Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours
Science fiction in film has faced an uphill battle in terms of being taken seriously. Up until the late 1960’s, most sci-fi was low-budget, B-movie schlock more likely to be Mystery Science Theatre 3000 fodder than Oscar potential. This all changed in 1968 with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Now that sci-fi could be considered art it took almost a decade for other films to capitalize on Kubrick’s groundbreaking work. Star Wars (1977) expanded on the special effects and made sci-fi a fun, action-filled ride. Regarding the horror aspect of sci-fi, Alien (1979) remains the founding film of these combined genres.
Not only does Ridley Scott do a fantastic job directing this movie, in particular through the use of elaborate sets, puppetry, and just plain spectacular cinematography; but the fact that Alien has an incredibly strong female protagonist (Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley) puts it leagues ahead of its time in terms of character-driven plot. The fact that she was brought back for the James Cameron sequel, Aliens (1986), is merely a testament to how strong her character’s impact on the original film was. Of course, part of the reason Ripley stood out as a unique personality was due to the antagonist: the eponymous Alien.
The horror of the unseen remains the best technique to build suspense, but the gruesome visage of this creature delivers all the horror the plot had built up. Unlike some of the B-movie horror of earlier decades, this monster is realistic enough to give a legitimate scare without giving away the puppetry technique behind it via poorly designed costumes or visible support wires. The fact that this alien is nigh indestructible (and has acid for blood in case it does get injured) merely adds to the terror of it running rampant on a cramped spaceship.
The epitome of the sci-fi/horror sub-genre, I give Alien 5.0 stars out of 5.