It’s taken me many, many years to watch the now-classic Alien. Before viewing I knew what the alien itself was and that the film was a horror/thriller. Horror movies are not my favorite type of film, as I’ve said previously (check out Scare Factor? The State of Modern Horror Movies). There are a few rare exceptions to that rule. Alien is one of them.
Alien wastes no time on sucking you in and making you feel uneasy. The sound design (why no Oscar?) combined with Jerry Goldsmith’s unsettling score started to heighten my nerves and no one had talked yet! It takes time for the movie to get going on its scare factor but Alien is so atmospheric during these moments you almost forget its a horror movie. And that’s about when the titular character, now known to fans as an Xenomorph (Xeno for short), finally starts scaring the you-know-what out of the ‘truckers in space’.
This was both Ridley Scott’s first sci-fi film and major motion picture. He shows every bit of the talent he retains to this day, creating sweeping landscape shots and knowing when to switch between camera angles to get the right views. Speaking of camera views, they help make the scare factor crank up to about fifty thousand for the last forty minutes or so.
Alien‘s greatest triumph is in its sheer terror: you’re so sucked into the film and scared the creature will jump out of a dark corner that when it does happen, it’s almost relieving- until you realize he may strike again and become instantly terrified. Legendary director Alfred Hitchcock once said to do a horror film right, you have to create suspense. Alien does that to a masterful degree, with no small part going to its set design. The ship interior was actually one huge set, with sections really going together as they appeared in the movie.
And speaking of the ship, called Nostromo, more credit to the sound team for making it so quiet. Half the time the crew make the only noise, and the ship itself doesn’t make much noise until near the end of the film. Most of that is taken up by Goldsmith’s music, which is much more traditional than what one may expect, but in a strange way it compliments the film nicely.
A note if you want to listen to it: I recommend Intrada’s 2007 “complete motion picture soundtrack” to hear Goldsmith’s full original score. FOX did some tweaking to the music heard in 1979, replacing entire tracks with strange sounds or even tracks from different Goldsmith scores. Luckily, recent Blu-Ray releases have restored Goldsmith’s actual music to the film.
Of course I have to mention the visual effects and the late, great H.R. Gieger. Geiger’s designs for everything alien-oriented has stood the test of time, the monster itself becoming a pop culture icon. The rest of the team built intricately detailed miniatures and large sets, making the effects have a classic, almost timeless feel.
Alien was a terrifyingly amazing experience. If you have not seen the film, especially if you are a film/sci-fi fan, it’s a must-watch. Before you do, just remember that “in space, no one can hear you scream”.