Classic Film Review: Alien (1979)

Horrortober:

Alien, 1979

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Starring: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto

 

This film is nearly 40 years old and, yet, the alien created is still probably the greatest alien ever created for film. Its design, its birth (we argue about the chicken and the egg, but in outer space this is the question they ask: does the egg-like object, the spider-like creature, the human-host which gives birth or the alien itself come first?), its acidic blood (giving it the ultimate defence mechanism), everything about it is brilliant. Ridley Scott’s Alien takes place on the Nostromo, a commercial space ship on a return trip to Earth with seven members of their crew. On their journey they get called to a planet on a distress signal, and there they encounter the large egg-like pods. After one opens and a spider-like creature wraps itself around Kane (John Hurt), they bring both the creature and Kane back aboard their ship and take off. From there the creature is born and begins killing its way through their crew.

This is easily one of my favourite films of all time, and I genuinely thought, going in, that this would be the first film to get a 5* rating (out of over 100 reviews so far), but, unfortunately, the fan in me had be put aside as the critic looked at the film; and the critic found some negative things. Firstly, Veronica Cartwright, despite her Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress, is terrible in this film. She looks useless, and is easily outshone in nearly every department by her cast-mates and crew-mates. I can only assume there was nobody else nominated for the Saturn Award that year for her to take it, and for the ultimate moment of terrible acting just watch the moment where the alien comes out of John Hurt and listen to her say ‘Oh god’, oh god it’s terrible. And plot wise there is a lot of confusing parts which are necessary for the film to work, but unbelievable on a realistic sense: firstly, after Kane is freed from the spider-like creature’s chokehold they welcome him back on board the ship and all have dinner; this man has just had an alien creature wrapped around his mouth and pouring oxygen down his throat, do they not have a strict quarantine procedure? It isn’t even a 24-hour wait, he’s freed, wants food, they have dinner, he dies (I would say spoiler but I’m pretty sure everyone knows of the John Hurt moment in this film). I also disliked how quickly it happened from a fan’s point of view, I’d have liked an extra five minutes of normality returning (or even have him quarantined for 24 hours) and make everything seem fine, as it is it comes across pretty quickly and slightly (only slightly) negates the surprise. Also, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver, Marvel’s The Defenders) runs back for her cat? And they split up quite frequently despite being on the lookout for a killing alien. Just a few things that are questionable with its plot decisions, which is why I had to (begrudgingly) give this four stars for its plot.

But let’s move away from the negativity and focus on what this film does right: almost everything else. As noted the alien itself is amazingly well designed, and it’s even more impressive considering how little we see of it in the film. Yes, there have been seven other Alien-based films where the alien has been used and used, but seeing it so little in this film and constantly wanting more is so impressive. And while many films have been based in space, it just works. They’re in space, there’s no way of running away from this alien and it really helps with the claustrophobic sense of location, and that, combined with the devastating appearance and behaviour of the alien, really does help with the fear generated in this film. The ship itself also looks amazing, especially considering how long ago this was created. Even the planet they explore looks amazing. It won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects and it’s incredibly obvious to see why, as everything about this film looks incredible. And, Cartwright aside, the film is well acted. Sigourney Weaver as the lead is brilliant and everyone else plays their role brilliantly, and Ridley Scott used a brilliant technique with this film by filming the early scenes of their friendship at the end, meaning they had a real sense of friendship after weeks or months of filming, and it shows. They genuinely look like a real group of friends.

It pained me to criticise this film, but I like to try and issue compliments and criticisms on my reviews. I really wanted to issue this film with 5* in everything, but I found certain parts of the plot progression and a few decisions which seemed to benefit the direction they were going but not the logical direction they should have gone. I recently watched Life and they did what I believed Alien should have done and quarantined the alien but have it escape, and things like that meant I had to knock a little off. But it is easily one of the greatest films, especially horror films, of all times. A brilliant creature, with a brilliant and creative life cycle, a frightening location and seeing the alien few times all helped with the fear this film creates.

 

Plot: * * * *

Acting: * * * *

Writing: * * * * *

Presentation: * * * * *

Overall Rating: * * * * ½

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