Time to get scared…. Alien (1979), directed by Ridley Scott, is a good film for a bit of horror without losing too much sleep afterwards. Cast is limited: Sigourney Weaver, Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto.
Indeed, story is what I’d call ‘behind closed doors’. A crew of seven people on a spaceship sent out there to mine and process ore receives a signal and lands on an unfriendly planet, where they stumble across eggs. Chaos ensues and by the time the crew is ready to resume their journey back to Earth, they don’t know an eighth passenger has made its way onto the ship…. No other character and the only contacts the crew have with their employer is actually by talking to the ship computer, an entity of its own nicknamed 'Mother'.
Personnally I found the plot a bit thin. But what makes the film good is that the viewer feels uneasy from beginning to end. The entire environment is hostile: the ship, the planet they land on, the crew don’t have any particular warm feelings toward one another. The characters are a bit underdeveloped, however the tension is felt all the time. The setting of the big impersonal ship makes it feel more like a prison, and one also feels at some points that it is both the alien and the ship against the humans.
There is little gory scenes, particularly compared to today’s standards, but I can imagine, putting this back into perspective, that at the time of release the movie came a great shock, and clearly ahead of its time. Special effects match those of Star Wars original trilogy, it is actually quite impressive. As opposed to Star Wars however, aliens are not cute little teddy bears but hostile entities with no feelings, adaptable to any environment and without mercy. The creature has the vague shape of humans, but that's the only similarity. Trying to find what motivates it would be a waste of time, since we assume it is without passions or rationality.
Also an interesting aspect of the film is the heroine Ellen Ripley, played perfectly by Sigourney Weaver. What makes her great is that she is a scared woman but doesn’t go into tears, screams and all the non-sense, and in the end, terrified not, she has no choice but to fight. The cat gives her more humanity -- after all, who on earth goes back for a cat when threatened by a blood thirsty monster?!
Finally, a little 'food for thought' dimension is given to the film after my favorite scene, when it turns out Ash is a robot (and a pretty good one!), where the crew learn they’re expendable and the corporation that hired them has pretty much turned its back on them. Big, bad, corporation, focused on power and money at the price of human life. That made me feel sorry for the poor girl returning to Earth where she’ll have to give detailed accounts of the events that took place, but anyway that might be pushing the thinking part a bit too far. All in all I found the whole thing a bit predictable, I felt the tension but I was not terrified, however I am perfectly happy to recognize the film’s intellectual significance as well as the excellent direction by Ridley Scott.
Ripley: Ash, can you hear me? Ash?
Ash: [in an electronic, distorted voice] Yes, I can hear you.
Ripley: What was your special order?
Ash: You read it. I thought it was clear.
Ripley: What was it?
Ash: Bring back life form. Priority One. All other priorities rescinded.
Parker: The damn company. What about our lives, you son of a bitch?
Ash: I repeat, all other priorities are rescinded.
Ripley: How do we kill it Ash? There's gotta be a way of killing it. How? How do we do it?
Ash: You can't.
Parker: That's bullshit.
Ash: You still don't understand what you're dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.
Lambert: You admire it.
Ash: I admire its purity. A survivor... unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.
Parker: Look, I am... I've heard enough of this, and I'm asking you to pull the plug.
Ash: [Ripley goes to disconnect Ash, who interrupts] Last word.
Ash: I can't lie to you about your chances, but... you have my sympathies.