The horror genre when done correctly will haunt you well after viewing the film. It’s meant to scare, build tension, have you look over your shoulder in real life wondering if something lurks in the shadows and most importantly make you root for the main protagonists to just plain survive the horrors they encounter. In space, anything can kill you and no one would ever hear you scream as you’re being ripped to shreds by a foreign species. You can run and hide all along but depending on how well you plan will ultimately determine your rate of survival.
Alien is that type of film that will take you by surprise by how good it actually is at scaring you. The crew of the spacecraft Nostromo are on their voyage home when the ship’s computer called Mother awaken the 7 crew members from stasis. Mother intercepts a strange transmission on a nearby planet for the crew to go investigate. On this foreign planet after a rocky landing members Dallas (Tom Skerritt), Kane (John Hurt) & Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) go out and discover an alien ship. When entering all communication is lost with the Nostromo while Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) deciphers the transmission as a warning to stay away. Kane encounters an alien creature that springs to his face and attaches itself. When the three return to the Nostromo protocol is broken and they reenter the ship with the creature on board.
Alien is nightmare inducing with its unpredictability. If Dallas didn’t pull rank and listened to the guidelines maybe the entire crew would still be alive to make it home safely. Instead, his ruling is final which unleashes all hell on the seven-person crew. Unlike anything that has come before it the actual creature fully grown is terrifying to behold but there are no jump scares from the alien that can justify the traditional horror genre.
“Final report of the commercial starship Nostromo, third officer reporting. The other members of the crew, Kane, Lambert, Parker, Brett, Ash and Captain Dallas, are dead. Cargo and ship destroyed. I should reach the frontier in about six weeks. With a little luck, the network will pick me up. This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.”
What Alien does right thanks to the exceptional direction by Ridley Scott is the built-up slow burn tension and suspense of playing the infinitely more deadly version of hide and seek. The suspense builds up over the course of the first act in a skillful manner. We get to learn who this crew is and their motivations for being on this expedition – some are in it just for the money: Parker (Yaphet Kotto) while some are in it purely for the science and discovery of something unknown.
These scenes with all seven characters sitting around and conversing with each other are among the most important to the film as we get a sense of the relationships between them. The crew generally gets along which is important when everything goes to hell when the little alien creature bursts through Kane’s stomach killing him instantly. One down six to go – now’s the time to panic if you haven’t started to before. What makes this transition from the second act into the third is the fact that the crew has a cat named Jones on board. If you’re an animal lover like I am, the panic is instantly intensified.
The remaining crew form a plan to look for the creature who has grown full in size in no time which brings up the question how, what did it eat? It is an unknown creature so the logic behind it doesn’t need to be explained because that would kill any momentum the film gains over the course of the first two acts. It’s here we discover Ash (Ian Holm) is actually an android who is programmed to ensure the creatures survival while the crew is meant to be expendable. For now, we accept the alien creature for what it is – a killing machine who picks off crew members left and right.
“Well, as I said, I’m still… collating, actually, but uh, I have confirmed that he’s got an outer layer of protein polysaccharides. Has a funny habit of shedding his cells and replacing them with polarized silicon, which gives him a prolonged resistance to adverse environmental conditions. Is that enough?”
The strongest part about Alien lies in its lead performance by Weaver. Ripley is a strong female character that sets a precedent that a woman character can fight back against the villain and kick so much ass. Ripley is smart and has the ability to think quickly and effectively to outthink her foe. The screenplay by Dan O’Bannon highlights these strengths in Ripley paving the way for her to become a larger-than-life hero and role model to younger women.
Even the twist that Ash is not a human, but an android adds to the suspense and mixes in some misdirection into the film. It’s something that you don’t predict could be a possibility because Ash is incredibly life-like and was even in statis with the crew.
Alien has many achievements intertwined in this science fiction epic. The color palette and darker tones highlight the contrast of colors down each corridor of the Nostromo. The blacks are used perfectly to create the shadows and sense that anything can pop out at any given moment. Cinematographer Derek Vanlint captures the tension that crescendo’s in the third act. Each emotion is magnified by close up shots that show the true terror from each crew member as they come face to face with the alien.
Speaking of the alien, for the use of practical effects it’s a bit of a miss. Its easy to spot that it’s not real when the full body is shown. It takes away some of the fear, but it justifies the decision to keep the alien hidden, lurking in the shadows for the entire film to make it infinitely more horrifying when the alien strikes.
At least Jones survives this voyage, I don’t think I’d be ok if the alien killed Jones.
Alien is epic from start to finish. It feels like a modern made film even though released in 1979. Alien spawns one of the most important science fiction characters ever created in Weavers Ripley thus creating a bad ass legend that will inspire future characters in the genre. Alien is a modern classic that created one of the most popular villains in the science fiction genre. Its criminal this film is classified as horror, its a thriller at best. If I were to rate Alien, I’d rate it a 5 out of 5.
So, tell me, have you seen Alien and if so, what do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with me? Comment below or send me an email and let me know what you think.
Alien is directed by Ridley Scott is Rated R and has an 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. Alien was released on May 25, 1979 and has a runtime of 1 hour and 47 minutes. Alien can be purchased by online retailers like Google, iTunes and Vudu.