Release date: May 25, 1979
Director: Ridley Scott
Harry Dean Stanton,
Yaphet Kotto and
Ridley Scott's Alien 1979, has been called "the scariest movie ever made." While I wouldn't go that far, I do think it is one of the best horror movies ever made, with its sequel, ALIENS, also being good, of course not as good. However; the two other sequels after Aliens were pretty horrible.
Some might find the setup for the film to be simple or even boring. Surely enough, those with a lack of an attention span will scorn it because it doesn't throw shredded intestines at the screen the minute it begins, and in all actuality it's the simplicity of the first half hour that inhances the movie's overall effect. After the credit sequence ends, we simply see a four-tower spaceship drifting through space. The craft, called Nostromo, is making its way back to earth with a heavy cargo and a crew of seven aboard. These people aren't quite like the Enterprise crew of "Star Trek" or the space explorers in "2001"; they are working class employees in space, unaware of the horror yet to come. There's Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), a slightly lazy, laid back pilot, and Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), who commands her authority when it comes to hand. There's also the sleepy eyed Kane (John Hurt), Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) and Parker (Yaphet Kotto), two grunt engineers who incessantly complain about their bonus payment, science officer Ash (Ian Holm), and the quiet Lambert (Veronica Cartwright).
I can see how hard it must be for most horror movies to hold up with a second viewing, let alone retain the impact of the first viewing. After first seeing the film, I started to think about this, and let me say that the movie doesn't retain the impact after you first see it: it multiplies it. It is for this reason That so many (including me) see this film as "the best" horror film made. Watching it the second time, the atmosphere was even more grating and haunting, and the suspense is killer. Kane's encounter with the facehugging creature alone was enough to bring the movie's suspense to an unendurable level, making each other tight moment more difficult to bear. Jerry Goldsmith's score also gives viewers the creeps in a resounding way, even just as the credits slowly appear.
With the most obvious parts excepted, the two keys to the film's overall greatness are the already mentioned setup and the mystery and minimal detail that surround the presentation of the aliens. When Dallas, Kane, and Lambert explore the ship, we wonder just how it got there and how the elephant like structure (aka the "space jockey" according to fans) and the eggs came to be. Having already seen all of the sequals and observed and considered several different theories about the aliens, it's amazing that the movie could still weave an unknowing sense around me no matter how much consideration I could put into the origins of these mysterious objects.
One other staple in the classic sense of "Alien" is its strangely original cast, which while small is also one that is are all easily likeable. Most casts in horror movies are populated by teen icons with pretty faces and trimmed bodies, but the actors here are far more dimensional and believable. Their characters are also easy to relate to, and as you watch them you feel a sense of hopelessness and fear as the alien begins to kill them one at a time. There's also a feeling of loss when they die, which is far more important for a film such as this than spraying as much blood as possible onscreen.
The most towering of all the brilliant aspects of the film is its influence, which still shows today after 31 years and three sequels (not including the alien vs predator films). While James Cameron broadened the series' horizon with Aliens (the best sequel of the series and some even consider it a better film than the original), the establishment of "Alien" is monumental. The designs of the alien, courtesy of the famous Swiss artist H.R. Giger, rank among the most effective and creative monster designs in all of movie history.
Best of all, though, is the establishment of Sigourney Weaver's famous Ripley character, who no one believes will be the eventual hero, but rises to the occasion as more and more of the crew die. Through the first two films, Ripley always seems to be shouldered out, first by the rest of the crew of the Nostromo and in the second by a group of marines. In the end, however, she rises as the hero, and quite fittingly.
In short the movie is an all-around strong film marred by some silly additions of the feline element. Its “high-tech” set pieces are a little out of date (in particular the Mother chamber, which is covered in blinking lights), but it’s still a terrifically paranoid and intense movie, and definitely worthy of a franchise. A must watch for any loyal horror fan.
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