Hatching an infamous sci-fi franchise
Alien is a 1979 science fiction horror film directed by Ridley Scott and stars Sigourney Weaver in her first appearance as Ellen Ripley. It is also the first film of the Alien franchise, which has featured a plethora of sequels, prequels (more on the way with Covenant being the next installment), and crossovers. Tom Skerritt and John Hurt also star in this one.
The spacecraft Nostromo is on a return voyage home with seven crew members in stasis: Captain Dallas, Kane, Lambert, Parker, Ash, Brett, and Ripley. They are accompanied by the Garfield-colored cat, Jones, and are guided by the ship's computer, Mother. The Nostromo receives a strange transmission from a nearby planetoid, which the crew goes to land on and investigate. Three of the crew members go to search out the landscape on foot, and one of them, Kane, discovers a chamber holding a sea of eggs. Kane identifies living organisms inside one of the eggs, but when he goes to investigate it, a strange creature jumps out and attacks him. The creature, called a face-hugger, eventually detaches from Kane's face and dies. Not long afterwards though, Kane is killed when another larvae-like alien creature bursts from his chest and runs off into the ship. The rest of the Nostromo crew now must hunt down the alien creature and kill it, unless it kills all of them first.
I honestly feel a little bad for Alien. It has now become one of those films where anytime that you see anything else remotely close to it, the first thought that comes to mind is, yeah, that's a [insert famous movie being ripped off] ripoff. Really, any sort of "lost/trapped in space" film cannot escape the comparison. Example? How about the recent movie, Life (which I did not go and see because it is an Alien ripoff!), which probably thought that it was a fresh take on the lost in space category, where any one who knows about Alien knows that that movie was just Alien on Mars.
The point is, Alien is, and always will be, the grand master of the lost in space genre, sitting atop a mighty pedestal where no film of the same nature has even come close to dethroning it. It is also a masterful work in both the science fiction and horror genres. The sci-fi aspect is pretty simple. Space travelers come across an extra-terrestrial life form that acts the same way that any wild animal would by killing and eating anything that is edible. This alien isn't plotting Earthly domination or the end of mankind, which is a characteristic that I think makes the Alien franchise special. The horror side of things is quite brilliant. The movie takes a basic story element like someone running away from something that will either kill or hurt them, and gives it the gimmick of having it strictly in outer space. Pretend that you are trapped in a closed location like a spaceship where no one can hear you and you cannot call for help. Now imagine that a giant killer alien is coming after you, and you have no idea where it is, let alone how it thinks. If that does not terrify you in the least, then I am not sure what will.
- The pacing. People might forget that the black, saliva-dripping alien does not actually makes its first appearance until at least 45 minutes into the film. The first 5 minutes, not counting the opening credits, are shots that simply survey the Nostromo and establish the environment that most of the film takes place in. None of the crew members are seen in these shots, because Ridley Scott wants to make us uneasy right from the beginning. We are given a first look into the setting, and we must examine and analyze it before the human characters appear. Once the characters show up, we start making observations and connections with them. But for those 5 minutes, we are on our own, as if we are taking a lonely tour through the dark and empty regions of space, impending the dangers soon to come.
The best horror films rely on set-up and not just blasting us with jump scares and monster carnage right away. Alien gives us a glimpse of what each character is like, and takes its time exploring the planetoid where Kane discovers the face-hugger. There is no suspense and no trauma if characters are just getting axed off with no build-up. Yes, characters in Alien do get axed off, but they are always put in a situation that attempts to progress the plot forward. Ridley Scott made sure his actors did not sign up to just stand there and look scared and then just collect their paycheck and call it a day. The humans have purpose other than creature fodder, which is something that the Syfy channel does not believe (when has Syfy EVER made a TV monster movie with memorable characters?).
- The growth of the alien is a misstep that I just cannot brush off. The alien appears as a reddish, gnawing larvae once it bursts out of Kane's chest. It then runs off into the ship, and the crew goes to hunt it down. At this point, the alien is still in its infant form, right? Well, not long afterwards, we see the alien again, which is the first time that we see it in its fully grown form, which is the black, slobbering version that pretty much everyone knows to be the universal Alien figure. Did the alien age 10 years within 10 minutes? I am no expert in the aging process of extra-terrestrial life forms (is that even a thing?), but I am skeptical about a creature being able to undergo such a vast transformation in such a short time span. I think if the alien had appeared just once or twice in an adolescent form, the transition from killer birth to killer adult would have been smoother.
Alien still holds up as a terrifying adventure in the mystifying realms of outer space. The slow build-up and the steady pacing create a sheer sense of terror that can still frighten just as well today as it could back in 1979. I should also note that the original trailer for this movie is one of the most well-constructed trailers that I have ever seen. Check it out:
Recommend? Yes. Anyone who loves science fiction and/or horror must see this film.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: