Ridley Scott’s Alien is one of the most obvious science fiction classics ever committed to film. Every single aspect of this masterpiece is tightly woven and meticulously constructed. It’s probably that, along with its great tale, keeping it so richly alive over the years since its release. Now drowning in accolade, it seems the critics most definitely do get things right from time to time. It’s still the best film in the series that followed it too, itself a notable collection of flicks (even if it does devolve across its course). Standing tall as a perpetual influence on the genre, Alien is far more than a lauded product of its time.
It still looks absolutely gorgeous today, for example. Scott’s skill as a visual conductor has never been in question after all, but Alien has an extraordinary heft to its aesthetics;.even by the director’s standards. Spiced up with the detailed (and extremely phallic) work of H.R. Giger, everything comes off as carefully composed. Each bleeping ship control pulses with imagination, engulfing its audience in dripping atmosphere from the off. None of that even mentions the terrific design of the titular beastie, or the magnificent way it’s brought to the screen. Viewers forever benefit from such environmental immersion, being as much horror as it is science fiction. Using the medium of film to its very fullest, it set a precedent seldomly equalled in its field.
For a lengthy return journey, the manifest of the Nostromo (a commercial ship) are placed in stasis. After being awoken prematurely, it becomes clear that a mysterious signal is the cause. With a responsibility to check such transmissions for possible distress, or extra-terrestrials, the crew begrudgingly comply. Not your standard Star Trek bridge crew of perfect humans however, they instead squabble over contracts and payment. No grand discussions on the explorations of the unknown float through the dank air of the ship, only trepidation as an eventual expedition discovers a vast nest of eggs and a deceased alien astronomer.
When Executive Officer Kane (John Hurt) is apparently attacked by a nightmarish creature – one of the egg’s progeny – that trepidation becomes very real fear. By the time an even more horrible thing smashes through his chest and makes off at speed into the bowels of the ship, it’s clear that extreme danger abounds. Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) and Warrant Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) are left with minimal resources against a quickly adapting foe, as well as the burgeoning eccentricities of their shipmates. What ensues is a genuinely tense campaign between the intelligence of man and the animal brutality of instinct; human weakness against raw survival. Alien is such a cornerstone that a plot summary comes off as pointless to those who have seen it. Otherwise, it’s best to leave the majority of its intricacies to display on its own. Ruining it would be a sin indeed (note I didn’t tell you when Kane’s chest smashes in).
It would be a top-tier movie just for its creation of the Xenomorph, to be fair. A wonderfully inspired monster, it’s a figure of enormous terror of a kind all too rare. Not only that, but it’s also an intelligent concept for an extra-terrestrial – too unique to even rip off. In fact, it’s a shame the species never reached its true potential in the ongoing series. After Prometheus I wouldn’t even task Scott with having another crack at it. Alien is probably better left as is, and I think it’s got a few more decades before it seems completely dated. Until then, it’s still more pleasing to the eye (and brain alike) than almost all of its modern-day peers.
While a lot’s been said in this article about its visual styling, the cast is something that shouldn’t be forgotten. Weaver really broke through with her revolutionary role as Ripley, one of the first female action heroes to kick as much ass as the males otherwise rammed down our throats. Hurt is always bloody brilliant, but Ian Holm deserves a special mention for his fantastic turn as the ship’s Science Officer, Ash – an aspect of the film not nearly revered enough. Their characters are portrayed in a way sparsely seen in science fiction, and it only makes their horrific plight all the more relatable. With a cast you can really believe, aesthetic sensibilities you won’t believe and an incredibly smart, yet simple, premise, Alien truly seems to have it all.