(22 June 1979) Director: Ridley Scott
This is not considered an Action Movie but it satisfies, and it's the first in a series of my favorite kind of Action Movie: the holy Trinity of Action/Sci-Fi/Horror, plus it spawned a host of frightening scenarios: Aliens (1986) (families and a queen!), Alien3 (1992) (your worst nightmare of a sequel that isn't a nightmare), Alien: Resurrection (1997) (they swim! and they cast Winona Ryder?!), Alien vs. Predator (1993) (how could they not?), AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004), and AVP: Alien vs. Predator - Requiem (2007). Think of it this way, all those movies are just a testament to how great this movie experience was.
It featured the scariest monster yet (created by Stan Winston who would also create the Predator in 1987)—gestating in a human host, sporting teeth that glimmered like liquid mercury, with an extra set that snapped forward at lightning speed for extra reaching power, and a tail with a knife-like tip (just in case all the other extremities are busy biting and clawing, this one can stab). Plus, it's on the loose in your spaceship, but you don't dare kill it because it has acid for blood that will burn through the hull. The pre-gestation stage looks like a soft-shell crab crossed with a snake and just wants to spit something down your throat that will grow inside of you and turn into the lightning-fast-and-slippery newborn from hell.
From the 'hatching' out of its human host (one of movie history's
most memorable moments and if you have never seen this movie stop
reading immediately and see it) <<SPOILER ALERT>>
through the chest (!), within hours it grows into a
taller-than-human-sized killing machine with a big, long shiny head
that looked like the back of a beetle—and it drools, gobs of
disgusting sticky, slimy goo.
Only one crew member, one woman, was instantly aware of the danger. Sigourney Weaver as "Ellen Ripley". She stands in contrast not only to her fellow male crew members but to the only other female crew member who is 'typical'. Ripley's cooler head does not prevail however, and when their ship, "Nostromo", transporting a group of miners (in hypersleep) back home is waylaid to investigate a distress beacon on the Planet LV-426, they are awoken and required to land and investigate. They find a derelict spaceship with 'eggs' inside. One of them becomes 'infected', but Ripley is the only one who sees it this way. The Captain sees only a 'thing' on the crewman's face and wants to bring him in and take it off. If only it were that simple. Despite Ripley's attempts to quarantine them first, the ship's Science Officer overrides her and admits them. This is the fatal mistake.
Once the alien is on board, it's a
who-dies-next guessing game. You don't
know what is going to happen, but you know it will be bad.
Even before you see the creature full size, you have an idea of
the danger in the back of your mind from a giant petrified
crewman in the spaceship (aka the astronaut or "space jockey")
they investigated. In the preview for the movie, this was
the most intriguing thing. What is that!? The size
of it, the distress in what looked like its face, the palpable
sense of danger it gave to every moment the crew wandered around
inside. Subtle but powerful. If you can guess what is going to
happen next, a movie is no good, but this movie kept you
guessing. (This was 1979 before the run of "dead
'who dies next' a Horror subgenre.)
The acting cannot be over praised. The seven person (and one cat) crew deliver terror, each in their own ways, and the increasing body count feeds the frenzy of horror and determination that drives Sigourney Weaver's powerful female character (an unequalled performance). From her second-in-command-to-Captain-Dallas role, Ripley evolves into the real leader and trusts her instincts by questioning the Science Officer who is putting them all at risk. Although if the crew had not stepped in to help when the Science Officer attacked her she might have been killed, Ripley, now even more determined, begins to run on high-octane fear and a fierce self-preservation instinct not to become a victim. This take-charge, no-bullshit, drive-to-stay-alive race is a riveting performance by Sigourney Weaver, and her character is the undeniable backbone of this, and all the subsequent films.
Near the end, just when you think she's safe, Ripley is forced to face the creature in very close quarters. Looking very human and vulnerable in her tank top and underwear (what's scarier than confronting an alien? confronting an alien in your underwear) as she slips into her spacesuit, the tension is palpable. . . and you're thinking: What is she doing? . . . Is she seeking protection from her suit? Does she just feel safer getting dressed? Stop wasting time and just kill it! You find out soon enough. And although the movie leaves you so freaked out and paranoid you think that somehow another alien might be inside the cat and that they are leaving the door open for a part two, the ending is very satisfying. It's all about Ripley.
When Aliens, the sequel, came along, they were smart enough to recognize and deliver on that, and pumped her up even more! You go girl!! Alien delivers on the what-drives-the-character question, and Ripley's progress from second-in-command with good instincts, to an all-out-take-charge-Action-Movie-Hero makes her the "Super Man" for women—Jerry Seinfeld can keep him, I'll take Lieutenant First Class Ellen Ripley.
Until this movie (1979), 1968's
2001: A Space Odyssey
was the pristinely clean standard for movie spaceships. This
movie's ship seemed dark and dirty, which gave it more of an
edge (reality rather than fantasy) and helped bring to life the
characters as common workers on a kind of "barge" or "scow" just
doing a job. Identifying with them in this way really cranked up
the scary factor. It's hard to convey how different the movie
looked for the time. Like
would in 1982, it set its own mark others scrambled to emulate
or try to surpass.
87Eleven Action Design
| Chad Stahelski + David Leitch