With the recent and much hyped release of Prometheus, it was inevitable a review of Alien would follow.
Regarded, and rightly so, as the mother of all space monster movies, 1979’s classic spawned a generation of terrifying ET movies and its own saga, with three sequels and a Predator cross over franchise.
Reviewing Alien now is timely, but in part difficult given its acquaintance with many and coming thirty three years since it release; Sci-fi time has moved on, but the enduring devices employed by legendary Director Ridley Scott have kept Alien timeless.
On viewing many years after, its achievement is the more remarkable, apart from some now poor visual effects, (due to budget and technical limitations of the age) it still looks like it was made yesterday, especially when viewed using an up scaling DVD, creating near full high definition –more on that later.
Alien’s familiarity to many means little synopsis of plot is needed, other than the crew of the deep space mining ship Nostromo prematurely exit hyper sleep to answer a distress call from a remote world. On touching down on the bleak planetoid to investigate the beacon’s source, they encounter an Alien species.
The pioneering Face hugger’s spring from its leathery egg is Alien’s first big fright and the subsequent futile attempt to prise away from Kane’s ( John Hurt) face serves even more to warn of danger ahead, as the arachnid like impregnator, ominously wraps and grips that little bit tighter. From this point on Alien is truly terrifying, with the legendary chest bursting scene the most horrific highlight. With chills and goose bumps across sleeveless arms, the unexpected terror still remains undiluted and brilliant as the true alien beast is given a bloody birth.
It’s the very real astonishment of the performers to the violent birth of the infant alien that make it the movie’s most shocking scene, purposely kept unaware of the explosive out pouring of blood, convincing even with some, now primitive animatronics; the first splatter leading to Kane’s agonizing screams, followed by the full reveal of the miniature creature, evading capture to rapidly grow into something utterly more terrifying.
Alien carries its brilliant plotting onto another level as the beleaguered crew seek out the new-born Xenomorph, the new Rolls Royce of movie monsters (literally, using parts of cooling tubes from a ‘roller’ in its design).
Using a simple and terrifying premise; isolation and a seemingly indestructible foe, giving birth to the fabled tagline ‘In space no one can hear you scream’, Alien is still taught and tight, but in lesser, more prescriptive hands the concept may have delivered a monster B- movie, but the young Scott differed by creating realism with a genuine ship’s crew in a used universe, not swashbuckling space cowboys, but real hardened workers out of their league on a doomed rescue mission; and in Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley a truly ground-breaking lead heroin arrived for a new generation and a movie franchise to come.
With skilled direction creating a claustrophobia platform, one the greatest movie monsters is gradually unleashed with a deft of hand and precision that brilliantly exploits dark, greasy corridors and shafts to partially reveal the ‘necronomic’ anatomy of designer H.R. Giger’s creature; graceful, and ephemeral, leaving much to the imagination and creating immeasurable tension.
With possibly the greatest designed creature ever and the definite progressive reveal, the Xenomorph is still completely terrifying and convincing; utterly believable and nothing like the ‘man in a suit’ creatures seen in Sci-fi of old.
To now compare and link in with Prometheus only serves to tarnish both (but it has to be done), but more so Scott’s pseudo prequel. Alien’s scares are on a another planet to Prometheus, though the recent offering from Scott is arguably technically better given the advances in FX since 1979, but even with a galaxy size budget, Alien still remains unmatched as the Queen of space horror.
Alien’s terror is timeless, preying on the age old fears of mankind; Isolation with no way of escape, limited weaponry with no real means of defence, and a fearsome, overwhelming foe that cannot be reasoning with. Scott’s beast is a device of pure terror.
Coupled with great direction, superb set design and a largely unheralded cast personifying the unfolding space terror, Alien is still the original and best sci-fi space horror.
Accept no imitations.
The re-mastered cut is clearer, crisper and more defined when watched on up scaled DVD, seemingly less dark and more luminous.
The main additional scene, revealing Dallas’ fate really doesn’t add anything to what we have come to know about the Alien’s cocooning techniques seen in sequels, and dilutes the horror somewhat, presenting a beast now with a seeming purpose. Alien’s biggest psychological scare was always the unyielding, unreasoned nature of the beast.