Watched Apr 29, 2012
Adam Cook’s review:
It’s hard to imagine the impact Alien had for people, like me, born after 1979. Its influence in genre cinema, both science fiction and horror, has been felt ever since and whilst it may essentially be an Old Dark House style movie in space it changed the landscape for both genres.
The opening is simplicity itself; after the slow ominous crawl through space and the scantest of intertitle exposition, the camera glides gently through the corridors of an empty industrial and utilitarian spacecraft before the computers whir into life, waking not only the ship from its deep space slumber but the human occupants too. It is a beautiful and evocative beginning, teasing elements of what is to come, from the juxtaposing of the gentle awakening from cryogenic sleep compared to the violent and horrific birth of the Alien later in the film as well as the control that technology will have on all the employees fates. It also begins with little exposition, the audience essentially ‘waking up’ at the same time as Ripley and her colleagues, and putting you directly into a strange and alien world (if you pardon the pun).
Trying to single out why this film has both endured and also influenced countless other films is hard. The production design is certainly key with some of the most influential artists and designers from Giger to Moebius working on the film and helping shape the look of many sci-fi films to follow. Likewise, the alien itself has become as iconic as Frankenstein’s monster and its power has not been diluted despite the best efforts of Fox studios trying to run it into the ground. It signalled the resurgence in the monster movie and traces of Giger’s creation can be seen in every single movie of its kind since. Despite more than thirty years since its release, every strong or heroic female character in film is still compared to Ripley. Yet her character is more sophisticated than nearly all those that she has influenced. Many critics talk about the film’s power as it taps into our primal fears surrounding birth, sexuality and the violation of the body yet these are fears that have successfully been tackled in horror. However, perhaps the thing that makes Alien stand out from all the me-too competition, and the one element still rarely duplicated, is the way it creates genuine fear in the unknown and unsettling ambiguous tone.
There are so many unanswered questions in the film for both the characters and audience. The origins of the creature, its motivation and weaknesses are left tantalisingly vague. Compare it with other similar films and you will notice a stark difference. Normally the protagonist will discover a weak spot or a way to win, the filmmakers will flesh out a backstory for the antagonist that attempts to rationalise what is happening onscreen. Yet, Scott, and writers O’Bannon and Shusett, tease nothing but questions; questions that have persisted and challenged audiences ever since. It is in these unanswered moments that the real fear resides.
Ridley Scott not only managed to redefine a genre but redefined two in the same film. Talk about showing off.