Alien is a film that has an alien in it. If you didn’t figure that out from the title, you’re either looking way too deeply into it, or you simply aren’t paying attention. “Alien” is not an acronym or anything like that, (although I’m sure some fans of the film have figured out a way to make it one), but instead refers to the antagonist of the film, an alien.
Said alien ends up aboard a ship that lands on a planetoid because it receives a possible distress signal from it. Some of the crew dismount from the ship, with one of them having some sort of organism latch onto his face. One aboard the ship, the organism still doesn’t let go, and when they try to cut it off, it bleeds acid. Eventually, the scientists of the ship get this thing off the man’s face, unaware of what it did to him. I’ll leave how a fully-grown alien ends up on the ship a surprise, but suffice to say it’s revolting and not a very pleasant sight.
And this is when Alien becomes a worse film. What happens is it degenerates into a slasher film, except the killer is an Alien that seemingly can’t be killed. We’re told by one of the scientists, Ash (Ian Holm), that it’s a perfect organism. It has a temper to match, and decides to use the ship’s air ducts in order to pick off the crew members one by one. But if it’s so perfect, why doesn’t it just get them all when they’re talking, possessing no weapons and are essentially helpless? Well, because that would make a shorter movie, that’s why. It would also mean that we wouldn’t get to see the alien do all of its cool alien things more than once.
This creature is unique and interesting to look at, but it gets less so the more frequently we see it. Thankfully, we don’t see it in full all that often, which is a smart decision on the part of director Ridley Scott. This thing has two (or is that three?) mouths, both of which move like stiff, mechanical doors, but that is probably the worst part of the visual effects done for the film.
The rest of the effects hold up just fine, whether it be the outer space scenery, the way the first organism latches onto one of the character’s face, or the fire that eventually is used as a method to exterminate this unwelcome guest. None of it looks out of place, and doesn’t end up taking you out of the film while you watch it. This leads to you appreciating them after the film concludes, because they do end up holding up so well.
The plot works best at the beginning, when nothing has actually gone wrong yet. It allows the tension to build up so well, that it actually seems a bit of a letdown when the alien starts coming in and murdering the crew. We get depth in the characters, the film is atmospheric, and everything seems to be working perfectly. It’s really unfortunate that it gets worse as it progresses, but it never gets bad enough to become a terrible film, instead, just feeling slightly worse.
During the first forty or so minutes, the characterization is really strong. We learn about two lead characters, the aforementioned Ash, and Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). Ash has a hidden motive, while Ripley just wants the creature to be killed. They’re both strong characters in their own right, and a twist involving one of them that happens mid-way through will certainly surprise you given how much depth they’re given during the first segment.
The biggest problem that Alien has is that it doesn’t really satisfy the desire to be scared. It has a couple of jump scenes that I’ll admit actually startled me, but that’s all they did: Startle. In terms of feeling scared, that happened a bit before anything went wrong, but after the alien started haunting the crew, I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t even worried that the characters were going to be killed, except for a cat, which gets sympathy simply because it is a cute little kitty cat.
The secondary characters also don’t get much depth to begin with, or development once the film begins. One of them wants to kill everything, one of them agrees to everyone in a higher position, and I forget the others; they’re just there to be alien food anyway. They aren’t even people we like, they’re just bodies there to be devoured, which means it doesn’t matter when their lives are in peril. This doesn’t help the fact that the film just isn’t all that scary, because if we did care for these people, we might get scared when they’re about to be killed, eaten, or otherwise removed from the screen.
I’m glad I gave Alien a second chance though. I had watched it before, and was so bored that I was convinced it wasn’t a good film. I was wrong, because it is is actually a good film. It’s just not a great one, or one that manages to stay as good as it opens. It loses steam, which sounds odd considering the pace picks up as it goes along. When it’s slower paced and the tension is building, it’s actually a lot better than when it becomes a slasher with an alien as the main villain.
Alien is a film likely worth your time, although it gets worse as it progresses. There are times when it’s brilliant, but also times when it’s no different from other slasher films, only instead of a person, it’s an alien that is described as “perfect.” The special effects hold up, the two main characters are strong, and the film is atmospheric, although not all that scary. I say you should give it a watch, although don’t expect something truly frightening, because Alien is not a film that has a lot of scares.