Viewed – 17 May 2009 DVD
In 1979, following George Lucas’ crowd-pleasing space opera Star Wars two year’s previous, Ridley Scott unleashed upon unsuspecting audiences the complete polar opposite to that film’s feel-good showmanship – a dark, claustrophobic sci-fi horror that went on to become a classic. Spawning 3 sequels of varying quality, with James Cameron’s epic ALIENS the obvious high point, this smaller, gentler paced film had an intelligence and realism that was fresh, exciting, and genuinely terrifying.
Viewed today with much more jaded eyes, as a horror fan burned out on the torture-porn of Saw, Hostel and their like … the subtle qualities of Scott’s film are somewhat subdued, but I still admire it as a lesson in slow-burning shocks, that many have imitated but few have got quite as right as this. Sigourney Weaver plays Ripley, a character that has become an icon in sci-fi horror and probably her finest role to date, who is surprisingly, to anyone more familiar with the sequels, more of a secondary cast member with at the time Tom Skerritt and John Hurt taking top-billing. The premise is simple – the crew of a mining ship is awakened from sleep by a distress call, and so they have to investigate and unwittingly bring on board an alien life form, that soon begins to pick off the crew one by one. Classic horror set up, a cliché by almost anyone’s standards, granted, but as with any classic film the concept is not necessary what makes it work – more how the story plays out and the skill of the director and cast to suck you in and make you grip that seat. Ridley Scott is at the top of his game here with expert camera work, some stunning set design and alien make-up effects inspired by artist H R Giger’s weird paintings, and perfectly timed shocks that should still make you jump even after your umpteenth viewing. That’s not to say this film is perfect, as theres some shocking moments of character stupidy, and one plot hole involving the sudden huge size of the alien that is never satisfyingly explained.
Unfamiliar am I with the differences here between the director’s cut and the original, apart from the fact this version is six minutes shorter than the original, but what I have sat through remains tight, atmospheric and gripping cinema … that is easy to recommend.
Verdict: 4 /5