Alien (1979) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Alien (1979) Directed by Ridley Scott. With Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Harry Dean Stanton and Veronica Cartwright.

Still-of-sigourney-weaver,-ian-holm,-john-hurt-and-tom-skerritt-in-alien-(1979)-large-picture

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

 

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About garethrhodes

Full-time lover of all things creative.
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32 Responses to Alien (1979) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

  1. vinnieh says:

    Excellent review of a classic film Gareth.

  2. lukasfilm says:

    I would say it is bettered by Carpenter’s The Thing, but both are stone cold classics and among my all-time favorite movies. Good review.

    • garethrhodes says:

      Another great film. I love the setting for that movie, and the distrust between the characters. Personally, I go with Alien as the better film, but completely with your assessment as them both as classics. What did you think of the prequel to The Thing?

      • lukasfilm says:

        Thought it was unnecessary, and a poor excuse for a prequel (really just a remake). It was watchable, though.

      • garethrhodes says:

        I felt the same way. I liked some of the production design and that they attempted to keep some authenticity with the original, but it really had the feel of an afterthought. Like you rightly say, a poor excuse to remake a classic movie without actually remaking it.

  3. Fantastic review of a true sci-fi classic! The title of Alien is so simplistic, but has come to symbolize true sci-fi horror at its finest.

  4. filmfunkel says:

    A great review.

    I’ve never seen a more original ET on screen than the Xenomorph. The facehugger learns & appropriates all the qualities the drone needs to live in its victim’s environment. The drone comes out totally equipped for its new niche, but it’s still an acid-bleeding Xenomorph ready to begin a new hive for colonization.

    It really is terrifying creature to imagine; superior and merciless. I wonder what Lovecraft would have thought…

    • garethrhodes says:

      Great response. I love how you worded that. Yes, what an amazing imagination to think up such a nightmarish vision. The whole biology and design is terrifying. It’s a shame the Alien series has had to suffer so many inferior sequels. I’d have liked the creature to have retained some of its mysticism. I loved James Cameron’s sequel, but after that, I lose interest.

      • filmfunkel says:

        I do hope the Prometheus prequels explore what role engineering may (or may not) have played; as it feels odd -anything as horrific as the Xenomorph- evolving ‘unaided’.

  5. One of my ex-girlfriends was eating spaghetti when the scene where the dude eats pasta and the alien pop out of his stomach I look at her and said I guess that thing is allergic to spaghetti. She could not eat an other bite. Anyway great film. I saw it twice and I have it in my collection. The first one was the best no doubt. Just the set was spectacular. The visual of it was awesome. The second time around that i watched it I was more impressed. Nice review.

    • garethrhodes says:

      That’s a funny story, thanks for sharing it. It is a horrific scene, especially if you aren’t prepared for it. Did she end up liking the film? I’d love to be able to see this again for the first time. I’m kind of jealous of young people who have all these classics to catch-up on.

  6. Drew says:

    Great review, Gareth! This is a fantastic science fiction staple that others have tried to replicate many times over the years, but the original sci-fi horror is the best. I saw an interview with Giger about his inspiration and other works. Not gonna lie, it was a little creepy, which is why it ended up working so well.

    • garethrhodes says:

      Thank you very much Drew. I really appreciate that. Yes, there was something a little creepy about Giger’s whole set-up. I remember seeing a few clips of him in the Alien DVD set that I have (must upgrade to Blu). I got the impression his talent was partly his torment.

  7. dreager1 says:

    Certainly a classic in the horror genre! The Xenomorphs still have some of the best designs for an alien out there. I wasn’t crazy about the actual film, but it’s certainly one that I wouldn’t forget anytime soon. The franchise has really grown over the years.

    • garethrhodes says:

      It’s good to have your input. What is it about Alien that doesn’t fly for you, out of interest? I’m only asking because I’m such an admirer of it, and struggle to see any flaws in it at all. Also, which is your favourite of the franchise?

      • dreager1 says:

        So far, I’ve only seen the first two Alien films and AVP. I think my favorite film would probably be AVP as I love the concept of a crossover, but I ended up giving them all the same ranking coincidentally so it is fairly close.

        It’s ironic, but it’s one of the only films I reviewed that I gave a negative score, but didn’t really list any negatives. Kind of an oversight on my part, but it was one of my first reviews so I was still learning. One of my smaller complaints would be the main cast. I didn’t find any of them to really be likable. Ripley is famous, but she left her cat at one point, which instantly took away any chance for me actually liking her. The main reason why I was not a fan of the film was likely just the excessive violence. It is R of course (I don’t watch R films so I had to wait until they aired the edited version on TV for the TV-14 rating) so it’s to be expected, but it almost always takes a few stars away from a film. The chest bursters are where it usually goes a little too farfor me. That simply looks way too painful for me.

        Of course, that’s why it’s more of a cosmetic dislike for me. The violence can actually be a selling point for some and a non factor for most others. Alien did succeed in what it was aspiring to do, it just wasn’t really my style. I still do plan to watch the rest of the Alien films and I nearly saw Predator recently, but there was something wrong with the DVR when it taped so the beginning was lost and now I have to wait for it to air again.

      • garethrhodes says:

        Thank you for such a detailed response. We have a polar opposite view of the series. I have tried to watch AVP, but I found it a bit of a slog, if I’m being completely honest with you. I don’t mean any disrespect, as I think the idea of AVP was to more directly engage the tone of a B movie, but I felt irritated with the idea of framing such a classic movie icon in a comparatively cheap set-up.

        Of course, we all see things differently, and its good that you enjoyed it for what it is. It’s also understandable that you might find the levels of violence and gore unsettling. The film is aiming to make us uncomfortable, so on that level, it’s achieving its aim. My mother hates violence in films, and I’d never get her to sit-down in front of Alien, so I completely understand your perspective. Personally, though, I could never watch an edited for TV version.

        If Alien was stomach churning for you, I’d proceed with caution with Predator. Again, it’s very gory with some pretty graphic depictions of unpleasant stuff. If you can past that, it’s a hell of a ride.

      • dreager1 says:

        Yeah, I don’t anticipate that I’m actually going to like Predator all that much. It may make you wonder why I’m watching it then right? It’s more just to finish off the franchise (It’s sort of a spinoff) and it can be fun to watch films that I don’t necessarily like because then the reviews are fun to write. A good example of this is the Resident Evil films. I gave them all 2 stars on the dot and they were pretty bad films. That being said, they were still very interesting and had some exciting moments. On the whole, I still gave them negative reviews, but am probably glad that I saw them. Something like Sucker Punch or Haunting in Coneticut is a whole other story.

        The B film kind of tone may be what appealed to me with AVP. It of course depends on what we both define as a B film, but it’s like me experience with Godzilla. My favorite titles in that film series are always the ones with tons of monsters. (Final Wars had around 15 or more) The original film is a fan favorite and yet it is in my bottom 5. My favorites all have typically worse reviews than the critically acclaimed ones. Likely because I am looking for something different than the core audience. So, that would certainly explain me liking AVP more. Although, it’s not like I liked it a whole lot more. I still gave it the same rating as the first Alien and ultimately it just had the slight edge for me.

        Even the violence in films can be slightly negotiable. For example, I didn’t find Captain America: Winter Soldier to really be violent at all, yet I heard that many people found it to be quite violent. I suppose that there is implied violence when Captain America infiltrates the base at the beginning of the film and we do get intense action scenes, but I found it rather tame. Possibly because there was no real blood in most of the scenes. I found the Avengers to be more violent, namely because of the scene where Loki drills someone’s eye. technically, that would probably be less violent, but it felt worse. If that makes any sense? It’s partially in how the violence takes place that gets to me. If a kid gets punched by an adult or an adult gets punched, the former will get me a lot more upset than the latter even if it’s just a film. Likewise, any form of animal violence will immediately cause me to take away some stars from a film. I think I wouldn’t have minded the Alien violence nearly as much without the Chest Bursters or if the Aliens had been destroying professionals who knew the risk. In part, I think I didn’t like it because the crew weren’t there for a fight. They were innocents who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

        I’ll definitely brace myself for the worst when I see Predator though. As it is, Xenomorphs are infinitely cooler than the Predators so they’re going to need some other aspect of the film to draw me in this time.

  8. Jay says:

    My husband adores this movie and felt I needed to sit through it. I tried my best but I bet you can guess which scene stopped me in my tracks. I have yet to return to it.

  9. Laura says:

    Love! Great review, such a brilliant film.

  10. When I was a kid, a neighbor tried to scare the hell out of me by making me watch Alien haha. I don’t normally buy movies but this is one in my collection, a true classic. Great review,

  11. cevans1982 says:

    Spot on Gareth, I’ve loved this film and James Cameron’s Aliens for more years than I care to remember and it still grips me as much as ever.

  12. Ben says:

    You’ve captured everything that makes this movie so good, never bettered by any of the sequels either (not a huge fan of Aliens to be honest). Don’t hold much hope for the newest announced sequel although it’s got to be better than Resurrection or the vs Predator movies.

  13. Probably one of my favourite films. It’s just so tightly wound, so claustrophobic but never once does the story feel or the film look small or cheap. Think it’s probably one of the best examples of genre film making, ever genre blending between horror and sci-fi. Great review.

    • garethrhodes says:

      Thank you so much! I couldn’t agree more. I love your description “tightly wound” – that’s exactly it. Scott does a magnificent job of winding up that tension. So glad to have your input.

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