I have to admit that I was pretty scared of this movie when I was kid. After watching it again for the first time in 25 years I’d have to say that I’m still pretty scared of it. Although I’m not usually a huge fan of Horror movies, if they have Science Fiction elements I’ll usually go along for the ride. And while Alien does have Science Fiction elements (it is a movie about an Alien life form trying to kill the crew of a spaceship after all), it definitely has more in common with a monster movie or slasher flick than it does with a space adventure – which is fine. Now that I’m older and not as afraid of the dark, I can sit back and appreciate Alien for what it is – a grimy, claustrophobic and moody vision of the future that does a masterful job of using tension and suspense to create a profound sense of dread and impending carnage. And while it may not do more than hint at some of the larger issues that Sci-Fi often deals with, that doesn’t make it any less of an effective movie.
Alien Summary: The crew of the mining transport vehicle the Nostromo are in stasis on their way home to Earth with their latest haul when they are awakened out of cold sleep and asked to investigate the source of an unknown transmission. After landing on the planet and exploring the wreckage of what appears to be an alien spaceship, a crew member named Kane (John Hurt) discovers a room filled with slimy eggs. When one of them opens and a creature attaches itself to his face, the crew are forced to return to the Nostromo in order to save him. While trying to detach the “face-hugger” from him, they learn that the creatures blood is extremely acidic – even coming close to burning a hole right through the hull of the ship. Things relax a bit, however, when they find that the alien has removed itself from the crew member, leaving him apparently unhurt. What comes next is probably one of the most famous scenes in all of cinema. If you don’t know what I’m talking about than it’s probably best if you just skip the rest of this and go watch the movie. I don’t want to spoil anything for you. Ok, you gone? Well, after recovering from the alien induced coma, Kane is sitting down to enjoy some food with the rest of the crew when he starts to shake and convulse violently. The next thing we know a small Alien baby has popped out of his chest and makes a break for it.
The rest of the movie mostly involves the remaining crew members fighting for their life as the (now) full-grown Alien starts to pick them off one by one. Both phallic and vaginal looking, and dripping in slime, the creature is something out of your worst nightmares. Designed by Swiss surrealist H.R. Geiger, the Alien is a frightening mix of biological and mechanical looking elements, all in a vaguely humanoid shape. Offhandedly described by the Chief Science Officer (Ian Holm) as the “perfect” being, he intimates that the creature has absolutely zero morality and is the ultimate survivor. Not exactly things you want to hear when trying to figure out how to stay alive.
Warrant Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) leads the charge as most of the crew are either killed outright by the creature or disappear completely (we find out what happens to those in a shocking scene near the end). After the Captain dies, Ripley discovers a message from their employers on Earth that the main directive of the mission is now to return the creature to Earth, even if it means the death of the crew. She also discovers that the Chief Science Officer is actually in on the decision to sacrifice the crew in order to preserve the Alien for some unidentified military purpose. When he is eventually revealed to be a robot, Ripley decides that the only way out is to set the self-destruct mechanism in the ship and get away using one of the ships escape pods. But of course nothing is ever that easy – especially in Horror movies.
Alien Review: Alien is often cited as one of the first examples of Science Fiction in film that portray the future as bleak and dirty. The Nostromo is certainly no shining palace in the sky. It’s a dark, cramped, highly functional environment built to house astronauts on long journey’s through space. To go along with that, the main characters in the movie are just average Joes doing a tough job under harsh conditions. They aren’t space heroes trying to save the galaxy, just regular workers trying to collect a paycheck and return home to their families. In addition to that, the fact that the lead role is a woman (and a kick-ass woman at that) was also a change of pace for the action adventure movies of the time. All of this, combined with the incredible set design and special effects work, contribute to making Alien one of the most striking and original pieces of Science Fiction ever produced. And the fact that it is still as powerfully scary today as it was over 30 years ago only reinforces how groundbreaking this movie really was at the time. So I admit, this is a pretty great movie. Just don’t ask me to watch it again anytime soon.
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