The tag went “In space no-one can hear you scream”, however thanks to hundreds of breakneck action movies (including this very film’s first sequel) nowadays a better one might be “for 90 odd minutes in space no-one can hear you yawn”.
That’s not the movie’s fault, if anything blame the reduced attention span that has meant I can watch a DVD in the ads of a sporting contest, while playing an Xbox game on split screen and absent mindedly net surfing on my laptop during load times and cutscenes.
And I’m only exaggerating just a little bit.
Alien showed that a quality film could be made using futuristic backgrounds and way out design concepts (by H.R. Giger; renowned lunatic genius), without a reduction in quality and realism. And with a horror theme to boot!
Alien finds the crew of the spacecraft Nostromo awoken from (let’s call it) hypersleep to find they are not near Earth, as should be the case, but still in the middle of nowhere. The ship’s computer named Mother has intercepted some sort of signal that has impelled them to cite a space directive saying they must reroute the mission to investigate.
The design of the ship is quite cool, things aren’t all immaculate like most sci-fi films, and the crew actually has two “blue-collar” boys who look after the maintenance and engines, (and whinge about it 99% of the time). The high-tech stuff probably looked high-tech in the 80s, now it looks as futuristic as an Atari 2600 would to a kid with a PS3.
So after some grumping (and some scenes that serve little else but to highlight the ranking order in the ship and an insight into each character) it is agreed that they must take an unplanned detour to look into things and investigate the signal. The landing does not go smoothly unfortunately and the ship is damaged on landing on the moon’s surface, three of the crew, Dallas, Lambert and Cain head off to find the source of the signal while Parker and Brett attempt to get the ship space-worthy, with Ripley and Ash staying aboard to supervise.
Now the action takes place with the research crew, as they near the signal they find an otherworldly structure, complete with what looks like a fossilized creature of some kind, and a lower area with hundreds of seed-pod looking things, only they are a metre tall and quiver when you near them. Cain accidentally falls into the pod area, and one of the pods opens in an ominous fashion.
(It should be noted here that the production design team showed amazing attention to detail, the sets are huge but never really seem to look like sets, they look like spaceship interiors and alienesque creations. Always.)
Cut to shortly after as the three approach the ship, Cain being carried by this point. After an animated “discussion between Dallas, Ripley and Ash regarding the suitability of allowing them access to the ship with a “something else” in tow, Cain is put into the medical bay where they can see exactly what the fuck is going on.
Cain has a massive creature affixed to his face. No other way to say it. In truth I’d be ejecting him from the ship right now, complete with a eulogy of what a top bloke he was, after all no good can come from a massive creature being attached to your face, be it alien, animal or Kirstie Alley, (I know, low blow on an easy target).
In looking at the creature Ash finds some startling facts (for those that haven’t seen the film nor any of its sequels), it has built in defense mechanisms, most notably acid for blood, and seems to be rummaging around inside Cain’s body…
And they are still on the fence about ejecting him!
The famous scene happens a little later, when Cain awakes seemingly no worse for wear, and the crew decide to have a little dinner party to celebrate a job well done before returning to hypersleep for the final leg home.
Commence Ash retching a bit, flailing for a few seconds, lying on his back and giving painful birth through his chest cavity to a bouncing baby alien, that looks about, has a quick scream to set the tone and promptly fucks off while the crew look at each other. Fair enough too, that sort of thing doesn’t happen every day.
The rest of the film involves the 6 survivors attempting to locate and destroy the being. They split into two teams initially (never a good idea), and set about hunting the thing down, perhaps in a large Tupperware container?
Now seeing this isn’t your ordinary pet it shouldn’t have come as a massive shock to find our little 12 inch buddy is now well over 7 ft tall, and all in a matter of hours, our little guy is growing up fast!
The scenes involving the gradual “thinning out” of the crew are quite effective, even if slow and deliberate by today’s standards of wham-bam thank you ma’am’s. The filmmakers utilize minimal music and allow the magnitude of the creatures development become gradually apparent to both the audience and the unfortunates who come across him.
There are a few “Boo! Oh shit it’s the stupid cat” scares along the way, but thankfully these are kept to a minimum and the bulk of the tension is well earned, all the way to the very bitter end.
Final Rating – 8 / 10. Undoubtedly a landmark in sci-fi and film in general, but so was the invention of the wheel more noteworthy at the time. Compared to what has come since this is still a solid 8 though.