Posted in Film Commentary

Review: Alien

Second horror film review of the month brings us to the realm of sci-fi horror, and I felt that this film was appropriate because it has scared the living daylights out of some friends of mine. However, this is also one of the films that I am reviewing because I don’t believe it deserves all of the hype it has gotten over the years. I am not saying this movie is bad, far from it. However, I don’t believe it is the best horror movie I have and ever will see. Once again, I’m going to use the “compliment sandwich” for this review.

I absolutely love the visual effects in this film. There is a stark contrast between light and shadow throughout the film that makes everything eerie and even adds to a claustrophobic feeling. Of course, the set does this as well (what with everyone being stuck on a ship), but the lighting gives the atmosphere of the film an essential boost in creepiness.

The set and prop designs were also superb in this film, making it nearly flawless to suspend disbelief. I had to keep subconsciously reminding myself that the Nostromo wasn’t a real cargo ship, and just about the only thing that held me to reality was that I recognized the actors from other films (Ash is played by Ian Holm, who later plays Bilbo Baggins in the LOTR trilogy, Sigourney Weaver also plays Dana Barrett in Ghostbusters, and Kane is played by John Hurt, who was not only the dictator in V for Vendetta but also Ollivander in the Harry Potter films). This is not to say they did not do superb acting jobs, because they did, but they are all notable actors and thus I was able to ground myself mostly from facial recognition. The point, however, is that the set and prop designs were spectacular and highly believable. In fact, I should say costume design as well, since the Alien was played by a very tall man in a suit.

As for the thing I don’t like about this film, I honestly don’t like the pacing of the first half. It drags out just a bit too long for my taste, as the face-hugger doesn’t get Kane until half an hour into the film. I understand, however, that a majority of what happens in the first hour is important. My suggestion: remove the character development that isn’t necessary. It is mentioned at least three times in the first hour of the film that Parker and Brett want higher shares when they get home. This has no relation to the rest of the film and becomes less important to the story each time it is mentioned. By the time the alien escapes Kane’s chest, they are some of the most trustworthy people on the ship (well, Parker is at least), rendering all this nonsense about higher shares pointless. I wouldn’t mind if this were mentioned once, twice at most. Dallas is not given character development beyond “semi-overbearing Captain” and Lambert isn’t given depth beyond “stereotypical woman who doesn’t want to be there and is scared of everything” (which I have plenty of problems with on its own). Kane isn’t even important beyond being an alien incubator. If most of the film revolves around the alien and the awful relationship between Ash and Ripley, why was it deemed necessary to include so many scenes of Parker and Brett complaining about their shares?

Back to good things, this film does a great job of using foreshadowing. Kane is the first of the crew to wake up when Mother wakes them to search the planet. The very next scene shows them all at the table. The film drives the point home, in case you missed it, by adding these lines:

Kane: I feel dead.

Parker: Anybody ever tell you you look dead?

This is far from the only way the film uses foreshadowing, either. There are many times throughout the film where Ash is shown straight-faced despite the crew being in a desperate situation. Once again, the film makes sure you notice by adding bits of dialogue between Ripley and the other crew members about her growing distrust of him.

As a horror movie, the alien doesn’t scare me as much as Ash does. Granted, Ash is a pawn being used by the Weyland Corporation, but he is the only face of evil we see. When you compare the motives of the Alien and the Weyland Corporation, what’s more terrifying: a creature following its natural instincts in order to survive, or a corporation that is so focused on retrieving a foreign life-form that they are willing to sacrifice human lives in the process? Science fiction does one thing continually that will always terrify me, and that is to remind me that large corporations are evil.

While the beginning of this film drags out more than I would like, the film as a whole is superb. The imagery, foreshadowing, costumes, props, lighting, set design, story, etc. are all magnificent. I can’t say this ranks among my list of my personal favorite films, but I have huge respect for this film and everything it has inspired in the sci-fi and horror genres ever since.

Unfortunately, my favorite scene of this film has been copyright blocked. Spoilers: it’s not the chest-burster scene. My favorite is actually Ash’s malfunction and last words to the remaining crew. But I digress, here is the original trailer!

Trailer:

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2 thoughts on “Review: Alien

  1. In your first two horror reviews, you’ve hit on two of my favourite movies. Alien is the genre definer for me. What I would suggest to supplement your good review is to consider when it came out. I saw it in the theatre in 1979 and it was like nothing anyone had seen before. It had the same effect on the audience as The Exorcist did a few years earlier (another great review for you!). The movie was visceral and terrifying. The early pacing you spoke of lulled us into a sense of complacency and those little details about the characters got us rooting for them. It also established social barriers that the alien crisis quickly made mockery of.

    I’d also note H.R. Giger’s impact on the visual look of the film: stunning. Have you seen Prometheus? Interested in your thoughts on that one too.

    1. I haven’t seen Prometheus yet, but I’m hoping to get a chance to watch it soon! As for the pacing in the beginning, I don’t mind a calm before the storm so to speak, I just don’t understand why Brett and Parker got so much focus while the other relatively minor characters got practically no character development. I wouldn’t mind if they had only mentioned the desire for higher shares once, maybe twice, but it was mentioned three times at very least. By the third time I found myself thinking “Ok, we get it, they want more money, but Kane is now in the infirmary with the face-hugger so why are we still talking about this?” All I would change is to cut one or two of those scenes, the rest of the opening was fine.

      I will keep in mind your suggestion to pay better attention to the year the films I’m reviewing came out, as I do sometimes slip into the convenient mode of watching films as a contemporary viewer as opposed to placing myself in the mindset of the time period. Thanks for reading!

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