UK, 1979.  Rated R.  116 minutes.

Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Yaphet Kotto, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton
Writers: Dan O'Bannon & Ronald Shusett
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematographer: Derek Vanlint
Producers: Gordon Carroll, David Giler, Walter Hill
Director: Ridley Scott


Grade: A+ Review by Carlo Cavagna

H aving spawned numerous imitators over the past twenty years, Alien is a seminal movie in the history of horror.  It's also notable for being the screen debut of Sigourney Weaver, who leads a first-rate ensemble cast that includes Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Veronica Cartwright, John Hurt, and Harry Dean Stanton.Sigourney Weaver as Ripley

Ostensibly a science-fiction movie, Alien looks and feels nothing like other late Seventies science-fiction fare like Star Wars and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Alien shows inklings of the dark cyberpunk vision of the future (popularized in the 1980s and 90s) that director Ridley Scott would go on to realize more fully in Blade Runner three years later. There's something different about the mood right from the start. The film feels more oppressive, and the spaceship (the Nostromo) lumbers like the huge piece of complicated machinery it's supposed to be, in stark contrast to the shiny white models found in other films. Jerry Goldsmith's score broods, and Derek Vanlint's camera sweeps slowly through the silent ship while the crew is still in stasis. Thus, Scott establishes the heavy, gloomy atmosphere that he will eventually build into claustrophobic terror. Suddenly, the Nostromo's computers come to life, and the crew emerges groggily from stasis tubes wearing diaper-like underwear. So Scott introduces the first theme of the Alien movies: birth.

The Big Picture

The story is fairly simple, as many good horror stories are: the crew of the spaceship Nostromo lands on a remote planet in deep space to investigate a transmission from an unknown source. While on the surface of the planet, one of the crewmembers, Kane (Hurt), is attacked by a multilegged creature that wraps itself around his face. Kane is brought back to the Nostromo, where medical officer, Ash (Holm), is unable to remove the creature until it falls off on its own. Later, we learn that it has inserted an egg into Kane's body, an egg that will eventually become a second, more horrifying creature.

The creature (now known in pop culture simply as "the alien") and the film's sets are the nightmarish designs of Swiss artist H.R. Giger, whose art merges the organic and the inorganic, man and machine. Indeed, the alien is an impressive piece of machinery–from its metallic color, to the corrosive acid running through its veins, to its multiple sets of powerful jaws. Realizing that fear of the unknown is greater than that of the known, Scott uses Giger's designs to maximum effect by only showing us glimpses of the full-grown alien at first. Perhaps drawing from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Scott inserts long sequences with minimal dialogue, allowing nothing to break the tension of the story. Each scene is prolonged to its breaking point–and then prolonged a little more. Alien is more nerve-wrackingly terrifying than any of its sequels, and Scott did it with only one creature and inferior special effects. It is a film not easily forgotten.

Review © March 1999 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
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