At the time of its debut, no one could have predicted the legacy the Xenomorph would leave behind. Watching Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi suspense flick “Alien” today offers an enlightening experience, as the experience has not aged a bit. On the contrary, “Alien” shames even the biggest budget current movies. A riveting plot, gorgeous set pieces, seasoned actors, and a lovely mixture of genres create a beautiful, timeless, and flawless film.
“Alien” begins on the commercial towing spaceship, the Nostromo. Returning to Earth from a mission, the ship intercepts a message from a closeby planet. The company mandates that the signal must be investigated, so the Nostromo and her crew accordingly land on the planet. There’s the captain, Dallas (Tom Skerritt), science officer Ash (Ian Holm), executive officer Kane (John Hurt), navigator Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), chief engineer Parker (Yaphet Kotto), and engineering technician Brett (Harry Dean Stanton).
The planet’s rocky surface results in a botched landing, and the Nostromo is crippled. While under repair, Dallas, Kane, and Lambert embark on a mission to locate the source of the signal. They discover the crash site of a massive spacecraft and enter the wreckage to explore. Inside they uncover a misty room with rows of egg sacs, one of which opens up and a creature attaches to Kane’s face. Upon returning to the Nostromo, Dallas and Lambert inadvisably break quarantine, which unleashes the horrifying Xenomorph on the helpless crew.
Acting is phenomenal, and helps early on while the pace builds. Group dynamics establish themselves, with the engineering team Parker and Brett showing their monetary motivations, Ash adhering strictly to company policy, and Ripley as the logical mediator. John Hurt’s performance when the alien bursts through Kane’s chest is one of the finest pieces of acting in cinema, and the look of shock and terror on the faces of his shipmates is unwillingly mimicked by the audience. The finale of the film finds Ripley mainly alone, and Sigourney Weaver really shines, showing a broad range of emotions through minute details such as a twitch of the mouth, a whispered song, or crawling into the shadows. At this point, it becomes the Ripley show.
The set, envisioned by renowned designer H.R. Giger, is one of the most gorgeous, and haunting, creations in any medium. The interior of the Nostromo features an immensely industrial feel, and even today the outdated DOS-era computer terminal feels modern due to the aesthetics. Inside the cavernous crashed ship, we see the monstrous Space Jockey, a powerful and captivating image despite scant screen time. This attention to detail and elaborate design rivals the most sophisticated modern computer generated effects. Furthermore, the Nostromo’s many niches and shadowy halls foster the feeling that there’s something sinister lurking unseen around each corner, even before the alien has arrived.
For a horror film, “Alien” starts our pretty slow. There’s not much action for the first half hour, yet it’s an absolutely enthralling experience. It simmers, brewing tension through the dark atmosphere, as the viewer knows what lies dormant below the calm surface. Classifying “Alien” is difficult, as it fuses several genres. Essentially, it’s a slasher flick in space, a unique take on the genre. Yet Ridley Scott adds elements of drama in building the characters into individuals we know and care about, intrigue regarding the company’s mission, and suspense. It’s this complexity that makes “Alien” a true tour de force. An innovative take, “Alien” is as fresh as ever 35 years later, and has arguably sweetened with age. Spawning a slew of sequels and spin-offs, the Xenomorph continues making its mark as evidenced by the recent video game “Alien: Isolation.” Re-watching “Alien” never warrants an excuse, but Halloween offers the perfect opportunity to board the Nostromo once again.