Alien (1979)


Now people understand why we don’t send more humans into outer-space.

In deep space, the crew of the commercial starship Nostromo is awakened from their cryo-sleep capsules halfway through their journey home to investigate a distress call from an alien vessel. After landing on a barren planet, Warrant Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) works to decipher the transmission and discovers that the signal is actually a warning, not an SOS. But it is too late to turn back as three members of the crew have already left to investigate the derelict ship.

Movies like this are hard as hell to review because they are just loved by so many people, that it’s almost like a death sentence if you say one bad thing about it. So by the time this review is over, I’ll have to be looking over my shoulder at every corner now.

All of the credit for how awesome this film is, probably has to go to director Ridley Scott. First off, the film starts with all of these slow-moving shots of the space shuttle, where there’s nothing really going on except for there being an eerie feeling the whole way through. This was a great way to start off this flick in my opinion as it showed that the horror film that I was about to see, wasn’t just your ordinary, jump-scare horror flick, it was actually going to be more of a slow-burner that would take its time to build up its scares. Scott uses a lot of slow pans here to fully capture the set designs and spooky atmosphere but also depends on a lot of sounds (or lack thereof) to gain some spookiness too. So many horror films nowadays, feel the need to bring in this huge, grandiose score that makes you feel like you should be scared but somehow doesn’t. Here, Scott depends on a lot of moments of silence in certain scenes where we don’t have some soundtrack telling us what to feel at a certain moment and the noises that Scott usually replaces them with (the computer sounds still give me a chill till this day), actually take you more into this atmosphere than you expected.

Scott also did a pretty awesome job at making this spaceship, and just space itself, look absolutely beautiful with it’s amazing production that is still some of the most inventive in sci-fi movie history. The inside of that spaceship, is pretty freakin’ scary because you never know how big it truly is, what places are safe and what aren’t, and also, top all of that with a whole bunch of darkness that Scott adds in to truly mess with your heads. Hell, even the way those ventilation shaft doors shut gave me the chills! The film also ventures out to an unknown planet that also looks very beautiful, with it’s long, sweeping terrain to give the Alien egg farm some more creepiness to it than it already needed. I don’t know if I’m doing this flick any justice by the way I’m talking about it, but I can say that Scott did a perfect job of filming it all and gave it a very stylized look, even though it mostly takes inside a spaceship.

But it wasn’t just his art direction that kept me involved with this flick, it was mostly the fact that I knew some crazy shit was going to go down and Scott continued to build that idea up and up and up until, the whole film starts to go crazy (along with everybody on the ship). There’s always a sense of eerie dread in the air, something that Scott builds on and lets it get inside of our head the whole way through. You never know what’s going to happen next, but you know it’s not going to be good and whenever something bad does happen, it’s injected with so much frenetic energy, that almost don’t realize that they only last for a couple of seconds. We also never get to see the Alien quite as much you would think (the movie is named Alien for Christ’s sakes!) but every time it did show-up, wooooooo-weeee, did it create a lot of tension!!

The one problem that I did keep on finding myself running into was probably one of the dumbest details, but it was also one of the biggest of the whole movie: the cat. I had no idea what this cat was even doing here in the first place, which was fine with me, but the film started to bring it into some key moments like where a person would have to go look for it, only to get killed off the next second, or to have people at the end of the movie trying to save it, while the Alien is ready to kill and all-over-the-place. This just seemed like a cheat to have some characters die and give the characters a reason to go back on the ship, even though it’s about to self-destruct and strapped with a killer Alien on-board. Seemed really dumb, for a movie that was doing so many smart things with itself.

What I loved the most about this film, was how each and every character in this flick got the same amount of screen-time, which also meant that you cared for them a lot more rather than just being a bunch of walking cliches you would normally expect from a horror movie about a crew entrapped on a spaceship with large monster. Tom Skerritt is pretty manly and tough as Dallas, and it’s pretty easy to see why this dude was the head-honcho of the crew. Sigourney Weaver, as we all know, is pretty bad-ass as Ripley and gives her this smart and sassy edge, that really comes out of her by the end when it comes down to nut-up or shut-up time with the big Alien. Don’t know why she had to get half-naked at the end, but hey, she looks pretty good, don’t she?? Veronica Cartwright is a cutie-patootie but isn’t given much to do here, and even when she does do something, it seems like she’s just yelling, screaming, and worried about whether or not she’s going to die. Probably the lamest character out of the bunch, which is saying much. Harry Dean Stanton was a lot of fun as Brett, who brought a lot of humor with his usual, dead-pan delivery. Still can’t believe that dude is 85 now! Sheeesh! John Hurt is good as Kane but I do wish we could have seen more of him because we all do know what eventually happens to that dude. Ian Holm is creepy as balls, playing the freaky scientist, Ash, and just plays up that whole weird, off-kilter dude perfectly. Oh, and Yaphet Kotto is a lot of fun as the token black guy you always need to have in a sci-fi/horror movie. Not saying it’s a bad thing, it’s just something you usually need to have to round it all out.

Consensus: Alien is definitely a sci-fi movie amongst sci-fi movies because it features a highly-stylized direction from one of the greats, Ridley Scott, who gives this film a very tense, dreary, and gloomy feeling the whole way through, and also keeps you guessing until the very end with scenes that are so iconic, I don’t even need to mention here. Just get out and go see it before you see Prometheus, because something tells me you’re going to have to do your homework for this one.

9/10=Full Price!!

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26 comments

  1. I’ve always found that sci-fi movies which mostly take place inside the spaceship are a lot more believable and a lot creepier. They really bring the action between the characters in tighter to make for a compelling experience. Part of what makes Alien such a great film is that the technology is very grounded. One of the main concept artists Ron Cobb was a former engineer, so he worked very hard to make the equipment realistic. I felt like you missed props to H.R. Giger, who designed the iconic and scary alien using his crazy “biomechanical” style. His creature became part of a multiple film franchise that expanded (for better or worse) into the AVP series as well. Solid review though. Don’t think you’ll need to look over your shoulder since you didn’t really trash the movie.

  2. Great review! This one is in my top 20, I have no problem with the cat it was a nice little detail, especially for Ripley’s character and to this day the shot of the cat seeing Alien murdering one of the crew is absolutely iconic.

  3. I always took the cat to be a statement on maternal protection ( as Newt was in the sequel) which fits with the films explicit thesis on motherhood (the extent to which Gigers designs work as metaphor is marvelous) but also a feminist reworking of the usual action formula: think, for a moment, about this movie if Dallas were the lead ( as he is in nine out of every ten iterations), he would have a love interest no? A damsel in distress whom he constantly had to go back and save from herself, one who was constantly putting other people into stupid situations. All these films have them, Scott was just smart enough to substitute one sort of pussy with another.

  4. Good review Dan. I just gave this another watch myself a few days ago and it still holds up remarkably well. The Blu-ray is as sharp as can be.

  5. Great review. Completely agree with almost all of it (the cat never really bothered me). I rewatched Alien this week because I was going to see Prometheus and it did actually help with some of the key moments in the film.

  6. Your mother took me to this movie when I was 11 years old. I still can’t watch it. It was sooo scary. It wasn’t until Men in Black – that I even dared got to a movie with aliens in it again. I need to rewatch it to see if it will be the same in my memory.

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