Starring: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto
Rated R for Sci-Fi Violence/Gore and Language
In space, no one can hear you scream.
It's an ominous tagline to be sure. One of the better ones, in my opinion (the only one I can think of that comes close is "Let he who is without sin try to survive," which adorned movie posters for "Seven"). Although marketing and trailers have a tendency to overestimate the value of the film they are advertising (there are way too many of these to count), that's not the case with Ridley Scott's monster movie, "Alien." This is a truly frightening and atmospheric horror film.
A crew of seven people are coming back from a mining mission in deep space. They are: Captain Dallas (Skerrit), Executive Officer Kane (Hurt), Warrant Officer Ripley (Weaver), Navigation Officer Lambert (Cartwright), Science Officer Ash (Holm), and grunts Brett (Stanton) and Parker (Kotto). On their way back to Earth, they are awakened prematurely. The ship has picked up a signal of unknown origin on a nearby planet. Company policy dictates that they must investigate. But when they come back on board, they bring something with them.
What makes this film unique is its sense of atmosphere. There are times when it recalls the early silent films with its production design, and Ridley Scott paces the film deliberately. It's slow at first, including the use of long takes to let us soak in the atmosphere (Scott never lets us forget how truly alone these people are). But by the end of the film the pace becomes frantic as the fight for survival becomes more intense.
The acting isn't the centerpiece of the film, but all the actors do their jobs. We are there with them in the ship and we pray that they make it out alive (even though, obviously, most do not). Sigourney Weaver got her big break playing Ellen Ripley, and after she revisited the character in James Cameron's superior sequel "Aliens," she became permanently associated with the character to the extent that all action heroines are matched up to her.
But the true star of the film isn't one of the humans waiting to be picked off. It's the alien. Later dubbed the Xenomorph, this creature is easily the most frightening being ever imagined. Often times, when monster is finally shown, it's a disappointment. Not here. The alien, which is based off drawings by H.R. Geiger, is truly terrifying. No wonder Geiger woke up screaming during his night terrors if this is what he saw when he closed his eyes. I'd wake up screaming too if I saw it when I was sleeping.
The problem with the film is that, although it is almost painfully scary, it's not always consistent. The terror comes in long, intense bursts. That being said, "Alien" definitely earns its status as a horror classic. Now, on to "Aliens!"