My review of the movie “Alien”

I watched the movie Prometheus before I saw this, which was a huge mistake; since Prometheus spoils the best things in the movie Alien. The mystery of the ‘space jockey’ was ruined; the surprise twist where one of the characters turns out to be an evil android was semi-spoiled,  and the method by which the aliens attack their victims was spoiled.  (I already knew about what happens to John Hurt’s character even before seeing Prometheus.)

Even so, Alien was still a far better movie.  At least there were plot points to be spoiled, as opposed to an incoherent mess of nonsense that was the plot of Prometheus.  Alien is a good, solid, workman-like horror picture.  The one thing that surprised me was how badly the special effects had aged. Compared with Star Wars of two years earlier, some of the spaceship exteriors and the “space” backgrounds looked quite fake, and the alien itself was, in some scenes, pretty clearly a guy in a costume.  (The lack of light in a lot of these scenes worked very much in the movie’s favor; not only being scarier, but also masking the fake costume.)

There was an extended scene with flashing blue and yellow lights at the end that nearly made me sick–I had to look away from the screen for a few moments.  As a rule, you don’t want your movie to be too hard for your audience to watch.  Moreover, I don’t really know what purpose these flashing lights served in the movie. It seemed like a steady, red light would have done as well.

Also, there was one scene that made no sense to me. At one point, while crew is hunting for the alien, Tom Skerritt’s character goes into some sort of maze of tunnels looking for it, armed with a flamethrower.  The rest of the crew is monitoring him on a display that shows his position and the aliens as dots on the screen.  When they see the dot representing the alien moving towards him, they tell him to get out of there.  Spoiler: he doesn’t. It ends badly for him. My question was, why didn’t the crew instead just tell him “the alien is coming from your left–turn that way and fire”?  Since the whole point of him being there was to kill the alien, why did they give up at what was really their best opportunity?

While some things haven’t aged well–the hilarious green-on-black text interface of the ship’s onboard computer being a good example–it’s still a very effective horror movie. And it must have been quite novel at the time to have a strong female lead, instead of her just being a helpless victim. Sigourney Weaver’s performance is terrific, although for as tough as Ellen Ripley is, I wondered why she let Ash keep giving everyone bad advice for so long before forcing a showdown with him.

So, given what a solid picture Alien was, how could Director Ridley Scott have subsequently thought “Ah, this Prometheus is a worthy prequel”? I know he didn’t write the script, but he must have had some creative control over it.  Enough to say “rewrite this so it makes some sort of sense”.

Ah, well.  Back to Alien. It wasn’t a great horror movie; if only because its remote setting makes the feeling of danger hard to personalize.  As long as I don’t go on any deep space mining expeditions, I’m safe from the aliens. But it was a good movie nonetheless, with its foreboding atmosphere and slowly building tension.  Although there are definitely some “gross-out” scenes, what I liked was the extent to which it relied on atmosphere; and quiet, dark scenes to convey the mood.

4 Comments

    1. I have yet to see Alien II–apparently it was more of an action/sci-fi film than a horror/sci-fi one. “Alien” was good for scares, but if you like the “science” part of “science fiction” it was probably pretty weak. (The spaceship they are on makes no sense, for example.)

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