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Film Review: Alien
In 1979, Ridley Scott released Alien which starred Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Bolaji Badejo, and Helen Horton. Grossing between $104.9 and $203.6 million at the box office, the film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, the Golden Globe for Best Original Score – Motion Picture, The BAFTA Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music, the BAFTA Awards for Best Costume Design, Best Editing, Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Role, and Best Supporting Actor, the Saturn Awards for Best Actress, Best Writing, Best Make-Up, Best Special Effects, the British Society of Cinematographers Best Cinematography Award, and the Grammy Award for Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special. It won the Academy Award for Best Effects, Visual Effects, the BAFTA Awards for Best Production Design and Best Sound Track, the Saturn Awards for Best Science Fiction Film, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Director, the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, and the San Sebastian International Film Festival Silver Seashell Award for Best Cinematography and Special Effects.
In the year 2122, the crew of the freighter spaceship Nostromo picks up a distress call from an uncharted moon and goes to answer. While searching for the signal’s source, one of the crew members gets an alien organism attached to his face. While it eventually falls off of him, an alien embryo explodes from his chest the next day. Rapidly maturing, the alien stalks the crew through the ship and takes them out one by one while they continue to desperately fight back.
With a complete mastery of combining suspense, thrill and atmosphere, Alien is a great movie that may very well be an example of the perfect monster movies. The story itself is fantastic, with the crew of a ship having to investigate a distress signal because it’s in their contract to do so and not answering would mean forfeiting their pay upon arrival. However, what ensues is them picking up an alien creature that not only starts taking them out one by one, but the realization that one of the crew members is not what he appears to be and has his own agenda, one given straight from the top of the organization that originally sent them out there and where all the other crew members are considered expendable. Yet, the reason it’s such a perfect monster film is because after the events on the planet where the organism is picked up, the crew knows that there’s something on the ship that wants to kill them, knows exactly where it is and knows that they have little to no chance of survival. They just don’t know how to fight back, only that they have to and in the end, the only way it’s defeated is not through anything they can do, but by throwing it out into the cold reaches of space.
The crew knowing they have to fight back but not having any idea how to do so makes for a great change in how horror and suspense films usually work. Usually, the characters don’t know they’re being stalked and targeted until either right before they’re killed or until the end when it’s down to the final people. As such, they’re unprepared because of their ignorance. However, in this film, they’re unprepared because they’ve never encountered something like this alien before and only know from the initial organism that it’s able to adapt to make itself harder to kill. The characters in this film are smart, unlike other horror film characters, it’s just that the monster is smarter and takes advantage of characters’ situations. Take the cat scare scene with Jones the Cat providing a false positive. One of the characters allows it to run away because he thinks if it’s out of the way, then it won’t be a problem anymore, but another character points out that the cat should be corralled because it could provide another false positive. This scene is a perfect example of how people think and the ensuing death shows that the alien is taking advantage of the characters’ humanness. There’s also the time when it uses Ripley’s survival instinct to allow itself to continue its own survival by making its way into the escape shuttle when she takes the time to try and stop the self-destruct sequence.
That really ties into the vulnerability aspect the film presents the audience. Throughout the entire film, the Nostromo is established as a huge ship where it’s easy to find oneself all alone, lost or both. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing because the characters are familiar with the ship, know their way around and that there’s nothing to worry about while making their way around. However, as the crew thins out, it gets tenser and tenser because of how big a ship it is and the knowledge that the alien could be around any corner or crawling out of any vent in the ship. The way the film is shot helps to not only make the characters feel vulnerable, but the audience as well. Then it gets to the end of the film where Ripley is in the escape shuttle and strips down to her underwear, only to see that the alien is on the shuttle. She hides from the creature and before she slowly and silently slips into the spacesuit, it really helps to convey her helplessness and vulnerability. There was nothing she could do on the Nostromo, even with all the technology and weaponry and now she’s stripped down to nothing, making the intensity even stronger. Even getting into the spacesuit wouldn’t have helped if she couldn’t open the airlock and her survival mantra of lucky stars demonstrates just how out of her mind with fear she was and that what she was about to do was a last ditch attempt at survival.