Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Film Review - Alien (1979)

Alien theatrical poster (fig.1)

Directed by Ridley Scott, the science-fiction horror Alien was released in 1979 with the strap-line "In space no one can hear you scream". Undoubtedly the design of Alien is what makes it stand out from other sci-fi or horror films of its time and this was down to the artist H.G. Giger. The alien itself was inspired by Giger's 'Necronom IV' artwork from 1976 (fig 2). As Andrew Collins says "There are thrills of the highest order - but the beauty of Alien remains... its beauty." Ridley Scott was said to be influenced by three films when making Alien - Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

H.R.Giger's Necronom IV (fig.2)

The film begins when Nostromo, a commercial vessel is returning to Earth and picks up a transmission from a nearby planetoid. On investigation, three of the crew members, Dallas, Kane and Lambert discover a disused alien spacecraft. Inside they discover a gigantic, long-decayed body which appears to have had something explode from its chest. Kane also comes across a large amount of eggs, seemingly protected by a blue mist. When he looks into one of the eggs, it opens up and something bursts from it, melts his space helmet and attaches itself to his face. Against the wishes of Acting Senior Officer Ripley, the Science Officer, Ash opens the airlock and allows the crew back aboard, with the injured Kane. Eventually the 'facehugger' detaches itself from Kane's face and dies, though the crew discover the alien has a highly corrosive acid for blood. Kane awakens and seems to be in normal health, until he sits down to eat. He chokes and then a small creatures bursts from his chest, killing him (fig.3). The creature scurries away and the mood of the film instantly changes.

Chest-burster explodes from Kane's chest (fig.3)

One by one the crew are picked off by the alien, which has now grown considerably in size (fig.4). The ship’s Engineer, Brett is the first to encounter the seven-foot monstrosity, followed by Captain Dallas who tries to hunt down the alien using the ship's air shafts. Ripley and the remaining members of the crew, Parker, Lambert and Ash plan to corner the alien and release it into space. The shuttle will not carry four people so this is the only option they have. It is soon discovered that Ripley’s suspicions of Ash are proven right when she tries to access the ship’s computer, 'Mother'. Science Officer Ash has denied anyone else access to the computer and has programmed the ship to return the Alien to the owners of Nostromo, regardless of the safety of the crew. Ash tries to kill Ripley and when Parker and Lambert help to fight him off, they discover that he is actually an android. Ash’s final words are to tell his fellow crew members that they will not defeat the alien.

At 7' 2" tall, Bolaji Bedajo played the alien (fig.4)

Now there are only three remaining survivors, the plan changes. Ripley prepares the shuttle while Parker and Lambert gather supplies. Ripley is side-tracked when she remembers the ship’s cat, Jones is missing. She hunts for the cat and in the meantime Parker and Lambert are found and killed by the Alien (fig.5). Ripley hears the ordeal over the transmitter and so heads off to set the ship’s self-destruct sequence. On returning to the shuttle, Ripley comes across the alien. She quickly attempts to abort the self-destruct programme but is unsuccessful. She returns again to the shuttle and closes the door behind her, confident that she has escaped the alien. She flies the shuttle away just in time to see the Nostromo explode in front of her. She puts the cat into a statis pod and just begins to relax and prepare for the journey home which she discovers the alien has tucked itself into the shuttle. While it is sleeping, Ripley puts on a spacesuit, straps herself into the ship and opens the airlock, sucking the alien out. The alien grips onto the door and tries to climb back in, but Ripley shoots it with a grappling hook before shutting the door and firing the shuttle engines to blast the alien into space. Ripley is now safe and she records the ship's log before settling into statis for the 6 week journey back home.
Lambert encounters the alien (fig.5)

Alien is the first of many films to be made about the extra-terrestrial race that is discovered by the crew of the Nostromo. The more recent 'Prometheus' released in 2012 takes us back to before the 1979 film and explains where the aliens originated from. Alien has lots of moments of suspense, but one of the most effective is the way the creature is hidden or in darkness for much of the time. Because of the design of the ship, we are never sure whether we are looking at part of the ship’s interior in the background or the alien itself as the chains, pipes and smooth surfaces of the environment are all similar to the look of the alien. Also the organic interior of the alien ship on the planetoid makes us feel very uneasy as it resembles alien body parts and bones. The film Alien has a much dirtier and edgier look and feel than that of other films of the genre, such as 2001: a Space Odyssey or Star Trek.

Camera angles are used very effectively in this film. From the very beginning we feel that we are on board the Nostromo with the camera exploring the ship and settling on the crew in stasis. We feel every moment of fear when the camera is following Ripley around on her fight for survival and at times of panic, we feel we are there when the camera is so close to the actors’ faces. Sound is used to evoke fear and anticipation, such as the rhythmic beating of the fans; the steam jets and the screeching sound of the air shaft hatches opening and closing. The audience is on the edge of its seat through the majority of the movie. Critic Tim Dirks explains "It introduced both somber horror elements and gore to its traditional science-fiction tale." 

What stands out as one of the most refreshing points in this film, in comparison to other films of its time, is the part of Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver (fig.6). Even today, it is rare to have a female as the main heroic lead in a film. We can see that she is scared, but she is also tough and determined and strong enough to stand up to this huge, menacing and unfamiliar creature which has killed all of her (mainly male) colleagues. She also stands up for what she believes is right throughout the film, as we can see from the scene where she wants to keep Kane in quarantine. Ripley’s relationship with the aliens grows throughout the series of films as she begins to learn more about them.
Sigourney Weaver as heroine Ripley (fig.6)

The film itself stands the test of time and has inspired many other films of the science-fiction genre. Even now, over thirty years later, Alien films and games are still being made. Future Movies reviewer, Adrian Mackinder says "At the risk of sounding like an old man, they really don't make 'em like this anymore..."`

Illustration List:

Alien Theatrical poster (fig 1) (Accessed 22/10/14)
H.R.Giger's Necronom IV (fig.2) (Accessed 22/10/14)
Chest-burster movie still (fig.3) (Accessed 22/10/14)
Bolaji Bedajo (fig.4) (Accessed 22/10/14)
Movie still (fig.5) (Accessed 22/10/14)
Ripley movie still (fig.6) (Accessed 22/10/14)

Andrew Collins - (Accessed 22/10/14)
Tim Dirks - (Accessed 22/10/14)
Adrian Mackinder - (Accessed 22/10/14)

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