A seminal work of late '70s science fiction, ALIEN remains notable for its influence as well as its excellence.
The crew of the industrial spaceship Nostromo lands on the surface of a mysterious planet and discovers a crashed spacecraft. Inside, a strange egg disgorges a multilegged lifeform that latches onto the face of crewman Kane (John Hurt), who, unconscious, is brought back to the Nostromo. There, the
creature resists all attempts to dislodge it. Soon, however, it disappears, only to turn up dead later as Kane revives, apparently none the worse for wear. The Nostromo takes off, and while the crew is having dinner, a snakelike creature erupts from Kane's stomach and vanishes into the bowels of
the ship. After jettisoning Kane's body, the crew sets out in search of the alien. Other crew members are soon killed, and warrant officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) spearheads the battle against the seemingly indestructible creature.
ALIEN has been described as "a haunted house movie in space," and therein lies its appeal. There's nothing terribly complex or original about the movie, but it is distinguished by its clever and innovative use of B-movie staples in a hi-tech setting. Coming into his own as a director on his second
feature, Ridley Scott wrings every possible ounce of suspense and atmosphere out of the proceedings. Swiss artist-designer H.R. Giger supplied the distinctive "bio-mechanical" concepts for the film, which help make the alien one of cinema's scariest creations: a nightmare synthesis of humanoid
form, insect-like appendages, and mechanized structure that is all the more effective for not being seen too clearly for most of the film.
The non-star cast acquits itself well, bringing an appealing quality to their characters. One of them, Weaver's Ripley, would develop into one of the genre's most memorable heroines through the subsequent sequels. Perhaps because of its closed-in setting, the movie was an easy target for
imitation. Several dozen low-budget copies have appeared since its initial release. leave a comment --Michael Scheinfeld