A group of space truckers on their way home are awakened from their deep space sleep by a distress signal. Obligated to do so, they go check out the signal’s origin in an abandoned ship that rests on a very desolate planet. While investigating, one of them is attacked and infected by a creature that impregnates the man. When given birth, the creature is released onto the ship and starts killing off the members like a killer in a slasher film. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is soon the only survivor left, and must do battle with a creature that is ferocious, stealthy, and has acid for blood.
If you think my small review of the plot makes Alien out to be a b-movie, you’d be right. The 70’s was the beginning of modern cinema, in which B-story material would be shot with A-movie budgets, starting with Jaws and Star Wars. Transformers, District 9, GI Joe, all B-movies on a budget. Alien was one of the first movies to belong to that, and it’s definitely one of the best. The first time I saw it, at the age of 9, I didn’t like it, in fact it made me feel very dizzy, with it’s claustrophobic environment and just frightening tone. Stupid of me, since I was probably expecting another Star Wars clone. But the more I watched it, the more things I noticed, the more I loved it. Now, to be fair, it wasn’t a completely original idea. The thought of a monster killing off spaceship members while hiding in the darkness was already explored in IT! The Terror From Beyond Space, and a lot of the plot elements, such as the arrival into a desolate planet to find something that’s killing the crew, and even the giant skeleton, were a part of Mario Bava’s Planet Of The Vampires. But Alien did it better than these two, and let’s explore why.
Most of the credit has to be given to Ridley Scott, who transformed a pretty bad script into the classic it is today. The original script featured an all-male cast, with homoerotic undertones (not that this is bad, but it would definitely make it less serious), and a creature with tentacles. Ridley decided to keep it’s basic plot, which is that of a typical haunted house movie, and ran with it creatively. He decided to give the movie a very realistic tone, in particular thanks to the production design. While Ron Cobb and Chris Foss (who previously worked on Dark Star) took the human designs of the spaceship and made it into what looks like a refinery in space, it was HR Giger, and his work of the alien elements, that gave the film an entrancing look. The alien spaceship, and the creature itself, look truly out of this world. The alien has become so familiar in popular culture that it’s very hard to remember just how influential and frightening it was when it first appeared on screens, and the way Scott films it makes it less like a man in a costume and more like the real thing.
The stellar casting is also a big part of why the film works. Sigourney Weaver has made a career out of playing the greatest female warrior in horror history, and she deserves it. She’s very human, and hangs her fear in her face, but it never lets it stop her from being able to keep her head together in the horrible situation she’s in. It’s very unrealistic in that sense, but that’s what makes it special: we WANT to be Ellen Ripley, and not the cowering panic-freaks we would surely become if we were in such a situation. The rest of the cast includes Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm, Veronica Cartwright, John Hurt, Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton. Ian Holm is particularly memorable, being a very mysterious individual who goes ape-shit and becomes truly scary when his true intentions are revealed, while Kotto and Stanton bring a lot of humor into their short, but memorable, roles.
So yes, a lot has been written about the film: about it’s feminist attitudes, about it’s sexual imagery, about it’s design and creature, all the exploitation low-budget ripoffs that came out in the 80's, about everything really. But no matter how much is written, it can’t be denied that this film is an incredible one, scary but confident. It’s a work of art that will live forever, and one of the most influential movies in my life.