Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 57 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Sci-Fi Violence/Gore and Language
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Dan O’Bannon
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm & Yaphet Kotto
ALIEN was one of the first science-fiction horror films to be taken seriously in film. This was basically a B-movie monster story executed with A-grade talent and scares. The film launched the career of a budding Ridley Scott into the mainstream, delivered one of the best female characters to ever grace the silver screen, and spawned a movie franchise that has lasted for decades. Though this film relies on a simple story and it’s not without a few flaws, ALIEN is essential viewing for anybody who loves movies!
The crew of the spaceship Nostromo are awakened from hypersleep by a distress signal on a nearby planet. According to a clause in their work contracts, the crew must investigate and rescue anybody in distress on their way home. What appears to be a rescue mission turns into something out of a nightmare because the planet is quiet, mist-covered, and downright spooky. When one of the crew encounters an odd-looking egg and, being an idiot, bends down to take a closer look, he winds up with a living organism hugging his face. The crew, being idiots, let the possibly contaminated crew member back on board and soon enough, there’s a full-fledged, blood-thirsty alien running around the ship. It’s up to warrant officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) to remedy the deadly blunders of her fellow crew members.
You might have noticed ALIEN’s single problem from my plot synopsis. The spaceship is populated by characters who do really stupid things and their dumb decisions further the story along. Don’t get me wrong. ALIEN is a fantastic movie, but there are eye-rolling lapses in judgment that seem to slide purely because the story needs them to. The whole film hinges on a dumbass looking into an egg and then another moron letting that dumbass back onto the spaceship. I can let both of those stupid decisions slide, but I can’t stand Harry Dean Stanton’s redneck wandering around by himself because the script demands it. Also, The film’s most egregious example of stupid decisions has one sobbing character refusing to get out of the alien’s way, thus resulting in two deaths. It’s been nearly 20 years since I first saw ALIEN and this moment still seems stupid to me.
With my complaints out of the way, let me dive into ALIEN’s great qualities and there are plenty to be praised! The first one is Sigourney Weaver’s protagonist Ripley. She’s a strong heroine who kicks ass and doesn’t take crap from any other crew member on the ship. She easily seems like the most sensible person of the bunch and we root for her to live from her first appearance. Weaver is basically playing a slasher final girl on a spaceship and does this with a bad-ass persona. Another performance worth praising is Ian Holm as creepy scientist Bishop. You know something isn’t right about him from his first interaction and though his most memorable scene has already been spoiled by plenty of people throughout the decades, Holm still remains unnerving in the role.
What’s most impressive about ALIEN is how much it accomplished with simple technology and effects capabilities of its time. Ridley Scott employed everyday appliances like rubber gloves (for the movement inside the egg), puppets (for the early born alien), milk (for Android’s blood), various animal guts (for pieces of the facehugger), and miniatures/models (for spaceships and planets). However, none of that is what appears on the screen. What we see is another world, freaky organisms, and visceral gore. ALIEN easily has the best effects to come out of the 1970s!
The spectacular effects come to a head when talking about the film’s titular monster. This is a creature feature after all and a lot of the scares hinge on the creature. Using an unforgettable design by H.R. Giger, the Xenomorph is easily one of the greatest monsters to be brought to life by a man in a suit. That man, Bolaji Badejo, was unnaturally skinny and very tall. This brought an eerie effect to the monster and Scott purposely picked Badejo because he didn’t want the eye to naturally think that a person could possibly be portraying the long-headed, two-mouthed Xenomorph. This monster still freaks me out in certain scenes, the biggest of which is easily Dallas (Tom Skeritt) hunting it in the ship’s air ducts. That entire sequence is masterfully executed and delivers one of the best jump scares in cinema history.
While later entries in the series would take a more action-based approach to the material, ALIEN is like a slasher film in space that features a monster and haunted house scares. It’s a nearly perfect combination of science fiction and horror, with a handful of stupid character decisions marking the film’s only flaws. The monster is iconic. Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley is one of the best heroines to ever hit the silver screen. The special effects still look amazing. The scares are effective. The filmmaking is masterful. Simply put, ALIEN is one of the best creature features ever!