Dir. Ridley Scott
Runtime: 117 minutes
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm
In space, nobody can hear you scream. While on route home, the crew of the Nostromo commercial spaceship pick up an apparent distress signal from a nearby moon, which they are duty bound to investigate. Upon investigation it turns out that the distress signal was actually a warning, but it’s too late, as one of the investigating party is attacked by a creature of unknown origins. They try to make a hasty getaway but things are already too late as they’ve let something alien onto their spaceship.
This visionary Ridley Scott film is an absolute classic which crosses genres so easily – It’s part Sci-Fi, part Horror, part Thriller, with a lot of action and drama to boot. It’s delivered with style and substance making it not just look amazing, but the technology and science behind it too stands strong. A testament to the quality of both the story and delivery on screen is that it has stood strong for from the 1970’s and is still recognised some 40/50 years later as an absolute masterpiece of cinema. It’s spawned sequels, prequels, comics, games, comics, and fan memorabilia/merchandise.
Starring Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Helen Horton – and let’s not forget Sigourney Weaver – of who it made an absolute icon of film; the acting in this is top class. On the subject of Weaver’s performance, not only did she deliver a brilliant performance she also goes against cinema convention as the tough, no-nonsense hero of the film where most conventional films would have had a male lead instead. The way the crew come across, there is no outright leader, there is no star, and there isn’t a go-to person – they are all fragile, average Joe’s who are living on the edge and could be killed off easily. They are ordinary people who are doing the best they can and surviving while living in fear. Kudos to Scott for actively encouraging the cast to ad-lib certain moments, it gave real authenticity to the performances. In addition, the way he interacted with them really provided an additional layer of emotion – off-screen they were reported to have been encouraged to annoy each other, so that when the cameras were rolling the audience would pick up on the tension. The cast help to give an uneasy feel to the film which is littered with haunting and daunting scenery – making the prospect of the future something more industrial and hardworking. There are times where it feels like the crew is working in some dirty and sweaty industrial factory or prison rather than what the media has perceived as the clean and cool future of space travel. Using the claustrophobic confines of the spaceship as a playground there is no escape from the alien which is hunting them one by one. The alien is brilliant; it’s a fine mix of puppetry, live action and model – which has haunted film goers now for decades. Hat’s off to the H.R.Giger artistic concepts used, it was this film that got me interested in his art work and I’ve never regretted it. Designing the alien as a non-human humanoid makes the creature both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time – a real creature of nightmares. The elongated head, the jaw, the violent stabbing tongue, no eyes – it’s something that humans could have evolved into rather than what we are now, in an alternative reality of course. One of the things that make it so menacing is its soulless, chaotic and violent approach to hunting. There is no sense to its targeting; it kills because that’s what it does. If it doesn’t kill you outright it impregnates its victim and turns it into an incubator for another alien. Then you are on a count-down until you get torn apart from the inside while an alien spawn uses your body like a battery. The Alien, while being the titular vehicle to the film, isn’t the sole source of horror and tension in the film – it doesn’t appear until after an hour and then only has about 5 minutes of screen time – no, as mentioned, the environment and people stuck in the environment create their own tension as survival feels almost inconceivable, but the score sets the tension up wonderfully too. So much work and effort has gone into every aspect of the film that it’s a masterclass; from the directing, to the writing (Dan O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett), to the acting, to the art and design (by Moebius, Chris Foss and Swiss surrealist artist H.R.Giger) – all on point.
If it isn’t obvious from the passionate write up I have given this, I love this film. It may not have been successfully received in the 70’s (some later saying it was “Jaws” (1975) or “Friday the 13th” (1980), just in space) – but by the time I watched this in my childhood it was something that stayed with me. I’d recommend everybody to watch this film at least once as this really is a pivot movie in the history of film and the evolution of genre defying art mediums.