Alien (1979) dir. Ridley Scott
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, Tom Skerrit, Veronica Cartright, Yaphet Kotto, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt
By Alan Bacchus
Ridley Scott’s Alien is one of the best Blu-Ray transfers of this new medium, from standard definition DVD to high definition BD it's a tremendous leap in the viewing experience. Scott’s innovative visual design looks as clean, crisp, and as visually progressive and modern as anything made on the latest film stocks or the most robust High Definition cameras and lenses of today.
Anyone remotely familiar with his work knows Sir Ridley is very attentive to the details of the frames. As a former art director on TV commercials, the feeling derived from the look of the picture is just as important as how the words are said by his actors.
That said, unlike some of his other films, his actors DO NOT take a backseat to the art in Alien. It’s a perfect collection of character actors who make up the ‘truckers in space’ crew of the Nostromo. In fact, Sigourney Weaver as Ripley who emerges as the heroine was the least known of the seven actors at the time.
Going back, Alien was the brainchild of Dan O'Bannon, former classmate of John Carpenter and co-collaborator of his first feature Dark Star, the failure of which propelling him to write something of similar genre but scary as opposed to comedic. After living in Paris writing a script for an ill-fated Dune project, and meeting sci-fi conceptual artists Moebius, Chris Foss, and HR Giger, Alien was born.
But it took the vision of Ridley Scott to birth this beast of a franchise and elevate horror and sci-fi above either b-movie pastiche of the past or the new space opera stylings of Star Wars.
It's a slow build up to the reveal of the alien. First introducing the audience to the working class characters aboard the mining spaceship Nostromo which has awoken its passengers from its hypersleep early to take a detour on a derelict planet. Once there, via John Hurt (Kane) , in a typically self-effacing performance, we get to see the beautifully grotesque designs of Moebius and Giger inside the crashed alien spaceship.
After Kane is brought back to the ship with a facesucker attached to his head we're treated to the infamous chest bursting scene which is set up beautifully and misdirected by Scott during a fun raucous dinner table conversation. With the alien lose, it quickly grows into adult size and terrorizes the crew taking them down crew members one by one. Until it's one on one with Ripley in her undies with her cat Jonesy.
The other sinister aspect outside of the alien threat is the unseen 'company', which brought them to the planet in the first place and rendered the crew 'expendible' in order to capture a speciman. This theme of corporate malfeasance and high tech imperialism would be one of the common threads through four Alien pictures.
Scott was a notoriously tough artist, pushing his crew to the max to realize his incredibly dense visual designs. In Alien, it's his most intense film, a tone which is achieved through the tough performances from Weaver and her fellow actors and the craftsmen that created all the smoke, flashing lights, and the monster effects of the beast.
One of the other consistencies of all four Alien films is the launching pad the franchise served as for the series' four directors. For James Cameron, he was already shit hot after his hit The Terminator. For David Fincher it was his first feature film, and though Alien 3 wasn’t a hit, his career has grown substantially. For Jean-Pierre Jeunet, it was his first American film, and like Alien 3, it’s not his best work, but influential on his career nonetheless. For Ridley Scott, it was arguably the peak of his career, when he was already legendary in the commercial world, and with this film ultimately became responsible for one of the most venerable movie franchises.
The Alien Legacy set from 20th Century Fox features all four films in both their theatrical cut and director's cut version, and of course mondo special features, commentaries etc.