Star Beast (1978) (USA: working
Color: Color (DeLuxe)
Sound Mix: 70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints) / Dolby
Tom Skerritt - Dallas
Sigourney Weaver - Ellen Ripley
Yaphet Kotto - Parker
Veronica Cartwright - Lambert
Harry Dean Stanton - Brett
John Hurt - Kane
Ian Holm - Ash
Helen Horton - Mother (voice)
Bolaji Badejo - Alien
Alien, the landmark 1979 film, is proof positive that some
days you should just stay in bed. Warrant Officer Ripley didn't,
and consequently lives through a saga stretching four films
( rumor has it that five is in the works), two hundred fifty
years, and two incarnations. Her nemesis through it all is
the insect-like Geiger creation simply identified as 'alien'.
The second film effort by visionary director Ridley Scott
(Blade Runner, Gladiator), the film is visually rich and evocative
and, for the most part, extremely well acted. The weak link,
ironically, is the star, Sigourney Weaver. Surrounded by veteran
actors, Weaver's debut role seems slightly mawkish and overplayed
compared to the tempered performances around her, and it is
not until the 1986 sequel, 'Aliens' that her characterization
of Ripley feels properly matured. This doesn't make the film
any less enjoyable: it is just interesting to notice in retrospect.
For those very few who may not be aware of the plot, Ripley
is the third officer aboard the commercial mining and refining
platform "Nostromo", along with a crew of six. Returning
to Earth, the Nostromo is diverted to uncharted planet LV-426
by an alien distress signal. Investigating, one of the crew
members is attacked by an alien life form that eventually
threatens the entire crew. The film follows a deteriorating
situation mercilessly from nearly the first minute to the
last, telegraphing a real sense of desperation and fear. As
the body count rises and the options narrow, it becomes more
and more apparent that the good guys can not win this fight;
plans fail, courage leads to death, and all that remains is
the slim hope of survival. This same formula is used over
and over again in the "Alien" series of films, each
time with less and less effect.
Naturally, there's the requisite amount of bad thinking that
populates almost any variation of the stalker/killer genre.
Frankly, if an eight foot whatzit with pointy teeth was out
to eat my brain, I wouldn't split up into small groups and
chase down a cat. Kitty can take it's chances. In space, the
SPCA can't hear you abandon cat. All in all, however, it's
a great thrill ride. That's nothing most of you don't already
know. But it's as fun to see again after all these years as
it was the first time through the turnstile, so you may want
to rent yourself a dusty ticket and catch it again.
As the credits of "Alien" open, the slowly paced
opening titles and soft, eerie score give some indication
of what viewers will experience when watching this film. It
starts off so unassumingly that first-time viewers are unlikely
to be moved by the story or inspired by the slight character
development in the film's first half. It is in fact this lack
of certainty that makes "Alien" work so well, for
as the film hits it second half it shifts dramatically from
slow space road movie to an intergalactic haunted house fright
show. This flip in drama, pace and tension makes for an unnerving
ride into the unknown and results in one of the landmark sub-genre-sci-fi
movies of the 20th century. The film is directed by Englishman
Ridley Scott, who had a total of one feature and numerous
commercials under his belt when he took control of proceedings.
Since the success of "Alien", Scott has had an uneven
career with highlights like "Blade Runner", "Thelma
and Louise", "Gladiator" and most recently
"Black Hawk Down" and low points like "Legend",
"G.I. Jane" and the bore-fest "1492".
"Alien" represents the overtly stylistic and slick
approach Scott brings to his films, traits that are useful
in science fiction but can sometimes seem out of place in
more realistic genres.
Here Scott retires the glitz and glamour of "Star Wars",
which had been released two years before "Alien".
Instead he portrays the spacecraft and crew as nothing more
than a cargo ship and a rag tag bunch of intergalactic truckers.
This works very well, as the viewer gets the distinct sense
of the tedium and oppressive vastness of space travel. The
way the crew are so nonchalant about visiting another planet
makes the audience feel that yes, perhaps one day man will
view space travel with a shrug.
The opening scene shows us a huge spaceship, named the Nostromo,
returning to earth with 20,000,000 tonnes of mineral ore on
board. The crew sleep in hibernation, until the onboard computer
awakens them. It seems the computer has picked up a possible
distress signal on an alien planet. Under the law of the nameless
and faceless 'Company', the crew are obliged to investigate.
The waking scene is superbly filmed. Kane (John Hurt) slowly
rises, like a chick from and egg. Squinting and only partially
awake, slow dissolves from one angle of Kane to another emphasise
his delirium and partial consciousness. The final dissolve
dissipates to the mess hall. Here we meet the entire crew
of the Nostromo for the first time.
The ship is led by Dallas (Tom Skerrit), with Ripley (Sigourney
Weaver) as the first officer. Ash (Ian Holm) is the odd, skittish
science officer, Kane (John Hurt) is weathered but adventurous,
Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) is the whiny and weak navigation
officer, and Parker (Yaphet Kotto) and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton)
are the engineering grunts. The ship is controlled by Mother,
a mute version of HAL 9000 from 1968's "2001: A Space
Odyssey". Like "2001", the reasons for having
humans on board is unknown; they almost seem pointless as
the ship can basically control itself. Are they simply pawns
or guinea pigs awoken at the will of the computer?
They respond to the distress signal after landing on the desolate
planet. The beacon is tracked to a derelict spaceship, which
Kane, Lambert and Dallas enter. Curious and naïve, Kane
wonders into a cavern of eggs. Stumbling on the slippery surface,
he slips and comes into contact with the living contents of
the egg. With the parasite attached to his face, Dallas and
Lambert rush Kane back to the ship.
On board Ripley, who is now in command, demands that Kane
be kept in quarantine for 24 hours. Against her wishes, the
odd Ash lets the three crew in. Upon removing Kane's helmet
they find a claw shaped being attached to his face. It eventually
falls off and dies and amazingly, Kane awakens, seemingly
unscathed. At this stage the film remains slow and ponderous.
Intent on getting back to earth, they have one final meal
before returning to hibernation. As they eat Kane convulses
violently and a creature bursts through his chest. In utter
disbelief the crew watch it skuttle away to the far reaches
of the ship. From this point the film takes off. Space and
distance are enclosed as Scott uses a brilliant mix of close
ups and wide angled shots to display the vastness of the Nostromo
and the claustrophobia in the crew.
The alien and set design are outstanding. The massive sexual
overtones of Swiss artist's H.R. Giger's alien and derelict
ship are truly breathtaking, as is the futuristic-retro styling
of Michael Seymour's sets. Grubby yet cool, the production
quality of "Alien" is something to admire. It took
seven more years before a sequel was made and when James Cameron
took over the directing chair he revolutionised the series
by making it all out action over spooky sci-fi with "Aliens".
It may be a better movie, but the original remains a quality
stand alone film and a landmark in the sci-fi horror sub genre
that has not been matched by any other saga.