With Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Yaphet Kotto, Bolaji Badejo (as the Alien)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Reviewed by JB
Although we place it in the Science Fiction section, ALIEN, one of the biggest hits of 1979, is really a psycho killer movie set in space. It ranks with JAWS for edge of your seat excitement and with 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY for unexplained out of this world weirdness.
Revisiting ALIEN after years of sequels (good and bad) and spinoffs (the "Alien vs. Predator" films), I was most struck by the film's mood and pace. As often noted, it is roughly 45 minutes before anything really exciting happens, yet director Ridley Scott makes every moment count by letting us sit in with his group of space travelers on what seems like an ordinary day in space. We are allowed to meet all the characters yet, unlike so many movies, ALIEN feels no need to give us any backstory or history on most of them. Instead, we see them laughing, joking, arguing and sharing meals just like any crew in space or on sea would do on a typical morning. The dialog is mostly pedestrian. In contrast to the immediate sequel ALIENS, there are no heroic catchphrases or lines that stick in your head. These people are presented as sometimes dull and banal, sometimes likable, sometimes annoying - these are real people, which makes what happens to them when they pick up an unwanted passenger along the way all the more terrifying.
Likewise, Scott denies us information about where the "Alien" came from. When the group receives a signal from a nearby planet, they commence exploring it, yet what they find confuses them as much as it confuses us. Something reeeeallly bad happened to someone on this planet some time ago, and there is this bizarre ship, this strange blue mist, these mysterious eggs and then suddenly... all hell breaks loose and continues to break loose for the rest of the movie. Many films are lucky to have one "Oh my God - I didn't expect that!" moments. ALIEN seems to have an endless supply.
I was also struck by how unassuming Sigourney Weaver is in this film. The sequels, even the bad ones, turned her into an action hero icon, and when one hears the name Sigourney Weaver, one usually thinks of a tough-looking woman with some kind of huge weapon in her hands, ready to take down yet another gigantic slobbering space creature. Yet, in the original film, she is just another crew member, albeit one that manages to survive to the very end. It is only slowly that she emerges as the one person smart enough (and lucky enough) to outwit the creature that has been systematically picking off the crew members. Even at that, it took seven years and James Cameron's ALIENS to turn her into the action hero she is remembered as.
I nominate ALIEN as the most perfect movie of its genre, even though I am not sure of what its genre is. And remember... in space, no one can hear you scream. - JB
SEQUELS AND WHAT-NOT
Alien: Resurrection (1997)
Alien vs. Predator aka AVP (2004)
Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)