How does the 40 year old thriller hold up?
Ridley Scott’s Alien was released in the summer of 1979 and has since become an iconic movie that has spawned an eight film franchise. It has inspired many works in the genres of horror and sci-fi across multiple forms of media. It's often described as a classic and a must-see film. As such, I was very interested in watching this movie once it came back to theaters through Fathom Events. Admittedly, I don't really gravitate towards anything that's classified as horror and I certainly never go to the theater to watch movies of this genre. However, because this movie is held in such high regard, I felt it would be best if I experienced it in the theater for my first viewing.
I must confess that I had never seen the original Alien and the only movie in the franchise that I had watched up until recently was Alien: Covenant. Covenant in my opinion was a solid movie but because I hadn’t seen any of the previous films, I felt like I was missing out on the overall lore of the franchise. It’s safe to say that going into this film I had very little exposure to the franchise with the exceptions of references and spoofs such as that one scene in Mel Brooks' Spaceballs (more on that later).
But first, a summary of the movie. The movie tells the story of the crew of the Nostromo, a mining ship that is on its way back to Earth. The ship’s computer named “Mother” awakens the crew from stasis to investigate a strange signal that the ship has detected. The Nostromo is a commercial ship and the company that owns it has a policy that states that all signals and transmissions must be investigated regardless of its origin (human or alien). As a result, the crew is obligated to go to the moon that the signal is originating from and investigate its source.
This is where it gets interesting; the crew find that the signal is coming from an abandoned ship and in it is the corpse of the pilot who is an alien of some kind. After they get a closer look, the crew realizes that the pilot died from a wound that looks like something exploded from within. As they investigate the ship, one of the crew Kane, (played by John Hurt), discovers a large nest of strange looking eggs. As his curiosity leads him to get a closer look to one of the eggs, a creature (the infamous facehugger) suddenly jumps onto his face and latches on. Captain Dallas (played by Tom Skerritt) and Lambert (played by Veronica Cartwright) hurry back to the ship with Kane. Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) protests that they must follow quarantine and not let Kane back on the ship. However, Dallas argues that Kane must be saved and Ash the science officer (played by Ian Holm) lets them in and proposes saving both Kane and the creature for further study. Ash and Dallas try to free Kane from the creature to no avail. Later, it is discovered that the facehugger has died and Kane is finally free. The crew rejoices at the news and they have dinner together.
And this is where it gets really interesting. During the meal, Kane starts convulsing and the crew struggle to hold him down. In the middle of the struggle, Kane’s abdomen bursts and starts bleeding. Suddenly a little alien creature jumps out of Kane and escapes from the stunned crew. (Side note: this is the part of the movie that is spoofed in Spaceballs and because of that, I didn't take it seriously because I was reminded of that. It must have seemed strange to be watching a scene that is supposed to induce horror with a smile or laughter.) Anyway, Kane unfortunately doesn't survive and the crew sets out to capture the infant alien. As the crew attempts to corner it, the alien is rapidly growing and eliminating the crew one by one. The mission changes from capturing to killing the alien. Eventually, Ripley becomes the sole survivor and the objective changes to simply escape the Nostromo.
That’s basically the plot for this movie. I did leave some stuff out for the sake of brevity and not giving the whole thing away. And yes, I know that the movie is 40 years old so there shouldn’t be such a thing as spoilers but still, (like me) someone reading this might not have seen this movie yet.
Now the question remains: How does this 40 year-old classic hold up?
Short asnwer: It still holds up pretty well.
Allow me to elaborate:
The film is a bit of a slow burn, however, I feel that because of this it delivers on the suspense that builds up throughout. The movie doesn’t rely too much on music but rather on the silence and the background noise of the ship to give you a better feel of the isolation that the crew is experiencing. This in turn makes it even more tense when the alien is near one of the crew members. I also appreciate that the alien wasn’t fully revealed until the end; which only added to the suspense.
The production design for this movie was also impressive as everything had an industrial and worn out look. This design choice made the movie more grounded and believable. In that regard, you can see how Alien drew some inspiration from Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Another thing I was impressed by was the cinematography, which in some instances I felt like it was ahead of its time. For example, in the scene where Dallas, Lambert, and Kane set out towards the abandoned ship, was mostly shot from the point of view of a helmet cam with a picture quality similar to VHS. The overall camerawork in this movie was great at building suspense and making you feel like you were right there with the crew. There was one scene in particular towards the end where Ripley was running from the alien and the camera would frantically follow her through the dark hallways of the Nostromo. The scene makes you feel like you are running right behind Ripley. The camerawork was certainly impressive, especially whenever there was suspense. However, it wasn’t always consistent particularly in some of the dialogue scenes. In these instances, the camera would be noticeably out of focus. I’m still not sure if this was intentional and meant to express something to the viewer or if this was overlooked. In any case, it did kind of snapped me out of the movie for a brief moment.
Also, for a 40 year old film, the special effects hold up quite nicely on most occasions. The scene where Kane chest bursts and the alien is “born” is still believable and well complemented by John Hurt’s performance. The exterior shots of the ship do, however, show the age of the movie, as you can easily tell that it is a miniature. One highlight with the make up and special effects is the android scene. This effect is well done and it serves its purpose as a striking visual of a beheaded robot that is able to still talk to the crew. As for the Alien itself, he looks great throughout the movie until the very end. The Alien looks great when only partially shown but once he’s revealed, you’ll quickly realize it’s a rubber suit. Now, I’m trying to not sound harsh since (as previously mentioned) this movie is quite old. That being said, for the time it was released, this movie succeeds in the area of special effects.
Alien was truly an enjoyable thriller and I certainly recommend giving it a watch especially if you’re a science fiction fan. It was fun to watch and notice the works that inspired this movie and also notice the works that this very movie has inspired. In my case, this movie immediately reminded me of the Dead Space videogame since they have quite a bit in common when it comes to setting and characters. I would say that Alien is a great achievement in both sci-fi and horror and I certainly look forward to watching its sequel Aliens especially since I’ve often heard so many goodthings about it.