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Alien

Star Beast (1978) (USA: working title)
Runtime: 117
Country: UK
Language: English
Color: Color (DeLuxe)
Sound Mix: 70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints) / Dolby

Cast

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

Plot
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.

 






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