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Alien | movie review

Over forty years old and still brilliant.


Movie summary: The crew of a commercial spacecraft encounter a deadly lifeform after investigating an unknown transmission. (IMDb)

First things first, I have to admit that watching Alien for this post (as I now work my way through all of the franchise's movies) was the first time I'd ever actually seen the movie all the way through from start to finish. Considering that there were only a handful of scenes I hadn't seen before, it seems like I had seen 95% of what happens, but it was good to finally put it all together into a single experience.

One issue that came from having seen it piecemeal over the years is that there was some overlap between the 'chunks' of the film I'd watched before, so some scenes felt familiar to the point of me just wanting them to be over, but that's a 'me' problem and not the fault of the movie. Hell, the movie's so good that it stopped bothering me before getting even halfway through the running time.

The biggest reason for that is that Alien has such an incredible sense of immersion that it does feel more like an experience than a movie. The majority of the movie takes place on the mining ship Nostromo in space, and I think the limited amounts of locations possible on the ship help to ratchet up the tension through a feeling of claustrophobia.

It's previously been said that this movie is somewhat alike to a haunted house horror, which I can get - one main location with a murderous entity slowly offing the cast one-by-one. The difference here is that outside is space - the characters can't just exit the premises; they're stuck inside with the thing trying to kill them and effectively circumvents the frustration of other horror movies where you can ask "why don't they just leave?"

There is one character who repeatedly makes the situation worse, but this by their choice and makes perfect sense within the context of the story. Vague maybe, but I still think it's worth preserving some surprises for those who haven't watched Alien before - you might quickly catch on to who it is, but the 'why' remains an excellent reveal.

The problem with writing a review post like Alien is that so much of the movie has entered the general pop-culture consciousness that it can be tricky to figure out what is a spoiler and what isn't, especially as the events of this movie have been homaged, referenced and parodied so often that I imagine plenty of people will have multiple 'WTF' moments when they realise just how much impact this movie had on those working across the various forms of media today.

I've left the cast out until now - and I think Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley is one of the most famous characters ever to appear in science-fiction movies - but they're all great and I love that they're all essentially normal people just trying to do their jobs, go home and get paid. It makes them all relatable as a result, and I'm sure anyone watching will recognise either themselves of others in some part of how they behave or in how they interact with each other.

I don't think Alien has aged amazingly well, with some of the technology vastly out of date already and the actual alien being very obviously a guy in a suit at times, but it's the level of immersion - aided by the immaculately-consistent production and costume design - that will convince you completely that everything you see serves its function exactly as depicted, regardless of how such a movie might be made now.

The biggest compliment I can give is to acknowledge that Alien came out only two years after Star Wars, but feels like it was made much, much later than that because of just how well made this movie is - that's not a knock on Star Wars either, but immense praise for Ridley Scott for making such an incredible-looking movie. I get that he's known for great visuals, but even they would've failed if he hadn't directed the cast so well to make them appear so comfortable with everything too.

This is a very easy movie to recommend, even if you don't really like science-fiction or horror. As I said at the beginning, I've only seen this movie all the way through once and it left such a fantastic impression that it does make me wonder why it took me so long to get around to doing so. Don't make that same mistake and watch this as soon as you can - it's such a good movie that you'll want to jump straight into the sequel so you can spend more time in this world.

Alien still stands up as both fantastic science-fiction and horror, despite how dated some small parts of it can feel - which is only to be expected from a movie over forty years old. The reason it still works is that it's so well-made and the performances of the cast are so damn good that there's simply nothing to break your immersion after the movie begins, which is one hell of an achievement.

[9/10 - Great]



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