Alien (1979) Review: Classic Sci-Fi Horror
“In space, no one can hear you scream.”
Synopsis: After a space merchant vessel perceives an unknown transmission as a distress call, its landing on the source moon finds one of the crew attacked by a mysterious lifeform, and they soon realize that its life cycle has merely begun.
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Alien is one of an elite cadre of movies – ones that involved a lot of special sets and effects, but still look good decades later. Even without the acting, music, and big bad (all of which are also excellent), it stands out among both horror and sci-fi movies. Honestly, even if the rest of the movie had been on par with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, I probably would have given Alien its “A” for the sets alone.
Like Star Wars (which is also largely responsible for Alien ever getting made), the level of attention to detail in sets and effects is readily apparent. This is no surprise, considering a great number of the same people worked on both movies. But unlike hundreds of other deep space flicks, the Nostromo and other locations in Alien feel like real places. There’s an industrial look to the movie which sets it apart. Crew members actually interact with the ship and treat it as though it actually functions. Switches actually change the lighting sequences on the ship. Hundreds of eggs were made by hand for the alien ship. Everything about the set feels deliberate.
And that’s why Alien holds up so well. In this day and age, where CGI is often cheaper and easier than putting together real props or costumes, filmmakers often take the lazy way out. The end result is always the same – effects that look dated even before they make it to theaters. In ten years, no one will be able to watch these movies without cringing… if they can even do that now.
Though Alien’s story doesn’t actually meet all of my criteria for an ideal arc, it’s still strong enough to be worthy of the sets and effects. Even without a lot of backstory, the world and characters feel real. The characters are all distinct from each other. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is possibly the smartest “final girl” ever, insisting before the action even begins that the crew not expose themselves to danger – and when she’s threatened afterwards, she rises to the challenge.
Even after all these years, Alien is still a captivating watch. This is one classic that’s worthy of the title, and those who haven’t seen it, should. Decades later, it’s still easy to get lost in the reality of the world it presents – and the terror.
Calamity Brains’ Rating: A-
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