Alien (1979) Directed by Ridley Scott. With Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Harry Dean Stanton and Veronica Cartwright.
I’d like to put “In space, no one can hear you scream” forward as the greatest ever movie tagline. The film it promotes isn’t too bad either. Released in 1979, Ridley Scott’s Alien is the stuff of legend. Its power and influence continues to spread – with talented directors like Duncan Jones and Danny Boyle citing it as a key influence on their respective sci-fi offerings, Moon and Sunshine. With a story co-written by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett (O’Bannon adapted the screenplay), Alien remains the high watermark in science-fiction horror.
The crew of a deep space commercial towing ship, the Nostromo, are awakened from hyper-sleep by an SOS signal emanating from a remote planet. Upon investigating, they discover a derelict spacecraft – which propels this haunting, absorbing tale.
Revisiting the film, I’m struck by its hostile beauty. The look and tone – with the help of some of the best art design ever captured on film, is simply breathtaking. The film is thick with the air of threat, which only intensifies as things ramp up. Unlike films that rely on CGI to build worlds, the sets and environments in Alien place us on the Nostromo.
The characters are a incongruous group of ‘truckers in space’, thrown together through circumstance. Like any workforce, they have cliques and divisions. Early on, Scott captures their conversations in a fly-on-the-wall style, which along with the lived-in aesthetic of the ship, solidifies a sense of tangibility for the ensuing drama – both emotionally and physically.
The performances reel us further in. Tom Skerritt, is the duty-bound (not entirely popular) Captain Dallas, while as Ripley, Sigourney Weaver emerges with great strength. John Hurt plays the bored-of-it-all, Kane;–no matter how many times you see it, his famous scene still has the power to surprise. Ian Holm’s Ash is bubbling with ulterior motives while Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton play a comedy double-act that only they find funny. Veronica Cartwright rounds off the cast as the most emotionally unstable character, whose outbursts heighten the tension between the characters and elevate the already sky-high levels of suspense.
Jerry Goldsmith’s creepy score implies a subtle, cautious curiosity – before building to a more forbidding tone to match the escalation of the threat. What I particularly like is the initial slow-burn approach to setting the scene. The sound design and cinematography serve as an additional character as the sounds of the ships computers and the crawling camera work embellish the already hefty sense of something afoot.
H.R. Giger’s creature design encapsulates a sense of warped sexuality at odds with our own. The biology and reproductive system of the creature is something out of the worst imaginable nightmares, that, coupled with the overall balance of elements singles Alien out as one of the significant films – not only of the science fiction genre, but cinema in general. In short, an undisputed, never-bettered classic. 5/5