Parker: Let's hear it. Let's hear it.
Ripley: It's using the air shafts.
Parker: You don't know that.
Ripley: That's the only way. We'll move in pairs. We'll go step by step and cut off every bulkhead and every vent until we have it cornered. And then we'll blow it the fuck out into space!
Alien begins rather slowly, but it gains significant momentum in a few scenes. Nostromo, the commercial towing spaceship of the "Mother" Corporation, is set on its return course to Earth. Upon receiving a possible distress signal from an apparently desolate planet, the 7 member crew is woken up from their hibernation. The company policy forces them to investigate the source of the signal. Dannas, Lambart and Kane (3 of the crew members) bravely set out to investigate it. Surprisingly they find some remnants of an unoccupied spaceship on the hostile planet. Inside its chambers Kane comes into contact with some egg like objects. One of them burst open and an fibrous little creature throws itself at Kane.
Kane is taken into medical facility on the spaceship. After a while the creature disappears. Shortly it is found dead. Eh! No damage done. It’s almost too good to be true. Celebrations are in the air. The crew decides to throw Kane a grand dinner party. The normal dinnertime chit-chat is shortly interrupted. Kane starts choking and muzzling. Suddenly a creature spurts wide open from Kane’s chest, as if it were made of plastic, and evades into the more gloomier areas of the spaceship, leaving Kane dead as a rat. Shortly after Kane, it is Brett’s turn. All possible attempts of the remaining members of the crew to capture/kill this monster form the rest of the movie.
Director Ridley Scott’s well-honed talent of creating a dark/tensed environment only elevates the film to an entirely new level. In 1979 no technology existed for creating fancy computer generated images of the Alien. A lot of ‘manual’ effort had been put behind the very design of this creature. While a lot of parallel was drawn from real-world insects, a lot of things were derived from just fragments of pure imagination. That certainly contributes to the somewhat obscure ‘reality’ of the creature. Throughout the film a constant fear of an arcane entity is felt, which is successful in keeping the viewers on their toes.
Alien come with quite a handful of feminist intimations. (Maybe a first in a genre of Science Fiction?) It is one of the factors that make it ahead of its time.The simplest of them being the fact Ripley (a woman!) happens to be the only surviving character. In a rather controversial scene, she is shown in her mere underpants before she finally blows the Alien off into the space. A parallel to the old myth “The weakest of them shall defeat the death” could be drawn in reference to the particular scene. There might be other inferences too, but no tangible explanation has been provided by Mr. Scott in past 30 years since the release. Other intimations include the way Alien chooses Kane to conceive and latter give birth to its child. (By the way, Is the Alien male? Is it female? Or is from an altogether different gender? Again, no explanation is provided!). Even the preponderant corporation is named 'Mother'.
Actually it is this Mother corporation that proves to be the main villain behind the misfortune of the Nostromo crew. Being a just another commercial ship, none of the crew members are sophisticated enough to handle the adversities of the mission. In fact Ash (the android planted between the unsuspecting members of the crew, in order to carry out direct orders given by ‘Mother’) imperturbably tells others when his identity is exposed
"I can't lie to you about your chances, but... you have my sympathies. “
Ash has clear instructions that first mission priority is to bring Alien back home, and the crew is expendable. Ash argues that it is essential to bring Alien back to earth because ‘such a species has never been encountered with and they need to perform all kind of tests’. It seems a rather farfetched logic and common sense doesn’t comply with it. (Is it worth the risks? Why send a commercial ship with unarmed crew?) As one of the crew member suspects, the Alien could be boon for military purposes. In such a case the future of whole humanity could be at stake. The underlined message is crystal clear; it would be the evil corporates’ money craving policies that would bring upon the Apocalypse (if ever) and not some random monster from outer space. It might even be much before we acquire technological prowess to manufacture giant spaceships travelling thousands of light-years. (Maybe is this the reason actual timeframe of the movie is never revealed?)
The name of spaceship Nostromo (derived from the famous 1904 novel Nostromo, by British novelist Joseph Conrad) means “our men” or “the third man” in Italian. It is interesting to know that there can be two interpretations of the term. Ash (the science officer) acts as a Nostromo for the Mother Corporation, while Ripely (the 3rd officer of the ship) could be the Nostromo for the rest of the crew-members.
In a movie which hugely rests on the performances, as there are no super-effects or fancy locations to keep the audience immersed, almost every actor does a solid job. Especially Sigourney Weaver is first rate portraying the role of Ripley. Set design (Ian Whittaker) is commendable. Background score (Jerry Goldsmith) attributes for most of the uneasiness felt throughout the film. The Cinematography (Derek Vanlint) is excellent for its time. The movie has a very strong visual feeling about it. The particular usage of light and shadows is remarkable. Especially in the scenes constituting the recovery of the lost alien, the foreign planet is captured magnificently by underexposed wide shots. On the flipside the pacing could have been a little better, as several of the scenes add only to the length of the movie. Especially the long shots when one of the crew members searches empty halls trying to find a lost cat are very predictable. Many questions are left unanswered in the screenplay, leaving up to the viewer to have his/her own interpretations.
Overall Ridley Scott does manage to pull off an engaging as well as intelligent film which, as rightly said by many critics, happens to be much ahead of its time.
P.S. I almost forgot to mention. There is also a cute cat in the movie, what more can one ask for? :-)