Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Essentials- Alien (1979)

The Essentials-#48

Its hard to think that the movie that began a very popular science fiction, action franchise boiled down to a slasher movie. When you look at "Alien" as it is, all it adds up to is a slasher movie with an alien instead of some kind of ghoul. There is a bunch of people on a ship in space and an alien is going around killing them. Amazing something so simple as that kick-started a memorable film franchise. 

The thing is director Ridley Scott created something incredibly gripping with his movie. "Alien" is a powerful reminder that no matter how simple an idea is on paper, execution and creation is key to a film's success, not how good or bad the idea. Scott was able to make a movie that was full of style, full of action and full of terror. The entire story was perfectly formed around a science fiction backdrop. The ship in which the film takes place has got to be one of the most striking set pieces in the entire genre. It also sets the mood for a good, old-fashioned horror film in space.

Perhaps I should discuss the film a little bit. A seven member crew is flying back to Earth on-board the Nostromo from mining for ore. The crew is in stasis, until they are frantically awoken from a transmission detection from another ship nearby. The Nostromo lands on a planetoid which the transmission apparently came from. A small group investigates the planetoid and learn that an alien spacecraft on the rock. The group finds small eggs on the spacecraft and soon the idea dawns on them, they are not alone on the spacecraft. That's about the time all the fun begins to happen. A member something not Earth-bound stuck to his face and the rest of the group tries to get it off. 

This all leads to one of the most iconic moments in all of horror movies. A scene that Bravo called the second scariest movie moment in the history of the medium. Even for 2014, the scene is brutal, disturbing and absolutely terrifying. The greatest moments in horror are so great, that they leave a long-lasting legacy and the scene in the kitchen when John Hurt's character begins choking is unbelievably brutal. The rest of the movie is about survival. Scott really taps into a fear that perhaps we would not think about at first, but once he gets the idea in our brain, it would be awfully scary to be stuck in space with a creature trying to kill you. Scott makes that fear matter and he uses it to scare and thrill is audience.

The cast includes John Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm and Harry Dean Stanton. They all do very good work here. Weaver in particular stands out because she is one of our finest examples of female heroism in movies. Her character Ripley has become a female hero icon and all because of how flexible and believable she is as the character. Its tough to always think about Skerritt in full commando mode, but he does great work here. The real star of the film though is the Xenomorph, the infamous alien who is the subject of the film. The Xenomorph is a tremendous creation, a mix of cosmic wonder and nightmarish terror. Its ticks and mannerisms are a combination of horror and the surreal. Typically, and especially in science fiction of the 1970's, aliens were pretty similar looking, but the creature design in "Alien" is so well-done that it is easy to understand how this franchise took off. 

The road throughout the Alien world has been a memorable one. It is always important to me to see how these franchises begin. "Alien" is big, bold and absolutely worth checking out.

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