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Alien Flashback Review: Alien

Jun. 5, 2012by: Chris Bumbray
In the days leading up to the theatrical release of Ridley Scott's PROMETHEUS, we here at JoBlo.com have decided to take this opportunity to look back at the franchise it's associated with: The Alien Quadrilogy. Each day this week, we'll be looking back at one film in the series, with the exception of the ALIEN VS. PREDATOR films, which I think we agree all suck, and are not really canon. Today we examine the film that started it all: ALIEN.


In space, no one can here you scream...

REVIEW: Flashback to the late-seventies. STAR WARS has broken box office records, and Hollywood is going back into space in a big way. Every studio in town launches their own STAR WARS knock-off, with films like THE BLACK HOLE, STAR TREK- THE MOTION PICTURE, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, FLASH GORDON, etc. Heck, even James Bond gets in on the action with MOONRAKER. Twentieth Century Fox, who were saved from bankruptcy by STAR WARS, launch their own space movie, but rather than another swashbuckling tale of daring-do, British advert director Ridley Scott, who's just shot a film called THE DUELLISTS, is given a script by Dan O'Bannon that modernizes creepy fifties outer space alien flicks like IT! THE TERROR FROM OUTER SPACE.

But, like STAR WARS this is no B-movie, and Scott's given an ample budget, and mostly left to his own devices. In turn, he comes up with a film that no doubt scared the shit out of people in a big way. Watching ALIEN thirty-three years later, it's amazing to think that it's so old, as it still plays out like a film that could have been made yesterday. The effects, mostly model work, and miniatures- not to mention old fashioned guys in suits, hold up remarkably well- and it doesn't seem dated at all.


But, people tend to misremember ALIEN, as if it was an action-adventure, rather than a horror film. There's actually very little carnage, with it being confined to a cast of only seven actors, none of whom were stars at the time. It's more of a chamber piece, and the violence is mostly off-screen, or only present in brief flashes.

Like STAR WARS, we get spaceships that look lived-in, and taking it even further, this is a film that boldly views the future of space exploration as a corporate scheme, with our heroes having little in common with the scientist-astronauts of 2001: A SPACE ODESSEY. Rather, they're blue-collar working men (and women) with a hard job to do that offers little pay. Once the shit hits the fan, they discover that they're even less valuable to the company than they thought, with the android Ash (Ian Holm- long before he was Bilbo) being on-board, undercover as a human, to make sure they follow the company's agenda. Their lives? Totally expendable.

Enter our heroine Ripley. Initially, just one of the seven, Ripley probably the coldest and hardest to read of the cast, until our working-class-hero captain, played by Tom Skerritt, gets taken out of commission, leaving Ripley in charge. Less heroic than she would be in the later films, here, Ripley is only trying to survive, and for the last twenty-minutes of the film, we follow Ripley as she tries desperately to escape the dreaded xenomorph Alien, and escape her ship, the Nostromo.

Running a lean two hours, ALIEN is about as perfect a horror film as we're ever likely to get. I put it up there with THE EXORCIST, and Scott does a masterful (and Hitchcockian) job building tension, in a way he's never really done since (he went another way- and that's not meant as a dig at all, as he's one of my favourite directors).


Everything about ALIEN is bang-on, from the brilliant production design (love the lived-in look of the Nostromo), to H.R Giger's terrifying design of the alien (not to mention the other striking imagery- including the space jockey which figures so prominently in PROMETHEUS). The cast of characters is particularly good, with Weaver making for a somewhat cold, unknowable, and ambiguous heroine, although that characterization would change as the films went on. Tom Skerritt, as the doomed captain, is instantly likable, and audiences in 1979 probably assumed he was the star. Nope. Poor John Hurt, makes a wonderful Kane, and the scene where he gives birth to the titular character is among the most iconic images in cinema. Ian Holm, as Ash, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, and the great Yaphet Kotto round up the seven crew-members of the Nostromo, and each makes a vivid impression.

MUSIC: The ALIEN score is by legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith, and it's more subtle than I remember. Highly melodic, but also sparse at times, apparently much of Goldsmith's score was eschewed in order to ramp up the terror. What remains is extraordinary, and perfectly suits the film.

Best death: It's tough to beat John Hurt having the baby xenomorph pop out of his chest, and this scene was no doubt traumatic to unsuspecting audiences in '79. Heck, in 2012 it's still bloody terrifying.


Most badass character other than Ripley: This one easily goes to Yaphet Kotto, as the angry, blue-collar Parker, who spends the last part of the film running around with his shirt ripped open, and brandishing a flame-thrower. I always loved Kotto in this, and his alpha-male energy perfectly contrasts with Weaver's Ripley.

Character that immediately loses their shit: Which brings me to poor Veronica Cartwright. Poor, poor Lambert. While everyone else is scared shitless, Lambert just totally goes to pieces, and doesn't do anyone a lick of good. Kotto tries to go all action-hero and save her towards the end, but no dice.

Reception: A surprise hit financially (it didn't even get a premiere) ALIEN grossed $78 million theatrically- big bucks in 1979, ranking the sixth highest-grossing film of the year at the box office. Critically, it was well-received, but it's only in later years that the film has been re-accessed as a classic. Some of the reviews were very negative, and it only picked up one solitary Oscar- for best VFX. It was better received in Scott's native Britain, where it got a slew of BAFTA nominations. It's success led not only to ALIENS (a full seven years later) but a slew of knock-offs, including movies like XTRO, the latter PREDATOR (more of an ALIENS imitation actually) and an unauthorized Italian rip-off sequel called ALIEN 2- which led to a big lawsuit. Heck, even John Carpenter's re-imagining of THE THING probably owes a lot to ALIEN (and vice-versa, ALIEN owes a lotto his own DARK STAR- also written by O'Bannon).

Being such a brilliant piece of work, ALIEN has stood to test of time so well that it got a full-on theatrical release for the 25th anniversary, and has a franchise that's still on fire- thanks to the forthcoming PROMETHEUS. This is a film I come back to every few years, and each time it scares the piss out of me.

Source: JoBlo.com

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2:17AM on 06/08/2012
I did not like this movie at all. I didn't like any of them, I didn't find it scary and I don't hold that against it. I liked the idea of the Aliens, I love the facehuggers, but on the rare times we actually got to see the Alien, I thought it looked like a joke and it's not a joke I thought looked better as time went on.
I did not like this movie at all. I didn't like any of them, I didn't find it scary and I don't hold that against it. I liked the idea of the Aliens, I love the facehuggers, but on the rare times we actually got to see the Alien, I thought it looked like a joke and it's not a joke I thought looked better as time went on.
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-10
10:43PM on 06/05/2012
cant wait for the next review in the alien series
cant wait for the next review in the alien series
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10:42PM on 06/05/2012
an all time classic! 10/10 and no thought about it

whoever put thumbs down on everyone's post for liking alien, lets hear what you dont like about alien so you can loose all credibility

everyone gets a thumbs up from this guy
an all time classic! 10/10 and no thought about it

whoever put thumbs down on everyone's post for liking alien, lets hear what you dont like about alien so you can loose all credibility

everyone gets a thumbs up from this guy
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7:17PM on 06/05/2012
Alien is perfect.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a Star Wars knock off? Psh HAHAHA...ok...sure :-P
Alien is perfect.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a Star Wars knock off? Psh HAHAHA...ok...sure :-P
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3:55PM on 06/05/2012
Nobody's going to elaborate on those thumbs downs?
Nobody's going to elaborate on those thumbs downs?
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1:31PM on 06/05/2012
How could anyone not love it? This is one of the oldest classics of MY time. Sure there were plenty that came before I did, but this was new when I was a wee lad. So scary to me as a kid and yes, it always holds up. Aside from what others have posted, I'll mention how damn scary it was when Ash "reveals" himself. That scared me as much as any of the alien stuff, if not more. Ian Holm owned this role . . .
How could anyone not love it? This is one of the oldest classics of MY time. Sure there were plenty that came before I did, but this was new when I was a wee lad. So scary to me as a kid and yes, it always holds up. Aside from what others have posted, I'll mention how damn scary it was when Ash "reveals" himself. That scared me as much as any of the alien stuff, if not more. Ian Holm owned this role . . .
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12:28PM on 06/05/2012

SPOT ON REVIEW!

Great review! I will say I prefer ALIENS, but that is just because I prefer action to horror. As a pure Horror film, this film is so effective I still have trouble watching it. CGI is killing much of the genre. The lanky african guy in a prosthetic suit still holds up today as the scariest monster ever because of great design, editing and tension. The problem with Alien 3 and 4 is that we see the Alien too much and at a certain point it stops being scary. In Alien, the sets are almost as
Great review! I will say I prefer ALIENS, but that is just because I prefer action to horror. As a pure Horror film, this film is so effective I still have trouble watching it. CGI is killing much of the genre. The lanky african guy in a prosthetic suit still holds up today as the scariest monster ever because of great design, editing and tension. The problem with Alien 3 and 4 is that we see the Alien too much and at a certain point it stops being scary. In Alien, the sets are almost as scary as the creature. The acting, music and editing all serve to make the payoff so disturbing. When Ripley hears Lambert being killed off screen, it is more terrifying than any on-screen kill in recent memory.
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10:42AM on 06/05/2012

TEN!

First thing I did was scrolled down to the end to make sure he gave it 10/10, anything less would have been criminal
First thing I did was scrolled down to the end to make sure he gave it 10/10, anything less would have been criminal
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4:38PM on 06/05/2012
That's exactly what i did!
That's exactly what i did!
-10
10:22AM on 06/05/2012

Dont't make them like they uses to..

I remember seeing this movie, it came out a year after i was born, but i didnt see it til i was 5/6 yrs old, and it scared the shit outta me. The scene that made it worst for me was whe. The alien made its first kill, not the chestbursting scene, but the "drop down from the ceiling and killing the guy looking for a cat" scene. Freaked me out. This movie is great and will always be my favorite, and im finally glad they went on to explain the space jockey in Prometheus, ever since i was little i
I remember seeing this movie, it came out a year after i was born, but i didnt see it til i was 5/6 yrs old, and it scared the shit outta me. The scene that made it worst for me was whe. The alien made its first kill, not the chestbursting scene, but the "drop down from the ceiling and killing the guy looking for a cat" scene. Freaked me out. This movie is great and will always be my favorite, and im finally glad they went on to explain the space jockey in Prometheus, ever since i was little i always wondered why no one explained that creatures role in the alien universe. Anyways, classic.
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9:55AM on 06/05/2012
All time great movie.
All time great movie.
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7:32AM on 06/05/2012
I remember when I was a kid and it scared the sh*t out of me. Particularly, when John Hurt have his first meal after the Facehugger was removed. He choked and coughed. And we all know what happens next.
I remember when I was a kid and it scared the sh*t out of me. Particularly, when John Hurt have his first meal after the Facehugger was removed. He choked and coughed. And we all know what happens next.
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7:20AM on 06/05/2012
Alien still creeps me out. Its so dark and ominous. I particularly enjoy that when they filmed the "birthing" of the Alien sequence only John Hurt was the only cast member who knew what was going to happen. The rest of that casts reactions during this scene are pretty genuine as they had no idea what was going to happen. Brilliant! Also Weaver does a great job and imo lays the ground work for the bad-ass woman role that has proliferated ever since.
Alien still creeps me out. Its so dark and ominous. I particularly enjoy that when they filmed the "birthing" of the Alien sequence only John Hurt was the only cast member who knew what was going to happen. The rest of that casts reactions during this scene are pretty genuine as they had no idea what was going to happen. Brilliant! Also Weaver does a great job and imo lays the ground work for the bad-ass woman role that has proliferated ever since.
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6:48AM on 06/05/2012

Nice review.

Nice review Chris. Just watched it a few weeks ago myself and found it as watchable as the first time.

You've called this a movie in "The Alien Franchise". And you've said it was "including the space jockey which figures so prominently in PROMETHEUS"

I agree, but presume this will bring out the "it's not a prequel" haters and their associated tripe.
Nice review Chris. Just watched it a few weeks ago myself and found it as watchable as the first time.

You've called this a movie in "The Alien Franchise". And you've said it was "including the space jockey which figures so prominently in PROMETHEUS"

I agree, but presume this will bring out the "it's not a prequel" haters and their associated tripe.
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1:51AM on 06/05/2012
Funnily enough, I just revisited this when I was getting bored out of my mind last Saturday. Like you said, the movie is just timeless. The movie still brings the chills to this day. And Ripley really stands out as a "tough gal" character. She isn't a super-heroine archetype that Hollywood is so enamored with these days (i.e. Alice from Resident Evil, Selene from Underworld). She's still vulnerable and emotional like any other person, but she'll go out and kick ass when the occasion arises.
Funnily enough, I just revisited this when I was getting bored out of my mind last Saturday. Like you said, the movie is just timeless. The movie still brings the chills to this day. And Ripley really stands out as a "tough gal" character. She isn't a super-heroine archetype that Hollywood is so enamored with these days (i.e. Alice from Resident Evil, Selene from Underworld). She's still vulnerable and emotional like any other person, but she'll go out and kick ass when the occasion arises. It's this that makes her so appealing as a heroine.
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1:33PM on 06/05/2012
She was so much more realistic. Brave, but obviously scared shitless.
She was so much more realistic. Brave, but obviously scared shitless.
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