The crew aboard the Nostromo, a mining vessel, are awakened from hypersleep to respond to a distress signal that is coming from a remote planet. While investigating the derelict spacecraft, one of the crew members comes into contact with an alien life form that attaches itself to his face. He is brought back on board for medical attention, but after the creature frees itself, the real terror begins as the seed it has planted in its human host gestates into a monstrous killer.
Gritty. Realistic. Terrifying. Just a few words that could be used to describe Ridley Scott's ALIEN, the Science Fiction Horror film that changed it all. ALIEN provides us with a grim future that is not unlike the present, where Earth's resources have been depleted and must be harvested on distant worlds. The crew aboard the Nostromo are not daring cosmonauts, but blue-collared workmen and women, appropriately coined 'space truckers' by critics and fans alike for their crass behavior and neighborly personalities. These are average people that are thrust into extraordinary circumstances while performing their mandated duties. We relate to them because we are them, separated only by a few thousand light years.
Whether directly influenced or not, Dan O'Bannon's brilliant script bears a striking resemblance to a number of earlier space terrors. In QUEEN OF BLOOD, two cosmonauts are sent to Mars to recover an alien ambassador from the wreckage of her spacecraft, but the green-skinned beauty sates her hunger for blood on the crew once aboard ship. PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES is far more suspect as an early inspiration for the design and story structure in ALIEN. Mario Bava's technicolor space epic begins with two spaceships setting down on a remote planet in response to a similar signal for distress. After their investigation, several of the crew members turn up dead as others fall under the influence of an unseen alien invader. The characters and low-tech vision of futuristic space travel can also be attributed to O'Bannon's earlier film DARK STAR, a collaboration he had worked on with John Carpenter while attending USC.
Under Ridley Scott's direction, however, ALIEN produces some of the most frighteningly unexpected moments the Science Fiction genre has ever known. From the time the crew lands on the planet until the film's thrilling climax, we are not given a moment to recover from the growing tension and sheer terror. The audience is only temporarily disarmed as Kane rejoins the crew with no reason to suspect any further danger, but this is hardly any relief. In the famous 'birthing' sequence, the expressions of disbelief and utter horror that plague the faces of the stunned crew members mirror our own. Our increasing heart rates mimic the pulsing sound of the scanning device as Dallas enters the ventilation system to flush the creature out. Just when we think that all is well, we are shocked to find that the creature is even more clever than we ever could have imagined.
Dan O'Bannon would call upon an unusual Swiss artist that he had met while working on an early adaptation of DUNE to give the alien its unique design. H.R. Giger is known for his bizarre joining of metal and flesh, creating a grotesque beauty out of his highly-sexualized but cold and mechanical imagery. The designs used for the creatures, worlds, and spacecrafts in ALIEN are entirely unlike anything the world has ever scene as a result. As Ash describes it in his final moments, the alien is 'a perfect organism [whose] structural perfection is matched only by its hostility... [It is] unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.' Giger's insectoid realisation of the creature brings this statement to life with no less perfection.
ALIEN also introduces us to the character of Ellen Ripley, Warrant Officer aboard ship, but soon to become a film icon and the embodiment of female empowerment. Brave, resilient, and resolute, Ripley is a woman of action, and no one has portrayed these strengths better than Sigourney Weaver. Had the crew not broken Ripley's strict quarantine procedures, they likely could have avoided this entire mess, and it is ultimately up to her to finally destroy the creature when no one else can. These traits would only continue to grow in her future appearances within the series, especially when Ripley faces off with a horde of aliens and their temperamental queen in ALIENS.
ALIEN has unquestionably become one of the defining classics within the Science Fiction genre, spawning countless sequels and spin-offs across all forms of media along with an endless list of imitations. Everything from action figures, custom t-shirts, boxed DVD sets, and much more have appeared with the ALIEN logo over the years. The strength of character and design along with the unmitigated terror that was first found in ALIEN is what sets it apart from all other films.
Movies like ALIEN:
CREATURE, FORBIDDEN WORLD, QUEEN OF BLOOD, PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, INSEMINOID, DARK STAR, PREDATOR.