“I can’t lie about your chances, but… you have my sympathies.” – Ash, Alien (1979)
Another classic film that I’d yet to watch. Alien had in fact been on my watch list for a very long time. This was the number one film of all time that I had been wanting to watch for the longest time. Am I glad I finally bit the bullet and watched through this film? Absolutely I am. Unlike A Clockwork Orange (1971) I wasn’t let down in any way, shape or form throughout my watching of Alien. It’s a perfect blend of sci-fi, horror and thriller, and I loved every second of it. But I suppose I should explain how that could be possible, so read on for my Alien review.
The Nostromo spaceship is on its way back to Earth, but the inhabitants are woken up eleven months before arrival. After receiving a distress signal from a nearby planet, the Alien sneaks its way on board. Soon after realising this, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and her crew must either battle the Alien or blow up the spaceship. For me, it’s a very simple plot, and that’s what I like most about this film. The fact that it can create such an intriguing plot with something so simple is excellent. With a supporting cast including John Hurt and Harry Dean Stanton, Alien was going to be a sure fire hit with me. But aside from the plot, why and how did Alien create such an amazing experience?
For the first six minutes of the film, there isn’t a single sound. No soundtrack, no speech, literally nothing for the establishing shots of space and the ship. To me, this artistic direction was simply marvellous to see. It’s something so small but I did really enjoy the opening credits to the film. Slowly panning through silent space as the credits were rolling was a sure fire way of engaging me in the film. Following on from that, the build up to seeing the crew wake up and mull around the ship was great as well.
To be fair what else should I expect from a film directed by Ridley Scott? He’s one of the most highly regarded directors of all time. He’s up there with Alfred Hitchcock and Quentin Tarantino, both publically and personally. Ironically the only other movie I’ve reviewed with Scott’s name attached to it was the affably poor Mindhorn (2016). I suppose watching Alien was a way of setting the record straight in that regard. While Mindhorn may have been about as fun as a trip to the dentist, Scott has obviously brought his A-Game to Alien.
Absolutely the best part of this film is the technology. Given that this film released in 1979, we’re going to see a load of shitty looking computers everywhere. This does add to the overall tone of the film which is one of fear and tension. See, Alien isn’t a horror film, it’s a thriller. Horrors are made to scare you while thrillers are made to give you this rising tension throughout. Alien avoids being a horror film, of course there are a few scary moments, but overall it’s tension is what leaves the lasting impact. The rising tension and payoff when we see Dallas (Tom Skerrit) in the same tunnel as the Alien is extremely well paced and overall just brilliant.
But going back to what I said about that old technology, the set design is without a doubt fantastic. It looks like a spaceship so what more can you really ask for. A majority, if not all of the scenes are dark and dim, it really adds to the atmosphere overall. The few scenes that aren’t dark are those that are set in the clinical feeling medical bay, of which most of those scenes end in disaster.
As far as casting goes, the obvious role to talk about would be Weaver’s groundbreaking role as Ripley. For me though, John Hurt as Kane is just stellar. Kane as a whole is really the central point of the group’s conversation and conflict. Because of his character we get to see the other characters develop rather well and overall we get a sense that this group is not built to last.
A lot of this is thanks to Kane, who basically acts as a visual display of how the group is feeling. When Kane first finds the eggs, there’s a sense of mystery not just from him but from everyone else also. He’s a driving part of the narrative and adds a lot more to the film than I thought he would. A film driven by the fact that John Hurt is a clumsy muppet that sticks his face near everything that looks a bit interesting.
Right, I have to talk about Ripley now don’t I because I can’t really not talk about her. Sigourney Weaver is a great actor, but to be fair I’ve only ever seen her in Paul (2011) and Avatar (2009). Paul was funny, Avatar was possibly the biggest pile of mainstream shit I have seen in a long while. Still, Weaver’s defining career role has to be Ripley, and rightly so. The character as a whole is well acted and works well with the rest of the characters we are provided with. For me, Ripley works specifically well with Ash (Ian Holm) because really that’s the person she speaks to the most. The on off relationship of the two in the tense moments of the film is without a doubt some fantastic storytelling.
I will never not praise a film for not using CGI. A lot of modern horror films like The Conjuring (2012) simply aren’t as scary as they should be. The reason I think Alien is so scary is because the Alien itself is actually some bloke in a suit. For me it’s scarier to be chased by a bloke dressed as an Alien than a computer alien. That’s just me though. To create a scary looking Alien, they had three different actors playing the role in a suit they made. It’s very much in the same vein of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), a reliance on visual and physical effects over computer generated ones.
Because of this, Alien has become a timeless classic. The CGI doesn’t look dated because there is very little to see. Everything that has been created for this film only adds to this amazing spectacle. Hell, watching this film in 2017 still provided some very freaky and horrible visuals, especially the fossilized alien thing. You know what I mean, the giant thing Kane finds about half an hour in.
I somehow managed to keep myself spoiler free from this film for almost eighteen years until I finally watched it. Because of this, the twists, turns and deaths throughout the film were as gripping as they will have been for those that saw the film on its release. The big reveals towards the end were heavy hitting. All I knew about the film is that they give Sigourney Weaver a flamethrower. Also John Hurt has things come out of him, surprisingly not the first film to do so.
Alien is a film that, even thirty eight long years later, can still hold up amongst the films coming out today. That’s one of the many reasons it’s a genre defining and highly praised film. Why wouldn’t it be highly praised to be fair? It’s the film that cemented Ridley Scott as a director capable of creating some of the most competently amazing films of all time. But if it weren’t for the hard working cast and lack of CGI, then Alien would have been a very different film.