Plainly put, Alien is an old-fashioned scary movie set in a highly realistic sci-fi future, made all the more believable by expert technical craftmanship. Picture isn’t quite good enough to be a combination of The Exorcist and Star Wars, but both titles are likely to come to mind.
Script [from a story by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett] has more loose ends than the Pittsburgh Steelers but that doesn’t matter as director Ridley Scott, cameraman Derek Vanlint and composer Jerry Goldsmith propel the emotions relentlessly from one visual surprise – and horror – to the next. [Plot has several parallels with the 1958 lowbudgeter It! The Terror from Beyond Space.]
The price paid for the excitement, and it’s a small one, is very little involvement with the characters themselves. But it really doesn’t matter when the screaming starts.
In contrast to the glamorous, adventurous outer-space life often depicted in sci-fi, Alien initially presents a mundane commercial spacecraft with crew members like Yaphet Kotto bitching and moaning about wages and working conditions.
The tedium is shared by captain Tom Skerritt, his aide Sigourney Weaver and the rest of the crew, played by a generally good cast in cardboard roles. Eventually, it will be Weaver who gets the biggest chance in her film debut, and she carries it off well.
Since they were doomed to get an R rating for gore, anyway, the filmmakers have thrown in some 20th century swearing for Weaver, which seems odd and awkward in the context, plus a bit of a skin show that’s fetching but a little far-fetched.
[In 1992, a Collector’s Edition on laserdisc included 18 mins of discarded scenes among its supplementary materials.]
1979: Best Visual Effects.
Nomination: Best Art Direction