Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Dan O’Bannon
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt
Exploring new worlds and discoveries has been entrenched into humanity’s history, which brought the rise of colonialism. That need for discovery comes with a mix of intellectually curious individuals, and those in it solely for the profits. Alien presents both sides of this idea while creating a horror film for the ages.
Leading a ship on its way back to Earth, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and her crew get awaken by the ship’s computer about a distress signal. Some of the crew members arrive on the planet only to find these weird egg-like organisms until one jumps on and latches itself to one of the crew member’s faces. Brought back to the ship against Ripley’s quarantine order, an alien begins to hunt down all of the crew members.
Most taglines in films leave much to be desired for me, so I tend to ignore them, but Alien has the best of them all. “In space, no one can hear you scream” marks the poster and promotional materials for the film. It sets the mood for the true horror that will take place in this incredible film. Its greatness lies in its simplicity. Most of the film takes place in their ship and once the xenomorph enters the frame, it becomes more and more cramped. With it taking place in space, it really adds a dreadful backdrop to the hopelessness some of the crew members feel throughout the story. They have no escape from this nightmare and the only two paths before them lie in killing the xenomorph or dying themselves.
Alien unknowingly created one of the most iconic female characters in all of cinema in Ellen Ripley. A character originally written as a man, but when casting for the position, Sigourney Weaver became the perfect embodiment of the character. Ripley serves as a character at the top of her craft and confident in the procedures she must uphold. She makes decisions that align with protocol and for the good of her crew as well as the mission. Unfortunately, she spends much of the film trying to convince her fellow male crew members of what should be done to no avail. Specifically, Officer Ash (Ian Holm) second-guesses all of her decisions and questions her authority at each turn. The major disrespect occurred when Ripley refused to let in the contaminated folks that had the alien attached to them. She made that decision for the good of the rest of the crew, but Ash’s override invites the hell they will encounter into the ship. Ripley may be serious, but she has plenty of moments of pure vulnerability throughout the film that humanizes her throughout this experience.
Along with introducing Ripley, Alien brought the xenomorph into the world and its iconography has remained ever since. A horrifying creature design, which obviously has phallic undertones to it. The xenomorphs became the culmination of many frightful things. It has pure strength, acid blood, and the strangest double mouth I’ve ever seen. It looks so intricate but always has this gleam of being wet all of the time, which adds to the discomfort of its presence. It’s unlike any other creature because its intelligence and thought process continually remains a mystery throughout this film and the rest of the franchise. Killing these monsters are challenging simply because of their elusiveness and strength, but even if you get a good shot on them, its acid blood could spray on you. A complete nightmare that has its greatest effectiveness in this film, as compared to the others in the franchise. Alien sticks to its horror roots and make this particular xenomorph feel unstoppable in its pursuits to kill all of the crew members. In the future sequels, the stories lean more towards action with many more xenomorphs that need to be killed. It adds some cool moments but takes away from the power each individual xenomorph possesses but even then it became a pop culture icon.
This serves as Ridley Scott’s sophomore effort as a director and what a way to forever leave a mark in two genres. He creates such a claustrophobic experience for all of the characters within this ship with any sense of hope seemingly dissipating with each passing second. None of the other characters have much depth outside of Ripley but Scott still manages to build rapport within the crew that makes the upcoming slaughter all the more painful. Everything feels tight and composed as he created this horror for the characters as well as the actors. Particularly, with the chest-bursting scene where the actors did not know exactly how this scene would transpire. It remains one of the most terrifying images in all horror films, and Scott ensured that the actors had the same shock and surprise as the audience. It displays the authentic reaction of the actors and thus translating to the characters themselves.
With the xenomorph wreaking havoc on the ship, the scariest aspect of the film, for me, becomes the reveal of Ash as an android. He blends in with the entire crew for most of the film until the reveal occurs. Androids in science-fiction films are commonplace, but this particular one felt incredibly horrifying. As an android, Ian Holm portrays Ash, who obviously is a human being. But thinking of it in the context of the story, it makes it much more unsettling. The company that created Ash constructed a robot that mimics ticks and quirks of a human being. Something that could go undetected and live in close quarters with other humans but has been specifically engineered to fool everyone. Ash has mannerisms but also has the cold features of an android, which makes itself clear from the beginning upon a rewatch.
By blending genres and creating an immersive horrifying experience, Alien has stood the test of time and has become a masterpiece. It contains messages about capitalistic desires taking priority over the human lives on the ship. It questions the pursuits of humanity into space and just how much communication breaks down when a potential crisis occurs. Mostly filmed in a ship and it reaches its desired effects. Equally terrifying and thrilling, this film has everything and more and displays brilliant filmmaking.