“Alien” Movie Review

Whoever said that you should only be allowed to watch “scary movies” in October? This film (and its sequel) are perfectly enjoyable to watch around the summer time. After all, what could possibly be more worthy of the summer movie season than small aliens bursting violently out of the chest? The inaugural picture of this sci-fi horror franchise was released in the United States on May 25th, 1979, coming to the U.K. 3 months later. Although critics were slow to acknowledge its brilliance, the film made back over 10 times its $9 million budget worldwide. Over the years, it has spawned a franchise consisting of 7 more movies, in-depth novels, crossover comics, and numerous video games, some better than others. Directed by Ridley Scott, his second full-length feature, the screenplay was conceived by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett while working on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s doomed production of Dune. Many, many drafts later, and with the help of producer Walter Hill, the gears actually started turning. It was only after the monumental success of Star Wars that 20th Century Fox agreed to finance the science-fiction film, a dangerous genre in those days. Set in the early 22nd century, the story follows the crew of the Nostromo, a commercial spaceship transporting 20 million tons of ore back to Earth. Under assignment from the intergalactic company Weyland-Yutani, they land on a planetoid called LV-426. Unbeknownst to them, a mysterious and highly aggressive extraterrestrial creature sneaks onto their ship as they make the return journey. As the creature stalks and takes out members of the crew one by one, the survivors, led by warrant officer Ellen Ripley, must find a way to beat what is seemingly the perfect organism. Let’s make something abundantly clear here before going on: Alien is a horror film. You can be snobby about it and put it away in any other Blockbuster aisle that you want, but at its bleak core, Ridley Scott has made a horror movie through and through. This is one of many things that distinguish it from its sequel (Which you’ll absolutely see a review of later this month) and very little beats watching it in the middle of the night all on your own. It took a little bit for me to fully appreciate it, though. On my first watch, I felt a bit cold from the overwhelming atmosphere that seemingly clouded the emotional involvement. But now, having rewatched it as part of my New Year’s Resolution, I have finally seen its brilliance. Something that really struck me on this rewatch was the deliberate pacing the director moves the film along at. With an opening scene that slowly establishes the setup with just the slightest amount of on-screen exposition, we learn everything needed to be known about the mission. Scott is wise not to rush to the survival horror aspects of the film, instead carefully building up the world and motivations for the characters. Interestingly, the creature itself doesn’t really show up or take full form until at least halfway or maybe even two-thirds of the way through the movie. But much like Jurassic Park 14 years later, it does a really great job at sucking viewers in and engrossing them in a place where no one can hear you scream. One reason to get so invested is thanks to the capable ensemble cast. Sigourney Weaver’s storied career was launched thanks to this franchise and for good reason. One of the most powerful female characters ever written for the big screen, watching her pretty much act as the only one aboard who is following orders is enticing, even if we don’t know much about her backstory. Interestingly, she isn’t even made the main character until around the time the creature finally shows up. We really get to know and get attached to her crew members before then. Tom Skerritt as the cowby-esque captain, Veronica Cartwright as a particularly emotional engineer, the late Harry Dean Stanton and John Hurt as minor but vital members of the crew, Yaphet Kotto as a muscleman, and Ian Holm as corporate overseer Ash. While Ash arguably gets more screentime than anyone else, (And for good reason) you can’t help but care about everyone onboard and fear for their lives. Meanwhile, on a purely technical scale, it’s hard not to see the impact this film had on the sci-fi genre in the years to come. Cinematographer Derek Vanlint wisely chooses to expose shadows and dark corridors for our heroes to go down, tracking their every move with steady shots. The slow move-ins and unexpected pans or tilts only increase the amount of dread that each frame is filled with. It is combined with the editing work of Terry Rawlings, Peter Weatherley, and David Crowther that adds up the intensity. Comprised almost like a wound-up guitar string, the movements and cuts work perfectly together to build up the dread and terror. A fine decision, as anything with a whip-fast pacing, could have put the story in danger of no longer being scary. But the big star here is the late, great art designer H.R. Giger. He brings his signature style of ghastly, gothic, and darkly sexual work and design to the eponymous creature as well as many other environments. Never before had a planetoid surface or a derelict spaceship looked so terrifying yet intriguing at the same time. There’s also something just immediately disturbing just by looking at the alien and thinking of all of the things it could do to someone. The famous chestbursting scene is one of the most unsettling momenbts in the history of cinema, thanks in large part to Giger’s practical handiwork. And the best part? None of the cast members were told what was going to happen when it was filmed; their reactions on-screen are real. Nearly 40 years onwards, and Ridley Scott’s breakthrough feature hasn’t lost an ounce of its horrifying touch. Not only did it set a standard for his own career buit also for sci-fi and horror in general. Alien is a frightening, suspense-filled classic of atmospheric terror. Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, this has inspired an entire generation of film lovers and filmmakers and it’s not hard to see why. You’ll get a very warm feeling in your chest as you watch it, but it’s not becuase some monster is about to burst out. It’s because you’ll be so petrified by what’s happening that no one will be able to hear you scream.

Image result for alien poster 1979

 

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