Alien Review (1979)

by "Penguin" Pete Trbovich on June 11th, 2018 | |

Alien was directed by Ridley Scott and stars Tom Skerritt (from Maneaters are Loose!), Sigourney Weaver and Veronica Cartwright (from Invasion of the Body Snatchers). It’s about the crew of a space-faring mining vessel encountering an extraterrestrial life form for the first time.

In space no one can hear you scream.

Alien ReviewWhat can you possibly say about Alien that hasn’t been said already? We’re going to try, because the task is there challenging us.

Alien is the perfect storm of horror-genre formula. Is being trapped with a monster scary? Then we’ll make the ultimate monster, one which, for all we know, might have slaughtered its way across the universe and back through several intelligent species before it even met humans. Is being isolated scary? Then space is the ultimate isolation, with no back-up, no support, and no calvary arriving when you call 911. Are ugly monsters scary? We’ll have our monster metamorphose between several ugly stages, so you don’t even know what it looks like the next time you meet it. Afraid of the dark? Welcome to space; we have plenty of that!

As Much Of The Plot As We Can Recap Without Spoilers:

Um, some humans in space meet something unknown. You can stop reading there, because every minute of this movie from the opening frame is a growing, building sense of wonder and discovery. Of course, this movie is far too famous for anybody reading to be reasonably insulated from exposure to it already, so we’ll go into further detail to say: The crew of a mining vessel gets detoured to investigate an apparent life form, encounters it, and bit by bit discovers it to be the most horrifying living thing the human race has ever encountered, without a snowball’s chance of escaping it alive.

From here on out, you’re on your own.

Scary Plausibility

Alien is a rare example which works 100% as a sci-fi film and a horror slasher film at the same time. It is also one of the most plausible sci-fi films of all time. There’s no intergalactic war or mission to explore the galaxy here, just a mining company and a crew of what amounts to “space truckers,” exactly the way we will probably start out exploring space. They’re not out on a quest for knowledge itself. Instead, they’re tricked by their own company into risking their necks with the unknown life form because they’re cheap, expendable labor, exactly the way you know any big soulless corporation would handle it. On encountering the unknown threat, they have no coordinated plan and they certainly don’t react like bloodless Star Fleet personnel spouting technobabble, but like blue collar workers, frantically bickering with each other and making mistaken assumptions all the way. And that’s exactly how you know our first contact story will probably go if we have one.

Even the xenomorphs are down to Earth. They aren’t trying to conquer the galaxy, nor are they hellspawned monsters bent on evil for evil’s sake (notwithstanding later sequels and prequels retconing their origin story). This just happens to be how they survive, as a semi-parasitic species, just like many life forms we have right here on Earth. They also happen to be bigger and tougher than humans, while even being a passing match for us intelligence-wise. It may not be pleasant to admit, but a species just like this, once it managed to hop around in interstellar shipping lanes, would be very good at surviving. Evolution here on Earth produces some pretty vicious creatures already; move the laws of evolution to space, and being able to commandeer any life form you encounter as an incubator and food source makes the most sense.

The thing that sets Alien apart is that, unlike the vast majority of horror films, we have nothing to latch on to for denying its plausibility. By God, it could happen just like this! Even some of our top scientists concur. The late physicist Stephen Hawking cautioned us on boldly contacting alien life: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.” As for Neil DeGrasse Tyson, guess what thought he says disturbs him the most? This is the idea, counter to Golden-Age sci-fi, that humans may not be the biggest cheese in the universe after all. If our smartest scientists can be scared by the unknown of the universe, what chance do us mere mortals have, as we hug the theater armrest with our sweaty palms?

We tell ourselves that we’re a smart, sophisticated, civilized species. Just ask the cows and chickens, they’ll tell you what benevolent apex predators we are. Now what do we do when we discover another life form out there, to whom we are nothing but stock animals as well?

Realistic Design

Of course, the spiciest cherry on the sundae is H.R. Giger’s unnerving creature designs. The standard in most horror and sci-fi was shattered by Giger. Ask the average human to draw an alien, and you’ll likely get either of two results: A human with some rubber ears or forehead, or an animal that’s a conglomerate of other Earth animals, like a zebra with crab claws and bird wings or whatever. The human mind isn’t very good at imagining the truly unknown.

Giger, like the best hard SF authors, designed his aliens as something authentically unlike any known life form, and yet with practical, plausible designs for each stage. When you look at a face-hugger, it looks just like something you’d encounter washed up on the beach. By the time you see the adults, they seem almost fused of equal parts machine and organic being. Giger himself calls this style “biomechanical.” The only catch that most people point out is that the in-between stage has the xenomorph gaining far too much mass too quickly without having to eat something, but who’s to say it didn’t raid the galley or even that that big shell head isn’t hollow? And since its blood is acid, who’s to say it can’t eat and digest metal?

As Close To Perfection As Possible

The one non-realistic thing fans point out is the android, Ash. It seems we’re not nearly as close to human-like Artificial Intelligence as we’d previously thought, but moreover, making Ash an android has almost no impact on the story. It’s given as an explanation for why he was so blindly loyal to the company, but if that’s the case, every one of us can think of a sycophant at work who should be an android too. It feels thrown in.

The Alien franchise would go on to a continuing streak of sequels, prequels, and reboots, some more accepted by the fans than others. The direct sequel, Aliens (1986), is well received, again because it stayed down to Earth. But the series has such enduring popularity that the latest prequel, Alien: Covenant, just came out in 2017.

Modern audiences viewing the original for the first time might wonder what all the fuss is about. The fact is, Alien changed the game for both sci-fi and horror so much that we’re still living in its shadow right now. It seems a little tired in the modern day only because we’ve had generations grow up watching movies filled with the tropes that Alien started. But in 1979, this movie was a revelation. No film remotely like it had ever been done, right down to the macho female main protagonist. We can’t help but acknowledge it for the seminal influence it was, as a movie certainly in the top-10 greatest horror films ever made.

The Verdict:

What do You think of Alien? (post a comment)

What do others think?

http://www.penguinpetes.com/

Writer, artist, prophet, cult leader. Take good care of my memes. I’ve raised them since they were daydreams.

One thought on “Alien Review (1979)

  1. gods_eye

    says:

    Xenomorph”s hostility is matched by their physical beauty

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