Ridley Scott’s nail-biting, astonishing-looking 1979 sci-fi thriller is a masterpiece of shocks, scares and suspense. It is infamous now, of course, for its terrifying monster that grows in crewman John Hurt’s stomach. The nasty little chestbuster then jumps out to get rather damned big and stalk and destroy everyone in the spaceship one by one, like a deep-space version of And Then There Were None.
In the original screen story by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, the crew on the mining spacecraft Nostromo is sent to a distant planet to investigate what it at first thought to be an SOS signal cry for help. But later it turns out to be a warning.
There on the planet, one of the crew, Kane (John Hurt), finds a huge breeding ground of alien eggs. One of them hatches out and lands on his face. Ash (Ian Holm), a robot aboard the spacecraft, with a hidden agenda, allows the party back on the ship, over-riding Third Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver)’s urgent decision to leave them in quarantine.
The intense and lovely young Weaver makes her irresistible claim to join the ranks of movie superstars as the talented Ms Ripley, the iron lady with the guts and determination to survive, if she can…
Still stunning Oscar-winning visual effects, H R Giger’s marvellous, iconic Alien design, plus incredibly imaginative work from writer O’Bannon and director Scott transform what could have been just an updated monster movie genre tale in the style of Night of the Blood Beast (1958), The Quatermass Xperiment and It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958) into a slice of great story-telling and a total knockout visceral movie experience, reinventing the genre.
An inspired Scott ensures that this awesome movie is uber-tense and ultra-imaginative throughout. With memorable turns by Tom Skerritt as the captain Dallas, Harry Dean Stanton as Brett, Veronica Cartwright as Lambert and Yaphet Kotto as Parker, all the cast are spot on, developing indelible characters. But, rightly, it is Weaver you remember and Alien deservedly became her franchise.
Better in the cinema with a huge screen and Dolby stereo, it is wearing brilliantly despite all the subsequent advances in film-making technology thanks in part to some clean-up work done on it over the years. In a subtle but considerable tidy-up job, the impressive Alien: Director’s Cut, released in October 2003, digitally cleans up the sound and images, and both subtracts around five minutes of footage and adds around four minutes of different footage (edited by David Crowther). The original runs
Bird and animal impersonator Percy Edwards provides the sounds for the monster (‘I had to gargle for a week after that job,’ he said) and Helen Horton is the voice of Mother. In his only film, African design student 7ft 2in Bolaji Badejo plays the Alien.
It was screened again in cinemas on 26 April 2017 as the second film of Alien Night, following a showing of Prometheus (2012), in the build-up to the release of Scott’s Prometheus sequel, Alien: Covenant, to be released in the UK on 12 May 2017 and in the US on 19 May.
See also Aliens, Alien3 and Alien Resurrection.
RIP John Hurt (1940–January 22, 1940).
© Derek Winnert 2013 Classic Film Review 20 derekwinnert.com
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