Alien (1979) – A Science Fiction Movie Review

I watched the movie Alien today for the first time since I saw it back in 1979.  Some things surprised me about the movie but the general impression is much as I remember it.  Luckily, the most annoying thing about the movie as I remembered it, the wildly varying sound levels used as a weapon against those with intact ear drums, was under my direct control thanks to the volume button.

I won’t give a detailed synopsis since everyone knows the plot.  I’ll describe it as follows.  An Earth space ship, the Nostromo, is travelling to Earth with a large cargo of ore.  The crew is awakened to investigate a message beacon coming from a nearby planetoid.  On it they find an ancient space ship with a long dead creature that seems to have died when something exploded out of its chest.  They discover a chamber that contains what look like eggs.  One of the eggs opens up and a crab-like creature smashes through the spacesuit helmet of one of the crew (played by John Hurt) and attaches itself to his face.  Later on, back at the ship the creature detaches from the crewman’s face and wanders off to die.  The crewman is seemingly unharmed but a few hours later a small somewhat humanoid creature erupts out of the crewman’s chest killing him.  The creature which is about a foot tall runs off into the ship and the crew goes on a search to find it and throw it out into space.

Somehow the creature increases in size until it’s about seven feet tall and spends the rest of the movie killing off the rest of the crew.  Finally, the only one left is Warrant Officer Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver.  She sets the Nostromo to self-destruct and escapes on a shuttle craft.  But, of course, the alien is on the shuttle so she has to sneak into her space suit, open the air lock and shoot the alien with a grappling gun to push it out into space.  It manages to grab onto the engine so she ignites it thus ejecting the charcoal broiled alien into interstellar space.

The movie is a mixed bag.  The sets on the planetoid and the exterior shots of the Nostromo are beautifully done.  The interior shots of the Nostromo for the most part succeed in portraying a futuristic but gritty industrial environment.  I guess a combination of a tramp steamer and a star ship.  But one of the worst features of the movie is intentional.  Apparently, the designers and constructors of the ship ran out of light switches.  The whole movie takes place in the absence of light.  You can’t see a thing.  Sure, every once in a while, the monster’s jaws and its inner jaws start opening up and monster drool drips out but you never get to see the damned thing doing anything other than that.  And there’s a very good reason for that.  When all is said and done and all the marvelous CGI shots of the planetoid and the Nostromo are taken into account it’s still a movie with a guy in a rubber suit.  And that’s just not going to cut it.  So, most of the movie is just the crew running around in the dark waiting to scream when the monster bites them or injects them with an egg or whatever the hell it’s supposed to be doing when it catches them.

The actors do a creditable job with what they’re given.  In fact, most of them seem quite interesting and I wouldn’t mind watching a prequel where we see them interact while performing their duties as the crew of an interstellar ore freighter.  I’ll bet they could make such a movie fun and interesting with all kinds of adventures and sights.  But as monster fodder it’s a sort of limited palette.  Look left, look right, oops he’s behind you.  Look all around you, uh oh he’s hiding on the ceiling.  What this movie needed was a few Maglite flashlights.  Then they not only would have seen the monster but also beat it to death with the generous heft of the Maglite ML300L LED 6-Cell D Flashlight.

There was one really scary scene.  When Ripley escapes the Nostromo in the shuttle, before she discovers that the alien is in with her, she strips down to her skimpy underwear before entering the hibernation chamber.  And for the most part she seemed admirably contoured for a young woman thus attired but then she turned away from the camera and I discovered with horror that her butt was missing.  Instead of gluteus maximus she seemed to be suffering from a case of gluteus minimus.  What could have happened to her?  Did she lose her butt in some kind of industrial accident?  Did she donate it to someone else in the very rarely mentioned butt transplant surgery?  We may never know.  I still haven’t completely recovered from the shock.

Suffice it to say I have a mixed opinion on this movie.  If you think you could enjoy a poorly lit game of hide and seek with an interstellar menace then go for it.  You will see some nice visuals.  But watch out for Sigourney Weaver’s butt.  It’s truly shocking.