Summer Movie Showdown: "Alien" Review

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The crew of a commercial deep space mining ship, investigating a suspected S.O.S., lands on a distant planet and discovers a nest of strange eggs.
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Summer Movie Showdown: "Alien" Review

-- Rating: R
Length: 117 minutes
Release Date: May 25, 1979
Directed By: Ridley Scott
Genre: Sci-fi/ horror

"Alien" combines the best of horror and science fiction in what has become a classic movie from the 1970s. Movie studio 20th Century Fox took a chance with a fairly new director and relatively unknown cast, and the risk paid off. The movie received rave reviews and achieved box office success, grossing more than $100 million in domestic and international receipts.

What makes "Alien" so different from the current crop of science fiction films is that it took a hard lesson from movies like "Jaws" and "Halloween" and allowed the suspense to build to a crescendo by focusing more on the buildup to the action rather than the action itself. That is not to say that the film doesn't have its fair share of action, violence, and gore; it just takes its time getting there to put the audience firmly on the edge of their seats.

The story begins on the deep space commercial towing vehicle, Nostromo, which is on its way back to Earth with a load of mineral ore. The ship has a crew of seven, including Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), Warrant Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), and Executive Officer Kane (John Hurt). The ship's computer picks up a strange signal that seems to be coming from a nearby planet, and the ship's crew assumes it is an SOS.

After a rough landing that leaves the Nostromo severely damaged, three of the ship's crew members take off to investigate where the signal might be coming from. They discover a wrecked spacecraft, and they lose all contact with the rest of the crew upon entering it. They soon discover the pilot's remains and a strange cargo of eggs. Meanwhile, back on the Nostromo, Ripley completes her analysis of the signal and comes to the conclusion that it was a warning and not an SOS.

The unsuspecting crew members who are investigating the spacecraft are unaware the eggs are actually alien embryos, one of which manages to hitch a ride back to the Nostromo on Kane. Throughout the movie, the alien shifts shapes and manages to elude the crew who are out to destroy it, despite orders from their superiors to capture it and bring the alien back to Earth, so they can investigate its use as a weapon.

From latching onto faces to bursting out of crew member's stomachs, the alien manages to elude capture. Its body oozes some type of substance that can dissolve the materials around it, wreaking damage to the ship and puzzling the crew. In the end, the alien is destroyed and the only surviving crew member, Ripley, is safe and on her way home safely.

"Alien" was no stranger to the awards circuit, winning an Academy and several Saturn Awards. All told, it wound up winning thirteen awards and had an additional twelve nominations. In 2002, the movie was inducted into the Library of Congress National Film Registry, and the American Film Institute ranked it among the top ten films of all time in the science fiction genre.

"Alien" was director Ridley Scott's second feature-length film, coming just two years after "The Duellists," although he started directing in 1956. He continues to direct big-screen films, with credits to his name for "Blade Runner," "Thelma & Louise," "Matchstick Men," and "Robin Hood." Although he was nominated three times for an Academy Award for "Black Hawk Down," "Gladiator," and "Thelma & Louise," he has yet to bring home an Oscar.

"Alien" was actress Sigourney Weaver's true breakout role. Prior to the filming, she had played a bit part in the smash hit "Annie Hall," had a small role in "Madman," and had appeared in two television series. "Alien" won her critical acclaim across the globe, and it cemented her place on Hollywood's A-list of celebrities. In addition to taking on the lead role in the 1986 production of the sequel "Aliens" and the 1992 film "Aliens 3," followed by "Alien: Resurrection" in 1997, she also had major roles in hit movies such as "Ghostbusters II," "Imaginary Heroes," and "Avatar." Her work has garnered her nineteen awards and an additional thirty-two nominations.

While the entire cast, which included Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, and John Hurt, did a fabulous job of making this movie the classic film that it is, they all wound up taking a back seat to Sigourney Weaver. The fact that their characters all died in the first film of the franchise is a good indication that this is the way it was meant to be. It was a huge risk for a studio to take a relatively unknown actress and give her so much power, but it was a risk that paid off handsomely despite the fact that the sequels didn't have quite the success of the original.

Rating: 4 out of 5