Logline: In deep space, the crew of a commercial ship investigates a distress signal on a desolate planet and inadvertently brings a deadly organism back onboard.
In the 1970s, both science fiction and horror films saw something of a renaissance. Ridley Scott’s Alien combines elements from both genres and the results are astounding. Of all the science fiction films from the 70s, Alien has aged the least. The visual design of the film is simply extraordinary. Alien is more than just stunning visuals, though. It exemplifies masterful storytelling with a host of memorable characters.
Alien takes its time to establish its setting. The level of detail on the ship the Nostromo is incredible and it all feels so real. The characters, in turn, are all great because they seem so authentic. The dialogue, a lot of which was improvised, is naturalistic and the performances are all excellent. The cast includes Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, and Yaphet Kotto. Alien is very much an ensemble piece with no real main character until Ripley (Weaver) becomes the sole survivor in the film’s breathtaking climax. Alien quickly made Weaver a star and she became the backbone of the franchise. Ripley is an incredibly strong female character and Weaver is simply fantastic in the role.
“In space no can hear you scream.” This is the film’s brilliant tagline and there has never been a film that has made outer space so terrifying. Alien is incredibly suspenseful and is especially disturbing for its Freudian, sexual imagery. The Swiss surrealist artist H.R. Giger provided the creature design and it remains the best alien design in the history of film. In the film’s most startling scene, one of the male crew members, who has been ‘impregnated,’ gives ‘birth’ to the alien beast from his chest. The crew calls the ship’s computer interface “Mother.” The alien spacecraft from which the distress signal originates, has vaginal walls and the alien has a phallic-shaped head. This is no coincidence. This kind of sexual imagery makes the film all the more frightening and violating.
Alien was a colossal success. It was followed by James Cameron’s Aliens (1986), which may very well be the greatest sequel of all time. There was also the much-maligned and inferior Alien 3 (1992) and Alien: Resurrection (1997). In 2012, Ridley Scott returned to direct Prometheus, the first in a series of prequels to Alien. The next prequel Alien: Covenant is set for release in August of 2017. Alien raises many questions without giving answers, leaving much to the imagination. Scott has begun to reveal answers to these questions in his prequel series. I must admit that I prefer the mystique of not knowing. Alien remains an intense, timeless sci-fi/horror masterpiece. Visually stunning and frightening, Alien more than lives up to its reputation as one of the greatest science fiction films of all time.