johnlink ranks ALIEN (1979)

I’ve been sitting on the ALIEN series Blu Rays for some time. It’s one of those series of which I’ve seen all of the movies (well, except maybe that second AvP flick) but it has been awhile since I’ve absorbed them. Sat down to the first one for the first time in way too long.


I watched ALIEN (1979) on 2.11.15. It was my third viewing of the film, and first in well over a decade.

With any time spent considering a science fiction landmark from decades past, it is necessary to understand that a certain amount of the tech and visualization will be painfully dated. Seeing computers, supposedly in the distant future, using rudimentary 1970s computing power is any easy one-way ticket out of the reality of a movie. Fortunately, when it comes to Ridley Scott’s all-time classic ALIEN, much of that stuff occurs in the beginning of the film. By the time the second act is halfway done we are in full monster movie mode.

ALIEN is the connecting sinew between a thinking sci-fi flick, like 2001: A SPACE ODYSEEY, and a full on horror/sci-fi like PREDATOR. The first act of ALIEN is quiet, reserved, and all about routine. We meet a crew of seven, awoken early from their space slumber, who are then asked to take a brief detour to a planet showing signs of life. These crew members are a mix of space pros and union-type guys who just want their fair share of the cut they are getting from the mineral cargo they are returning to Earth. These are not military heroes accustomed to fighting alien life.

And so, as it begins, one of the female crew members, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is not necessarily our lead. That responsibility seems to fall on the ship’s captain, Dallas (Tom Skerritt). It is he who makes the most important decisions and who everyone turns to for their marching orders. In fact, the first time Ripley attempts to do something commanding (she tries to enforce a quarantine that is dictated by their laws), she is overturned by the ship’s doctor (Ian Holm) and literally slapped across the face by one of those she attempted to quarantine (Veronica Cartwright).

Alien 2

As much as this is a movie about an alien attacking a ship’s crew, it is a movie about the self-realization of Ripley. She goes from a face in the crowd, to a reluctant leader, to a necessary hero. She fights for her life, and her reaction to danger is in stark contrast to Cartwright’s Lambert. If Lambert is the sci-fi woman of the 50s and 60s, looking horror in the face and screaming as she waits for a man to save her, then Ripley is the modern female hero who looks at that same horror and punches it in the jaw. There is a real effort by Director Ridley Scott to not equate this empowerment with a defeminization, and is perhaps the reason Ripley’s final confrontation with the Alien takes place in her underwear. Ripley doesn’t need to become more masculine to become the hero, she merely needs to stand up and fight in her own way. This is a concept furthered by her mothering of Newt in the second film… but we can leave that for the next review.

If all of that makes ALIEN sound like some highbrow science fiction film, well there is no need to worry. There is plenty of chest-splitting, acid dripping, and head-severing to go around. What sets ALIEN apart from lesser science fiction films is that it takes it time getting us there. While there is some suspense in the first half hour of the film there is no way to know just how intense things are going to get in the last half. Scott really does lean on Kubrick’s 2001 as a reference; he utilizes slow shots of moving ships and he revels in the minutiae of how this particular crew goes about its daily business.

If you haven’t seen ALIEN in awhile, you may spend the first twenty minutes trying to figure out if this is really as good as you remember it being. By the final act, you will certainly remember why. Not all films of this genre age particularly well, but ALIEN may be second only to John Carpenter’s THE THING (which owes a great debt of gratitude to ALIEN) in that category.




FINAL SCORE: 8 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on February 14, 2015.

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