It’s a Classic: ‘Alien’

Looking at some of the best pop culture offerings in film, TV and comics…

“Ash, can you see this?”

Alien - xenomorph

The central terror of Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’.

Year:  1979

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

Directed by:  Ridley Scott / written by:  Dan O’Bannon (story by Dan O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett)

What’s it about?

Investigating the source of a mysterious transmission, the crew of a commercial starship discover a derelict alien craft which houses a deadly cargo…

In review:  why it’s a classic

Carrying the ominous tagline “In Space No One Can Hear You Scream” and celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year, Ridley Scott’s classic science fiction horror, Alien remains one of the all-time greats of cinema.  Growing from an idea by screenwriter Dan O’Bannon (originally titled “Star Beast”), Alien sees the crew of the deep space commercial towing vehicle Nostromo awakened from hibernation when the ship’s computer intercepts a transmission of unknown origin.  Tracing the signal to a nearby planetoid, the crew touch down and discover a gigantic vessel where an encounter with a parasitic organism leads to unforeseen horrors and a fight for survival against a relentlessly lethal alien life form.

Alien is a benchmark in both science fiction and horror, but whilst there are otherworldly elements and futuristic (but credible) technology, much like Star Wars before it, there is a worn, lived-in quality to the production in respect of the Nostromo and its equipment.  This sense of believability extends to the memorable characters of Alien – essentially wary space truckers bickering about bonuses and regulations, sharply written and wonderfully acted by the cast – comprising Sigourney Weaver in her breakout role as Lt. Ellen Ripley (in turn creating one of the most iconic screen heroines), Tom Skerritt as Captain Dallas, John Hurt as Kane, Ian Holm as science officer Ash, Veronica Cartwright as Lambert and Harry Dean Stanton and the excellent Yaphet Kotto as engineers Brett and Parker, respectively.

Alien - Ripley

Sigourney Weaver as Lt. Ripley.

Another standout aspect of Alien is undoubtedly the incredible ‘bio-mechanical’ designs of Swiss artist H.R. Giger, startling and unsettling gothic creations used to bring the Alien and its world – principally the mysterious derelict ‘bone’ ship found by Dallas and co – nightmarishly to life.  The central creature itself (which would become known as a ‘xenomorph’ in James Cameron’s outstanding 1986 sequel, Aliens) is a thing of horrific beauty, intricately detailed and all the more terrifying thanks to Carlo Rambaldi’s Alien head effects and Bolaji Badejo’s simple but effective performance, making it something more than just the staple ‘man inside a rubber suit’ of old SF and horror ‘B’ pictures.  With Giger’s work and Michael Seymour’s production design there’s a lot of fine craftmanship on display and coupled with the meticulous model and miniature effects (the team including Brian Johnson, who had previously worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey and on Gerry Anderson’s Space: 1999 television series) that provide a tangible sense of reality in a way that CGI just cannot replicate.

Scott’s direction is flawless, gently leading the viewer through darkness and shadow then catching them off guard with several shocks and scares.  That approach, with the serious attention to detail and ambition for the project, coupled with Giger’s designs lifts Alien above the more primitive and potentially schlocky imaginings of Dan O’Bannon’s initial concept.  Music is of equal importance and Jerry Goldsmith’s eerie, tense and atmospheric score is the perfect complement to the visuals, accentuating all the terror, unease and chills of Scott’s unforgettable haunted house in space.

Standout moment

Exploring the cavernous belly of the derelict alien ship, Kane stumbles across a cargo of egg-like objects.  Taking a closer look at one of the eggs, Kane sees signs of movement from within…

Geek fact!

H.R. Giger would later contribute designs of the xenomorph in director David Fincher’s second sequel, Alien 3.

If you like this then check out…

Aliens : James Cameron’s sequel pays reverence to Scott’s film without repeating it as Lt. Ripley returns to the planet where her nightmare began with a unit of marines.

Predator : a spiritual sibling to Alien, John McTiernan’s science fiction action classic sees Arnold Schwarzenegger and his crack military team being hunted by a deadly extra-terrestrial.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “It’s a Classic: ‘Alien’

  1. Great look back at Alien, a brilliant sci-fi /horror classic. Its one of my all time favourite movies. With its brilliant cast, direction, and stunning alien designs by H.R. Giger the film is a masterclass in suspense and horror. The movie has so many iconic scenes, but the one that still gives me chills the most is when Captain Dalas goes to hunt the Alien but he goes the wrong way and its suddenly behind him, makes me jump every time!

  2. Terrific retrospective on a sci fi/horror masterpiece. This one of the most unique and terrifying films of all time which set new paradigms in the genre. It’s astonishing to think that 40 years later it still works and has not been topped.

      • That is so frustrating. You would think that the man who directed the original classic would have equal or surpass his work.

        The prequels took out too much of the eerie mystery from the first Alien. We just loved theorizing about the Space Jockey, the life cycle of the xenomorph and the grounded and gritty look of the Nostromo and her crew.

        They had an everyman feel that we could identify with. That is why their fates were so horrifying because they were in the dark and largely defenseless.

        It is interesting to see what lies ahead for the franchise now that Disney owns it.

  3. Fantastic review to a beautiful classic. I had rewatched it just before reading that Alien omnibus a couple of months ago and completely agree with you on everything. The costume design really was impressive. Got to give a lot of respect in its creation. Just like Spielberg’s dinos in Jurassic Park. I just love how intense and stressful it gets throughout the movie. The horror was in the pacing and it was nailed with perfection! It was also nice that Aliens then made it much more action-oriented and still kept the original movies’ signature.

    • Thanks Lashaan, glad to hear you’re a fan of Alien too (and Aliens). It’s funny, when I was younger I always preferred Cameron’s Aliens – although I still loved Alien – but in later years I find it really hard to choose between the two and there’s no denying how impactful and influential Scott’s original is…shame about the prequels!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s