Looking back: Alien (1979) Colin D Miller May 19, 2012 Features 5104 I must have been 14 years old when I first saw Alien. It was one of those films that I had no chance of renting due to my age and I eventually got my hands on a copy by sneaking a blank tape into my parents video recorder and setting the timer for a late night broadcast. Apart from the obvious chestburster moment, the scene that stood out for me was the Nostromo crew’s encounter with the remains of the Space Jockey. Creepy, grim, horrific, yet absolutely epic in scale and uniquely beautiful, the set and the atmosphere from that scene remains one of my favourite moments in a film to this day. The Space Jockey Inspired by HR Giger’s book Necronomicon, Ridley Scott hired the Swiss artist to work on Alien (both in concept art and the production of sets, costumes and props) and later in 1980, Giger would be awarded an Academy Award. And deservedly so, his influence on Alien is clear to see and in my opinion the films that followed in the series all lacked that other worldly, unknown and yet disturbing element. Of course no dissection of Alien would be complete with some form of comment on John Hurt’s famouse chestburster scene. Seen by many as analogy of mens fear of birth – to me, at the age of 14 it was just a balls out horrifying, what-the-hell-was-that moment. A moment that set Alien (and the whole series) apart from any other horror sci-fi. This wasn’t just a bog standard sci-fi horror with a scary monster. This creature would off it’s first victim in the most gruesome, horrifyingly way possible. And if that’s what it could achieve with it’s first moment of infancy, imagine what it was capable of fully grown. John Hurt and the chestbursterThis scene elevated Alien into the realms of body horror and if Ridley Scott plays his cards right, he should further explore this route in Prometheus. The pace doesn’t let up and pretty soon, viewers are treated to more grisly moments. Playing his cards pretty close to his chest, we never fully see the xenomorph and are only treated to glimpses and shadows. With Alien, less is more and it is a benefit to the film and probably one of the reasons it has aged so well. We see it’s second jaw penetrate someones brain, we see it’s acid-like blood rip through several floors of the Nostromo and in the directors cut we see what it does to it’s victims. Yet we never get a full on wide angle shot of the creature, a wise decision that leaves the viewer constantly wondering what it actually looks like. Watching Alien now, it’s the performances that stand out for me. Partly because you don’t see much of the creature – meaning the tension that is built up is all based upon the cast’s reaction to the horrific events around them and partly due to Dan O’Bannon’s superb script, which neatly gives the audience an instinctive impression into their lives, relationships and surroundings. It’s no secret that when they were making Alien, the production team were aiming for a “truck drivers in space” angle. A brilliant decision as it makes the characters easy to relate to and it means they are completely unprepared for the proceedings (not that that did the marines in the follow-up any favours). They are not trained for this sort of thing, they are just workers in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley Tom Skerrit, John Hurt, Veronica Cartwright and Ian Holm were already well respected screen actors, but it was Sigourney Weaver who was hot off treading the boards at Broadway that stole the show. Arguably setting her off to stardom, the Alien series pretty much shaped her career and her performance in Alien is solid as the confident Ellen Ripley. On scoring duties was Jerry Goldsmith and while controversially several tracks were omitted by editor Terry Rawlings, his work on the film was described by Ridley as “one of my favourite scores, seriously threatening but beautiful”. Controversies aside, what music is featured does it’s job brilliantly and it’s great to hear that some of Goldsmith’s cues have made it onto the Prometheus soundtrack. Alien remains to this day one of my favourite films and is possibly my favourite of the whole series. While many people may say that preferring Alien over Aliens is like favouring Godfather over The Godfather Part II, James Cameron’s Aliens was very much the complete opposite of it’s predecessor and where it focused on the gung-ho action, it lacked the mystery and depth that was so prevalent in Ridley Scott’s Alien.