I'm a freelance writer and editor living in Melbourne's western suburbs with a passion for film, books and gaming. Check out my blog at therelevanceis.wordpress.com/
Published May 6th 2014
With what appears to be a cold, long winter knocking on our door the importance of movie nights for morale and survival will only increase in importance. For the first of many reviews I think the best film will be one that gets the adrenaline pumping and make you insanely relieved that we haven't encountered any additional life in our travels into space; the 1979 classic Alien.
Set aboard the space-towing vessel the Nostromo the film is about the ship's crew as they react to the most extraordinary of situations, namely a seven-foot-tall Lovecraftian horror: the "alien" of the film's title. After infiltrating the Nostromo this terror begins to stalk the crew, whittling down their numbers with increasing efficiency.
Alien is pure art. Director Ridley Scott brings a Kubrick-esque attention to detail in every scene. Everything from the worn-in uniforms of the crew through to the use of bobbleheads and other toys to simulate the movement of the ship show that this is a lived-in world and a thought-out setting.
Despite the obvious leaps in technology since the late 1970s the hardware shown in the film to depict our not-too-distant future is still remarkably plausible. In spite of it being set in a harsh and mechanical environment the film, much like Scott's later piece Blade Runner, makes what should be harsh and brutal look almost beautiful: geometric paneling lining the ship's walls, the layout of the buttons and switches on computer keyboards, as well as the vaguely bird-like shape of the Nostromo herself.
Design isn't why people watch Alien. People watch Alien for the terror and the scares. In retrospect, considering the yearly plethora of horror movies that assault or screens, Alien is not as violent or grotesque and that's the beauty of it. The subtlety of the film draws you in until you become a member of the crew living the tension in first-person; you aren't just watching it, you are experiencing it. Of course this subtlety is shattered during a dinner amongst the crew.
The setting and the atmosphere are only relevant if you have a cast up to task to carry these ambitions. Despite being relatively-unknown at the time Alien served as a launching pad for the careers of Ian Holm, John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, and a little-known actress by the name of Sigourney Weaver. This everyman cast adds to the feeling that everyone on the ship is expendable and just like watching Game of Thrones it pays not to get too attached to anyone.
The influence of Alien is undeniable, as is its entertainment value. Rewatching the film rewards viewers with additional details missed in earlier viewings and the overbearing sense of tension and dread does not diminish. Just like going into a haunted house at an amusement park as an adult; just because you can see the strings does not make it any less unsettling. The creature design still holds up remarkably well as solid nightmare fuel, especially during its first encounter with the crew. Saying "here kitty, kitty" will never be the same.
Alien is the grandaddy of sci-fi horror and doesn't get caught up in itself. It knows exactly what it is and embraces its strengths. This is a movie that didn't need sequels. If you've never seen it before I recommend you watch it before dark.
If you like this watch:Sunshine (2007), Gravity (2013), Event Horizon (1997), Aliens (1986).