Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Dan O’Bannon (story/screenplay) and Ronald Shusett (story)
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm, Harry Dean Stanton, Veronica Cartwright, Yaphet Kotto and John Hurt
A mining ship (the Nostromo) investigating a suspected SOS, lands on a distant planet. The crew searches for the source of the distress signal and stumbles onto a strange life-form.
There are signposts in the history of science fiction cinema that have an indelible effect on everything that follows. Alien is a cinematic achievement in every sense. The visual sensibility, production design, narrative economy, the composition of the eclectic cast, the birth of the greatest female character of all time and the sci-fi philosophical tone set a standard that continues to resonate. It’s almost impossible to objectively dissect Alien without a ridiculous amount of gushing – so I’ll choose some specific examples to qualify.
The films silent opening sets the philosophical tone for proceedings as the Scott’s patient directorial gaze explores the mechanical womb of the Nostromo. Our characters are birthed from life sustaining cocoons brings you into a world that we’re totally reliant on technology. The inhabitant’s, weary and vulnerable look to their Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) to discover the why they’re waking up in the depths of space instead of their destination, Earth. I am always struck at the poetry striking technological maternity of Dallas having to talk to ‘Mother’ the ship’s interface; which provides the air they breathe, the food they eat and nurses their sleeping stasis; for instructions on how to proceed. Yet O’Bannon and Scott use Ash (Ian Holm) as the bleak contrast of an emotionless automaton remotely enacting the orders of the shady corporation.
The story establishes a mythos, a specific large scale universe but doesn’t get bogged down in giving us too much information or back story. The story navigates the specific experiences of the ‘Nostromo’. Yes they visit a planet thought to be uninhabited, stumble into an alien space-craft, mysterious remains of a life form dead in the driver’s seat of the ship and discover an entire nest of extra terrestrial eggs. O’Bannon’s screenplay, guided by Scott doesn’t pause to reflect, we’re attached to the characters. The economy of the script is in its ability to use the sci-fi setting as the back drop to the characters – in this instance Kane (Hurt), Dallas and Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) investigating. The exchanges as the party returns with Kane incapacitated, and Ripley in charge of letting them onto the ship
Alien‘s practical effects and use of miniatures has a more tangible, gritty feel than a vast majority of modern sci-fi. The level of innovation with the budget restrictions of the time is staggering. Could anyone possibly forget the slimy, squirming face-hugger tightening and squeezing Kane’s (Hurt) neck? The crisp original cut on Blu Ray especially showcases the level of detail in the hugger’s skeletal structure and even the moisture/gloss of it’s skin. It’s a marvel of animatronics and cinema production art. The best example of the ingenuity of the special effects crew and Scott is the scene where our parasitic killing machine births itself from Kane’s (Hurt) chest. Scott gathered the actors around Hurt, not knowing what the ‘reveal’ would look like – the terror/shock that you’re seeing on their faces is real.
And how could you forget arguably the greatest female character committed to celluloid; Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley. Ripley’s just another member of the team. She’s intelligent, assertive and implicitly suspicious of the entire activity. She’s compassionate and ultimately wants to follow protocols for the safety of the entire crew. She’s vulnerable and feminine; but she’s fiercely intelligent and tough.
Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror is full of iconic, powerful imagery. Sequence after sequence, the foreboding silence of space, the implied terror of their alien antagonist stalking the hulking ominous metal innards of their space craft; the sinister intent of their corporate backers being exacted by their cyborg puppet – surrounding the rich characters and the emerging definitive feminine hero.
Alien reigns supreme: its sequels and spin-offs all together don’t amount to the power, terror, and the acid blood scarring affect to your consciousness of the original.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman