Film: Alien

Alien (1979) is a classic so iconic its genesis might have been inevitable—like, if Ridley Scott hadn’t made it, eventually someone would have. Despite seeing its splashy sequel Aliens as a teenager, somehow I never went back to the source, so when I learned it was playing in theaters again—a re-release to drum up interest for the upcoming Alien: Romulus—I leaped at the chance to see it on the big screen. Indeed, it’s a classic for a reason, reminding me how authentic and genuine the films of its decade feel compared to the homogenous blockbuster landscape that followed—which the Alien franchise, incidently, had a strong hand in defining.

The Nostromo is a corporate mining vessel, journeying back to Earth at the end of its mission. When the crew is revived from stasis, they initially think it’s because they’re home—but in fact, they’ve been awakened early, a protocol response to a transmission of unknown origin. Despite the grousing of the crew, they divert to a nearby planet to investigate, and the Nostromo’s captain, Dallas (Tom Skerritt), leads a surface expedition. There, they discover a derelict edifice of alien origin; indeed, a horrific creature attacks one of the crewmembers. Dallas scrubs the mission and brings his wounded crewmember back to the ship, much to the consternation of Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), who wants to quarantine them. Sure enough, Ripley’s concerns are justified; the expedition has brought a terrifying alien passenger aboard, unleashing a reign of terror that jeopardizes the ship and everyone on it.

Famously, Alien boasts the epic elevator pitch “Jaws on a spaceship,” and indeed its focus is more on horror structure—a small, isolated group, picked off one by one by a murderous, terrifying creature—than on the science fictional backdrop. It nonetheless does a fine job marrying the two genres, mixing filmmaking cleverness and impressive production design to make the Nostromo feel gritty and lived in, as well as giving the planet a vividly hostile and alien feel. The small cast—which also includes John Hurt, Veronica Cartwright, Ian Holm, Harry Dean Stanton, and Yaphet Kotto—is perfection, with Holm and Kotto standing out in key supporting roles. But there’s a reason this film launched Weaver’s career, as she stealths her way into the lead role with a gutsy, physical performance, establishing her Hollywood bona fides. All this said, Alien transported me more than it scared me; perhaps the many decades of film it has influenced muted the effect of its seminal vibe. Even so, there’s no denying its tense build-up, immersive worldbuilding, fine performances, and overall craftsmanship.

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