Commercial towing spaceship Nostromo is making the long trip back to earth after the crew made out like a group of crafty bandits with about twenty million tons of mineral ore. Until the journey back is complete, the crew sleeps; although an incoming transmission temporarily interrupts their slumber. It comes from an unnamed planet, from an unknown source, but the computer – which the crew members call “Mother” – claims that it would be in their best interest to react to what could possibly be some kind of distress signal. After a rough landing, the crew – Science Officer Ash (Ian Holm), Captain Dallas (Tom Skerrit), Executive Officer Kane (John Hurt), Warrant Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Navigator Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), and engineer duo Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) and Parker (Yaphet Kotto) – decides that one group should stay with the ship and another should investigate the planet, a lot of which is hidden in what looks to be a thick fog. Those who stay with the ship are Ripley, Ash, and the engineers; everyone else goes. And when they do, the first thing of notice that they see is a large ship, not in a much different position than theirs, although certainly of a different shape and origin. Perhaps this is where the distress signal came from, they’re thinking, so naturally they go snooping around and inside the vessel.
The interior of the ship is very peculiar. The patterns on the wall are strange, there’s a giant fossil-like humanoid being whose ribs appear to have been shattered from the inside-out, and one room contains hundreds –possibly even thousands – of tiny oval shaped eggs concealed under a blue veil. Kane goes in for a closer look and notices that whatever is inside the egg is soon to come out. The top of the egg opens, and sure enough, a spider-like creature jumps out and breaks into Kane’s helmet with its sharp, whip-like tail. Kane is taken back to the ship by his fellow crew-mates, and after much studying, they decide that it would be best to try and get this thing – whatever it is – off of his face. It doesn’t appear to be doing him much harm; it almost looks as if the creature is giving him oxygen. Nevertheless, an incision is made; and it is then revealed that the creature has acid for blood. When the crew members return to the room where Kane’s body remains later on, the thing is gone, although once it’s found, it’s already dead.
Kane, meanwhile, comes to not too long afterwards. He seems fine, but at dinner, he starts feeling pains in his chest. And then another alien – larger than the last one, somewhat different in appearance, but still possessing a similar tail – bursts right from his chest, killing him and running away to some undesignated location within the ship. The crew must find it before it causes any more damage. Clearly it is dangerous. But they are unable to catch it in time, and it grows. In its final form, the alien is tall and humanoid; sort of blackish-grey, and characterized by a distinctive exoskeleton. From then on, it has the strength and the intelligence to successfully pick and choose its victims as it lingers in the shadows. Each man (or woman) for his/her own against the extraterrestrial monster. Oh, and the ship’s pet cat is on the loose, meaning that the crew is pretty concerned about its safety, with a murderous alien lurking practically anywhere it wants and all.
Ridley Scott’s “Alien” is one of the best kinds of horror movies. Not only is it a horror movie, but it also dabbles heavily in science fiction, action, and drama. It’s not simply one movie; it’s a handful of several different ones concocted into a single whole. It is frightening, fascinating, intelligent, suspenseful, and hauntingly original all at the same time; never slowing down in hopes of being just one of those things at a time. What I like about it is that it’s not the kind of movie that intends to compromise; it utilizes the slow-burn stylistic of tension and build-up and is better off that way. It works way better than most of its imitators because Scott has an impeccable desire to pay attention to every last little detail, and some of the best scenes from the film are indeed very crisp and attentive to the little things in between each sole element. For example, when the crew that went to the unmanned, abandoned ship is exploring the fossilized alien statue; the film gets genuinely scientific. But when it gets scientific, well, that’s also when it gets the most interesting. That’s not to say that it isn’t consistently interesting, because it is; but some moments are comparably superior to others. But in a movie as perfect and legendary as this; every moment is superb.
The movie’s villain has worked its way into our culture or at least our cinematic and popular culture(s). The spider-like being that latches to Kane’s face is called the Facehugger, the egg that it lays in Kane’s body that comes out through the stomach is identified as the Chestburster, and then the final evolutionary stage of the alien is known as the Xenomorph. Each was designed by the Swiss artist H.R. Giger, with an obvious Lovecraftian influence. Then there is the fossilized alien, which they call the “Space Jockey”. We remember these names. We remember them because the things they are assigned to are pretty much one whole (although the space jockey might not be related to the Xenomorph), and that “whole” is pretty damn scary. The titular alien is one of the best movie villains in the sense that it hides in the darkness and kills you at random. You cannot stop it, for the most part you cannot fight it, and you hardly ever know when it’s right next to you, practically. It’s a silent and deadly killer, which makes it all the more resonant on a scale of pure fear. The film’s tagline is “In space, no one can hear you scream”. The Xenomorph is a beast made of such excessive evil that it wouldn’t even give you the time or the satisfaction to do something as simple as that.
Horror movies have a weird poetry to them. They are often macabre and quite violent, not to mention just plain distressing and intent on making you feel anything but secure; but I find there’s something beautiful about that. “Alien” is a classic marriage of sight, sound, and sheer directorial talent. Therein lies the poetry of it all. The musical score by Jerry Goldsmith is uncommonly soothing (most of the time) for a movie of this genre and sort, the cinematography is beautiful and captures every last important detail as it meets the lenses of the camera, and Scott shows that he knows how to tell a good story by captivating us not just through state-of-the-art visual effects but also through what I would consider just good storytelling overall. This is a riveting work of science fiction-fantasy/horror, and it must be seen more than once to believe and truly understand. This is Ridley Scott’s magnum opus; the one film that he can be seen referring to as his “baby”. He is very proud of his creation, and he has the right to be. It’s not every day that a filmmaker gets to break new ground seamlessly.