Alien ★★★★½

A detail I had otherwise forgotten struck me on this revisit – the decidedly lowkey opening sequence. So unlike Scott’s general tenor as to be almost suspicious, the scene explores an empty, dormant Nostromo; familiarizes us with its space, its mood and its silence. A grim foreboding, but also an establishment of pace and objective. This slow primer intuits fear where there should be none – where there should be nothing – in a context both incredibly recognizable (the ‘lived-in’ sci-fi cribbed from Star Wars), and at once unfamiliar, isolated. The anticipatory/apprehensive experience of examining an open set before the play begins. The film then begins in earnest, and has lost none of its potency; a minimalist horror that knows it is in notseeing and notknowing that one reacts most extremely (a dictum Scott might need reminding of). While the direction and writing are exceptional – the inclusion/deployment of Ash and the peremptory nature of class-dispute throughout being of especial note – it is in production and art design that Alien reaches its true, expressionistic heights. A grand design of collaboration (the phallic/yonic inventions of Giger are matched by various other contributions, such as those by French comic book illustrator Moebius and Star Wars alum Leslie Dilley), the imagery of Alien is consuming, devouring, encompassing. Combined with Vanlint’s gloaming cinematography, there is an atavistic unease inherent to many of the film’s locations – not just those on the alien craft, but the enclosed airshafts and ancillary chambers of the Nostromo itself. The room of dripping water and dangling chains is not justified by any realistic purpose so much as the mood it provokes; the alien’s later association with the ship’s architecture (its tubular skull indistinguishable from the piping) only exacerbates this intrinsic distrust of this supposedly familiar environment. The quiet unease of the opening scene finally and aggressively vindicated.