The commercial spaceship Nostromo is returning to Earth, but onboard is completely still and silent. The camera glides slowly through the empty rooms and passageways of the ship, which, despite their advanced and futuristic look, also look worn and used; this is a very lived-in space. The sound of Jerry Goldsmith’s original score can be heard over the otherwise silent ship, providing a mysterious and alluring, yet calm, ambience. We turn the corner and enter a brightly lit area with several cryo-sleep pods arranged in a flower-like pattern, blooming from the middle of the room. One by one, seven crew members begin to wake and rise from the pods.
We catch up with the crew at the meal table, where they casually discuss everything from the food to their pay-shares. The conversation aligns when Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) announces unexpected news: the ship is much further from Earth than they initially thought. Having picked up on a mysterious transmission from a nearby moon, the ship’s onboard computer, Mother, had promptly woken up the crew. Company policy requires the investigation of unknown signals, and so the team reluctantly sets course for the moon, LV-426.
If you strip away its layers, Alien is, at its most basic, a haunted house movie. A number of frightened individuals run around a tight, confined space, getting picked off one by one by a deadly assailant; it all sounds very familiar. What sets Alien apart from the average slasher film is truly the setting: there’s no front door for an escape, no windows to break, and nobody even remotely close to help. This emphasizes the ship’s already claustrophobic interior to a profound level, making the film feel truly isolationary for its characters — “In space, no one can hear you scream.”
It certainly helps that the production design is truly impressive across the board. Aside from the Nostromo interior, the design of both the alien and its ship are biological in the most sickly way, with the crew using real cow stomach and sheep intestines. The practical effects at play here are comparable only to The Thing, and although Alien is over 40 years old, they still hold up remarkably well.
These effects also add to the disturbing subtext that runs the length of the film. Despite the absense of any explicit nudity or sexuality in the film, it’s not a Freudian stretch to point out the connections that can be drawn thematically; screenwriter Dan O’Bannon has stated in the past that the intention was to instill the fear of rape into men. Writing a creature that rapes and literally impregnates its victim is an effective way to evoke true terror.
Sigourney Weaver hands in a tour-de-force performance as the headstrong Ripley, who finds herself clashing often with the stubborn Parker (Yaphet Kotto) and his yes-man buddy Brett (Harry Dean Stanton). Meanwhile, Dallas, Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), and Kane (John Hurt), respectively, find themselves too brave, too panicked, and too curious for their own goods. And last but certainly not least, you have Ian Holm’s chilling performance as Ash, who single-handedly provides a blunt representation of corporate greed. Not only does each character feel distinct enough from the others, but also absolutely necessary in general.
Alien is a classic by all means, and remains one of the most iconic, beloved, and parodied science fiction AND horror films to grace the screen. If you’re a fan of science fiction, horror, or even just cinema in general, this is an absolutely essential watch.
Overall rating: 9/10