directed by Ridley Scott
(20th Century Fox, 1979)

Aliens and its less-successful sequels were gory horror films filled with as much mayhem and H.R. Giger-inspired special effects as possible. But the first film in the series, the singular Alien, was a different sort of movie.

In Alien, there is only one beastie, who comes aboard the refinery ship Nostromo after a crewmember explores the caverns beneath a wrecked alien spaceship and has a big, leathery egg explode in his face.

The face-sucking hatchling is only the first phase of the alien's development, however, and the chest-exploding scene that follows has become a piece of cinematic legend. But Alien isn't a flash horror movie laden with special effects; instead, director Ridley Scott builds suspense and, for the majority of the movie, the audience catches only fast, vague glimpses of the murderous creature.

That creates a problem for some viewers, who find the pacing of the movie to be slow. The first 45 minutes are especially plodding, but it's an effective build-up to the tension to follow.

Alien was a low-budget movie, only $11 million, and not a lot was spent on bringing the alien to life on screen. Unlike later films in the series, which display the creature in all its slimy, toothy reality, Alien keeps its focus in the shadows -- which is wise, since the few glimpses we do get (primarily in scenes from the cutting-room floor, included with the DVD) shows a man in an elaborate alien-shaped headpiece and a rubber bodysuit. Thank you, Ridley Scott, for retaining the mystery!

The movie features an ensemble cast, with excellent performances by Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto and, of course, Sigourney Weaver, who became a mainstay of the franchise.

More than 20 years after its initial release, Alien is still a solid piece of suspenseful science-fiction cinema that set a new standard in its genre. If you haven't seen it, check it out -- but know what to expect.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 26 October 2002

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