Arts & Culture

Movie review: ‘Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World’

Artist H.R. Giger was responsible for the creepy visuals in the film ‘Alien’
Artist H.R. Giger was responsible for the creepy visuals in the film ‘Alien’ Twentieth Century Fox

The fanboys and fangirls will surely go wild for this documentary about the Swiss artist whose disturbing, obsessive work included, most famously, designing the hair-raising creature of the Alien sci-fi movies.

Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World displays many examples of Giger’s output and shows him accepting accolades and puttering around the house toward the end of his life (he died in 2014). But it’s hard to imagine that the movie has much to say to viewers less than enthusiastic about Giger’s imagery — macabre, aggressively sexual mergings of organic and mechanical forms.

Much of the film takes place inside his Zurich home, a dark labyrinth overstuffed with books and Giger’s art. It could serve as a sinister movie set. The back yard features a pint-size train that takes passengers through corridors decked with three-dimensional representations of his work, essentially a Giger-themed carnival ride.

At the time of filming, Giger was showing his age but seems to have been game to participate. Writer-director Belinda Sallin gives him a lot of camera time, though he speaks less in the film than his wife, Carmen, or his assistant, a former heavy-metal musician who talks emotionally about the artist’s impact on his life and worldview.

A younger Giger is seen in archival footage, some of it from when he published Necronomicon, a collection of his artwork that came to the attention of Alien director Ridley Scott. (A very young Scott is seen briefly in a 1978 interview.) There are hints of a life spent at least partly in the fast lane, as we are shown a work that was inspired by an acid trip.

By showing so many examples of his art, the film attests to Giger’s real gift for startling images. But it’s hard not to see, in addition, elements of repetitive adolescent provocation.

The film glances at some possible sources for Giger’s style, including a human skull he was given as a child by his father, a pharmacist, and early memories of a mummy seen at a museum. There’s little analysis of his imagery, though a psychiatrist suggests that much of it was inspired by birth trauma.

That sounds about right. Giger’s art isn’t meant to be pleasant, but it does provide catharsis for some (like the assistant). Perhaps they are the movie’s real target audience.

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Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World

Director: Belinda Sallin

Cast: H.R. Giger

Rated: Unrated

Running time: 95 min.

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