Alien Review

(3.5 STARS)

“In space, no one can hear you scream.” What a tagline! It perfectly describes the feeling of helplessness present in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror classic, “Alien.” The 1979 film about a group of commercial astronauts being terrorized by a vicious creature hiding in the air ducts of their ship is really, really scary. It also features one of film’s greatest heroines—Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). I thought it was two-thirds fantastic, one-third problematic. The set-up is too long and doesn’t feature enough character development. But once the film gets going, it doesn’t stop. And it will have you on the edge of your seat, clutching the arm of the person next to you, until the credits begin to roll.

Sometime in the distant future, the Nostromo—a commercial towing vehicle—is on its way back to Earth after successfully completing a mission. They are awoken from hibernation when they come across a distress signal from an unknown planet. Three among them, Kane (John Hurt), Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), and Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), go down to investigate, while the others, Ripley (Weaver), Brett (Harry Dean Stanton), Parker (Yaphet Kotto), and science officer Ash (Ian Holm), assist them from the ship. Kane comes across what appears to be a deserted vehicle, but upon further inspection, he finds a number of what appear to be eggs. Suddenly, one of them is awoken. It smashes Kane’s helmet and attaches itself to his face. Ripley refuses to let the three back aboard the ship because of the potential safety problems having the creature aboard. But Ash disobeys her orders, and the Nostromo departs the planet with eight passengers—the original seven and the alien.

“Alien” owes as much to films like “Halloween” as it does “Star Wars”—maybe more. It’s really a horror film that just happens to be set aboard a spaceship in the future. It follows the traditional horror movie template with one character after another being rubbed out while the killer, in this case a monster, grows stronger and more menacing. The transformation of the alien, from vicious snake-like creature shooting out of John Hurt’s body to towering beast with many mouths and acid for blood, is awe-inspiring and only happens because the creature is good at what he does. It’s some scary stuff.

The only major problem I had with the film was the lack of character development. The first twenty minutes or so don’t really grab you because for the most part, you don’t know anything about these people. Brett and Parker are annoying. Ash is cold. But what about the rest of them? To be honest, I had Kane and Dallas confused for quite awhile. There’s just little about them that stands out. The film redeems itself in this area toward the end. As we spend more and more time with Ripley, we find out how tough she is and how good a leader she is. And the more Ash is around, the less we trust him. But on the whole, the characters are very thinly drawn. They are worse than stereotypes. They just don’t really have any personalities.

Similarly, the acting isn’t all that spectacular. Sigourney Weaver does a good enough job to make us root for Ripley. She’s tough but also very vulnerable. I would’ve like to see more the normal Ripley—you know, the one who’s not fighting giant aliens—but again, that’s more a fault of the screenplay than a fault of Weaver. The rest of the acting isn’t bad; it’s just completely unmemorable. The one exception to that is Ian Holm. There’s always a little something off about Ash, and Holm does a great job unveiling the layers to his true personality.

Whether you classify “Alien” as horror or sci-fi, it’s one of the most influential and beloved films ever. Director Ridley Scott has gone on to make some great films, but most would label this or “Blade Runner” as his masterpiece. I thought it was slightly flawed, but it still makes for a chilling, edge-of-your-seat fright-fest.

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