Feb 6, 2015

Review: Alien (1979)

There's no doubt in my mind that Alien is THE movie that inspired me to watch horror movies. For a few years I refused to watch any horror movies at all because of a preconceived notation that they're all the same. I was a snob and the worst kind. I was also a baby if I'm truly honest with myself. While it's true that most horror movies are unoriginal and follow a pretty similar formula, there are gems sprinkled here and there that shouldn't be missed. I ended up watching Alien on a whim and I haven't looked back since.

Once I saw Alien for the first time, I had this huge hunger to devour as many horror movies as I could. I wanted to be scared and thrilled all over again. I had missed a lot of horror films over the years, so there was a pretty healthy supply out there for me and there still is. None have been able to match the experience I got out of Alien and sadly, I doubt one ever will.

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Genre: horror, sci-fi
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Produced by: Gordon Carroll, David Giler, Walter Hill, etc.
Written by: Dan O'Bannon
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Running time: 117 minutes
Production company: Brandywine Productions, Twentieth Century-Fox Productions
Distributed by: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 20th Century Fox, Columbia-Fox, etc.
Country: United Kingdom, United States
Language: English
Budget: $11,000,000
Box office: $104,931,801 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Bolaji Badejo, Helen Horton, Eddie Powell

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Synopsis


The Nostromo, a commercial cargo ship, is on its way back to Earth with its seven crew members in stasis. The ship receives what appears to be an SOS transmission which forces it to re-route and wake up the crew to go investigate. On the planet where the signal is coming from, crew members discover a ship belonging to an unknown species, but no signs of life. That changes quickly once they stumble upon a huge room full of eggs.

Review


What makes Alien such a special film is its patience. In this way, it resembles Steven Spielberg's early classic Jaws by never revealing its monster until quite a bit later on. Ridley Scott employs the same sort of trick and boy does it ever work well. We get bits and pieces here and there, but we never truly see the alien, or Xenomorph if you will, in full until the film is almost over. It's a technique I've always enjoyed in horror films and Alien is one of the best at utilizing it to its full potential.

The film opens to the quiet and eerie score of Jerry Goldsmith as we're shown the inside of the Nostromo. It's an ugly ship, utilitarian and it successfully scrubs away the glamour and cleanliness that was normally accompanied with space in film. Star Wars did this a little bit in 1977, but Alien goes even further. Space is dark, empty, it's cold and despite the Nostromo's great size, you never feel anything else but confined and claustrophobic inside of it.

Everything that has to do with design in Alien is absolutely world class. Swiss artist H. R. Giger had a major hand in this, designing things like some of the sets as well as the alien lifeforms that we meet. He brings a very unique kind of look that is beautiful, disgusting and terrifying all at the same time. The interior design of the Nostromo is also really unique and plays a big part in making Alien as scary as it is.

Now when it comes to horror, Alien is exactly how I like it. Its slow pace at the beginning makes what comes later on memorably scary and taut enough to make you jump out of your seat multiple times. This was my third time watching Alien and it's still extremely effective even though I knew what was coming up. There's a certain amount of psychological horror as well in Alien since Ridley Scott makes an effort at diving into his characters' minds while they're terrified. When they're scared, the viewer is too and that doesn't always happen in horror movies as much as it should.

It's extremely easy to sympathize for the characters in Alien, partly because of just how human they seem. They're regular people doing their jobs. Do you blame Parker (Yaphet Kotto) for wanting to discuss bonuses and for refusing to go down to investigate the SOS since it's not part of his job? I certainly can. In a movie taking place in the future with strange lifeforms and strange worlds, Alien still features a bunch of humans we can all connect with.

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley is the big deal here obviously, having won the role as a complete unknown. She has this vulnerable kind of courageousness that also just seems very natural. Adrenaline seems to keep her going when things really go bad and Weaver knocks these scenes out of the park. Sci-fi fans owe a lot to Sigourney Weaver who made it cool to have tough female characters in science fiction films. 

Alien could've been a simple horror B-movie worth nothing more than a passing glance. With all the right people assembled at the right time, it has become so much more than that. Alien is an important part of cinematic history and one of my all-time favourite horror films as it is for many others I'm sure. Its scares work extremely well and a lot of that is owed to its rich designs as well as its dark and depressing atmosphere. I wish all horror movies could be more like Alien.

Rating


9/10

Related Reviews:

 

Aliens (1986) 
Alien³ [Alien 3] (1992) 
Alien: Resurrection (1997)

AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004) 
AVPR: Aliens vs Predator - Requiem (2007) 

Prometheus (2012)