time. Sometimes I’ll listen because the music is excellent in its own right, sometimes because it’s just great music to daydream to, and sometimes because a particular score is the perfect inspiration for the writing of a screenplay. I once wrote an entire script around the music to a single scene in Aliens. Thanks for that, Mr James Horner.

Selecting a paltry five soundtracks from the plethora I admire was no easy task but eventually, after much hand-wringing and begging for forgiveness from the aforementioned James Horner, I settled on my Top Five. These are the soundtracks which I believe best represent the art in all its forms; as beautiful music in its own right, as the perfect enhancement to the story and visuals, and as examples of craftsmen at the top of their game.

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Alien – Jerry Goldsmith

1979

Long considered one of the most successful and enduring movie composers of all time, Jerry Goldsmith has been around since the Fifties and continues to work sporadically today. The story of his music for Ridley Scott’s Alien is one of disagreements and disappointments, but there is no denying the beauty of his work for the classic Sci-Fi/Horror movie. Hired by Scott at the ‘suggestion’ of 20th Century Fox, Goldsmith and the director clearly had differing ideas about how the movie should be scored. As a result, much of the music Goldsmith wrote was omitted from the final cut of Alien. The romantic, sweeping and eerie theme originally written was rejected by Scott and replaced by the composer’s second effort; a simple series of unnerving sounds which, it must be said, are extremely effective. Scott also chose to use a pre-existing piece of classical music for the end credits, further alienating Goldsmith. The original score is available in its entirety, but what remains within the film is deeply unsettling, beautiful and dark. Elements of his original opening theme survive in scenes where the Nostromo lands and takes off, making the process of landing a spaceship seem like an adventure in itself. And, taking the title of the movie to heart, Goldsmith creates ugly, unnatural sounds whenever the creature appears. Don’t ask me what they are, I prefer not knowing.

See also: Chinatown, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and The Omen.

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Edward Scissorhands – Danny Elfman

1990

The fourth collaboration between composer Elfman and director Tim Burton, Edward Scissorhands remains one of the most influential scores of the last twenty years. Elfman began his career in film by scoring his older brother Richard’s movie, Forbidden Zone, and soon after began his creative relationship with Burton working on Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Utilising a 79 piece orchestra and a choir, the music for Edward Scissorhands is rich, dreamlike and perfectly encapsulates the bittersweet themes of Burton’s most personal film to date. In addition, Elfman creates a hilarious tick-tock theme for the bland suburbia into which Edward appears, and a signature bombastic march which touches on the near insanity of the inventor (Vincent Price) and his bizarre machines. Elfman and Burton represent a perfect understanding between director and composer, and even if Burton’s work isn’t always accomplished, Elfman’s usually is. They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, and it is a measure of this soundtrack’s success that its music-box chimes and soulful choral voices have become the signature sound for fairy tales and Chanel advertisements ever since. It has even been adapted into a ballet.

See also: Midnight Run, Batman Returns and Big Fish.

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The Fog – John Carpenter

1980

John Carpenter has always been a curious rarity as a filmmaker. Not only does he direct and, more often than not, write his movies but he also composes and performs the soundtracks. Not even Spielberg can do that (all praise His name). So, as sole creator of every component, Carpenter’s synth-based scores have always been the perfect accompaniments to the action on the screen. Often using a heartbeat thump as the base, Carpenter’s soundtracks heighten the tension considerably. His most famous is probably Halloween, but my personal favourite has always been The Fog. Carpenter uses very little in enhancing the eerie atmosphere of his coastal ghost story, but every fog horn sound and every light stoke of piano key burrows deep under the skin, priming the viewer for the experience. The thumping sound as the fog rolls into Antonio Bay mimics the pounding on doors, the noise which announces the spectres before they strike. It is one of the greatest horror movie scores of all time, by a composer who fully understands the genre. Carpenter’s band, The Coup De Villes, also provided the somewhat cheesy tunes which play on the radio, or serve as jingles for the KAB Radio station.

See also: Halloween, Escape From New York and Big Trouble in Little China.

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Jaws – John Williams

1975

If you mention Jaws in conversation, one of the first things that will come to mind is the theme tune. Dum dum dum dum, etc and so forth. Effective and iconic as that theme is, it sometimes results in the rest of the soundtrack being overlooked. This is a shame because, beyond the ominous strings which more than compensate for the killer shark’s rather rubbery presence, Jaws enjoys one of the most accomplished scores in cinema history. John Williams has been working in the industry for half a century, and is responsible for some of cinema’s most recognisable theme tunes, including Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Jaws marked Williams’ first collaboration with Spielberg, a collaboration that has now spanned 35 years and 19 movies. By turns haunting, joyous, foreboding and terrifying, Jaws is a master class in writing music to accentuate the moving image. Williams’ strings make the ocean seem filled with dread, he quietly adds atmosphere to Quint’s tale of the USS Indianapolis, and the cheerful sea shanty which accompanies the Orca’s doomed pursuit of the Great White strikes a gloriously upbeat note in the midst of the peril. It was the perfect start to such a successful collaboration.

See also: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars and Schindler’s List.

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The Mission – Ennio Morricone

1986

The chances are there is at least one Ennio Morricone score that you love, and probably more. Morricone has been producing music for film for over 50 years, across a diverse range of genre and language. He gained wide acclaim for his work with Sergio Leone on the Spaghetti Westerns of the Sixties and managed to write a score for John Carpenter’s The Thing which sounded like a Carpenter score. However, when I hear the name Morricone I immediately think of one movie: The Mission. Roland Joffé’s story of Spanish Jesuit missionaries in 18th century South America, and their struggles with the Spanish and Portuguese colonial governments, was graced with some of the most beautiful music ever composed for film. Morricone mixes classical Baroque orchestra, South American Guaraní instruments, Spanish guitars and haunting choirs to magnificent and often heartbreaking effect. The emotional punch of Morricone’s work even filters down to the simple tune which Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) plays on his oboe, a tune later reprised with full orchestra for the track On Earth As It Is In Heaven, which is breathtaking.

See also: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Untouchables and Once Upon a Time in America.

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The Also Rans:  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – James Horner, The Bourne Identity – John Powell, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford – Warren Ellis and Nick Cave, Psycho – Bernard Herrmann, Solaris – Cliff Martinez.

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