“Alien” (1979) Film Review
Written by Jambareeqi
Posted 21st May 2017
Despite being an avid film fan, there are many critically applauded classics that I’ve never sat down to watch. I’m drawn more towards the obscure or forgotten, so it can be hard to steer my interest towards more mainstream features. One such film has always been Ridley Scott’s space thriller “Alien”, an award winning movie that’s often considered to be one of the greatest films ever made.
Growing up, my dad had a boxset of three sci-fi movies on DVD and they included: The Abyss, The Fifth Element and Aliens. I watched the latter and despite having never seen Alien, I really enjoyed it. Seeing as I was fully satisfied with Aliens, I never really went out of my way to pursue it’s predecessor or any of it’s countless sequels. With the release of “Alien Covenant”, what better time to finally see “Alien” and find out what all the fuss is about?
In “Alien”, a seven member space crew are on their way back to earth, but a transmission signals them towards a nearby Planetoid. One member called Kane (played by John Hurt), is sent down to explore the Planetoid and he discovers a nest of alien eggs. While inspecting an alien egg, it hatches and unleashes an organic lifeform that latches itself onto Kane’s face. The crew bring Kane back into the ship, they keep an eye on him and try to work out what the alien is doing while clung to his face.
Sometime later, the alien lifeform recoils from Kane’s face and appears dead. At first, things seem normal, but then the alien bursts out of Kane’s chest and scampers off into the corridors of the ship. The alien adapts to the crew’s spaceship and grows into a huge threatening beast that’s willing to kill any humans in it’s sight. It’s up to the rest of the surviving crew to take down this dangerous alien creature and return home safely.
The strongest aspect of “Alien” is it’s ability to create a chilling atmosphere and make us feel claustrophobic. All the way through the film, I had this body freezing tension that kept me on my toes. The setting of the ship is brilliantly utilised to make the characters seem unsafe and insecure. The interior of the ship is structured almost like a maze, devoid of colour or personality, supported with dim lighting and designed like a factory in places. There’s little to nothing about this ship that feels snugly or homely, which takes away so much familiarity from the audience and there’s something effectively unsettling about feeling far away from your comfort zone.
Director Ridley Scott takes advantage of the ship’s atmosphere, making us feel frequently uneasy about where the alien could be and when it could pop out to slay another crew member. Scott paces the film out with very slow direction, letting us immerse ourselves in the grim metallic environment and take in the eerie feeling in the air. Scott doesn’t jump straight into the action or kills, but instead drags the tension out to really twist with our fears. The actual set was very confined too, which adds a tremendous realism to this atmosphere and helps the actors to seem believably tightened inside.
The alien itself (also known as the Xenomorph) is this otherworldly beast with a design that blends disturbing Phallic aesthetics, insectoid like features and lizard-esque movement. The movie chooses to rarely show the alien, going the Hitchcockian route and relying heavily on insinuating where the alien MIGHT be. The Xenomorph and it’s home planet were designed by Swiss surrealist artist H.R. Giger, whose Gothic art direction is heavily inspired by humanity’s blood curdling fears of body invasion and sexual disease.
Giger’s art is brought to life superbly, the film gives a fleshy realism to the Xenomorph’s three stages and a dystopian macabre to it’s home planet. The stuntmen operating the alien suit perform the puppet with so much intimidation, but also try their best to convince us that the Xenomorph is far from human.
Although, this is also a very human film about character conflict, with each crew member’s personalities being designed to clash against eachother and put further strain on the situation. These characters’ morals, instincts, principles and motives differ vastly, so it’s really interesting seeing how each of them choose to approach the alien threat.
While one character might look at a situation at a serious angle based on common sense, another character maybe more emotionally sensitive and prone to letting their fears get the best of them. This diversity of personalities amps up the drama of the story; even though you could argue that most of the characters are somewhat one dimensional.
However, the one character that gets fleshed out the most, is warrant officer Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver, an unknown actress at the time). Ripley is very strict about her company’s ship procedures; less due to any kind of corporate loyalty and more because she’s concerned about crew safety. She is a compassionate woman, but her common sense dictates what’s best for the crew as a whole. She does make plenty of insightful observations, ones that we can agree with as an audience and understand from a reasonable point of view.
I can see why Ripley became the star of the “Alien” franchise and an icon of science fiction, she’s a very human character with a knack for instinctive responsibility. She can cry and fear for her life, but she has the intelligence needed to help her and the crew survive this alien threat. I’m curious to see where the franchise ends up taking Ripley in future instalments, because I do think that she’s a pretty cool lead hero.
To conclude, “Alien” is a chilling and exciting Sci-fi horror movie that’s hauntingly filmed, authentically acted, cruelly paced and creepily designed. After finally seeing it, I can see why it’s been placed in so many 100 Greatest Films lists and labelled as a classic. I do also feel that revisiting “Aliens” in the future will be a good idea, because it’ll give me a meatier experience after seeing what Ripley previously went through.