Tuesday, December 4

Alien Review

I watched on: Blu-Ray
The price I paid: £? (I’ve had this a long time and can’t remember)
Notes: I watched the 2003 directors cut version of this film.

Alien came out in 1979 and was a response to science-fiction of the time. Star-Wars was only 3 years old and Star Trek was TV’s hottest show. Stanley Kubrick had shown the world the future of space films 11 years prior with 2001: a Space Odyssey. Alien looked at all of these films and decided to show audiences a future of space travel, unlike anything before it. It lacked the polish and tech of Star Trek and 2001, our cast are lower class workers unlike the action heroes of Star-Wars. This was space alright but now it felt big, empty and lonely. After all, in space, no one can hear you scream.

The film starts by showing us the layout of our ship – the Nostromo. Then we meet the crew, all waking up from cryosleep. We have Captain Dallas, Ash, Lambert, Kane, Brett, Parker and of course Ripley. The pacing helps you understand the life these characters go through. The opening before the Alien is slow and even mundane. This is not some action filled space adventure, this is just life for this crew. Please understand that when I say mundane that I don’t mean boring. This slow start allows the second half of the film when the Xenomorph is loose to feel frantic and intense by comparison. I love how the film does this only with the use of it’s pacing and doesn’t need to rely on overusing music or fast cuts. The theme of corporations not respecting the lives of their employees also starts here. Alien shows us that Weyland-Yutani doesn’t provide their cargo crew with the luxuries afforded to higher-ups. This is brought home, even more, when Ripley learns that the company has marked all of them expendable. Ash, the ships medic and science officer is even found to be a literal corporate robot.

A lot of these themes of the working class being mistreated and even sacrificed for the companies interests only works due to the cast themselves. They feel so human in a way a lot of characters in science fiction don’t. Like us they are flawed, they argue with each other and make mistakes. This sets them apart from other similar films such as Star-Wars or Terminator. These people can’t take out a Death Star or prevent the robot uprising but they will argue over pay bonuses when faced with making first contact. Sigourney Weaver is superb in her role as Ellen Ripley proving she’s a brilliant choice for the lead actor. Her performance here is amazing, she’s smart even coming off as heartless at times. This ruthless need for survival is why I love her. This woman just really doesn’t want to die and fights to survive beyond most people’s limits but also not in a way that feels unbelievable. She gets scared, she second guesses herself and she makes mistakes. These flaws allow not just Ripley but all of the crew to feel very human and relatable. This makes it all the more painful when the Xenomorph gets loose and they start to die.

Alien builds up such an insanely deep world for our cast to exist in that feels old with a rich history despite being the first film in the series. The alien ship found on LV-426 feels unknown and just, well alien. HR Giger’s art really creates this ominous design that adds to the fear and tension the film has already built up. The corridors and wide open rooms make you feel on edge and small due to their large overbearing size. Of course, I don’t want to forget about the design of the Nostromo itself. It’s not fancy, or high tech, it’s cheap and low-tech. The hallways and rooms are small and cramped which provides this wonderful contrast with the alien ship. All of this adds to the feeling of underpaid truckers, we’re not watching the chosen one but instead, people society considers ‘expendable’. The alien itself is hidden in darkness and even at the end feels unknown and unpredictable. Xenomorphs are easily one of my favourite alien species in all of Sci-fi. Most of why I love them is from this early film with the Drone quietly hunting down the crew.

One of the things that newer films in the series do so much better than this one are special effects. Most effects here are fine or even outstanding like the Facehugger but some like Ash’s decapitated head look very poor by today’s standards. The adult Xenomorph itself is amazing. I love the scene where we see it hiding among all chains, the way it silently hangs there waiting for its chance to attack is amazing. This happens again towards the end of the film and it’s terrifying. If you know where to look then it’s possible to see the alien before the characters do. Most likely, however, you will miss it the first time and this is brilliant. It just proves how effective this creature is at blending in and hunting. When the special effects work in this film they are mind blowing with sets that really sell the world we’re seeing. All too often through you will see a bad cut or dodgy model and it pulls you out of the world a little. For 1979 this film looks outstanding but when you look at it today you can tell it’s aged poorly in some scenes.

Ultimately this is still a great film even today. While some parts of it look dated in the wrong ways so much of it’s pacing, direction and writing are beyond even modern films. The reason that the Xenomorphs are as popular as they are today is largely due to this one film. If you have somehow missed Alien then check it out but if you have seen it then I’d say it’s well worth re-watching!

Recommendation Rating: 9 out of 10

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