‘Alien’ (1979): The 3 Best Things About Ridley Scott’s Epic

On June 22, 1979, American audiences were greeted with one of horror’s greatest sci-fi epics: Ridley Scott’s Alien. Let’s look at 3 things that make it great!

But first, let’s start with this very stylish and freaky trailer:

Note that these items aren’t listed in a particular order of importance.

1. The Doomed Crew

The Alien Crew
Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Yaphet Kotto, Harry Dean Stanton

While it’s considered a stylistic masterpiece (and deservedly so) with uniquely designed alien concepts, Alien also has the distinction of featuring a realistic space crew. During the initial scenes of Alien, the crew comes off looking like regular, blue collar people doing grunt work. They just happen to have technical training. For example, Parker (Yaphet Kotto) seems to be most interested in getting paid. The crew is generally calm, approaching things in a matter-of-fact style. This adds a plausible dimension to an otherwise otherworldly film, and adds tension when we see them start to panic. Had they been a bundle of nervous energy from the start, there would be less character transformation.

Dallas (Tom Skerritt) is an everyman character, but it’s also true that every man can die. Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) is the most emotional of the crew and is said to represent the audience’s fears. Kane (John Hurt) is known most notably as the host to the alien, starring in a hugely memorable body horror moment. Then, of course, you have Ash (Ian Holm), who is the most sci-fi character of the whole crew. When he clashes with Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), we learn that there was tension on board the Nostromo spacecraft all along. Yes, treachery was afoot even before they harbored a hostile alien being!

2. The Alien as Art

Xenomorph
Bolaji Badejo as the Alien
© 1979 20th Century Fox

When we are introduced to the alien’s life cycle and learn the basics of its behavior, we have every chance to be fascinated. Not only does the alien ?— called a xenomorph (Bolaji Badejo) ?— come across as frightening, but there’s actually a sleek, luxurious, possibly even “sexy” element to its design. This is courtesy of the initial concepts of H. R. Giger, a Swiss surrealist artist known for his bio-mechanical pieces. While the xenomorph is one of his most famous concepts, he was inadvertently influential in other ways: His artwork for the Dead Kennedy’s album, Frankenchrist, ostensibly brought the band to trial for obscenity! The case was ultimately dismissed, but it made Giger (and the band) a part of obscenity trial history.

Why was the art deemed offensive? Giger almost always has some sexual component to his designs, which tends to be unsettling to Joe and Jane Sixpack. However, oddly enough, the Alien franchise managed to skirt such controversies, despite a murderous alien being technically more troubling than some sexual album artwork. In fact, if you look at the xenomorph’s head, you can see it looks similar to a… well, you know what.

Giger was also involved in designing the infamous facehugger and chestburster creatures. The end result is a bizarre organism with a truly complex and fascinating life cycle! There’s also a sense that all life is invasive. Despite the xenomorph’s strange appearance, it has an organic nature that captivates the crew as well as us viewers. No matter how we try to understand this creature, it easily mystifies us. Again, this ties into the basic nature of Giger’s art, a blend of the organic and obscene with the inorganic and mechanical. Of course, when you’re seeing an alien burst from somebody’s body, you’re probably not contemplating all of this. Chances are you’re grabbing that next fistful of popcorn!

3. Ripley!

Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, © 1979 20th Century Fox

What would Alien be without Ripley? Not only did Sigourney Weaver help create an icon, but she essentially launched her career from this role. While one could bring up how strong Ripley’s character is, that’s almost missing the point. Her character is actually very vulnerable, and even she know it. In fact, everyone on board the Nostromo seems doomed to die, either by the xenomorph’s hand or by the uncaring corporation they work for. Yes, implied in Alien is that, when push comes to shove, all of these main characters are expendable, regardless of what we think of them. It’s the little bit of social commentary in Alien, and strongly hinted at in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner as well.

Ripley is only strong in the sense that she has determination, knowledge and a decent amount of luck. It really isn’t until Aliens that Ripley becomes a kick-butt action star. In this film, she’s merely resourceful. Nevertheless, Ripley has deservedly become a sci-fi horror icon, and is relatable precisely because she isn’t unthinking, unfeeling and unflinching. Weaver would play Ripley in a number of followups, with Aliens being one of the most memorable. However, her original portrayal can stand on its own as well.

So, there you have it! Three of the best things about Alien. What are your thoughts? Scream at us in the comments (though they say no one can hear you scream in space)!

About wadewainio

Wade is a wannabe artist and musician (operating under the moniker Grandpa Helicopter), and an occasional radio DJ for WMTU 91.9 FM Houghton. He is an occasional writer for Undead Walking, and also makes up various blogs of his own. He even has a few books in the works. Then again, doesn't everyone?

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