“Jaws in Space.” The perfect three words to describe 1979’s unique Alien. If you look at it closely, Alien is very similar to Jaws. An abnormal giant creature is terrorizing a bunch of innocent humans, and even the introduction to each monster is eerily similar. I really dig the influences that Jaws made on Alien. I liked how they hid the alien until the end, where we finally get to see him in all his grotesque glory. The 1970’s was a hard time for sci-fi. Not many science fiction movies were made in the midst of American exploitation films, but luckily Star Wars and Close Encounters changed everything. Because of the success of those films, one of the best sci-fi/horror classics of the twentieth century was able to get produced. I am not much of a horror guy but if you are able to add a science-fiction element to the horror and actually make it good, well you can count me in. I enjoyed nearly everything about this film from start to finish.
One of the film’s best strengths is its pacing. It moves purposely at a slow pace. People would expect the movie to be about the alien from the start, but the alien does not begin its reign of terror until the movie has been running for a good amount of time. But we are treated to wonderful characterizations (conversations on money shares), the silence of space, and the anticipation of what will happen next. But from the start, it’s worth investing your time into the characters of the ship, The Nostromo. Another strength is the production design thanks in part to designer H.R Geiger. The Nostromo has a wonderful design to it and you can tell the influences from Star Wars. But what about the creature himself? My goodness, they are scary-looking creatures. From the harmless looking chest-burster to the killing machine that is called the Alien, they are visually disgusting creatures (in a good way). In today’s day and age of movies, the visual effects still hold up very well. The effects actually won an Oscar.
The Nostromo is a commercial deep-space vessel on its way home when it picks up an SOS signal from a distant planet. The SOS signal awakens the crew from their deep hypersleep way earlier than anticipated, The seven-man crew is led by Dallas (Tom Skerritt) and the rest of the crew consists of Ripley (Signourey Weaver), Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), Brett (Harry Dean Stanton), Kane (John Hurt), Ash (Ian Holm), and Parker (Yaphet Kotto). Once they get to the signal, they realize that this was not an SOS signal at all. It was a signal of danger now that a very dangerous lifeform is a stowaway on their ship. Will they be able to destroy the alien before they get destroyed themselves?
Another reason why the movie works so well is the presence of a strong female lead character. So we have ourselves a 70’s rarity: a female-driven science-fiction movie. Signourey Weaver’s Ripley plays out like a character straight out of a 1950’s movie and I love it. Ripley is a hero worth remembering in future movies. Weaver is the most important character of the movie, but let’s not forget about the rest of the cast. I find the ages of everybody interesting. A typical horror or thriller movie has most of their characters between 20-30. Outside of Weaver and Cartwright, everyone is 35 or older. I liked that because they added experience to their characters thus making us care more about their fates. Ian Holm was the oldest cast member at 46, and is the second most important character. His character is actually an android and his profession is a science officer. So you might have the feeling he will play a pivotal role with the alien (and the humans) fates. I must give a shout-out to John Hurt for taking it so well the fate of his character, Kane. Kane happened to be the lucky fellow involved in the horrifying chest-bursting sequence. I’ve seen this movie several times and the shock value of this scene still remains at a high point.
This movie was directed by Ridley Scott, whom would go on to have an impressive career in Hollywood. But this movie is where he was mostly introduced to the film world. He did one hell of a job directing the movie. This movie could have easily been a movie with cheap scares, but he grounded the movie. He made it much more than just the alien. In a way, you can count this as another similarity to Jaws. That shark movie began the mighty career of Steven Spielberg…..just like this film did with Ridley Scott.
Overall, I really enjoyed Alien so much. This movie spawned many sequels and spin-offs, but none of them impacted me like this movie did although 1986’s Aliens is also a classic. The movie is scary and thrilling, but Ridley Scott’s powerful directing and Signourey Weaver’s acting prowess did much to elevate the movie. Then there was the impressive visuals, the good use of sound (a smooth mixture of silence and Jerry Goldsmith’s score), the good script by Dan O’Bannon. This is really an unforgettable classic and its up there with Jaws (yep, I mentioned it again) as my favorite horror movies from the 1970s’. If these kind of films have a good story, then you bet I’ll like them.
My Grade: A