Where do you start reviewing a film as iconic and perfect as Ridley Scott’s Alien? The film is a lesson in how to do both Science-Fiction and Horror. Scott doesn’t rely on gore, screams, multiple shocks and surprises or any throw-away easy killed characters. What he does instead is build a suspenseful, clever, tense and thrilling film which is engrossing from the very beginning and left the film with some of the most memorable moments ever, if not one of the best science-fiction creatures too.
It’s a testament to how Scott directs the film that it still (and in my opinion always will) stand the test of time and avoid looking dated. The problem science-fiction films face is that they can often get caught out by the special effects or the technology used looking too archaic. If you look past the computer images and the screens used, the actual ship, the weaponry and most importantly, the Alien itself, all still look fantastic today.
Scott didn’t put the crew on a high-tech, Star Trek type ship but instead on a commercial mining ship. It’s a mix of white, cluttered, blue-collar living quarters and grimy, wire and pipe filled corridors that adds to the dark and tense atmosphere. Scott also helped himself by never really showing the Alien in full. The Alien can never look like a man in a rubber suit or a poor CGI monster because we only ever get quick glimpses, each one revealing something more terrifying about the creature.
The Alien itself is only part of what makes this film so terrifying though. The film is a lesson in how to do lonely, cramped space travel. We aren’t introduced to a crew of people who co-operate and get on. They aren’t a happy family but a group of differing characters, clearly thrown together to do a job. This means we get interesting dynamics, conflicting motivations and for a first time audience, no real clue about who the “hero” will be and who will ultimately survive.
If I hadn’t known anything about Alien the first time I watched it, I’d have never have guessed Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley was the “main character” and probably would have attributed the survivors to the Captain Dallas or the maintenance man Parker. It’s a great way to set-up a film, with no clue who the victims are going to be and certainly no idea of how anyone is going to survive. It also helps that there is more to the action than just Alien versus humans, the first part of the film, with John Hurt investigating the Alien “nest” is one of the most terrifying moments in cinema while actually showing very little.
That’s not even close to the most iconic of scenes though. Everyone can remember the “explosion” in the dining room but there are so many other moments that are worth a mention too. Alongside the room full of eggs, there is also the dots on the monitor as the Alien chases Captain Dallas, the Alien’s first kill, when we first get a glimpse at the creature or when Ash actually reveals what he truly is. The movie is filled with some of the best moments in film ever.
I barely remember Aliens (but will be re-watching it soon) and I haven’t even seen Alien 3 or Resurrection but Alien stuck in my mind from the very first viewing. I watched it again purposefully because I’m going to see Prometheus tomorrow and even though the link is subtle and slight, that film is technically a prequel to this. If it is as half as tension fuelled, suspenseful or terrifying as this movie, it could go down as being another classic, iconic and important Sci-Fi film.
Overall, Alien is the perfect way to do a space horror. It has great characters, terrifying action and some of the most memorable and iconic moments in movie. I just hope that Prometheus can come close to how good this film was and that I haven’t inadvertently spoiled Ridley Scott’s latest film by seeing probably his best, before it.
Rating – 5!
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)