Looking Back at ‘Alien’

Separator

By Eric Ashley (@flapjackashley)
 
With Alien: Covenant out soon, we should take a step back and pay respect to the one that started it all: 1979’s Ridley Scott Sci-Fi/Horror masterpiece, Alien.
 
As a note of warning, there will be minor spoilers in this review. But chances are, if you are reading this, you’ve already seen it – hopefully.
 

 

IN SPACE

 
The spacecraft named Nostromo is on its way back to earth when it picks up a mysterious signal of distress from a nearby planet. Following Company policy, they head to it to offer assistance, but what they find will prove to be the literal stuff of nightmares.
 

NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM

 
It takes us awhile before we seen the title creature of the movie. Director Ridley Scott is masterful in building a sense of dread that erupts into sheer terror in the second half of the film. Establishing the danger around them, the crew gets a first hand look at what they are dealing with – and particularly Kane (the late John Hurt) gets a real faceful. At this point, we as an audience don’t know what we are dealing with, what the Alien wants, if it even is an Alien, or we and the crew will be up against. When things go from bad to worse at a crew meal, the viewers are treated to a scene that has become legendary in film history, setting off a film franchise that has lasted nearly four decades.
 
For a relatively small budget, Alien looks like a million bucks for a movie made in the late seventies. The set pieces they are able to pull off and the makeup effects of the Alien itself could rival any big budget picture at that time. It knew to keep the nightmarish creature in the dark because our imagination is scarier than most anything else. Even after the reveal of the creature, we still don’t know what it is or what it looks like. Taking a cue from 1975’s Jaws, Alien keeps its creature in the shadows for much of the picture, with only hints given to its growth and size, and its transformation. When the full grown alien is revealed, it is the work of H.R. Giger that becomes iconic, and the audience is in just as much horror as the crew on the screen.
 
But what makes Alien so effective for me is how masterfully it manipulates the audience. When ship captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) is ambushed midway through the film, one literally gets the sense that anything can happen and anyone is expendable. The panic of knowing there is something on board that is stalking your crew and has outsmarted everyone at every turn leads to the sense of claustrophobia of knowing that on a desolate planet or spaceship, there is no escape, and in space – no one can hear you scream.
 
Of note, back in 1979, Skerritt was the only real recognizable star attached to the film, thus increasing the feel of “12 Little Indians” in how the Alien was slowly picking off the ship’s crew. Today’s audiences wouldn’t give it a second thought, but back then, the fate of his character was as shocking as Janet Leigh in Psycho.
 
Speaking of the cast, it’s widely known that this represents actress Sigourney Weaver’s breakout role, and she is powerful in displaying both a sense of toughness and fear at the same time. She would go on to earn an Academy Award nomination for her reprise in Aliens in 1986. Other notables include Veronica Cartwright, who also appeared in 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers – another movie that is held in very high regard, and Ian Holm – who was the most experienced of the cast but as a character actor didn’t have the marque value of a Tom Skerritt. The cast worked together well, never coming off as robotic – well, save for one brilliant exception – and it are those kind of sincere and earnest performances that make this movie all the more effective.
 
By the time the finale rolls around, it becomes a terrifying hall of smoke and mirrors. We know it is around. What chance does a single female officer have against a towering alien creature? The whole ride is so unsettling that even at the very end, I as a viewer am still a little uneasy because the movie has trained me to expect the unexpected. The “happy” ending isn’t really that happy at all. Ripley survives, but her story proves to be far from over.
 

SIGNING OFF

 
The Alien franchise is one of the most recognizable and bankable movie series in history, but it’s meager start in 1979 is worth remembering. Released into theaters with such a bland title, Alien could have gotten lost in the shuffle, but word of mouth spread and the film ended up kickstarting one of the most beloved franchises ever made. Audiences today may find stretches of the film somewhat boring when comparing it to the sequels, and that’s too bad – Alien is to Jaws was Aliens is to Jaws 2 … those sequels did away with much of the suspense and went for the action route, putting its creature front and center. As much as I enjoy and love James Cameron’s Terminator-inspired sequel – and it’s stunning musical score by James Horner – I will always hold Alien as the best of the franchise. It put fear over action, choosing to send its audience into a funhouse of harrowing terror instead of a roller coaster of action.
 
If you are going out to see Alien: Covenant, and even if you have seen the original a hundred times, take time out to rewatch the original again. It is always good to remember where the whole thing began and recognize something that an endless parade of sequels and bad spinoffs can dilute: that Alien is one hell of a scary movie.


    No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

POPULAR POSTS

CATEGORIES

LATEST VIDEOS

Read More