Reviewbr> "It's got a wonderful defense mechanism. You don't dare kill it." - Parker
The crew of the deep space mining ship Nostromo are woken from hyper sleep to investigate a message originating from a planet we later learn is called LV 426. Captain Dallas and crew members Lambert and Kane go planet side and discover a spaceship of completely exotic origin, it's when they find the fossilised pilot that things start to get a bit freaky. Kane ventures into what amounts to a cargo storage area deep in the alien craft and discovers thousands of leathery egg like structures seemingly protected by a bluish mist. Naturally Kane has to get close and personal to an egg which leads top him being "infected".
Meanwhile Warrant Officer Ripley has partially translated the alien SOS and determined it's a warning rather than a call for help. She objects when Dallas and Lambert want to bring Kane back on-board but Science Officer Ash has an agenda of his own and overrides Ripley's command. This proves to be a huge mistake as the infection mutates into something deadly, much death ensues. Ready to tool up and go check the corridors of the Nostromo.
There's a number of movies that define the dark genre, The Exorcist immediately springs to mind, with Alien being perhaps the most influential. While a lot of people mistakenly believe the movie is a Science Fiction outing in reality it's simply a haunted gothic mansion that happens to be an ore processing plant in outer space. While normally taking any horror movie into Space is a recipe for schlock Alien grasps the opportunity and makes every post a winner.
Every single aspect of Alien is perfection defined, from the set designs, through the outstanding script, to the choice at the time of some pretty much unknown cast members. It's almost as if the planets were in alignment and some mystical force took over the movie makers, though considering the talent brought in to get the finish movie polished off there's probably just sheer inspiration to thank.
Alien primarily has four locations in total with each being an example of what can be achieved with the right designers on hand to make ideas a reality. Ron Cobb spent innumerable time creating the interiors, making the ship as industrial looking and as far removed from Star Trek as possible. The interiors have a lived in, functional, and above claustrophobic appeal that was pretty much unique for the time. Eventually Cobb's design for the exterior of the Nostromo was adopted as well, though Scott came up with the final dull colouring and designer Chris Foss was influential. The shuttle craft Narcissus also came from the fertile mind of Cobb and works like a brought one for the final confrontation. Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger designed the LV 426 scenery as well as the alien ship, interiors and exteriors, basing things around his biomechanical aesthetic. Giger's influence on the franchise is immense with arguable the "Alien" universe being a Giger construct that would not have been as successful as it continues to be without the designer's disturbing visions.
It would appear that Giger was approached for the alien design due to O'Bannon having worked with the Artist on the abortive Dune project previously. O'Bannon was impressed with Giger's Necronomicon series and showed Ridley Scott the biomechanical artwork from Dante's fifth circle.
Wrapping the designs, and we should also include the space suits and about everything else on display here, is the outstanding script by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett. The characters are real, "truckers in space", who confront the terror with normal human reactions. There are no super heroes here, squared jawed champions who know exactly what to do in a situation no one could be prepared for. What really works are the surprises O'Bannon and Shusett spring on us with the plot direction. For much of the movie Captain Dallas is the expected hero, the stoic leader who will get the crew through the dangers they confront, strangely this doesn't turn out to be the case with Ripley, formerly a minor character, stepping up to the plate and trying to get the crew home and safe. Considering the year the movie was released, having a female action character center stage is a shock. Even by today's standards, the character of Ellen Ripley would have to be the best defined female hero even committed to a script.
O'Bannon and Shusett are well aware that they are writing a horror movie and deliver some of the best ever shock scenes to have been committed to the page. The "face hugger" bursting out of the egg, the infamous chest burster scene, and of course numerous close encounters between characters and the full grown terror. While maintaining an every thickening feeling of dread and tension the Writers delivery some shocking scenes that will have more timid members of the audience cowering in terror.
This isn't to say the characters don't have their own strengths in terms of getting Alien launched. Brett and Parker, the two ship engineers, are moaning about not getting a full bonus point through the first half of the movie. Dallas is taciturn as the shop captain. Lambert is emotional on occasion but does her job. And Ash is aloof as the Science officer. The characters have distinct personalities, aren't going quietly into the night, and react to the outlandish situation with courage for the most part.
One aspect of Alien that has been unduly criticised over the years is Ripley going back for the cat, a ginger tom called Jones. However if you spend enough time with the movie you'll begin to realise that saving the cat re-affirms Ripley's humanity and is in keeping with her personality. If you still think this is somehow sexist, then I would suggest you have the issue not the script writers.
Tom Skerritt (Dallas) hits the world weary ship's Captain to the extent that you expect him to pull out a bottle of whiskey at any stage. Making her big screen debut Sigourney Weaver (Ripley) get's one of the best ever cinema roles and nails it, making for one of the dark genre's most memorably characters. Veronica Cartwright (Lambert) plays the typical horror female who seems to be paralysed by her fear, though the same could be said for Harry Dean Stanton's Brett, right. John Hurt, perhaps the only recognisable cast member of the time, has minimum work to do with the inquisitive Kane, but manages to imbibe the character with perhaps the outlook that has driven mankind to the stars. Surprisingly I've never see Yaphet Kotto (Parker) in anything else as he turns in a rock solid performance here. And rounding out Ian Holm (Ash) plays it aloof and cold as the Science office who enjoys research and is hiding one hell of a secret.
Quite possibly the real star of the movie however is the Alien, a creature from the deepest darkest pit of hell or maybe the Elder Gods' Doberman. Check out the life cycle, we get a leathery egg that looks really disgusting, a "face hugger" that bursts out of the egg like a demented crab/hand combination and inserts a tube down it's victim's throat while wrapping a tale round the victim's throat, a chest burster that resembles a snake with a really bad attitude and nasty teeth, and of course the fully grown 7 foot adult. The adult has a distinctive banana shaped head, two sets of jaws, one of which can be extended explosively, and of course a tail that is pretty much a weapon unto itself. During its lifecycles the alien has a corrosive acid that is either the ultimate defence system or the equivalent of blood. A very nasty beastie that simply lives to breed and to prey on whatever life forms stumble into its path. Interestingly Giger designed the adult alien to have no eyes as he thought it would be scarier if the Audience didn't know which direction the creature was looking, whether or not that is fully realised is debatable.
Due to the technology of the time we don't have the creature presented in CGI or any other generation pattern that lessens the impact, we're talking the dude in a rubber suit approach, which is handled with such brilliance by Ridley Scott that we never see the zipper at the back of the suit. Bolaji Badejo was discovered in a pub and had the size needed to play the alien, hence he will for ever have a soft spot in the hearts of true horror fans, and no doubt is the answer to numerous horror trivia questions. Scott handles the full grown alien well, we never get to see the beast in all it's glory till the end of the movie, quick glimpses of the terror heighten the tension throughout with each encounter with the insectoid being pretty kinetic.
Ridley Scott who was previous more renowned for commercials than movies, Alien would be his second feature film, is in full control of the movie throughout. Each frame is an example of how to build a picture with tight lightening, colour, and every single space being fully encompassed. Scott keeps his pacing matching the movie's development in an example of how to build towards a climax that leaves the Audience demanding more. Alien is arguably Scott's best movie and the single greatest achievement of the franchise.
Of course for a horror movie to be fully successful it needs a great and memorable score, which Alien has. The great Jerry Goldsmith provides the orchestral movements that are full of strident sounds and content designed to unnerve the audience, it works to such an extent that it even adds to Goldsmith's already strong reputation for nailing great scores.
Alien remains one of my favourite ever horror movies, and kicks off a franchise that has me excited to be fully covering for ScaryMinds. We'll be hitting all the movie highs and unfortunate lows, the novels, and the comics. Welcome to Alien central kids. If you have never seen Alien, the movie that kick things off, then you are in for a treat, this really is must watch stuff that will have you leaping around your lounge room for joy, prior to enduring the resulting nightmares that Ridley Scott's vision will bring.
Alien remains almost in permanent release mode on both DVD and BD. You can either score a single release or my suggested course would be the Alien Quadrilogy collection comprising all four "alien" movies and loads of extras over nine discs.