Alien (1979)

Director:  Ridley Scott
Sigourney WeaverTom Skerritt, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Veronica Cartwright.

Plot:  A mining ship, investigating a suspected SOS, lands on a distant planet. The crew discovers some strange creatures and investigates.

  Horror / Sci-Fi
Awards:  Won 1 Oscar - Best Visual Effects. Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Art Direction.
Rating:  PG
for sci-fi violence/gore and language. 


“Here kitty, kitty, kitty. Meaow. Here Jonesy”.

Two years after George Lucas and Steven Spielberg wowed viewers and rejuvenated the science-fiction genre with Star Wars (1977) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) respectively, Ridley Scott scared the living hell out of moviegoers with Alien, perhaps the most terrifying (read: satisfying) sci-fi horror picture ever made. It spurned three sequels in which only James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) came close to eclipsing the original.

Alien is, in my opinion, Scott’s finest achievement as a filmmaker and it is only his second feature. A few years later, he directed another sci-fi masterpiece called Blade Runner (1982), establishing himself as one of the genre’s supreme visual stylists.

Alien stars Sigourney Weaver who plays arguably the greatest sci-fi heroine of all-time - Ellen Ripley. She is part of a minimal crew on board a large deep-space tug called the Nostromo. Along the journey back to Earth, they intercept a distress call from a nearby space body and decide to investigate, unaware of the perils that lie ahead.

Kane (John Hurt) is attacked by a ‘Facehugger’ which impregnates him. He then dies in the film’s most iconic scene - the chestburster sequence - in which a small, phallic creature pops out of his chest in gory fashion. It then escapes to somewhere in the ship where it sheds its skin and grows into one of cinema’s most terrifying creations, the grotesquely beautiful Alien.

Designed by H.R. Giger, the Alien is sparingly-glimpsed. Like the film’s characters, we are unsure how it really looks like and how evil it really is. This ‘Jaws effect’ approach, together with Scott’s slow, deliberate pacing and direction, adds considerably to the terror that it creates. The tension is incredible, especially in scenes when a character wanders off alone to his eventual doom.

The creature’s savagery is matched by its instinctive intelligence. Even though it is all-powerful, the Alien chooses to hunt down each character one by one, playing on their fears as they see their numbers dwindle by the hour.

The film is brilliantly scored by the late Jerry Goldsmith who used musical cues to dictate the level of suspense. The art direction and set decoration are fantastic with influences from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). This is most evident in the interior design of the Nostromo which gives a sense of isolation and claustrophobia.

The final quarter of the film is literally a dizzying blend of sight and sound. As Ripley races against time to escape the Alien, Scott brings the suspense to an unbearable high through the use of shaky hand-held cameras, flickering lighting, loud hissing sounds, and quick cuts.

Often compared to its direct sequel, Alien is in my opinion the better picture. Although Cameron’s Aliens is more epic, has a higher rewatchability and packs more thrilling action, the first installment is near perfect in the way it handles tension. It is as nerve-wrecking watching it the tenth time as the first.

Not only is Scott’s film an excellent technical achievement, it is an artistic triumph as well. It is, I daresay, one of the greatest films ever made. 

Verdict: Of all the science-fiction horror films ever made, Ridley Scott’s finest work is arguably the greatest.


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