Great Scott, this remains the best sci-fi/horror of them all…
I always find it most difficult to write a review of a movie that most people already acknowledge as a complete classic, especially when I agree with the majority and count it as one of my own favourites.
Ridley Scott brings us this towering beast of the sci-fi/horror genre, the movie that gave Sigourney Weaver the defining role of her career (she can slip into other roles but for oh so many people, she will ALWAYS be Ripley), and it remains a highly influential film that casts a mighty shadow over any other movie trying to provide some scares in space.
The plot is simplicity itself as the crew of the Nostromo end up being woken from cryo-sleep early to respond to a signal they think is an SOS and then unwittingly allow a nasty beastie to get on board.
It’s bizarre how many things perhaps shouldn’t work here but just do. Jerry Goldsmith provides a wonderful, layered score although I must say that some of it reminded me of his Planet Of The Apes work in places (though he’s far from the worst offender when it comes to revisiting musical motifs, if that’s even the case). Dan O’Bannon’s script is good when adding detail and intrigue but, otherwise, simply updates It! The Terror From Beyond Space, albeit brilliantly. There are large portions of the movie that have little to no dialogue and still manage to hold your attention, even upon repeat viewings.
The cast – Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Tom Skerrit, Yaphet Kotto, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt and Ian Holm – are all great and work well together, providing the right mix of authoritative figures, nervous nellies, blue-collar workers and cold, calculating, company men. Weaver has already been mentioned, and is great, but Hurt gets THAT memorable moment for himself and Ian Holm deserves a special mention for his performance and for one scene in particular that sees his character in confrontation with Ripley.
Ridley Scott makes great use of his sets, the grimy and dark corridors all adding tension and claustrophobia as things go from bad to worse, and it seems that this is yet another case of a limited budget forcing a director to do some of his best work.
But to praise Alien so highly is also to praise, arguably, the biggest creative influence on the entire movie and that is H.R. Giger. The madly brilliant Swiss artist is the man responsible for the design of the creature and more besides (the “space jockey” being another memorable design). His little touches helped to make this movie feel new and unique, despite it’s use of a template set in the 1950s, and it remains the best use of his work seen on film to date (although I must admit that I will always have a love for Species, too).
Just see Alien, love it, see it again and then enjoy the entire franchise . . . . . at least then you can join in the constant arguments concerning whether or not the sequel manages to surpass the original.