*This review contains images some may find distressing*
Alien (1979) is directed by Ridley Scott and stars Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Ian Holme,John Hurt and Harry Dean Stanton. It circles the voyage of a futuristic space merchant vessel and its encounter with a horrifying space predator onboard the ship.
This is considered one of the greatest sci-of all time. Three years after Star Wars: a new hope (1977) revived the genre, Alien redefined it. Everything about this film was shrouded under eerie suspense. The poster was dark and minimalistic. The trailer does what amazing trailers should do: never show the monster. I can only imagine how intensely audiences reacted to this after the light and exciting Star Wars.
This was Scott’s first big film I believe, a pretty intense and risky move to cash in on the sci-fi hype at the time and then take it in a whole new direction. The film starts out with this ominous and dreadful cut where the vessel slowly flies over into the screen. The dreaded chill and disturbing sound effects from this forbidding spaceship is powerful. I would never want to go in it in real life, and full props to the set design for making it such an intimidating large yet claustrophobic vehicle. The entire film is filled with this nihilistic tension, and Scott masterfully crafts the suspense by panning the camera around the room whilst the crew are talking, always in the shadows. The film is full of steam pipes bursting and dark, poorly light tight corridors. The first person camera angle when a character runs through them really makes your heart race and increases the feeling of claustrophobia. You feel trapped and in more than one occasion I had to remind myself that I wasn’t in deep space but on a couch.
Sigh. I tell you, what a brilliantly scary idea. Trapped in a tight container with a monster, and that container is floating up in the deathly void of space millions of miles away from anyone who can help you. Genius. Petrifying.
The movie is riddled with phallic symbols and innuendos. It’s very sexually disturbing and I’m not sure why they went this way. It’s not for the faint hearted and is suggestive of sexual violation. I think this was simply to make the movie more disturbing but doesn’t seem like unnecessary shock value, I’ve never seen a film do this ever in my life, leave aside doing it well.
Let’s talk about the cast. This movie only has around 7 people and this makes it all the more effective. The writers use the early portion to really flesh out personalities for these characters, and establishes who is cowardly, who is selfish, who is intelligent etc but (and this is the brilliance) never lets on to who the main character is. This is so effective, since once the action begins, we have a firm understanding of these characters and are left with a true sense of fear since we don’t know who is more important than the other, and the idea that anyone could die makes it all the more frightening. And that’s another thing done brilliantly that movies these days don’t do, establish a great fear of the unknown.
The entire cast is fantastic in their respected roles, but there’s two standout performances I really would like to touch on. The first is Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. I loved her. Really great character and really great performance. I loved how they went the route of making her the every-man. It made her all the more relatable and vulnerable, the movie wouldn’t have worked as effectively if she was tough enough to take on the alien alone. As the film progresses she does change from this irritating stickler to a more interesting, relatable character. She feels fear and she panics. And that’s what makes you root for her. Ian Holm’s Ash was petrifying. His voice was very chilling and creepy, and I just found him to be very very memorable.
This was Scott’s first big film I believe, a pretty intense and risky move to cash in on the sci-fi hype at the time and then take it in a whole new direction.
But of course the real star of the show was the alien himself. Today the Xenomorph is an iconic and gross movie villain, I can only imagine how traumatic it must have been when the film first came out. This was probably the most unique and original alien concept I’ve ever seen in my life. We don’t know much about the creature other than how it’s born and what it acts like, we don’t know where it came from or anything about it’s natural habitat. A lot about the creature is shrouded in mystery and a lot of these questions aren’t even answered by the end of the film which makes it all the more disturbing and endearing. The infamous blind face and phallic head, the razor teeth and deadly tongue are all a part of pop culture now. So iconic. And don’t let me get started on the birth. The entire life cycle of this parasitic creature is so gross it will leave you feeling very very violated and make your skin crawl. Wonderful practical effects. Wonderful special effects. No wonder it took home the Oscar for visual effects that year.
There’s actually nothing wrong with this movie. It’s easily one of the greatest films of all time. If you haven’t seen it yet, what are you waiting for. This film launched an interesting franchise with one of the greatest sequels ever made, a string other (less than stellar) sequels, spinoffs and crossovers that are still being released today and also, helped launch the successful career of one of the most respected directors in Hollywood.
However, I have to advise the movie has a strong R rating for graphic and disgusting violence.
This film showcases where horror comes from. The primal fear of the unknown. The nihilistic concept of not being in control. And the cold spectacle of death.