Ridley Scott’s Sci-Fi Horror Classic. In Space No One Can Hear You Scream
It’s a little hard to believe that Alien is only the second film Sir Ridley Scott ever directed. In 1977, Scott dove into feature films with a little Napoleonic period piece, The Duellists, as his directorial debut. Two years later, he would release Alien, one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. Additionally, the film is also one of the greatest horror films of all time. The best thing about this film is that it can be considered a genre-defining in both horror and sci-fi.
The film starts as a straight sci-fi film and for the first third the only hint of horror is the ominous score that lies under each scene. Scott introduces us to the world of Alien with beautiful opening wide-shots as we come across the commercial mining ship, the Nostromo. As we explore the monstrosity of a ship, the bridge and vast hallways seem empty, until we discover the crew is in hypersleep for their travel through space. However, the crew is awoken early, before their arrival home to Earth, due to a distress signal of alien origin.
The first act of the film serves as a slow burn of tension building and does its job well. Additionally, it introduces us to the seven crew members and their roles aboard the Nostromo. At this point in the film, if you’ve never heard of the Alien franchise and are unaware of the many other films featuring the amazing Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, you would be hard-pressed to figure out who exactly the main character is. This attribute is one of the film’s many strong points. It shows that each character is well formed and given their own special moments to shine.
For most of the first act, we follow John Hurt’s Kane until he stumbles upon, quite literally, a nest of alien eggs in the belly of the crashed derelict ship. Once Kane becomes host to an alien larva, Tom Skerritt as Dallas and Ian Holm as Ash, take the wheel. It’s not until the third act of the film that Ripley take the reins as the main character. These reins she would not relinquish for another three films.
Weaver’s portrayal of Ripley is obviously iconic. Since her first portrayal of Ripley, every female action hero tries to emulate her character. This is Weaver’s first major starring role and she comes out roaring as a strong female leader who can hang with any man. Throughout the whole film, she remains calm, cool, and collected, the only character to do so. If the rest of the crew were to just follow her lead, six lives could have been spared.
Ripley’s final showdown with the Xenomorph in only her underoos is both sexy and empowering. When a male action hero takes off his shirt for the big action scene you know things are about to get real. The same goes for Ripley in her fight for survival in Alien. At her most vulnerable state, all but naked, she uses all of her strengths to overcome. A strong role model for any woman to look up to.
Ridley Scott has made many great films since 1979, yet, Alien will always serve as a testament to his talents. There are a lot of great parts the whole production team brings forth, from H.R. Giger’s production design to Jerry Goldsmith’s eerie score. However, it’s Scott who puts them together and paints the full picture brilliantly and pulls great performances out of every single actor. Even Jones, the cat.
While the computer systems of the Nostromo show their age, every other aspect of the film stands the test of time. The grungy interior of the ship truly feels futuristic and lived in. Additionally, the derelict ship feels ancient and alien and the small 10-minute set piece would give science fiction fans plenty of minute details to theorize about for decades. Most noteworthy, the look of the alien is genre-defining. Now, when you hear the word alien, you immediately picture two designs. The classic little green men and the horrifying H.R. Giger design. Giger’s Oscar-winning work has since seen many imitations but nothing quite as iconic.
From start to finish, Scott’s Alien is a masterpiece of both horror and science fiction. The depth and detail of the world gave birth to a franchise that has no sign of ever ending. Furthermore, the pace and tone of the film build horrific tension perfectly. It may be a gradual tale of rising stakes but it never feels slow or boring. The greatest feat of all is creating a terrifying movie monster but never giving the audience enough of it. The perfect amount of reveals makes it so we keep coming back for more. Like Jaws before it, the film may get the title from the monster, but it’s really the human element that gives the film its unwavering strength.
In a few weeks, Ridley Scott will finally direct his second film in the Alien franchise that actually contains the title card. While Prometheus may have been Alien: Covenant‘s predecessor it was never worthy of the name. Let’s hope Covenant is worthy. I have high hopes, even if Scott is giving us another Ripley imitator. The brilliant director might just give us the answers to the greatest question of all. Where did it all really begin?