Alien, released in 1979 and directed by Ridley Scott is one of my favorite Sci- Fi horror films. I have watched this film numerous times over the years and it has, till date not lost its shine. I just finished watching the director’s cut of the film and I still feel the same exasperating thrill and sheer horror which this film made so famous. Considering the lack of technology at that time, the film still came up with the kind of visual effects which holds its own even today. Sans a few long shots of the alien here and there which falls out, the visual effects remain pretty solid all the way through. The best part of it is the design of the ship. More on that later.
The story revolves around a crew on board a ship Nostromo. On the way back home after a mining expedition, the crew is woken from their cryo sleep when the ship’s master computer intercepts a distress signal from an uncharted planet. As per protocol, some members of the crew disembark to check out the source of the signal. The crew members find an alien ship with all its members dead. Exploring the ship, one of the team members, Kane (John Hurt) finds a chamber which is filled with some sort of eggs which holds a tentacled organism. One of the organisms attaches itself to Kane as he tries to get a closer look. He is brought on board the Nostromo to try and take down the organism from his face. The team however fails to do so.
Kane remains in coma for a while and then suddenly one day the organism detaches itself from his face and just dies. He subsequently gains consciousness and appears to be normal. They all sit down to have food when suddenly the man suffers a fit and an alien bursts its way out from his chest. It appears that the tentacled organism must have laid eggs in the man’s body which developed into the alien. This alien now loose in the ship, goes methodically after the rest of the team members as they fall like nine pins. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) one of the team members, takes it upon herself to see to it that the alien is destroyed. She is aided from time to time by different team members who unfortunately fall prey to the alien but nevertheless give Ripley the necessary time to find out ways to tackle the alien.
I loved this film for a variety of reasons. This film works more like a horror film than a creature or sci-fi flick. The buildup to each of the attacks is thought-out perfectly. A long period is dedicated to the people inching closer to what they think is the alien in different sequences and later revealing the alien to be present somewhere else. This trick is repeated many times but in different ways ensuring that we don’t have the feeling of déjà vu and giving us the necessary thrills everytime. The film starts off slow and some time is dedicated to showing us the interior of the ship, the topography associated with it and also introducing us to the men who are just coming out of their cryo sleep. As we go about the proceedings there is a constant feel of uncanny danger lurking somewhere in the vicinity.
When the team members explore the alien ship, this feeling is quadrupled and there is a sense of almost intolerable tension which is brought to a startling halt when the organism gives us a jolt and clamps itself onto one Kane’s face in a matter of seconds. This happens after a buildup which lasted almost 10 minutes. The scene cuts right there and the next thing we see is Ripley dosing off in the ship which communicates the amount of time passed. She is then ordered to open the doors of the ship to let the team in, who have now reached the ship after their exploration. They are coming in with the comatose Kane but Ripley disagrees to open the door. The door is opened by the science officer Ash (Ian Holm), who disobeys her orders and opens the door. There is a sense of childlike excitement on his face which conveys the feeling that he knows more about the predicament than what appears. He takes on Ripley on multiple occasions, getting his way through with the organism.
When all hell breaks loose, it is revealed that Ash has a hidden agenda of his own regarding the alien. It is also reveled that he is an android in one of the most shocking and unnerving scenes of the film. After the alien has killed off every other team member, Ripley finally gets the better of it and flushes it out of the ship using the propulsion vents.
Apart from the brilliant visual effects and the simmering horror, the film is well served by some superb performances. Each of the cast members feel absolutely real and the best of them all is Sigourney Weaver as Ripley. When she was playing Ripley, she could not have known that this film would eventually sprawl a franchise and she would be known for this role more than anything else in the years to come. However, she essays the character in a manner as if her life depended on it. She gets each and every expression right and you can practically feel the fear and angst of the character through her essay. Her act goes on to increase the affectivity of many scenes wherein the special effects fall a bit flat. Ian Holm does a great job as Ash. He is perfectly hateable as the android that risked the lives of the crew members knowing full well what the organism could do.
I may be wrong in saying this but I have to admit that I felt a sort of a noirish element in the manner in which the film is structured. The film has a washed out feel to it wherein a lot of dialogs unfold between characters and every now and then they break into a breakneck fight mostly with the alien. The visuals remain consistent all the way through and there isn’t a scene where the special effects take over the narrative or for that matter the performances. The effects are used only to bring to life the horrors and the envisioned world of the director wherein his characters could play out their parts.
I love this film to the core and I feel that if you can ignore the deficiencies in the special effects which you must, owing to the advancements in that department over the years, this will merit as one of the best Sci-fi films of all times. The mood, the visuals, the fear and the performances make this film one to reckon with. Watch it if you haven’t already.