It is incredibly hard to sum up this amazement of a movie in one sentence, so I’m not going to try. Rather, let us dive headlong into what is arguably Ridley Scott’s magnum opus, the original Alien film.
The ship Nostromo is a commercial company vessel that does mining or processes some kind of ore, something like that. And on their way back to Earth, snug in cryo-sleep, the ship gets wakened early by a distress call and a command to come investigate this one planet. Sure enough, bickering lightly about the bother and the oddness of the command, the crew takes a small jaunt around the scary alien planet, just long enough for one of them to get attacked by what looks like a huge albino spider monster. Well screw this noise, the crew is getting out of here right now. But it turns out, the ship’s unknown robotic crewman has orders of his own, and the specimen he was commanded to retrieve is now terrorizing the ship after being born like the worst piñata in the world!
Almost the entire movie is an agonizingly sweet slow-burn, in Ridley Scott’s signature directorial style, vaguely similar to 2001: A Space Odyssey in its scope and score. It’s easy to see why, despite the film being plagued with technology from 1979 (old monitors, ancient scrolling communication systems, even the blinking-lights white-room), the movie is a classic romp that practically defined the alien-horror genre. Spawning (oh, pun intended) a whole host of sequels, a pair of versus films and even a blockbuster prequel of sorts, the first film remains a towering icon of how to do sci-fi horror justice.
The alien planet the crew of the Nostromo visits and the concept and artwork behind the original Xenomorph (the actual name of the mutant black baddie) was brought to us by the nightmarish visions of none other than H.R. Giger, who was taken from us far too soon, earlier in 2014. Giger’s gift and ability was to visually give us entire worlds that shake humanity to its very marrow: bleak arching landscapes, terrifying rock formations, things right out of humanities worst nightmares right out of hell itself. It’s almost an anti-life as far as the eye can see, which leads to an alien species so monstrous we hardly have words to describe it. These visions, dropped into the totally creepy-yet-lovely atmosphere Scott managed to create, are magnificent.
I haven’t even mentioned the cast! Tom Skerrit is Dallas, the would-be Commander, who tries very hard to maintain some semblance of calm when acid blood is eating its way through layers of his ship. Veronica Cartwright is Lambert, and there are still legends told of how she was unaware of the details of the “chest-burster scene” and genuinely flipped the hell out for a moment there! Harry Dean Stanton is Brett, our wise-cracking “below deck” crewman who gets to go crunch. John Hurt, a man known for iconic roles throughout his career, gets the dubious distinction of being the first to die oh-so-horribly, as Kane, poor thing, when the alien decides he’s done with incubation. Yaphet Kotto is Parker, the eternal complainer we often wish would just shut up, but then no one deserves to die like that. A very young Ian Holm (you know, that legendary guy who’s played everything from going-insane Bilbo Baggins to Jack the Ripper) is Ash the robotic betrayer of the crew. And finally, it all comes down to what could be considered her first and still most iconic film performance, we have Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, all protocol-y and reserved, until things begin to pop off all around her and someone has to take charge! Her performance gave thought-provoking rise to that new possibility in the male-dominated world of Science-Fiction, the female heroine, that movie lovers embrace today with all the fanaticism they showed way back in 1979!