Alien ★★★★½


Ridley Scott’s 1979 science-fiction horror film, Alien, is nothing short of a masterpiece. At least, that is the common consensus but it is an opinion that I largely share. It is somewhat embarrassing for me to consider myself a fan of science fiction stories and cinema and only be getting around to this foundational work just now but I am so very glad I did. This is a wonderful work. 

As a Doctor Who fan, it would be remiss of me not to mention that Alien shares more than a little bit in common with the 1975 serial, The Ark in Space. Both stories feature the cryogenically frozen crew of an automated spaceship, drifting through space, suddenly awoken to find themselves quickly under attack by an unknown alien entity that reproduces by way of infecting and growing symbiotically out of other creatures. Both also feature actors who played the part of the Doctor. What are the odds. 

The fundamental difference, naturally, is that Alien actually has a budget. Where the film excels enormously on its own merit is in its production which is staggeringly good. There are two stars of Alien; the first is the titular creature. Unnamed in this film, the alien is just a magnificent creation. Surely nobody agrees that computer animation trinos practical effects because this guy is just utterly chilling with every single moment it’s onscreen. It’s so well done that even knowing what it looks like from 45 years of pop culture could not lessen the impact of its appearances here. 

The other star of the show is the production design. Holy shit does this picture look good. Every single set is iconic and impactful with any number of huge, cavernous spaces unlike anything I have ever seen realised anywhere else. Contributing to the sense of awe is certainly Scott’s direction. The opening sequence is haunting and I am never left unimpressed the man’s ability to realise an incredibly tense and unsettling tone. Like the best horror, you spend every moment you’re watching Alien with an underlying sense that something is going to happen. 

The cast are naturally great although they do end up feeling a bit like set dressing because, at the end of the day, the archetypical characters we spend our time with are barely noteworthy when we have such rich and thought-provoking world-building. Alien is a quintessential horror film and one of the most interesting science fiction pieces of its day.

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