When Ridley Scott was chosen for Alien, he was on a roll from The Duellists and Blade Runner and delivered a slick sci-fi whose look and feel has endured, even if it’s original title – Starbeast – has not.
Returning to Earth from deep space, the crew of the Nostromo are awoken from hypersleep by the ship’s computer, which has detected a distress call from a nearby planet. Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) investigates, taking Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) and Kane (John Hurt) with him.
On the surface, near the ruins of an alien spaceship where a giant skeleton sits in the pilot’s seat. Nearby, are strange egg-like pods and, while inspecting one, Kane is attacked by an unidentified alien which attaches itself to his face. Unwilling to break the quarantine rules, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) refuses to let him on board, but she is overruled.
The creature later detaches itself, and disappears. Kane revives, but that evening he dies when an alien organism bursts out of his chest. Aware that no one is safe and learning that the signal was a warning call, not a distress call, the crew attempt to track down the creature and prevent further slaughter. Almost immediately, the plan goes wrong…
“As soon as you accept a script like this,” said Scott, “you begin to worry about what we’re going to do with the man in the rubber suit.” What he did was stretch the genre only two years after George Lucas had exhumed it. O’Bannon’s story – which bares a strong resemblance to his own majestic Dark Star – is brought to vivid life by the production design.
H.R. Giger, whose designs complement the film’s maternal subtext, sometimes steals the honours, but Michael Seymour’s bleak and cavernous vistas are a match, obtained by the twin virtues of inspiration and innovation (the Alien’s lair was created using lasers and smoke machines borrowed from The Who).
Performances are excellent, with Cartwright (the initial choice for Ripley) and Skeritt making instant impact, while Hurt’s demise eclipses his character’s brief life, contributing one of cinema’s greatest shock moments (Ridley Scott shot the scene without rehearsal and Cartwrights blood-spattered screaming face isn’t acting!) Likewise, Weaver gives Ripley iconic status which became the hook for the first (and by far best) sequel, Aliens.
UK / 1979
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: Dan O’Bannon (from his own and Ronald Shuset’s story)
Cast: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto