Alien: Night Shift
The version that is currently online is horribly dark but I’m guessing this is a colour grading issue, not the fault of the DP. By brightening it in VLC media player I got a more reasonable picture. The soft lighting is a very odd choice for a horror thriller, where harder lights with deep shadows is what you typically want for an edgy, tension-filled drama. The opening Springer/Rolly conversation at the computer terminal, where they put an additional
overhead soft box, looks too toppy for my taste. It gives Rolly and Springer that sinister effect you see in The Godfather
, which might have been useful for other characters, but not these ones. (Interestingly, once the crew got the soft box mounted over top they left it there permanently and tried to disguise it as part of the set - it has the “no smoking” sign on it). The trouble wth so much soft light is that it tends to spill everywhere, making it impossible to flag off the walls. And the effect of that was to give the entire room a higher-key look than they probably wanted. I wonder if they had the walls specially painted that dark grey to try to combat this. And that leads me to wonder if maybe the dark colour grade was intentional after all, in order to restore some creepy, dark corners to the picture; but if so all they proved was that you can’t simply crank down the brightness in post and expect to get well-exposed low-key lighting, after the fact.
I must admit, I got a bit annoyed with Welles’s street-slang method-mumble which I sometimes found unintelligible. Apart from that all the performances were good.
Production Design 3/5
I very much liked the alleyway prologue and the spaceship VFX in the background. The “moon shed” location was a good choice; imagine how bad it would have looked if it had been set in a standard rectangular room. My main complaint is that it wasn’t entirely convincing as a supply depot, more like a junk store.
Prologue worked well, except they should have revealed the face-hugger only at end of the scene, in the light from the spaceship. (It looks like in editing the director made a late decision to go with this approach by trying to conceal the face-hugger early on, with the subtitle placed over top of it.)
I wondered why the spaceship taking off was so silent - that was confusing - but now I think it being noiseless gave the scene an unsettling, ghostly effect.
I wasn’t impressed with the ending much. The climax of the story being conveyed by offscreen sound FX felt a bit too
cheap (I’m talking about the xeno outbreak). It was something you’d only grudgingly accept in a stage play. It also happened rather abruptly. The outbreak needed to be foreshadowed far more strongly.
Most often, in order to hold the audience’s attention, the main character needs to be powerfully motivated towards achieving some kind of goal. This needs to be signalled to the audience early on because it serves as the spine of the plot, taking us from the tale’s beginning to end. We know Harper is carrying a chestburster, and we want to see the inevitable happen, so there is some interest in that to keep us watching, but for 2/3rds of the film no one in the story is aware of the life and death stakes hidden in Harper’s chest and, in fact, no one is especially motivated by anything much. Welles is the only character driven by any kind of purpose and even then it’s only to score some booze for the night.
Since everyone is oblivious to the chestburster time-bomb that’s set to go off, the story really needs some other subplot to drive the narrative forward and put characters in conflict. If I may be so bold, here’s how I would have rewritten the story:
Welles finds Harper sleeping on the ground. Harper says he spent the whole day passed out in the alley. Welles shows Harper his new gun. He says they can use it to “persuade” the despatch office to give them free passage on the next cargo ship to Earth. However, first they’ll need to use Harper’s airside clearance to get past Security Control. Harper agrees. When he gathers his things and they walk away, a dead face-hugger is revealed on the ground beneath Harper’s rucksack.
Two Despatch Officers, Springer and Rolly, are working the night shift. On the radio an announcer says some dangerous animals have escaped from a livestock shipment, and all personnel are advised to stay indoors while Port Authority handles the problem.
Rolly complains that the facility is shabby and in dire need of maintenance. She points to an old power board with frayed wiring in the corner of the room. Springer says the company doesn’t care because there’s so little traffic. Not like the old days when the office used to buzz with activity, what with all the space crews passing through. Then the work dried up because most of the cargo freighters converted to robot ships.
The front door bell sounds. Welles and Harper are outside. Via the intercom, Springer tells them they can only come in if they have security clearance. If so, they should use the retinal scanner. Harper looks into the scanner, the door opens, and the two of them enter.
Welles pulls out the gun and points it at Springer and Rolly. He demands two boarding passes for the next flight to Earth.
The back door leads to the port’s landing pad. Through a port-hole window, a robot cargo ship can be seen out on the apron; the whine of its engines warming up penetrates the walls. Springer says the ship has a berth for only one human and he holds out a single boarding pass. He says, “Do you want it or not? The ship’s ramp closes in 4 minutes.” Welles says to Harper, you look too ill for travel, and reaches for the pass. But Springer, rather than handing it over, taunts Welles with it, then hits a remote control that locks down all the office’s exits.
Welles goes gun crazy and riddles Springer with 10 rounds from the gun. He takes the pass from Springer’s body.
The radio reports that the wild animals on the loose have caused widespread injuries and even deaths. Marshall law has been implemented while Port Authority brings the situation under control.
The stress causes the chestburster to bust out of Harper, killing him.
The creature runs at Welles but when he tries to shoot it, he finds the gun empty. It kills him in a frenzied attack.
While it’s teeth are still embedded in Welles’s throat, Rolly grabs a loose high voltage cable from the old power board and stabs it into Welles’s body, electrocuting the creature.
There is commotion outside as the port is overrun by xenos. The window at the front of the office is smashed as a security team runs past, firing weapons. Lots of screaming.
Rolly takes the boarding pass, unlocks the back door, and sprints for the ship.
I thought the music score was excellent. The sound design too. There were obvious technical problems with the post-sync dialogue, which I think can be traced back to the choice of the “moon shed” as their set. It gave all the production sound a metallic reverb which you can hear when Springer says to Welles, “Do you mind?” - probably one of the few bits of original production sound remaining. That must be why the dialogue was replaced. I also liked the chestburster effects, apart from the one shot where it runs at Rolly.
Some technical weaknesses, but mainly falls flat in the story.