"I got you, you son of a bitch!"
With Prometheus just a couple of weeks away I thought it was about time I filled one of the most unforgivable gaps in my film history and finally watch Alien. The crew of the Nostromo are in stasis on a return trip to Earth, carrying a cargo of mineral ore. They are awakened early by the ship’s computer as it has intercepted a transmission for a nearby planetoid. Upon investigation, crew member Kane (John Hurt) discovers what appear to be eggs inside an unidentified ship. A life form hatches out of one of the eggs and attaches itself to his face. Returning to the Nostromo the crew try to detach the creature from Kane’s face but with no success. A short time later the creature removes itself from Kane and the crew find it dead. While preparing to go back into stasis for the return to Earth something extraordinary happens that unleashes an even greater threat to the ship and the crew.
My first thoughts were that the Nostromo reminded me of so much I’ve seen already. It is obvious how much influence the film has had on subsequent science fiction. The living quarters reminded me of the film Moon and in just about every other scene I said to myself “That’s just like Red Dwarf”. Everything about the film’s design was excellent. The ship felt large and real and the creature design was incredible. Considering the film is now over thirty years old, the latex or prosthetics that were used looked really good. Even now. Obviously some aspects of the film have aged noticeably. The computers for instance look as old as they are. This isn’t a major problem though as anything older than about five years or without a touch screen looks aged.
Another aspect of the design I loved was the use of light and shadow. Light is used in such a way that it bounces off the camera lens (a method that J.J. Abrams uses to such good effect) and this not only creates an otherworldly feel but also helps to obscure some of the screen so you can never really sure if or where something is hidden. Much of the film is shot in near darkness with only a few lights scattered around the scene. This also makes you wonder what is lurking in the darkness and helps add to the tension.
The plot is great and the film isn’t afraid to takes its time. The film doesn’t begin with all guns blazing or with an alien invasion and this works in its favour. Although I thought I knew the story and it turned out that I knew much of it there were still plenty of shocks and surprises. I had no idea for instance that one of the crew were something other than human and the scene in which that is revealed was a huge surprise to me. When the crew were being taken out one by one I was never sure who would be next or when until the final half an hour when my previous knowledge partially ruined the excellent ending for me. On the whole the acting was also very good. Sigourney Weaver is brilliant, especially given her lack of experience at the time. She has to carry the final third of the film and does so marvellously. Another standout for me was Ian Holm as Ash, who at times was as menacing and creepy as the alien itself.
Although I didn’t think that the film was overly scary I did jump twice, the first time spilling my soup! What I found scarier than the search for the alien was the idea that this thing could sit on your face with its tentacles down your throat and then impregnate you with some sort of angry penis alien. Now that is scary! There is something almost Freudian about the film (unless I’m reading too much into it).
It is obvious to me now why Alien is considered such a masterpiece. Its imagery, themes and look have stood up for a third of a century and I can’t wait to watch the three sequels and new prequel.