Directed by Ridley Scott
During its return to the earth, commercial spaceship Nostromo intercepts a distress signal from a distant planet. When a three-member team of the crew discovers a chamber containing thousands of eggs on the planet, a creature inside one of the eggs attacks an explorer. The entire crew is unaware of the impending nightmare set to descend upon them when the alien parasite planted inside its unfortunate host is birthed.
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★★★★★ review by Todd Gaines on Letterboxd
Sir Ridley Scott's epic atmospheric horror chiller space adventure set aboard the Nostromo that features a cast of memorable characters including a badass captain, a pair of wise cracking mechanics, a unique doctor of science, an unlikely heroine, and an alien creature thingy that likes to pop out at the craziest times. Deep sleep. Dallas's beard. Distress call. You would think spaceships would have bigger computer screens? The way John Hurt holds a cigarette. Parker's headband. Brett's Hawaiian shirt. Lambert's messy hair. Ash's facial expressions. Can you run in a spacesuit? Brett and Parker are my motherfuckers. Harry Dean Stanton's cigarette lighter. Ripley's sneakers. A pussycat who meows that I actually like. Fuck! The special effects are light years ahead of their time and they ain't no joke. Space breathing. Why is Ash so intelligent? Maybe it's his smarty sounding accent. If you see a pod fucker creepy creep thingy, run like a motherfucker in the opposite direction. The first time Ripley takes charge. Kane's mask. Oozey ooze. Acid bleed. Parker's bubblegum. When I get older I want to look like Dallas. The way Alien is shot sets up the spooky atmospheric mood to perfection. Every member of the crew of the Nostromo serves an important purpose. There's no space fodder red shirt wearing fuckers in Alien. The way Brett says right. Space food will kill you. The scene with Kane on the dinner table has to be one of the coolest and memorable scenes in cinematic history. You can fuck up an alien fucker with a fork. Cattle prods are dangerous. Never go searching for a missing kitty cat especially when there's an alien fucker thingy loose on your spaceship, that smart pussy fucker can find its own way back to its litter box. The first time you see the super-sized version of the alien creature. How many cigarettes has Lambert smoked? Cigarettes do calm your nerves you know. The obvious sexual tension between Ripley, Dallas, and Lambert. The all knowing Mother. Ash must workout because he sure is strong. Spaceship Playboy Centerfolds. Beating the human out your ass. Parker is my favorite character but everyone kicks so much ass. Ash's disappearing smile. Jonesy knows what's up. When in doubt, blow your spaceship up. I love how Sir Ridley teases the audience with the alien fucker. The short glimpses bring so much more anticipation excitement to the film. Flamethrower guns are hot. Ripley vs. Alien is almost as badass as Rocky vs. Drago. Ripley's panties. Alien drool. Alien squeal. Alien skydive. Unlikely Captain's log. Alien is the motherfucker. Sigourney Weaver proves girls kick ass too as the quintessential heroine and her role forever changed the way we look at female action stars. The supporting cast is to die for. Yaphet Kotto is the real deal as Parker. Harry Dean Stanton reminds the world that he's one of the greatest actors alive as Brett. Tom Skerritt oozes coolness as Dallas. Ian Holm aces the creepy fucker look as Ash. Alien and John Carpenter's The Thing are my favorite atmospheric horror films. The theatrical version is the superior version. I prefer it because we are left wondering about Dallas and there isn't a need for a catfight. We already have a pimp cat named Jonesy. My favorite Sir Ridley film. My favorite film in the Alien franchise. A near flawless 5-star masterpiece that I can't recommend enough.
★★★★★ review by PTAbro on Letterboxd
I can't stay away. Every few months, I find myself called back to the Nostromo to try and figure out what it is about Alien that makes it so perfectly immersive and enjoyable. I haven't come close to being able to definitively state it yet, since Scott and crew do so many marvelous things here, but for this rewatch I focused on a few things that make Alien stand up so high among not only the rest of its sequels, but of a majority of sci-fi, past and present.
Who's on First?
Probably the most fascinating thing about this watch was realizing that Ellen Ripley does not become the primary protagonist until after the hour mark - more than halfway through the picture. How on Earth do Scott and O'Bannon pull this off? Somehow, Ripley is given less development (at least explicitly) than literally any of the other characters, yet when she finally does come to the focal fore, the audience is brilliantly coerced into picturing her as having been the star all along. It's perhaps one of the most deft treatments of a character I can recall ever seeing.
For the entire first half of the film, we get to know all the other crew members, even if it's through vaguely archetypical roles: Dallas, the stoic leader; Parker, the confrontational womanizer; Brett, the sycophantic loser; Lambert, the nervous pessimist; and Ash, the ominous company man. Who is Ripley? If anything, I suppose she's 'Dallas lite,' but she really just remains in the background - always present, but never explored. And yet, when she does step into Dallas' role, it's instantly apparent that Scott, O'Bannon, and Weaver have so subtly been establishing her - even if only through silent comparison with the rest of the crew - that it's the most natural thing in the world to accept her as the protagonist, and even to retroactively integrate her role as more prominent than it actually is in the first half.
So what's the secret? Is it Weaver's comparably extraordinary femininity that makes her stand out (apologies, Veronica Cartwright)? Is it the fact that by not explicitly presenting character flaws like the rest of the crew, she is heroic by default? Some, all, none? Regardless, not only is delaying the sympathetic dependence of the protagonist on the audience a brilliant move in keeping the picture from getting stale or overbearing, it breathes life into the emotional arc of the film, tickles the brain with its unconventionality, and generally makes Ripley (and Alien, by extension) a fascinating character study outside of the genre elements that are the superficial draw of the picture.
Sitting Alone in a Cold, Dark Room
I can only imagine the amount of text devoted to Giger's designs in Alien (and justifiably so), but as much as he is given credit for the unique look of the film, I found myself appreciating several of the non-Giger aspects of Alien'svisual design. Scott's use of low-angle lighting (especially in close-ups)- while a horror-movie standby - works especially well here and, thanks to the established technology of computer consoles and futuristic furniture, is automatically accepted as in-universe design aspects instead of directorial sleights of hand. In effect, Scott realized a future that is inherently scary - nearly everything is functionally conducive to adding a subconscious sense of dread. Alien does not become a horror movie when the monster element is introduced; the horror element pervades every aspect of the world Ripley, Dalles, et al live in - an inescapable fact of life instead of an introduced threat or atmosphere at the whim of a plot point.
Likewise, of course, is the set design itself. I believe Trumbull (or an associate), on one of 2001's audio commentaries, explained the Discovery One's design as primarily functional, and then accessorized, leading to a stronger inference by the audience that those accessories must be functional as well. The thought of designing a sci-fi set any other way seems counterintuitive and foolish, and it's clear that Scott and the art crew of Alien felt the same way. The ship exteriors, interiors, and furnishings are all so complicated in detail that it should come off as a big hot mess, but throughout the picture, little details emerge - specific examples of functionality are given - that make the prospect of the Nostromo being a standard, blue-collar, industrial vessel easily believable. Warning signs, branding, non-Chekov's gun-related tools lying about...other than being set light-years away, it's easy to see the Nostromo as an evolutionary extension of an oil rig, with its even-now industrial clutter and technical accessories foreign to the general public.
For a brief tangent I would like to say one thing about Giger's design of the Xenomorph. While it's still perfectly effective after all this time, a dozen or so watches in I like to play a game of 'what-ifs,' and I came up with one for the Xenomorph. Instead of a man in a suit - which Giger was able to mask so well with the creature's biology and functionality - I wonder how much creepier it might be if the Xenomorph was instead controlled like a large marionette. Perhaps it's just me, but there is something inherently creepy and, yes, alien, about the almost boneless way marionettes move around - liquid yet jerky, bordering-on-uncontrolled movement, never resting. For a recent example, see Giant God Warrior Appears in Tokyo. I'm not sure if it could have been done logistically, but it's fun to imagine how terrifying too-terrifying really is.
Ash. Alien. Android. I might be getting into semantics, but it struck me that perhaps the Xenomorph is not the titular alien of the picture, or, at the very least, not the only one. The Xenomorph, for all its visceral horror, is the easy villain of the piece, the nameless, soulless force of nature that is an easy scapegoat for our basis of fear. Ash, in my opinion, is the true horror of Alien, more terrifying because he looks. just. like. us. That surreality of an assumed man, with faults and emotions that get the better of him, turning out to be absolutely inhuman - made all the more horrifying because there are nearly no clues beforehand of his real nature, especially on a first viewing (at least, for me, one of the greatest cinematic surprises of all time).
And make no mistake - Ash is pure evil. Sure, he might get his orders from Mother, but Scott and O'Bannon make it very clear that we are not to sympathize with him in any way, shape, or form. There is no guilt, no First Law, no remorse. He is the uncompromising reckoning of the crew. He is a non-man, an alien in human disguise, whose only goal is the protection of the Xenomorph. He is a traitor, a spy, a saboteur; actively crippling the human element in favor of the Xenomorph's safety. All this is made even worse when realizing that (in a science fiction film) he is the Science Officer - someone to be trusted, and even more completely so considering the nature of the threat presented to the crew. The enemy you know is eminently preferable to the one that you don't.
Of course, as I find myself doing too often, I could also point out this aspect of 'Ash as the real alien' as another Cold War analogy (it's either the Russians or Jesus with me, isn't it?). He's a sleeper agent, and like in The Thing, so well hidden that - should the crew have survived long enough - his existence could feasibly have resulted in the same end as the very embodiment of paranoia (obviously picked up on by Cameron when developing Ripley and Bishop's relationship in Aliens). While the comparisons pretty much end beyond Ash's ability to blend in with the actual humans of the crew, it's this line of thought that makes me consider him (and Ian Holm's flawless performance) as important to the richness of Alien - in providing a secondary antagonist who not only extends the shelf-life of the Xenomorphic threat, but supplements its visceral terror with a psychological one - as Ripley's delayed ascension to the fore.
Aboard the Narcissus
And I could go on. And on. And on. The sexual connotations of the Xenomorph and really all of Giger's designs. Goldsmith's score, and especially the lack thereof (although I will say one of my only issues is that he occasionally belies the lo-fi and grungy nature of the setpieces by being a bit too uptempo and vibrant). How most of the above causes Alien to feel so full, so layered, that picking out the distinction between acts a pointless endeavor. In the end, Ridley Scott and Dan O'Bannon, along with the cast and crew, manage to turn a b-movie idea into something so much more. I'm not sure if I've used the phrase before on Letterboxd, but I'm more than comfortable in saying Alien is a cinematic masterpiece.
★★★★½ review by Matt Singer on Letterboxd
“You still don't understand what you're dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.”
Sometimes a movie provides its own review.
★★★★★ review by CinemaClown on Letterboxd
One of the most original, suspenseful & terrifying films you're ever going to come across, Ridley Scott's breakthrough feature is a masterful blend of imagination, art direction, set design, special effects, unsettling score, perfect cast, terrific performances & quality narration, and is an extraordinary achievement in the genre of both horror & science-fiction which today is universally hailed as one of the greatest motion pictures of all time.
Alien follows a seven members crew en-route to Earth on board a huge commercial ship when their journey is interrupted by what appears to be a distress signal from a desolate planet. The crew lands to investigate but discovers a deadly life form which breeds within a human host. And so begins the horror... the horror of a highly aggressive extra-terrestrial creature which begins to stalk & kill them one by one.
Ingeniously directed by Ridley Scott, it's his brilliant use of atmospheric visuals & breathtaking details plus strong emphasis on realism over movie heroics that provides Alien an ageless appeal. Cleverly penned down by Dan O'Bannon, his vision of the monster and the futuristic world he sets the plot in is nothing short of breathtaking. Also, H.R. Giger's design of the monster is an exceptional feat in itself, for it is truly a unique & original fusion of insect, man & machine.
Cinematography & editing is carried out amazingly well and integrates effortlessly with other aspects of this film. The cast works together as a team with great maturity and it was pleasing to see each & every character getting equal importance as it provided viewers a bunch of very believable & convincing individuals. And in a cast that comprises of Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm & John Hurt, it is Weaver who ends up leaving the most lasting impression on the canvas.
But the most remarkable thing about Alien is its persistent attention on suspense over mindless gore & graphic kills and of course, its smart pacing as well that separates it from typical slasher films. Alien actually takes its time & waits until the viewers are fully immersed into its world and is at its scariest when nothing is happening as Scott allows plenty of space for our imaginations to run wild and, with little help from Jerry Goldsmith's tense score, turns almost every frame into a potential nightmare scenario.
On an overall scale, by bringing together the silence of 2001: A Space Odyssey to create suspense and the horror of Jaws by not showing but not ruling out the presence of the creature either, Alien succeeds in creating a very dark, moody & unique atmosphere that constantly provides a feeling of uneasiness throughout its runtime. A genre-defining masterpiece, a genuine fright classic, and an unprecedented fusion of art, science & horror, Alien is a distillation of everything that scares us in the movies. One hundred percent recommended.
Full review at: wp.me/s3KleJ-alien
★★★★★ review by SilentDawn on Letterboxd
Alien is everything.
Throughout my years as a film-fan, mainly unconsciously, I've searched for another Alien. A film that combines story, character, pacing, effects, cinematography, soundtrack, and direction of a mountainous order into something tangible and real. Films have come close, don't get me wrong, but nothing has touched the cinematic perfection of Ridley Scott's horrific masterwork. Even though Alien has already been made and revered for so long, I still kinda hope, within the realms of my cinephile mindset, that a film will eventually be made that will match Alien.
That won't happen.
Alien, from the first chilling frames, grabs your throat and doesn't let go. Jerry Goldsmith's twisty score and the slowly forming credits immediately set the stage for both the pacing and the overall mood; methodical and haunting to the absolute maximum. Every shot of this film, brought to staggering light by cinematographer Derek Vanlint, is beautifully defined and orchestrated. The atmosphere just floods your imagination with eerie feelings, collapsing frame after frame of the Nostromo in an opening sequence that is so air-tight it'll suffocate you if you aren't careful. It's a pure experience, visualizing a unique world but never forgetting about the story at hand. I couldn't imagine the feeling of seeing this in 1979, it probably would've killed me. Seeing this as an impressionable 9 year old was enough.
So, let's keep this simple:
How are the characters?
Flawed, human, and delicately drawn.
How is the setting?
Gothic, oppressive, indelible, and alarming.
How is the pacing?
Tight, tight, and tight.
How is the direction?
How is the cinematography?
How is the alien?
How is Jonsey, the orange tabby cat?
As sneaky and adorable as ever.
It's impossible for me to write about Alien at any coherent length. The film is beyond words, a visceral voyage into violation and the most hair-raising environment imaginable. It's what cinema was made for.
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