Ridley Scott’s Alien remains one of the defining works in both the horror and science fiction genres, a film that, like any of the best of their genres, invented a whole new universe by starting small. From the many films that the Alien series has spawned, Ridley Scott’s original film still remains my favourite of the bunch for good reason. It remains my favourite because it shows how little is necessary in order to start a universe of its own from scratch. Although eventually this rule was broken by eventual sequels (as much as I love James Cameron’s Aliens), it’s already impossible to deny the impact that Ridley Scott’s original film would have left behind on science fiction and horror within years to come. In itself it would easily have been just a “haunted house movie in space,” but perhaps there’s a whole lot more that results in the final product actually turning out to be all the more clever.
Alien opens simply, and keeps everything that way. The setting is made clear, the spaceship Nostromo picks up a transmission which they perceive to be some sort of a distress signal, only to find that greater danger comes forth when they discover another life form from the source they picked up the signal. There’s no explanation necessary for why it moves in this direction, but that’s one of the greatest joys that Alien thrives upon. One’s own sense of curiosity is what drives the whole film forward, because the whole world it presents is one where it is hard to tell what is set to come next. But it’s a world where everyone feels trapped inside one spot because they’re restricted in this sense. It sticks to one small, confined space to keep everything flowing because it shows itself as an area whose geography you would know from top to bottom, like one would their own house.
It was in this confinement where Alien has achieved great success because you, as a viewer, are watching the whole film as if you are a crew member. If anything else had come forth, Ridley Scott actually has found a proper justification for the use of a jump scare through Alien, because the mood created by watching Alien places you in the eyes of the crew mates; where they all have no clue what is going on around them inside of an area they think they know from top to bottom. There’s no explanation for the sort of danger that everyone within Alien has placed themselves within, yet there needs none of it. It burns slowly, because one only moves at such a rate waiting for the next jump to happen – for what Ridley Scott did create was indeed a haunted house movie in space just as Alien was said to be. It only presents everything at a tease, and maybe it’s this fear that gets to us more than the actual appearance of the alien does.
And yet when the actual alien shows up, it’s amazing how spectacularly the design has aged. But as a whole, the production has aged like fine wine, whether it be the set design or the costumes as a whole. Yet the joy of seeing the alien coming onto the screen for the first time is only a clue for why Alien has enjoyed even more success as it keeps building up for greater danger coming forth. But Ridley Scott isn’t taking pride in showing many of these deaths straight up after the infamous chestburster death, rather instead there’s a greater danger coming from the fundamentals of how the alien itself works from small details we get, and bigger details we are left without any knowledge upon. How much more dangerous does the alien become as it spends more time on the spaceship? In its final form, something that Ridley Scott teases us about the whole way through, a far greater terror arises.
Yet it’s always been posing a question in my mind, regarding what exactly it is that the alien stands for. As the crew mentions, the alien in itself is a “perfect organism,” meaning that as it stands, it is far stronger than the crew members – all of who merely are just humans as ordinary as the day. In this timeframe where Alien is taking place, we’re looking at a state where technology has only managed to move so far enough and humans end up going away by the minute. Other readings that come to mind recognize how the alien represents rape and reproduction, as made clear from the facehugger’s impregnation of a victim – but it soon hit clear why Scott’s aesthetic worked so perfectly. In this confined world, only pessimism is a running thought. Pessimism for the state of supremacy amidst the species, for what happens as a result of life after having been created straight from force.
It’s amazing how Ridley Scott managed to redefine both the horror and science fiction genres through Alien, because in something so confined in the environment which it encapsulates, only the best qualities of it are allowed to shine and eventually overflow. And because of how confined it all is, you don’t ever know what’s coming out for you because the most you get out of a world so small is that you think you know every crack and crevice. But just as the best horror films work, they don’t require any sort of explanation for why circumstances are working the way they are in such small spaces, you want everything to move quickly so you can get out, and maybe the rush gets to you so much that you’re only left to be punished by the space you’re left within. For after all, the tagline says everything, “In space, no one can hear you scream.”
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Fox.
Directed by Ridley Scott
Screenplay by Dan O’Bannon
Produced by Gordon Carroll, David Giler, Walter Hill
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto
Release Year: 1979
Running Time: 117 minutes