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ALIEN (1979 - R)
ALIEN is the first of what would become a dynasty of sci-fi films addressing the possibility of extraterrestrial life forms and the pontificated dynamics of their interactions with the human race. Set in the future aboard a cargo space-ship, the Nostromo, the seven-man crew must fight for their lives after a notorious alien life form enters their ship via its host, crewmember Kane. Once free of its human shell, however, the deadly alien is anything but good news for the ill-fated Nostromo crew.
Written by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett. Directed by Ridley Scott.
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller, Horror.
Rated: R for sci-fi violence/gore, and language.
Tagline: It was the perfect organism…
With an eerie, more-or-less spine-chilling score lingering in the background the film pans from the remote vastness of outer space to the inner hulls of space cargo-ship 'Nostromo'. A quick caption informs audiences that the Nostromo is headed back to earth, carrying with her 20,000,000 lbs of specialized mineral ore and her seven-member crew. But as the film navigates one dark hull to the next, all the while the eerie music still pulsing in the backdrop, one gets the impression that something is about to go terribly wrong.
The suspense is cut short however, even if only briefly, by a masterful ‘pod’ scene which shows the Nostromo crew awakening from their chyronized hyper-sleep chambers. Sluggishly the seven member crew awakens from cyber sleep and makes their way to the mess hall for a quick meal before discovering why their hibernation was interrupted prior to arriving on planet Earth. While mechanics Parker (Yaphet Kotto) and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) banter about their ‘bonuses’, whiny navigational officer Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) moans about the suddenly possibility of her Earthbound arrival being delayed. Meanwhile the adventurous Kane (John Hurt) and first-officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) joke about space-adventure nothings while the precarious scientist Ash (Ian Holm) stands idly by while Nostromo captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) goes to speak with "Mother"; the Nostromo’s mainframe computer operating system that auto-pilots the space craft.
Apparently "Mother" has picked up a possible distress signal on an alien planet and has re-routed the Nostromo’s course to go investigate. An ambivalent crew contemplates their fated adventure and outlines a possible course of action. With Dallas, Lambert, and Kane assigned to excavate the whereabouts of the signal, Ash stands by on an extension of the Nostromo shuttle that allows him to view their adventures through ‘high-tech’ computer video software. But the quick trip to the planet has banged up the Nostromo’s navigational shuttle and Parker and Brett are left to fix the inner-workings of the space-craft while Ripley offers to decipher the alien signal. As the adventurous trio of Lambert, Dallas, and Kane encroach an alien space-craft Ripley warns "Dr." Ash that the 'distress signal' may in fact, be a warning. All the same the precarious Ash is insistent that the trio continue excavating the inner hulls of the ship. There, Kane is the first to stumble upon the alien life form. As he walks through the eerie bowls of the ship he encounters a 'cavern' where thousands of pods lay harvesting under a mist. But when Kane leans too far over to investigate, one of the pods hatches and out springs the alien form and latches onto Kane’s helmet.
Though quarantine rules strictly prevent Ripley from admitting the three into the space-craft, Ash overrides her orders and grants them safety despite the fact that Kane is in a coma with an alien life-form attached to his skull. Taking him down to the infirmary Ash and Dallas prepare to operate. However, as soon as they cut the skin of the alien life-form the creature bleeds acid which, to everyone's disbelief, leaks through multiple levels of the space-craft. Unable to kill the jelly-fish/spider mutant form, the crew leaves Kane to the scientific 'expertise' of the fascinated Ash. But when the thing goes missing and Kane wakes up and acts as if nothing happened, the crew doesn't know whether to be skeptical or relieved. They receive their answer in the form of the famous "chest-bursting" scene in which the alien form, now mutated, bursts through the rib cavity of Kane’s chest, killing him instantaneously, and then scurry off into the remote bowels of the ship. Intent on protecting the deadly entity, Ash begins to provoke hostile feelings in the rest of the Nostromo crew.
While the crew goes in search of the rapidly maturing and mutating Alien (Bolaji Badejo), Ripley begins to harbor ill feelings towards to indifferent Ash who stands idly by as one by one the Nostromo crew falls victim to the deadly creature. With Brett, and Nostromo captain Dallas now missing; presumed dead, Ripley, Lambert, and Parker plot ways to kill the creature much to Ash's demise. When Ripley overrides security commands to access "Mother" she discovers the unthinkable: the Nostromo was intended to go to the planet all along. Their mission, unknowingly, was to retrieve the alien life form and bring it back to their company on Earth, no matter the cost: crew expendable. When an enraged Ripley confronts an indifferent Ash she discovers one more startling surprise… Ash is not even human.
Switched at the last minute for a former veteran Nostromo head scientist, Ash was a secret robot designed to endure the possibly fatal mission so as to extract pertinent information regarding the organism. But Lambert, Parker, and Ripley aren't about to stand by and listen to a robot lecture them on their inferiority and quickly dismantle Ash before going in search of the Alien.
Intending to blow up the Nostromo and take the emergency shuttle back to earth, Ripley goes to prepare the ship while Parker and Lambert gather the necessary items to rig the bomb. But during their work Parker and Lambert are interrupted by a deadly meeting with the Alien and Ripley is left to battle it out alone with the menacing Alien. Now a formidable 7 ft. tall, the deadly Alien stalks about the ship in unknown whereabouts while Ripley prepares to evacuate the Nostromo and save her cat, Jones.
Once aboard the escape craft however, Ripley has one more surprise as she watches the Nostromo explode miles away in space: so too did the alien escape. With one more victim to claim, the Alien catches a little shut eye, leaving Ripley just enough time to calculate how to kill the 'un-killable' life form. A memorable finale wraps up the first of what would become many Alien films that have trademarked the particular "sub-genre" of sci-fi films since "Alien's" birth in 1979.
Since "Alien" many films have tried, and often failed, to do what Ripley brilliantly did so long ago: he brought us horror, mystery, action, and drama all while creating a sub-genre of sci-fi that would forever alter the way Hollywood produced it’s alien-inebriated science fiction films; cult and blockbuster alike.
"Alien" would become a hallmark for science-fiction and much is due to the fact that Ridley Scott masterfully creates a futuristic depiction of human life without going over-board. Appropriately, and fundamentally suspending our disbelief, Ripley compellingly invites us into the world of the Nostromo; a low-down, unimportant, conventional space 'dump-truck' that is hauling millions of pounds of ore back to earth on what is supposed to be a routine, albeit mundane, job. Once aboard the Nostromo however, Ripley quickly unveils the many precarious nuances of the job; including the fact that the "company" is never named or discussed in detail so as to add yet another intriguing layer of mystery behind both the crew’s origins and qualifications, as well as the motivations of the very company they work for.
In the guise of a "space trucking company", the Nostromo becomes a host for the first outer space haunted house which emerges in the likes of an amazingly horrific and ghastly creature that will forever remain notoriously recognizable and symbolic: the Alien. From its massive stature, to its two heads, to its acid blood, the alien was a cinema-graphic treat that remained exotically appealing yet realistic enough to buy into. With ALIEN you have the most realistic and most intimidating Alien life form imagined by the likes of Hollywood that has yet to be topped; though many have tried.
So too is the art direction of the sets and the cinematography and music absolutely fundamental in assisting the success of this groundbreaking film. From an eerily haunting score that constantly bespeaks of bad tidings; think hair always standing up on the arms…to the acute details of throwing in an animal with their infamous '6th sense' constantly smacking of ill-fate for the Nostromo crew (i.e. the skittish cat, Jones), Ripley directs a film that gives attention where attention is needed: in the nuances of the set, the nemesis, and the dynamics of the inept Nostromo crew.
Unprepared, unaware, and disbelieving, the "expendable crew" half expects to be defeated by the sinister life-form and this is part of what makes the film so compelling: it's almost more disturbing to speculate the depths of human greed that we would be willing to indifferently risk, almost grant, the terrifying and painful death of people so as to edify our own personal wants. At times the audience doesn’t know what’s more disturbing; the alien, or the Nostromo's nefarious company, as is symbolic in the controversial though wholly symbolic character, Ash, played by Ian Holm.
Thus to speak of acting….in a word: solid though not mesmerizing. Though Sigourney Weaver steals the show as the determined sexy female sole survivor, Skerritt, Stanton, Cartwright, Hurt, Holm, and Kotto all fulfill their roles to the gratification of audiences. Each portrays the image of self-serving space-truckers bored and disinterested in their mundane job that has suddenly, and much to their ineptness, turned extremely deadly.
Winning an Oscar for Best Effects, garnering another 11 awards and 18 nominations, one of which was on Oscar nomination for Best Art Direction, “Alien” has become the hallmark film for alien-based Sci-Fi movies that all aspire to conquer. That said, though it’s just an opinion, it still seems many still fall short of their precedent. Kudos to Ripley and his sci-fi masterpiece.
Sigourney Weaver plays Ellen Ripley, Second-in-command of the Nostromo space cargo-craft.
Tom Skerritt plays Dallas, Head commander of space cargo-craft Nostromo.
John Hurt plays Kane, the inquiring crew member who first encounters the aliens.
Harry Dean Stanton plays Brett, AKA 'parrot', one of the Nostromo's mechanics.
Yaphet Kotto plays Parker, the other mechanic obsessed with fiscal rewards for his duties on the Nostromo.
Veronica Cartwright plays Lambert, the Nostromo’s navigational officer.
Ian Holm plays Ash, the Nostromo's head scientist and primary authority concerning the fate of the alien.
Bolaji Badejo plays Alien, the deadly menace lurking in the air ducts of Nostromo.