Of all the horror movies before and all those after, Alien was quite
possibly the most identifiable. The look is unique. The sound is unique. The
characters are unique. And in 1979, as the syrupy-sweet waves of Star Wars
were lapping at everbody’s heels, Alien would quickly become known as the
antithesis to Lucas’ space opera. Set largely in the confines of an old,
worn-out tugboat in space, Alien is a creepily claustrophobic stroll into
the deepest recesses of our primate brains. The movie is full of dark, blind
corners and stygian niches from wence the creature could spring at any
moment. Put quite frankly, this movie scares the shit out of you from
beginning to end. Not in the rampaging, constant adrenaline rush-way of its
sequel, but with at a slow, methodical pace punctuated with moments of stark
Set design is the first thing that jumps out at you when you watch Alien.
It’s dark. All the time. The sets don’t look like some neat, orderly little
spaceship from Star Trek. Everything looks old and run down, just like any
commercial vessel would. There are no attractive streamlined shapes.
Instead, the entire ship looks like it was cobbled together out of bits and
pieces of industrial equipment. It isn’t made to look pretty like the USS
Enterprise. The Nostromo is a beast of burden with precious few creature
comforts and miles upon miles of barely lit corridors for the crew to get
themselves bumped off in. But even worse than that are the surface of the
alien planet and the interior of the derelict spacecraft. Rocks with odd
organic shapes jut up from the black ground like the arms of zombies rising
from the grave. The derelict looks like it was grown in a huge vat without a
single straight line or right angle to add any human familiarity.
Adding another layer of realism are the characters, all brilliantly played
by the cast. These folks are so real that you don’t question them for a
moment. They’re not intrepid explorers looking to broaden the horizons of
humanity. These people are doing a job. For money. And they never stop
bitching about it. Just a few minutes into the film, any doubt you may have
had about the characters’ plausibility evaporates, leaving you to enjoy the
purity of the movie without having to ponder anybody’s motives. They curse.
They gripe. They bitch about each other behind their backs. The captain just
wants to get home with a minimum of bullshit. The maintenance guys are
trying to do the least amount of work in the longest period of time. The
navigator is a useless, whining bint. In short, these are real people in a
real environment. And when shit hits the fan, they react in very real ways.
Some bravely sally forth, some panic uselessly and some just blunder into
their own demise like stupid fucking sheep. Even without the monster, this
would be one hell of a sci fi movie.
Which brings us to the real heart of the movie: Giger’s alien.
Part insect, part reptile and part opium hallucination, Giger’s hellish
brainchild is the real heart of this movie. Which is odd, in that you hardly
every see the thing. Scott didn’t blow his wad by giving us a detailed,
almost pornographic display of the creature. When you see the alien, it’s
never a full body shot and never for longer than a few seconds at a time.
Which compunds the effect even more as it lets your imagination do the real
work of turning a man in a rubber suit into a convincingly real and
incredibly frightening organism. Everything about the alien is insidious.
It’s black, it drools, it’s covered in slime and it blends in seamlessly
with the maze of pipes and struts that make up the movie’s environment. And
let us not forget that the thing is born by chewing its way out of a
person’s chest. Nice touch, that. The beauty of the beast is that in the few
glimpses you get of it, your brain keeps trying to make sense of it. Were
those tubes on its back? What’s up with that head? Just how many sets of
teeth does that damned thing have? Again, it’s a man in a rubber suit. But
it’s *real*. The alien isn’t CGI, it’s old school horror and extremely well
done at that.
“Alien” is simply one of the most brilliant, pivotal horror/sci fi movies of
the twentieth century. The theatrical version kicked ass even after being
trimmed at the behest of Fox. The newer director’s cut is even better, with
several addition scenes that don’t just give us more footage to look at, but
actually give us a deeper insight into the world of the movie. I just have
to give this thing five out of five.