Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

My son wanted to see ‘Prometheus’ but naturally we had to inform the young man you can’t rightfully go to see ‘Prometheus’ without viewing Ridley Scott’s classic ‘Alien’ first.  Note, we heard in an interview where Mr. Scott said that ‘Prometheus’ wasn’t truly a prequel to ‘Alien’ and after seeing ‘Prometheus’ either he was lying to us or some of those seventy plus years of his are just catching up to him.   Regardless, the boy protested about having to watch ‘Alien’, if for no particular reason other than he’s obstinate just like his mother and just feels the need to protest everything.  After muzzling all of that nonsense, we sit down to watch ‘Alien’, him for the first time and me for what felt like the first time since I know I haven’t seen ‘Alien’ in a good twenty-five or so years.  So with over three decades passing since its initial release, it’s a testament to Sir Ridley Scott and his team that this movie has barely aged a day, outside of the computer technology, and ‘Alien’ is as harrowing as it ever was.

It’s the future and the good ship Nostromo is hurtling through space, taking its crew home after a successful haul of some minerals or something for whatever evil corporation they work for.  They are awakened out of stasis, not to go home, but to check  a distress signal.  Engineer Parker (Yaphet Kotto) doesn’t want to do this because he’s the obstinate type just like my child, but Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) reminds him that this is required and failing to do so will result in the forfeiture of his credits.  Parker shuts it up.  Even though they should’ve listened to him. 

So the crew lands on this awful looking rock, checks some things out and sees some weird looking alien type stuff.  Executive Office Kane (John Hurt) spots some strange looking egg thingies and like an idiot he pokes at it.  Bad move because now the universe has seen its very first Face Hugger.  Clearly Kane needs assistance, seeing as how he has this slimy organic monster stuck to his grill, so they take him back to the ship.  Warrant Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), who was in charge since Dallas was on the mission, refuses to open the hatch.  Protocol clearly states that alien stuff stuck to people’s faces requires that they be left outside to die, but for some reason Science Officer Ash (Ian Holm) completely overrides Ripley’s orders.  

Oh well.  Now that Kane is on board they may as well try to treat him, but the face hugger can’t be cut off, since it bleeds acid and stuff, and it is providing Kane with life support so the crew is baffled.  Until it just falls off and Kane seems to be just fine.  Uhh…. No.  Just know that now there’s another crew member aboard the Nostoromo and it has one particular need, that being to kill whatever it sees.  And it is very good at this.  Maybe the best ever.

The Nostromo crew is pretty much defenseless against this thing and one by one they are getting picked off.  Eventually it’s going to be up to Ripley, all by herself in her underwear, to keep this thing from making it back to Earth because if it does, it’s all over.  Not because this lone alien is going to kill everybody on Earth but because this evil corporation is going to try to turn it into a Weapon of Mass Destruction which could be the dumbest idea ever. 

One of the great things about going back in time to revisit a movie like ‘Alien’, disregarding the content of the actual film, is just being amazed at the craftsmanship that went into designing the film.  In the age of CGI, which does create some amazing images, watching the nearly lost art of model design and creature design kind of gets us a little misty.  Watching a highly detailed ship land on an alien planet, observing the crew investigate the alien structures, or watching a slime filled monster descend from the rafters, with the knowledge that this was all done by hand and not with bits and bytes is simply remarkable.  And we’re not here to crap on the current technology because it is phenomenal in its own right, but here there is a greater appreciation for the miniatures from way back because I think you can still visit the Nostromo in some museum somewhere, but I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to touch the Prometheus thirty years from now.

Back to the film itself, even today it is almost the benchmark for fear, isolation, tension, and hopelessness.   At its core it is just a monster movie, but it just so happens that this could arguably be the greatest monster movie ever made is all.  Like any great monster movie the foucs isn’t necessarily on the monster itself, but the effect the monster has on its surroundings and the fear that the monster is inflicting on its eventual victims.  We don’t know what it is, we have no idea where it is, and for the most part we don’t even know what it looks like.  We just know that it’s lethal, invincible and insatiable.  This, combined with a veteran crew of superb actors, stellar cinematography and excellent sound design makes for a sound launching point for oppressive, endless fear. 

I didn’t appreciate most of this when I saw ‘Alien’ as a ten year old, which I probably shouldn’t have watched anyway since it scarred me for life and I couldn’t sleep for a week, but parents back then didn’t care about that kind of stuff.  But now I can appreciate ‘Alien’ for the masterpiece of horror that it is rightfully remembered as, and as one of the greatest films ever made. 

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