“Jaws in space.” That’s how this film was originally pitched. That is a pretty accurate description. Arriving in 1979 (two years after “Star Wars” which had studios scrambling for SciFi flicks), Ridley Scott’s Alien stands not just as a great SciFi film but also as a great suspense/horror movie. Interestingly, this was only Scott’s second feature film but it continues to be one of the most beloved of his movies and any movie in the SciFi genre. The film was a huge box office success. It was made for around 11 million dollars and brought in nearly 105 million dollars in box office receipts. To top it all off, it received an Academy Award for visual effects. So does this beloved SciFi film deserve to be on a list of the all time greats?
Should this film be considered a classic? With Alien you have another film that has been ingrained in popular culture thanks to the iconic scene of the alien bursting out of the chest of a man. Even people who have never seen the movie know what the reference is about. But one scene does not make a movie. Alien has a wonderfully tense story. There are only seven human characters on the screen and much of the action takes place on their ship, the Nostromo. This allows the viewer to get to know each character pretty well and also the small sets lend a foreboding sense of claustrophobia to the entire thing. Speaking of the sets and effects, they are wonderfully gritty and realistic looking even today. The physical sets and effects of Alien put much of the CGI seen in movies today to shame in terms of realism. When you see the sets of the Nostromo it looks like a real ship that could conceivably exist. Sure, the technology on the ship looks dated today, but the sets have such a marvelous sense of realism that it pulls you in and truly makes you forget you are looking at a movie set. On top of it all, the performances of the cast really sell the entire concept. This was the movie that launched Sigourney Weaver’s career and she puts in a great performance. Although, it’s Ian Holm who steals the show for me. Oh, and in case I haven’t said it yet, yup, this one’s definitely a classic.
Would I own this film? Probably. I can’t give a definitive yes or no. I do really enjoy this film when I watch it but it is not one I often find myself wanting to revisit. It is definitely deserving of the accolades it has received and if you like SciFi and suspense/horror films this is probably the film that combines those two elements better than any (the film Moon from a couple of years ago is also a pretty good film in same vein, although that one had a bit too much language for me to want to watch again).