When Alien hit theatres in 1979, science fiction movies had mostly been flying saucer films with goofy looking aliens who abducted good-looking models to their ships to perform medical experiments.
At the other end of the spectrum, there were space operas that predominantly focused on space battles or weird outer space experiences. No one was really prepared for the kind of experience Alien would provide.
This movie fascinated audiences immediately with its horrifying ambience and the gory events taking place onboard the claustrophobically dark deep space commercial towing vessel Nostromo.
Ridley Scott’s film presented us with a science fiction story for the first time that was neither glorious nor romanticised. It was a story about death lurking in the unknown depths of space. His merciless approach in depicting these events catapulted Alien to cult status literally the day it was released.
It is 2122. On its way home to Earth after towing several 200-million ton refineries to new locations in space, the Nostromo intercepts a radio signal. The ship’s computer – MU/TH/UR 6000 – affectionately called “Mother” – awakens the crew who have been in hypersleep (pictured above) for ten months to investigate what seems to be an emergency signal.
After tracking the source of the signal to a nearby small planetoid (LV-426) – a great distance off course and beyond the range of all communication – Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), Executive Officer Kane (John Hurt) and Navigator Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) set out to explore.
Just as they discover an alien hive on the desolate storm-ravaged planetoid, the ship’s computer finally deciphers the original message, which turns out to be a warning to stay away rather than a call for help. But it is too late already – Kane has discovered some strange eggs in the spacecraft and when he gets close to them, one explodes and sticks firmly to his face.
The remaining members of the team rush him back to the ship for help, but with every attempt to free their partner from the clutches of the creature he seems to come closer to death. Soon they learn the hard way that they should not have brought the creature on board as Kane is thrown into agonising convulsions by a newborn alien that explodes from within him.
Seemingly indestructible, the alien starts a reign of terror throughout their vessel. One by one, the crew members are killed or secreted away by the alien, which is hiding in the ship’s vent system.
Desperate, one of the last survivors, Warrant Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) plots a strategy to self-destruct the ship and return to Earth in a shuttle.
Apart from the actual creature, much of the appeal of the film stems from the characters. A bunch of blue-collar space workers who have trouble coping with their situation and have only one real wish – to get home alive.
Unlike the characters in some of the subsequent sequels, these guys are not moronic, half-brained pseudo-Rambos who talk tough for effect. The characters in Alien are truly a believable group of working-class people, who just happen to live in the future and work in space.
H. R. Giger, famed Swiss artist of the bizarre, designed the planetoid’s skeletal landscape, the derelict spaceship found thereupon, as well as the Alien itself – an elegant, fast and terrible creature that exists to destroy – and destroys to exist.
The film became Sigourney Weaver’s most important career step as the story’s lead character Ellen Ripley. She also returned to reprise her role in all three sequels.
Harry Dean Stanton