Notable Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto
True amazing film making requires a keen sense of evening out the entertainment and the art. Science fiction, of all genres, might be one of the hardest to obtain this balance with, but when it works...oh man it works. Let's look at the prime example of this idea. Let's examine Ridley Scott's "Alien". At its heart, this film is pretty simple. It's not throwing very big concepts at the viewer (on the surface). A crew on a ship has to deal with an unknown organism. It's the details though, that make "Alien" one of the best science fiction films out there. Details that ooze through its driven, low key atmosphere like the hiss of the film's dark visitor.
The crew of the Nostromo are almost home. Deep in hyper sleep in the folds of space with a very large cargo, they stumble upon an S.O.S. transmission from an unknown vessel. With research they discover that they are very much not alone in the universe and this new guest on their ship isn't all that friendly. Now Captain Dallas (Skerrit) and his second in command Ripley (Weaver) have to face an enemy that no one understands. No one knows how to kill. No one can catch. Can the small crew of a commercial vessel survive against a creature that may be the perfect killer?
"Alien" is simply...badass. From its epic opening sequence of unfolding letters in its simple title to its fading final moments on space, "Alien" is a hellish ride of atmospheric tension, low key energy, isolation, and simplicity. Scott ably uses the mechanical and dark settings of the ship (and its one other set - a desolate planet surface) to craft such a claustrophobia and lonely feeling that by the time the Alien actually pops up - no pun intended - we are already substantially creeped out and sympathetic for our rather loosely cast together crew. Partner this with the design of our creature and how its life is unveiled before the crew, and us, and "Alien" rocks its visual/atmospheric aspect to the core.
This film also rides a very fine line on how it goes about with its cast. Although we have no 'true' single protagonist from the get go, we are forced to really trust the ensemble initially, there is very little back story for any of them. Minor details are spilled through their interactions, but it's the interactions and amazing acting jobs that truly make them 'real'. Although we essentially know nothing about any of them, which is played to a surprise twist about two-thirds of the way through, we care deeply for their survival and their circumstance, which sells the rather basic concept to no end.
Of course, how does one go on an "Alien" review and not talk about the title character. This film also nails its design and build for the resident villain of the ship. Our title monster is shown in many forms, none of which appear cheesy despite the film's age, due to spectacular special effects and well used shots to slowly unveil the creature. It's a vicious and artistic value to unveiling the Alien that makes the film work. Rarely does "Alien" feel like a 'monster movie' as it is a dramatic and tense thriller based around the thing. It's a thing of nightmares and Scott plays that up to the gills on the film.
Don't let the age of the film fool you; it still stands mighty to this day as one of the greatest science fiction films crafted. It's got a ridiculously well paced build that unveils the horror of its space isolation to full potential and with amazing special effects and a vision of pure genius from director Ridley Scott, "Alien" deserves the praise it receives. Handedly so.
Written By Matt Reifschneider