We rewatch Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien movie on budget Russian edition DVD (don’t ask) in anticipation of the upcoming Prometheus . . .

Alien (1979) pic
In its original review Variety called Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) an “old-fashioned scary movie.”

They got that right.

At the time director Scott and writer Dan O’Bannon was accused that they had stolen the storyline from A.E. van Vogt’s 1939 Astounding story, Black Destroyer. (The matter was settled out of court.)

However John Brosnan in his seminal history of celluloid sci-fi, The Primal Screen, is closer to the mark when he called Alien “our old friend the fifties monster movie all dressed up in posh new clothes. To be more specific, it’s It! The Terror from Beyond Space all dressed up in new clothes.”

After all, as Science Fiction Film Source Book (edited by David Wingrove) puts it:  “Apart from both tales [Alien and Black Destroyer] having to do with large, nasty alien predators, there is little in common between them. Van Vogt’s Coeurl is a creature who can manipulate vibrations and thus energy, and who builds himself a spaceship, planning to lead his race on a conquest of the galaxy. Scott’s alien is simply a super-efficient shark; a shark with the ability to adapt to almost any conditions.”

Nostromo spaceship pic

Despite its “unoriginality” both Brosnan and Wingrove admits that Alien is one of the best science fiction movies ever made.

Why? As Walter Hill, one of the movie’s producers put it at the time: “Ridley solved the problem of getting the audience to take the material seriously by layering over it this absolute veneer of technique – enormous technique. I thought the visuals were remarkable beyond my expectations.”

As Variety says the movie is set in a “highly realistic sci-fi future, made all the more believable by expert technical craftsmanship.”

Alien egg chamber

Then there are the strikingly original set designs by artist H.R. Giger. “Giger’s designs are disturbingly organic in style,” Brosnan writes in Primal Screen. “The giant entrances into the shape are so vaginal in shape that they would have Freud coughing on his pipe smoke!” According to Wikipedia actress Veronica Cartwright described Giger’s sets as “so erotic . . . it’s big vaginas and penises . . . the whole thing is like you’re going inside of some sort of womb or whatever  . . . it’s sort of visceral”.

That was back in 1979. So how does Alien hold up 33 years later?

Remarkably well to be honest. The movie may have sparked an entire subgenre of its own and countless cheap Syfy Original Movies throughout the years, but Alien isn’t one of those of those “classics” which make you go “yeah, but you must remember that it was quite revolutionary in its time.”

Alien made us jump at all the right places again even though we have seen the movie countless times throughout the years – a testament to the skill with which it was made and we promise to take back everything nasty thing we ever said about Ridley Scott!


Read part 2 of this article next week.


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Category: Features, Movies

About the Author

James has been running The Sci-Fi Movie Page since Before the Beginning of Time Itself (TM), i.e. since the site's inception in 1997. In addition to sci-fi James also likes 1970s motorbikes and chili dogs although he doesn't own the former and no longer eats the latter. He currently resides in Kiev, Ukraine for reasons best left unexplained.

  • Jonathan Heart

    This film easily earns it’s place as a classic. Almost everything about the film worked for me. The only thing that bothered me then and still bothers me now is the scene in the vent shaft where Tom Skerritt was attacked by the alien.  It looks way too much like a guy in a costume.  But, in total, this is an outstanding landmark film that damn near reaches perfection. I’m very excited about Prometheous.   

  • Anonymous

    I have been watching the Director’s cut and the *only* aspect of the technology shown in Alien that is weak is the depiction of computer technology.  Back then computers were not the ubiquitous things they are now, and UI technology was still crude to say the least, and the movie reflects this.  Contrast this with how it has been depicted in Avatar and now Prometheus, with UIs that do not exist yet but are very logical extensions of what is just starting to appear (e.g., holographs).



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