Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Alien Month: Alien (1979)

In 1979, the movie Alien was released in theaters.  It's a movie that's the result of taking two different genres: science fiction and horror, and mixing them into one movie.  It's a science fiction movie in that the creature stalking the crew is not of this world, and the setting is on a cargo spaceship returning to Earth.  However, it's also a horror movie because this alien has a body count, and it's a virtually unstoppable killer.  This movie, and the franchise in general, have left a big impact on both science fiction and mainstream films, and their impact has also extended past the boundary of films, and into the realm of video games.
The movie is set in the future, a future where space travel is considered a common method of travel and business.  A cargo spaceship named the Nostromo is on its way back to Earth, carrying ore resources mined from a distant planet.  The crew is in hypersleep when the ship's computer wakes them up because it picked up an unidentified signal from an uncharted planet.  The signal is partially decoded and revealed to be an S.O.S., but some of the crew members are unsure about whether or not they should check out the location of this signal, but Dallas, played by Tom Skeritt, tells them that if they don't follow through with the Company's orders, then they won't receive their paychecks. 
The Nostromo lands on the uncharted planet, later to be called in LV-426 in Aliens, and three of the crew members: Dallas, Lambert, and Kane, set out to investigate and find the location of the signal.  While this is happening, Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, continues to decipher the message, and it turns out that the signal wasn't an S.O.S., but a warning to stay away from wherever the signal came from.  Due to poor frequencies, however, Ripley can't properly contact Dallas and tell him and the others to turn around and come back.
Eventually, Dallas, Lambert, and Kane find a crashed ship that's been lying there for an unknown period of time.  The three of them investigate the ship and end up in the cockpit area of the ship, where there is a fossilized skeleton sitting in what is, assumedly, the pilot's chair, but the pilot has a hole in his chest, as if something broke out of his body, and there's a hole nearby which Dallas and Lambert send Kane down to investigate.  He finds a massive room containing rows upon rows of mysterious eggs, and when he investigates one of the eggs, it opens up and an unknown creature jumps out and attaches itself to Kane's face.
He's brought back to the Nostromo, where the crew tries to get this creature off of Kane's face.  They try cutting it, but this thing has acid for blood, and the blood burns a hole through a few floors of the ship.  They eventually depart the planet, and soon, the creature is dead, having detached itself from Kane's face.  After a certain amount of time has passed, Kane wakes up, and everyone assumes he is alright.  Yet, while the crew is having their last meal before they go back into hypersleep, Kane starts coughing and yelling in intense pain, and then a small creature bursts out of his chest and runs off.  Before long, the creature has grown bigger and it starts killing off the other crew members of the ship, starting with Brett, who gets killed while looking for Jones, the ship's cat, and then Dallas, when he goes down into the vents to try and lure the creature into the airlock.
Alien is a slow movie; there's no way getting around it.  A large portion of the movie mainly focuses on the film's characters and less on the Alien itself.  Some people may not like that, but I don't mind as long as the characters are interesting, which they are.  Before this movie came out, in most science fiction films, the characters were mainly scientists or some other high ranking official, in Alien, however, the characters are essentially average Joes returning to Earth with their cargo, only to receive a message from their company to investigate something nearby, which leads to the deaths of most of the characters.
The movie introduced a character that has become known as one of the most iconic characters in the science fiction genre: Ellen Ripley.  This movie was Sigourney Weaver's first film, having previously been a stage actress in plays.  She gives a great performance and her character is willing to do anything to get rid of the creature running loose on the Nostromo, but in some scenes of the movie, we also see a motherly side to her whenever she's with the cat Jones.  This element of her would be further explored in the sequel with the bond she forms with the little girl Newt.  The other characters in the movie are also memorable, particularly the scientists Ash, played by Ian Holm.  At first, he seems like a perfectly normal human being, but later on in the movie, his actions start to warrant suspicion from the other crew members, especially Ripley.
Speaking of mysterious reasons, one of the movie's biggest strengths is the sense of mystery established with certain locations and plot points in the movie.  The crashed ship, commonly referred to as the Derelict, is the biggest mystery of the entire movie.  We don't know what led to this ship crashing on the plant, how the pilot of the ship died, or why this ship was transporting all of those eggs in the first place.  The audience's mind is left to think and come up with their own explanation as to what happened; though the mystery of who the pilot of the ship was did get partially explained in the movie Prometheus.
The other big mystery involves the Company that the crew of the Nostromo works for and their unknown agendas.  After Dallas has been killed by the Alien, Ripley goes into the room containing the ship's computer to try and get some answers.  She manages to find out that the Company, which was revealed in the sequels to be named Weyland-Yutani, wants the creature to be brought back alive, even if the crew of the Nostromo gets killed.  Much like how we don't know why the Derelict was transporting those eggs in the first place, we're not exactly sure why the Company would want one of those creatures.  We can assume they want the creature so it can be researched for the purpose of being developed into a weapon; but again, the audience's imagination is left to wonder what they wanted to do with the Alien.
As I mentioned earlier, Alien introduced a character who is now considered to be one of the best science fiction characters ever created, but the movie also introduced one of the most iconic science fiction characters, the Alien, commonly referred to as a xenomorph.  It has an iconic design, the work of artist H.R. Giger, and as the movie shows us, it's also a deadly threat.  Almost every single scene involving the xenomorph is often a tense and dramatic situation; granted, the xenomorph isn't as fast and agile when compared to the xenomorphs in the sequels, but it still manages to be a threat, considering that this creature can hide almost anywhere and get the drop on any of the crew members at any moment.
The movie also has a great art direction when it comes to the designs of the Nostromo and the Derelict.  The interiors of the Nostromo are often small and the various pathways connecting the rooms together make the ship feel like a complex maze.  This is in contrast to the Derelict, as the pathways, cockpit, and underground area are wide and spacious.  Besides that, the movie features a great soundtrack from composer Jerry Goldsmith.  The soundtrack has a strong balance between eerily calm tunes to reflect the less tense parts of the movie, and more dramatic and tense movie for the suspenseful parts of the movie.
Before I end this review, I would like to say that I'm not a big fan of the horror genre, for certain reasons.  There are only a few horror films that I like, and that's largely because these movies are a mixture of two different genres, and Alien is one of those movies.  While it is technically a science fiction movie, there's also a strong horror vibe present throughout the movie.  It's a movie that introduced us to an iconic science fiction creature as well as an equally iconic protagonist.  The characters are interesting and intriguing and the movie also has a great sense of mystery and dramatic tension, put it all together and what you have is a great movie.
Final Score: 9/10

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