Alien (1979). Photo: 20th Century Fox

Alien (1979)

"I can't lie to you about your chances. But, you have my sympathies." - Ash

Ridley Scott's Alien may be the best Science Fiction movie of the '70s. It also may be the best Horror film of the '70s. And yes, I understand that is saying an awful lot. Still, it's important to hammer this home right away: if you haven't seen the original Alien (either in the theater or on a massive television with the lights off), make it the next movie on your watch list.

The influential outer space nail-biter Alien is best known for its outstanding art direction and special effects (it won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects) and for making Sigourney Weaver a star. It also has one of the scariest scenes I have ever seen on film. You'll know it when you see it, and I refuse to spoil it for the few that haven't seen it yet.

Director Ridley Scott paces Alien perfectly. It starts with a peaceful outer space scene, a lonely starship slowly trekking through the galaxy. Credits build gently, with slashes of the font gradually appearing (what will it spell?), finally forming the word "ALIEN." Scott makes it clear from the onset: he wants us to tiptoe into this one, slowly and surely.

The plot of Alien is quite simple and admittedly not that original. Writer Dan O'Bannon reportedly quipped, "I didn't steal Alien from anybody. I stole it from everybody!". The plot isn't the star here; it's the cast, the acting, the art direction, and the pacing. Alien builds slowly and then descends into a manic horror thrill ride. Like Scott's equally brilliant film Blade Runner, it is perfectly crafted and a wonder to behold.

In Alien, the fantastic cast (Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, and Yaphet Kotto) emerge from cryo-sleep to investigate a mysterious signal coming from a nearby moon. Fair enough. Alien seems like a typical sci-fi creeper for the first one-third of the film. But then things get weird. The research crew explores the moon and discovers an alien life form. We quickly jump into a horror-film mode, with the cast fighting against, and running from, one of the most iconic movie monsters ever.

One of the true stars of Alien is the art direction, based mainly on the vision of artist H.R. Giger. The style of the ship, the alien itself, and the terrain they investigate is genuinely original and, yes, terrifying. The film is simply stunning to look at with exquisite attention to detail. No other movie conjures the look and feel of Giger's work here with Ridley Scott and art direction by Michael Seymour, Leslie Dilley, Roger Christian, and Ian Whittaker. It is brooding, claustrophobic, foreboding, and threatening.

Alien would spawn (pun intended) a pack of sequels and prequels, the best being the immediate follow-up, Aliens. But the finest of the Alien franchise is still the 1979 original, a gorgeous (yet terrifying) adventure into science fiction, suspense, and horror. (A-)

Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, and Yaphet Kotto
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror

Photo: 20th Century Fox

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