Ridley Scott’s iconic modern day classic ‘Alien’ is an undisputed masterpiece of science fiction horror. It manages to appeal to the very basic elements of fear with its themes of claustrophobic isolation, the darkness and a seemingly unstoppable monstrous gothic creature.
Its simple, yet effective, premise has been captivating audiences ever since its first release in 1979 and continues to do so today. Following a B-Movie template but moving the location to outer space, the terror begins when the crew of the mining spaceship Nostromo are woken from their hyper sleep to investigate a transmission from a desolate planet. Believing it was an SOS, they soon discover that it was a warning from an abandoned spaceship containing strange alien eggs. Whilst one of the crew gets too close, an egg hatches and a parasite attaches itself to the face of the crewmember. Little do the crew realise that this alien lifeform can breed from within a human host which later emerges from within as a terrifying alien, leaving the crew to fight for survival.
Scott’s direction is flawless, with the perfect mix of visuals and eerie sounds complementing his space survival story so effectively. He is able to maintain a desolate, dark atmosphere throughout this film, which gradually builds in suspense until its climax. The clever use of simple effects such as steam, flashing lights and sound effects allows this film to generate a lot of tension especially when it is combined with the claustrophobic maze of a spaceship. The alien itself is ferocious, monstrous, relentless and unforgiving, making it the perfect creature for this harrowing science fiction horror.
Some of this film’s success must be attributed to Swiss artist H.R Giger, whose production design of the, now iconic, alien Xenomorph and the gothic futurist set designs, no doubt added to the powerful visual effect of this film. It was the biomechanical aesthetic of the alien itself that stuck in Scott’s mind from an early design drawn by Giger, which then went on to be the basis for the entire production design. At its time of release, digital effects were not what they are today, this meant that there was a reliance on more practical effects which has ensured that the film has stood the test of time and added to the on screen impact that the creature has.
Alien cannot be discussed without mentioning Sigourney Weaver’s fantastic effortless and commanding performance as Ellen Ripley. Portraying both femininity and strength, Weaver’s performance of a truly unique heroine remains one of the greatest action heros of all time. With all of the attributes you’d expect from the ‘Final Girl’ in a slasher film, she manages to battle the beast and still have time to go back for the cat.
The film features a number of stand out scenes including the notorious dinner ‘chest busting’ sequence, thanks to the brilliant performance from John Hurt, which is sure to leave a lasting impression. Providing just as many new questions as it does answers, its easy to see how Alien has spawned a franchise with both sequels and prequels. Thanks to great direction, originality, genuine tension, truly horrifying scenes and an iconic performance from Sigourney Weaver is it no wonder that, nearly four decades on, Alien is regarded as one of the best films of all time.
“In space no one can hear you scream”