Alien (1979) (R)
One of the great science fiction epics, Ridley Scott's "Alien" has stood for decades as the quintessential space movie and with good reason. Though the company it keeps is intimidating with works like "2001: A Space Odyssey" and (I hate to say it) some of the "Star Wars" movies, "Alien" manages to feel entirely different than its contemporaries.
It firmly recognizes itself as a film that is not as perplexing as Kubrick but also more adult than Lucas. There is no clear villain until the movie is half-way over. The bad guy of "Alien", also the title character, the most brutal of any space movie there is—it is a character that does not get to experience redemption.
The movie captures momentum quite well—from the beginning scene to the last, there is always a body in motion. The crew's ship zooms through space almost constantly...it's a subtle way for the movie to keep building towards a climax. The times when the ship isn't moving, the crew is—someone is always in motion.
The opening titles are ominously creepy and effective—one of the better known facets of the movie. The title slowly fades into the screen with large sharp angles. Then begins the story.
The towing vessel Nostromo is carrying back thousands of tons of mineral to Earth. The crew is in hyper-sleep when the ship receives a signal. The ship's computer, ironically and effectively named "Mother" receives the message and the crew gets woken up. They think that they are almost to Earth; but it turns out that the are far away from their home planet.
They try to figure out what's happening by asking Mother...all they can deduce is that the signal is a distress beacon of some sort. By contract, they are obligated to go check it out or they will receive no money for the past months of work.
They land on the planet and go exploring—only to find something a little more hostile than they were expecting.
The crew of the Nostromo is perfectly odd, a feat that would be duplicated in the movie's sequel "Aliens". There's a team of engineers who are entirely about money, a woman who just wants to get home, the somewhat at ease captain, an adventurous man who gets the first taste of the mysterious, a science officer who is curiously fascinated with everything on the new planet, and one of the great film heroines, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver in a star making role).
The film also marks the start of Ridley Scott's career as a great director.
"Alien" is stifling, it manages to capture claustrophobia better than almost any other movie. It becomes a locked house thriller—the villain inside with the crew. Nowhere to go, nowhere to hide.
The tag-line from "Alien" is one of the best that's ever been made: "In space no one can hear you scream." Does it get freakier than that? I think not.
So many things are revolutionary with "Alien" including the inducting of a new following to the science fiction genre. "Alien" was not as "corny" (for lack of a better word) than "Star Wars". It grounded itself in grittiness and false realism. The ship is falling apart, things don't always work, and the equipment looks old and knocked around. Neill Blomkamp takes a lot of his cues from this movie.
It also made people realize that horror didn't always have to be ghost stories. It was a blend of genres that shocked audiences—"Alien" has become one of the most highly regarded science fiction movies because of this.
Also not present, that many modern movies demand, is explanations. We don't know everything about the villain—how do the aliens morph into adulthood? We aren't told and it's not necessary to tell...the film is about the human element and not the monster's lifespan.
"Alien" is great, the effects are still sleek looking and the action can never be questioned.
Score: 4 out of 4 stars
Posted by Micah Jones