RETRO REVIEW: ‘Alien’

When I look back on the history of entertainment, a pattern I’ve noticed is that there’s always one thing (be it a book, movie, television show, you name it) that changes the status quo.

There’s always one thing that innovates and changes the landscape as we know it.

One such of these innovators is Ridley Scott’s Alien.

Now, it would be too much to list everything that the film has influenced and done. But there’s a lot out there that owes some part of itself to the film.

But now that introductions are out of the way, let’s dig in to the meat and potatoes of what we have.

Right off the bat, the world-building of Alien is amazing.

It’s the early 22nd century and humanity has discovered faster-than-light travel, built spaceships capable of leaving the Sol System, and can create androids indistinguishable from people.

However, this is far from a glossy, utopic future.

Humanity may have futuristic technology, but societally, has not left the 1970s, as “lo-fi” technology, like CRT televisions with VHS-quality video resolution, and ketchup in glass bottles are the standard.

This odd duality paints a very bleak atmosphere, which is felt from the moment the movie begins.

It’s grittier watching it in the modern era, as we can recognize such things as extremely outdated by today’s standards, which makes the technological stagnation even more apparent.

On the more technical side of things, Alien is what I like to call a “Slow-Burn” film.

What I mean by that, is that the movie takes its time to establish the universe it’s set in in order to familiarize the audience with the setting and the characters we’ll come to know.

It takes its time to get to the action, but the movie is all the better for it.

Instead of starting right in the middle of the action and leaving the audience burned out by non-stop tension, it allows the audience to prepare for the story about to be told.

Which is good, because when the action does start, It gets Tense.

I won’t spoil anything, but there are a few parts of the film where I always find my heart beating faster and my palms starting to sweat profusely.

On occasion I’ve even forgotten to breathe.

Alien, figuratively, sinks its claws into you and doesn’t let you go.

Because the film takes its time, we get to learn a little bit about our soon-to-be-beleaguered cast of characters; this helps to make the viewer care about whether or not they live or die.

That’s a good thing, too, as we spend a lot of time with them, since the entirety of the movie is how they react to, and try to survive, their encounters with the nigh-unstoppable death monster.

Speaking of, the titular Alien is as terrifying as ever in its first cinematic incarnation.

An interesting technical thing is that the Alien has less than four minutes of screen time in just under a two-hour film.

Why?

So the audience doesn’t get used to seeing it.

That way when you actually do see the Alien, you know things are about to get real.

It’s genius, really.

Moving onward, as the film had cast some fairly prolific actors for the time, I thought the acting was great.

The focus here, however, goes to Sigourney Weaver, who plays Ellen Ripley, the unlikely heroine of the film.

Now, having a female protagonist in the 1970s was a bold move, but it paid off as Ripley set the standard for female action stars in the following years, and Weaver became a household name thereafter.

The only thing I’d say against the film is that there are a couple of noticeable slip-ups in the special effects.

But they can be chalked up to the limitations of technology as opposed to laziness or corner-cutting… a lot changes in 41 years.

They can certainly illicit a laugh or two amid the tension, but they don’t detract from the film at all.

Final Rating: A

Since it was first seen in theaters all those years ago, it’s impossible to deny the influence that Alien has had, not only on the science fiction genre, but on film as a whole.

From the gritty, bleak, lo-fi universe, the unlikely heroine, and one of the most recognizable movie monsters, Alien is one of those films that “talks the talk,” but also “walks the walk.”

There’s a lot to love here for casual movie watchers and cinema aficionados alike.

I’d definitely recommend at least one watch. Even if you don’t like it, at least you can say that you’ve watched a classic.