Exactly thirty-three years ago, on May 25th, 1979, Alien was released in theaters. Since then, we've gotten a few direct sequels, a couple of forgettable crossovers, countless novels, hundreds of comic books, and a handful of video games. Now, after so much time has passed, director Ridley Scott is looking to return to the universe he established with his sci-fi horror masterpiece. On June 8th, his new film Prometheus hits theaters. It's been said by the people behind the new film that it is not a direct prequel that leads up to the events of Alien, but is instead indirectly connected and is a part of the same universe.
If you've seen the theatrical trailer for Prometheus, you'll see that not only does it have a strikingly similar visual style to Alien but there is one particular mysterious creature often referred to as the "space jockey" that is seen in both Alien and predominantly in the trailer for Prometheus. There may be more going on here then the creators of Prometheus want us to know. Which is why, before the movie hits, it would be a great idea to watch Alien again. Having that great film (which I'm about to discuss) fresh in your mind will likely give you a more enjoyable and rewarding experience at the theater on June 8th.
While sitting comfortably within IMDb's top 50 movies of all time, Alien is a horror film first, and a sci-fi film second. and it's had clear and significant impacts on both genres as the years have passed. The story, direction, pacing, characters, designs all have been imitated in other works since it's release. But there's nothing quite like the original. Needless to say, spoilers for Alien follow below.
The story follows the seven-person crew (pictured at the top of the article) of the mining ship, the Nostromo. They are on their way home from a mission with a load of minerals when halfway through their voyage, the ship's AI receives a SOS signal from a nearby planet and following standard protocol, the AI awakens the crew from hypersleep to investigate. The crew is expectedly let down when they discover they weren't awakened because they were almost home, but they follows orders anyway and investigate the signal.
Once they descend upon the planet's surface, three members of the crew are dispatched to track the signal on foot. What they find is a vast and mysterious crashed alien ship which is seemingly empty. Inside, the team discovers the skeleton of a large creature (the space jockey) who appears to have been dead for a very long time. Upon closer examination, the leader of the Nostromo's crew, Dallas (Tom Skerritt) notices that the space jockey's chest was burst open from the inside. We find out from what a little bit later.
While exploring the ship further inside, Kane (John Hurt) has a face-to-face encounter with an alien life form that ends up leaving him in an unconscious state. The other two members who were with Kane, Dallas and Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), catch up with him and discover that the spider-like alien has attached itself to Kane's face. They immediately abandon their investigation and bring Kane back to the Nostromo for medical treatment. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) who is trying to follow protocol, isn't crazy about the idea of letting this unknown organism into their ship and tells Dallas and Lambert that they can't bring him inside. Dallas barks at Ripley, demanding her to open the ship's hatch door, but she still refuses. Undermining Ripley's authority, the ship's android, Ash (Ian Holm) ends up letting them in.
Good morning to you too!
The alien, commonly referred to as a "facehugger," proves difficult to remove and if cut, bleeds incredibly strong acid. Eventually, after days have passed, the thing removes itself from Kane and dies. Soon after, Kane wakes up, and aside from desperately needing to brush his teeth and wash his face, he seems fine. The crew is pretty creeped out by the whole ordeal but basically laugh it off at the dinner table before they plan to go back into hypersleep and finish off their trip.
Except that dinner is interrupted when Kane starts screaming and convulsing, and then with his back on the table, an alien bursts out of his chest, soaked in blood. Before formal introductions can be made with the crew, the alien skirts down the hallway and disappears somewhere within the ship. Uncomfortable with their new unexpected dinner guest, the crew decides to hunt the little bugger down. Unfortunately, the ship is a bit of a labyrinth and finding it proves to be difficult. By the time the first crew member, Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) finds it, the alien has grown to be roughly the size he is and it ends up killing him with ease.
Ripley asks the ship's AI on how to deal with the alien, but during her inquiry discovers that the company the mining crew works for wants the creature brought back to them and considers the crew expendable. (This company, Weyland-Yutani, is another thing that ties in to the upcoming film, Prometheus.) After learning this secret, the company-sponsored android, Ash, attacks Ripley but before he can kill her, he's put out of commission by Parkour (Yaphet Kotto) via a fire extinguisher to the head. Before being killed, Ash remarks that the alien they're up against is the perfect organism and that there is no way to kill it.
Slowly but surely, Ash's words seem to bear some truth as in a series of effectively suspenseful and bloody sequences, the ship's crew (with the exception of Ripley) is taken out by the marauding alien. At this point, the mining mission and the desires of Weyland-Yutany have been throw out the window. Ripley, being the last surviving crew member, is aiming to just live through this and decides to prepare an escape shuttle and set the mining ship to self-destruct. Despite being stalked by the alien through this process, her plan works and she escapes in her shuttle. Unfortunately, she discovers that the unwanted alien guest is inside of it with her. Desperately, she dons a spacesuit and opens up a hatch within the shuttle, sucking the alien out into deep space and then blasting it with the shuttle's thrusters. Needless to say, Ripley gets her much-needed hypersleep that night.
This is your fault, space jockey, isn't it?
Despite the film's age, it holds up incredibly well. Use of practical effects and fantastic set design certainly help retain the film's longevity. The scares are pretty great and I was surprised that I caught myself jumping a couple times throughout the movie, despite being extremely familiar with it. The real standout feature of Alien is the relentless sense of dread conveyed. The crew members of the Nostromo know next to nothing about what they're dealing with and they all end up having to learn the hard way, slowly but surely.
Within the film Alien, there are clear connections to Prometheus that I've pointed out. It will be fascinating to see how the space jockey, Weyland-Yutani, the aliens, and the rest of the established universe play in to this new film. But all of that all aside, it's also going to be exciting to see how Prometheus stacks up against Alien just as a movie. Based off of the promising trailer, Ridley Scott looks to be reinvigorating the genre once again, and I have high hopes that his new movie will be just as nightmare-inducing as his old movie, Alien was.
Fixed Rating: 10 out of 10