Alien is a science fiction horror movie directed by Ridley Scott and written by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett. After its initial release in 1979, the movie enjoyed critical acclaim and enormous success. It has since become one of the most culturally significant movies ever made. Alien spawned not only a whopping five direct sequels (and prequels) so far, but also a franchise that consists of many short films, comics, novels, videogames, crossover films, and collectible merchandise.
Sigourney Weaver stars as Ellen Ripley, Yaphet Kotto plays Parker, Ian Holm stars as Ash, Veronica Cartwright portrays Lambert, John Hurt stars as Kane, Harry Stanton plays Brett, and Tom Skerritt portrays Dallas. Alien was nominated for Best Original Score – Motion Picture and won in the categories of Best Effects, Visual Effects and Best Art Direction – Set Decoration at the Golden Globes in 1980. It received five additional nominations and won in two categories at the BAFTA Awards of the same year.
Alien follows the crew of the Nostromo, a commercial spaceship travelling through the far reaches of space towards Earth. The seemingly abandoned ship comes alive and we see its crew come out of an artificial, lasting sleep. They were supposed to awaken only after arrival, yet their destination is nowhere in sight. Turns out that the on-board computer, an AI called Mother, picked up a strange signal, and altered the ship’s course to investigate it. The crew signed a contract stating that they have to investigate such occurrences, despite their primary objective being the hauling of valuable mineral ore.
The Nostromo heads for the signal’s location, a planet’s surface. The planet’s stormy weather and grey landscape is uninviting, but the crew have to go on. After some searching, they are shocked to find a crashed spacecraft, looking unlike anything they’ve ever seen. They explore it and find a fossilized alien creature. They are perplexed by the creature’s strange wounds and find that the ship had been damaged from the inside. While exploring the craft’s strange rooms, the crew unwittingly sets into motion events that will cost most of them their lives.
Coming back on board the Nostromo, the crew is met with a difficult decision, one could say an impossible one. One or more crew members may be carriers for a dangerous alien disease, so should they be left outside, or do you let them in and try to treat them, jeopardizing the whole mission? It’s a decision that none of us would make lightly. And it’s also a brilliant introduction to the character of Ripley, who we’ve seen, but haven’t gotten to know much about until now. Having the crew’s fate in her hands shows that she is both smart enough to realize the danger they’re in, and compassionate enough to listen to her pleading crew members.
Soon enough, Nostromo’s crew members find they are not alone on their ship. An eighth passenger makes a sudden appearance in one of the movie’s most iconic and grotesque scenes, and proceeds to run away. Now that it’s in hiding, we see the creature stalk the crew, growing rapidly, and picking them off, one by one. The long, industrial hallways of the Nostromo are the perfect hunting grounds for the titular Alien, which lurks in its ventilation shafts and grated floors. You’re never quite sure where it’s going to come from. And knowing that it’s somewhere near does a great job of building the tension.
Watching the film today, it’s surprising how well it holds up. The special effects are really well done, and most importantly, the film oozes with atmosphere and style. From the mystifying and iconic appearance of the Alien to the design of the ship’s various segments, and the grotesque oozing android liquids, it’s a sight to behold. It’s something you won’t forget for a long time to come, possibly ever. The computer technology on board the ship is a real blast from the past; textual user interfaces, unfriendly stark colors, making strange noises whenever processing information. This combination of retro and sci-fi technology never feels out of place in Alien. If anything, it adds to the movie’s atmosphere, and this aesthetic has been largely upheld by the movie franchise going forward.
I wholeheartedly recommend watching this movie. Whether you’re looking for a good horror or science fiction movie to watch, or if you want to see a classic for the sake of keeping up with movie culture, this movie is certain to keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s filled with thrilling action scenes, and excellent horror that’s built over time and never reduced to mere jump scares. And for those of you that have lots of time on your hands, you’ll be happy to know that the main movie entries in the Alien franchise have more than 13 hours of entertainment in store!
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