Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Tom Skerrit, Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton and Yaphet Kotto
Plot: A mining vessel is woken up from its return home by a transmission from an unknown origin. In investigating, they bring a creature of pure evil aboard their ship.
Horrors and Sci-Fis are a tricky genre to get right. Recently, only a select few Sci-Fis are celebrated, most of them, like John Carter, not reaching the success they were aiming for. Horrors, even the great ones, are rarely memorable. However, in 1979, Dan O’Bannon wrote a screenplay that mastered both, without ever seeming like it was trying too hard.
Alien is the kind of film that most people will easily class as their all-time favourite film (maybe losing out to its sequel). It is a terrifying, brilliant experience, giving us a claustrophobic, intelligent thriller and making it seem like the easiest thing in the world. For a Sci-Fi, the premise is incredibly simple. A mining vessel takes a quick detour, finds a crashed shuttle of alien origin and accidentally brings a horrifying alien creature, instantly becoming one of the most memorable creatures in cinematic history, onboard. If it kills the crew, then it will end up on Earth, wreaking havoc in its wake. Cue a tense struggle for survival that hits us with shocks, twists and some bloody gore that will make even modern viewers feel a little dizzy.
As a horror, it is perfect. Either by masterful direction, or the fact that the movie monster was little more than a guy in a rubber suit, Ridley Scott keeps his monster in the shadows for most of the films running time. Therefore it is the build-up that gets you, becoming almost unbearable. We are treated to what feels like an age of the crew wandering around the dark, claustrophobic corridors of the ship, only to be treated to a brief, horrific scare waiting at the end. It is the kind of lesson that all horror movies should learn. Also, rather than having a nail-biting score from someone like Hans Zimmer, Scott has no soundtrack here. This makes the tension so much more eerie. Rather than having a crescendo help us guess how long we have till the shock, we are left clueless as to when the alien is going to jump out at us. Every moment could be a scare. Usually, the alien never even shows. Ridley Scott has complete control of his direction, easily defining his status as one of the greatest directors of his time.
Not only do we get a fantastic horror, but Alien is a fantastic Sci-Fi franchise too. I am not sure how many of these trademarks are original or borrowed by Scott, but the exposition breezes along so smoothly that it barely registers as cinematic history in the making. The cryo-chambers and old-meets-new technology is well-thought out. The facehugger, chest-burster and actual Alien are some of the greatest creations in Sci-Fi. However, the trick is that Ridley Scott never feels as though he is going out of his way to make a great Sci-Fi epic. He simply includes all of these elements, because they help tell the story. All he cares about is the narrative and everything else just falls into place. If it wasn’t for the extreme horror and aliens bursting from ribcages, this movie would be beautiful to admire.
Holding it together is a great cast. Skeritt takes the lead here as the captain of the crew, bravely facing up to the dangers lurking in the shadows. The rest of the cast just make themselves likeable enough, so you don’t actually want the alien to get any of them (although I’ve talked before on how Lambert is one of the worst characters). The show-stealer is, of course, Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, the first female action hero in cinema. Weaver relishes the role, acting scared and determined at the right times. When it is just her versus the alien, hairs on the back of our necks stand up with tension. It is easy for the actors to become over-shadowed by the Alien, but Weaver stands her ground, catapulting herself into the top ten fictional heroines.
The one downside I can see to this film is simply the fact that Aliens came along and blew the original out of the water. I wouldn’t even call it the better film, but it is more action-packed, while this is a horror. Fans of Aliens may be a little disappointed if they saw the second first, but give this slower instalment a chance. It is a great piece of cinema and is a must-see for anyone who loves their Sci-Fi.
Final verdict: Even forgetting the fame and sequels, Alien is a powerhouse of a film. Tense, precise and memorable: it has all the makings of an epic.