Film (1979). Twentieth Century Fox. Directed by Ridley Scott. Written be Dan O'Bannon, from a story by O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett, with uncredited input from producers Walter Hill and David Giler. Alien design H R Giger; concept artist Ron Cobb; human spacesuit and uniform design Jean Giraud (uncredited). Cast includes Veronica Cartwright, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Yaphet Kotto, Tom Skerritt, Harry Dean Stanton and Sigourney Weaver. 117 minutes. Colour.
One of the most influential sf films ever made, Alien is actually much closer to Horror in its adherence to genre conventions. The merchant spaceship Nostromo, on a routine voyage, visits a planet where one of the crew is attacked by a spider- or crablike creature in an abandoned Alien spacecraft. Back aboard the Nostromo this metamorphoses, partly inside the crewman's body, into an almost invulnerable, rapidly growing, intelligent carnivore. Science officer Ash (Holm), who unknown to the crew is a Robot instructed to keep the alien alive for possible commercial exploitation, attacks Ripley (Weaver); he is messily dismantled. The Monster picks off, piecemeal, all the remaining crew but Ripley.
There is a fine music score by Jerry Goldsmith. Giger's powerful alien design, inorganic sleekness blended with curved, phallic, organic forms, renders the horror sequences extremely vivid, but for all their force they are plotted along deeply conventional lines. Considerably more original is the sense – achieved through design, terse dialogue and excellent direction – that this is a real working spaceship with a real, blue-collar, working crew, the future unglamorized and taken for granted. Also good sf are the scenes on the alien spacecraft (Giger's design again) which project a genuine sense of "otherness". Tough, pragmatic Ripley (contrasted with the "womanly" ineffectiveness of Cartwright as Lambert) is the first sf movie heroine to reflect cultural changes in the real world, where by 1979 Feminism was causing some men and many women to think again about the claustrophobia of traditional female roles.
Alien, which was made in the UK, was a huge success. It had precursors. Many viewers noticed plot similarities with It! the Terror from beyond Space (1958) and with A E van Vogt's "Discord in Scarlet" (December 1939 Astounding), a story incorporated into his The Voyage of the Space Beagle (stories July 1939-August 1943 Astounding, May 1950 Other Worlds; fixup 1950; vt Mission: Interplanetary 1952); a legal case about the latter resemblance was settled out of court for $50,000.
The sequels were Aliens (1986), Alien³ (1992) and Alien Resurrection (1997). The novelization is Alien (1979) by Alan Dean Foster. [PN]
see also: Cinema; Hugo; Monster Movies; Seiun Award; Terrore Nello Spazio.
- David Thomson. The Alien Quartet (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1998) [nonfiction: #4 in the publisher's Bloomsbury Movie Guide series: pb/photographic]
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