The Horror Honeys: In space, no one can hear you scream.

In space, no one can hear you scream.

A Sci-Fi Honey Review

Alien (1979) – 2003 Director’s Cut

This is the first instalment of an Alien Series Retrospective. 
This week, I explore where it all started, the iconic Alien. 

I first saw Alien in 1988, during my University Frosh Week. I had never been away from my 500- person village before, I was 17 years old, new to the Big City.  A fellow freshman, a guy of course, said “Hey, let’s go to my Residence and watch a movie!” Like the innocent kid I was, I said Sure! I’d love to watch a movie! That movie was Alien. And I can now attest that there are few movies less likely to get a guy action from me than Alien. Nice try though, Predator Frosh.

I have seen this movie several times since then, but not for at least a decade, so I thought I’d cue it back up to see if it was as good as I thought it was. After all, times have changed, SFX change, would it be awesome, or eye-rolling?

The synopsis, for the two people that haven’t seen it, is that a commercial towing spaceship (the Nostromo) is on a boring old routine return trip to Earth with the seven-member crew in stasis. The ship’s monitoring system detects a transmission from a nearby planetoid and, acting on standing orders from their corporate employers, set out to investigate the transmission's source. Captain Dallas (Tom Skeritt), Kane (John Hurt), and Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) land on the planetoid, and set out to investigate the signal, leaving Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the others behind on the ship.  The three explorers find an alien ship, and on it a dead alien with its chest blown outward, and Kane finds a bunch of eggs. An egg hatches, the little face-hugger latches onto Kane’s face, and back to the ship they all go to save him. The rest is horror history, as the alien incubates and gets out and starts hunting the crew, and they try to kill it or get it off the ship, and get back to earth.

So, how does this movie stand up?

Times have definitely changed. In the Alien future, people smoke indoors, and the computer screens are full of old-school 0000111001000 code – that code was out of date when I was in Computer Science 101 in 1986. 

SFX-wise, the alien ship on the planet is spectacular, it really holds up. Gorgeous. The exterior shots on the planetoid look great. The Nostromo looks good also, aside from the computer screens, which didn’t make much difference to me visually. The art director previously worked on Star Wars (Star Wars was a large reason that this movie was given the go-ahead – Sci-fi was suddenly the Next Big Thing). So really, no wonder this movie is visually Hot Damn.

The special effects team won an Academy Award for Best Achievement for Visual Effects for their design work on Alien, and Swiss surrealist artist H.R. Giger was a large part of that. He was involved with designing the surface of the planetoid, the dead alien spacecraft, and all forms of the Alien from the egg to the adult - including using real cow bones for the construction of the ship hallway interior scenes...apparently the stench was horrific.  His style is commonly described as  ‘Overtly sexual and Biomechanical’ and that’s exactly how I’d describe the Alien, a great synthesis of machine and alien animal. It's a unique style and really, without a great Alien the movie wouldn’t be what it is. And seriously, if you look at Giger's work and DON'T see sex...ummm...

Sci-Fi Honey Fun Fact: The Alien's jaws were rumoured to be accented with shredded condoms.  Just...FYI

You know you're looking closer now...

The face-hugger still looks awesome. The chest-burster though, I admit, I laughed when it popped out of his chest. Out loud. It looked around the room like a muppet, its little puppet mouth went ‘rarrrgh!’ then it did the most hilarious ‘run’ I’ve seen in a long time. The actual Alien looked great though, close up in particular. 
Slightly muppety, no?

Aside from some overly-hysterical screaming by Lambert, the actors were brilliant. Although hey, I suspect I’d scream hysterically in that circumstance also, so I should cut her some slack. Ian Fucking Holm's amazing cyborg portrayal literally makes the film.  So creepy.  So perfect. 

Ripley is as awesome as I remember.  As always, the suspense was insane, and the last 15 minutes of the movie is still some of the scariest I’ve ever experienced. I found particularly interesting this time (since I’m older/more jaded) how it explores issues coming out in the 70’s like capitalist exploitation of workers (workers being expendable), and the subjugation of humanity to technology. It has a strong female protagonist, which still doesn’t happen as often as I’d like these days - I’m talking to you, Riddick. Not much to complain about in this movie, it couldn’t be improved on much if shot today, in my opinion.

Sci-Fi Honey Lowdown: I still like this movie. A lot. Sigourney Weaver plays a strong, non-screamy, kick-ass character, the sets/models/effects are great, the writing is good, the plot stands up, and it’s some of the scariest film I’ve seen, ever.  This movie stands up.

Sci-fi Honey Rating:  I give this movie a full score, 5 Alien Face-Huggers out of 5. All of the Face Huggers!!