Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt
Director: Ridley Scott
A lot has been said about the Alien franchise, but this is the film that started them all. Opening on the quiet ship, it feels almost dreamlike as they crew is gently awakened from cryo-sleep, and wander through the soft, light toned interior of the spaceship that’s slowly taking them home. But it soon descends into nightmare.
The crew of the spaceship are woken from sleep by a distress call, and are tasked with investigating. Led by Captain Dallas (Skerritt) they take a look around the strange ship for any survivors, but one of their crew members, Kane (Hurt), stumbles on some strange eggs, from which bursts a facehugging baby alien. Rushing back to the ship, Ripley (Weaver), tries to refuse them entry on the grounds of quarantine regulations, and soon they’ll wish they listened to her… Back on board, recovering Kane is bloodily slaughtered by the thing birthing itself by bursting through his chest. The escaped creature grows quickly into a huge beast that kills them off one by one.
Part of the creation of the nightmare of this film is owed to the drawings and design of HR Giger. His artworks had a very mechanical and yet organic feel, which you see most clearly in scenes on the Nostromo, the ship sending out the distress signal. To me, I feel like his images have a kind of dark, 60’s/70’s psychedelic vibe. They feel like something out of a bad dream, but are endlessly fascinating. He created the alien and a lot of the concept art for this entire series, which he won an Oscar for.
I love the way tension is built in this film. It’s a slow build, but the film is really tight. Each scene gives you something, drawing you into the narrative, giving you insights into the characters and how they feel about each other. And it slowly takes you from the brighter upper floors of the ship into the darker, subterranean tunnels. The alien is glimpsed and revealed slowly, so you don’t get a full peek at it til late in the film, which makes it all the more terrifying. And of course, Sigourney Weaver as Ripley is a core component of this film. A natural beauty, she’s tall, confident, calm, able to take charge and plan intelligently. She has become an icon for the able woman, and I love her.
One of the interesting things about this film is the academic papers written about it. The film is about an alien that essentially rapes and kills, through forcibly invading their bodies and making them “pregnant” as a host to their maturing young. The film is about birth, motherhood and the body horror of pregnancy, and turns rape narratives in their heads with the woman, Ripley, being the strong resisting character, whilst the men are subjected to violence and death. The dark tunnels and slime that appear in these films and the way that the characters are forced to go into them to face the horrors are compared to the human body. Whether or not you agree with that, it’s an interesting thing to think about.
Finally, Jones, the ginger cat. I’m not sure why they have a ships cat on a space ship, but I think it’s a really nice touch, and I love that Ripley goes back to rescue the cat.
See It If: honestly, one of the best sci-fi horrors there is, it’s an incredible film and still blows my mind on repeat views.