Review: Alien (1979)

I will not lie to you gentle folk, were it Dani roaming around that ship as felines are apt to do, I would go back for her, I’m loyal like that!

Screenplay By: Dan O’Bannon
Directed By: Ridley Scott

In the interest of full disclosure I will let you all know that I am a big fan of the Alien/Predator universe. I have yet to see the Alien vs. Predator series, but I have read so many of the books and comics that my head is full of so much Alien and/or Predator knowledge that it’s overflowing. Heck, I even get a small amount of pleasure from Alien: Resurrection, and that movie sucked, hard. I tell you this because as I watched Alien I realized I have some natural biases towards this universe. I can still see the flaws of the film, yes Alien does have flaws, but I look past those flaws and find a way to almost always enjoy what I am seeing on the most base of levels. I am a bit biased, but at the same time I feel I will present an honest recount of the film, nevertheless I felt the need to let you guys in on my bias, that’s just how I roll.

Alien can be read a number of ways. If someone wants to they could read it as an allegory about motherhood and womanhood. Someone else could watch Alien and see nothing but a taut thriller, and yet another person could watch it and see a classic horror film. This speaks to the ability of Alien to connect with the viewer. Alien is an engaging picture, it moves in such a way that even though it is rather leisurely paced it feels fast. Every few moments there’s some sort of new science fiction “wow” discovery. For those wondering what I’m talking about, a science fiction “wow” discovery or moment is when the world being created in front of our eyes finds some way to jump out at the viewer with some bit of imagination that is really intriguing. The characters are very minimal in their characterization and depth, yet it doesn’t quite matter because Alien is about gut reactions, not the depth of a person. Alien does all of these things with an ease that has been lacking in many of Ridley Scott’s latest pictures, an ease that reminds me why it was Alien, and not Blade Runner, that made me a pretty big Scott fan.

Scott’s science fiction fantasmagorium (yeah, I just made that up, deal with it) does trip up in a few places. There are a few times when it’s clear that the actual alien is just a dude in a suit and not a creature from some weird planet. There are only a few of those moments however, so they are but a minor gripe I have with the film. The major gripe I levy against Alien is Veronica Cartwright. I can forgive the fact that her character is useless and has zero meat to her, remember Alien isn’t a film about the depth of its characters but about their reactions to the moment they are put in. What I cannot forgive Cartwright for is her constant whining and screaming. I don’t know if this was of her own doing, direction from Scott, or maybe it was some sort of attempt to tie into the new wave of horror slasher films that were en vogue at the time. What I do know is that she was hella annoying, to the point where I wanted to tell the alien where she was so it could kill her right away and put me out of my misery.

Ridley Scott crafts a film that is able to easily overcome my one major gripe, it overcomes it so easily in fact that when those end credits first roll I have forgotten all about Miss Cartwright’s god awful performance. Alien is minimalist film making at its finest, a larger scope can be found because of the attention and detail that Scott, as well as writer Dan O’Bannon have energized the picture with. However, for as much as the motherhood parallel can be drawn, when all else fails Alien is a taut thriller with wonderful science fiction and horror elements. Something else that Alien does is leave its back story threadbare. All we need to see is the elephant looking alien, we don’t actually need to know anything about it or its purpose. The science fiction elements are there and that is more then enough to keep the “wow” coming while Scott builds to the next thrilling moment.

I didn’t watch Alien first in the franchise, that honor belongs to Aliens (you will have to wait until I review that one to find out how I fall on that picture), but Alien is the beginning of a franchise I have been into since I was a young kid. Watching John Hurt, Harry Dean Stanton and Sigourney Weaver go toe to toe with the most perfect being ever created never gets boring. I don’t even know how many times this makes it that I have seen Alien, but I know that just like the movie proper, before I know it there will be an alien around the corner waiting for me. Alien never gets old, it never fails to excite or intrigue me and that is the sign of a great movie.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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11 responses to “Review: Alien (1979)

  1. I always felt (and I think many others as well) that the sequel, ‘Aliens’ had a fixation with ideas of motherhood, much more so than ‘Alien.’

  2. Maybe motherhood was the wrong term, because I’d agree with you in regards to Aliens. But Alien seemed fixated on the idea of giving birth, lots of phallic symbols, computer imagery of tunnels, an actual birth. My usage of the term motherhood was not the best, I was trying to draw the connection to how the film handles the elements I just listed, so more of a womanhood thing I think.

  3. I saw Alien when I was like 11 and found it boring, then I saw it again at 18 and thought it was very good. Aliens, on the other hand, is awesome at any age.

  4. Melissa/oneaprilday

    I love Alien so much – great review, Bill!

  5. All the films are about motherhood, all of them! Well, until AVP, anyway.

    I think the cat element is part of what helps differentiate Ripley from the Alien, the fact that she has more than just the instinct to survive, but the instinct to protect the weak.

    The more I see this film, the more brilliant I think it is. Sure, it’s not the most character rich film ever, but I think the film does enough with them to make the story intriguing.

    Also, I too enjoyed Alien Resurrection even though it does suck…the AVP films, not so much.

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  10. Cheech – I’m not sure how Alien would translate across the lifespan, but I know I love it right now.

    Melissa – Thanks for dropping by.

    James – Just watched the first AVP, it was horrendous.

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