There is a debate as to whether or not Alien is a horror movie. I am here to say that it is in no way a horror movie, but a classic sci-fi thriller. Now I will not deny that the film is scary, it is absolutely horrifying, but not in the blood and guys kind of way (even though there is plenty of this). I am also here to say that it is a film that is technologically advanced for 1979 and had I not gone into the film knowing its year of release, I would have certainly guessed it was made at least a decade later. What Ridley Scott offers in his sci-fi film is not only a glance into what genius he would bring with Blade Runner, but also a framework for any space related movie made since then. Alien is a masterpiece that I often wondered about, but never watched from beginning to end and am glad I recently took it upon myself to view it, because I am enamored with the film now both from an aesthetic standpoint and a critical standpoint as well. If I were to teach a course on fantasy/science fiction filmmaking I would have no trouble adding such a film to the syllabus.
Alien follows the crew of the commercial towing ship Nostromo as they are returning from an assumedly long journey throughout the depths of outer space. The diverse crew includes burly, yet refined Dallas (Tom Skeritt) who sees his place as the masculine superior on a ship of competitive persons. Kane (John Hurt) a lanky and soft spoken crewmember who adheres to what he finds best for the group. The ship also includes the dreary and stoic scientist Ash (Ian Holm) who is concerned with his own ulterior motives, despite the larger concerns of the crew. The crew also includes two disgruntled mechanics the wisecracking Parker (Yaphet Kotto) and his agreeable lackey Brett (Harry Dean Stanton). Finally, the crew has a stern yet approachable woman named Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) who proves to be the most adaptable member of the crew. The crew of Nostromo decides that they are fed up with being taken advantage of by their corporate parents and attempt to return, only to be interrupted by an indecipherable signal coming from a close planet. Although the crew does not desire to explore the signal, they discover, thanks to the ever present logic of Ash, that their contracts require them to check out the source and reason for the call. The call, the crew discovers, is coming from an alien ship, which has been destroyed and completely ransacked, with only a skeleton of an alien left. During investigation, Kane is attacked by a worm-like alien form and is rushed back to the Nostromo's medical bay with an alien life form attached to his face. The creature disgusts the crew and Ripley even attempts to deny the contaminated crew entrance, yet Ash demands they allow Kane aboard. What follows is an infestation by an alien that proves indestructible and slowly kills of the other crewmembers. Ripley attempts to hack the computer mainframe to figure out the reasons for stopping to pick up the specimen. Ripley is stopped by an enraged Kane who claims that suppressing the alien is impossible and proceeds to viciously beat Ripley. With the aid of a few crewmembers, Ripley fends off Kane and discovers that he is actually a cyborg. The robotic Kane proceeds to explain that the alien life form has destroyed other groups and has yet to be defeated. Panicked the crew takes on destroying the alien, only to be picked off one by one leaving the Ripley to escape by herself. In a famous film moment, Ripley fends off the alien in her underwear, ultimately, launching the alien out of the hatch of the escape pod to float endlessly in space. Ripley now exhausted sits in her seat and explains to the computer her findings.
Alien is a film that often pops up when discussing powerful female characters in film. This makes complete sense given that the character of Ripley is perhaps the most empowered female action hero short of The Bride in Kill Bill, or any other Tarantino film for that matter. To have a liberated female character is a very unusual thing in filmmaking. Tragically, films in a post-feminist world still adhere to a traditionally masculine demeanor in which males must be the hero. In most every sci-fi film female characters fate would rest entirely on the actions of men and their opinion or actions would be irrelevant. Ripley is a character who controls not only her own fate, but eventually the fate of others. She is doing so for her own good and is the first to actively undermine the patriarchal capitalist system, which has placed the crew on such an absurd mission. Furthermore, she realizes the illusion of a "mother" figure as being oppressive when its directions are to subject human beings to death for the advances of unseen forces. All of these elements lead to Ripley being a feminist heroine. However, the scene in her underwear proves problematic to this argument, particularly when you consider Laura Mulvey and her theory of the masculine gaze. I would argue this problem by stating that Ripley strips first to acknowledge her femininity and then to reassert her power. She does not kill the alien as a victimized woman, but instead places on a uniform and beats down on the alien. From a critical standpoint, she is taking her outdated form of woman as suppressed and instantly evolving it into a force that can counter oppression, which is in the form of an unbeatable alien. With this as a reading, the alien is patriarchy and Ripley is a feminist revolution, which is the only way to beat oppression. With that, I am done rambling and will leave you to make sense of whatever I just said.
What I will make very clear is a necessity to own this movie on Bluray. It is amazing and a staple of any respectable movie collection.