a review by the Crow.
Alien is a 1979 movie by legendary director Ridley Scott, based on an original story by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, and taking heavy visual inspiration from the work of reknowned artist H.R. Giger (who also provided his talents for the production). Mr Scott has already appeared on The Corvid Review in a less-than-flattering review, and one of his other movies (Prometheus) has long been waiting on a mauling courtesy of yours truly. He really has fallen, of late. However, this is the man behind Blade Runner, one of the greatest movies of all time — as well a movie I’ve decided never to review, as I recently explained — and in a way, it’s the movie which put him on the map.
Recommended reading: Blade Runner 2049, by the Team
With all that out of the way, let’s dive straight in to the movie which started it all. The movie which tells you that in space, no one can hear you scream:
A L I E N
SPOILER LEVELS at MINOR
Alien has a storied reputation amongst fans of both science fiction and horror. It’s a reputation which is deserved. Touching on both the aforementioned genres, Alien also shows glimpses of body horror and paranoid fiction (a genre I wish would be revitalised, someday), and stands head, shoulders, and teeth above its peers as a titan of each genre it takes its stock from.
We follow the crew of the Nostromo — a space-age long-haul lorry — as they are awoken and diverted from their journey home by the ship’s AI. The reason for the diversion? A signal which may be a potential distress call. Once our (space!) blue collar workers land on the satellite which the signal originates from — designated LV-426 — they encounter a spaceship of foreign design, and I’ll be the first to let you know that this is not leading to the founding of the United Federation of Planets.
The movie has a number of interpretations, and a little over forty years since its release, it’s safe to say that the leading ideas are correct. The movie can be taken as an allegory for many things: the troublesome mechanics of sex, the deep-seated, unconscious fear some men have of female genitalia, and the trauma of rape. At its barest, the movie is about a “perfect organism” (where else have we heard that, again?) attempting to survive, and even when taken at its simplest reading, the movie delivers just as much.
We spend most of our time with Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) — one of the greatest action heroes out there when you take into consideration James Cameron’s 1986 sequel — a warrant officer aboard the Nostromo, who harbours a primal fear of the unknown “thing” from the moment it’s brought on board by way of Kane(John Hurt)’s face. (And before you ask, if you’ve read our review of Alien: Covenant, I won’t be addressing the troubling choice we pointed out in that review.) Once the thing dies and the results of its death are revealed to us, she has to endure watching the titular alien stalk its way through the bizarre architecture of the ship, while trying to survive just as much as it is.
James Cameron’s sequel changed a great many things in regards to the original ideas for the creature’s life cycle. While Aliens will always be one of the greatest action movies to exist, it doesn’t quite have the same edge that Alien does. Alien uses loneliness and isolation as weapons, juxtaposed against the dark, unknown architecture of a ship which feels almost hostile to its inhabitants (as many such working-class vehicles are). It’s parts terror, and parts horror, and comes served with a loving lash of mild science to boot.
The plot, the sets, the themes, and even the way in which certain things move (the walking of crabs notwithstanding) all reinforce the central word: alien. The movie leaves one restless, especially during the final moments, and the movie knows how to employ the unknown to its own credit. There is restraint, but above the restraint hangs a sense of intelligence.
There is hardly a fault to find with the movie, barring a cut regarding Ash (Ian Holm) which can be disregarded due to the technical limitations of the day. On a similar note: I find the score to be grossly undervalued, since I find it excellent and don’t see that many people talking about it when we talk about Alien. It’s a looming, mounting soundtrack which serves the scenes in the movie far too well.
The creature design is perfect. Evoking goblin sharks and taxons commonly associated with arthropods, and yet moving nothing like what we would expect from creatures belonging to those descriptions (again: crab-like walk notwithstanding), the creature at the heart of the horror strikes one of the most menacing figures in the annals of both science fiction, and horror, cinema.
Again, one is free to interpret the movie however they wish, but what marks Alien as special is how each of those interpretations only add to the movie. Technically sound, featuring admirable performances (albeit too little of John Hurt) and a true warrior who even the worst nightmares of deep space cannot begin to compete with, excellent visual, set, and audio design, Alien deserves every ounce of praise it receives. And if you were to ask me, the movie only has one true sequel.
The rest of the franchise is unworthy of following the giants which led the series to begin with. While Neill Blomkamp’s unlit sequel will always be a sore wound to those who wished the franchise to remain strong (as will William Gibson’s original vision), the franchise has yet managed to remain rather strong until recently. Mr Scott’s insistence on ham-fisting religious themes and iconography into the recent prequels is annoying at best, and detracting at worst. Alien should have never been revisited in an ideal world. While Mr Cameron did very well with the sequel, I continue to think that the original — on its own — would have fared far stronger if a franchise were not designed around it.
However, this review is about the original, and the original alone. Do not take my words lightly when I say that Alien comes extremely recommended by those of us on The Corvid Review who have seen it. This is a masterpiece of sorts. It deserves your attention.
Just remember to watch it alone. And never when spacefaring. After all, in space…
No one can hear you scream.
— Crow out.
THE CROW: 8.5/10
THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 9.5/10
THE SPOTTED NUTCRACKER: 9/10
Here’s the official poster: