With everything the Alien franchise has become, it’s easy to forget just how magnificent and influential the original film is. A lot of people say they prefer Aliens, the action-oriented sequel from James Cameron.
But what Ridley Scott’s magnus-opus Alien sets out to do, it does like no other film can.
Alien’s biggest strength is its restraint.
Just like its title, Alien is so effective at making the unknown scary. The characters know just as much as the audience does. A monster can be anywhere at any time, and whether it can be stopped or killed is a mystery.
And this is not a mystery they can figure out with time. Their adversary is looking for them, and it will never give in.
Four minutes. That is how much screen time the Xenomorph has in this entire film. Yet it remains possibly the most iconic and frightening monster ever to be put on the big screen. This is accomplished through unparalleled direction and design.
The look of the Xenomorph was something that was completely beyond most people’s experience at the time. It did not look like a rubber monster, it looked alive, even in extreme close up.
HR Giger’s creations had been seen by just about everyone on album covers and whatnot, but most people were not really aware of how powerful his art style really could be.
Combine this other-worldly entity with the Nostromo, a literal haunted house in space. Alien is so claustrophobic, so anxiety-inducing that every time I watch I find myself gripping the very edge of my seat in stress.
A great villain must always provide the perfect antithesis to the protagonist. And luckily, Alien introduces us to one of the greatest heroes in all of film history, Ellen Ripley. What makes her a wonderful hero is how she is presented.
If you went in blind, you wouldn’t assume she was the main character. Just another helpless damsel that acts as another victim of the monster.
However, Ripley shows the audience by taking the initiative when all hope seems lost. She isn’t a hero through vague concepts like destiny, she becomes one through her actions. It is in essence, the definitive underdog story.
The one time the film lets loose from its subtlety manifests into one of the most iconic scenes ever made. The chest-burster sequence. If you haven’t watched the film yet… I don’t know what to tell you. It must be seen to be believed.
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The state of the Alien franchise nowadays does make me sad if I’m honest. With how much further the exploration and lore of the Xenomorph goes, the key components to the success of Alien becomes rather faded.
As audience members, the fear of the unknown begins to lift. An unstoppable and enigmatic killing machine reduced to just another foot solider of many. It’s a shame.
But nothing can take away from the filmmaking virtuoso that Ridley Scott produced all the way back as an unknown filmmaker. Alien has well and truly stood the test of time and is his best film by far in my opinion.
Even still, it remains only Scott’s second most important film. That you will have to wait and find out.