“This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off…”
Surprisingly, Alien is actually the film I have watched the least out of the first three instalments of the franchise. When you’re a kid it is much easier to get on board with James Cameron’s high octane sequel or the weirdness orchestrated by David Fincher in Alien 3. The slow tension build of Alien was never really my thing, not when I could be watching Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure for the millionth time instead.
The basic plot of Alien is a simple one. Ship crashes, alien shows up, people have a bad time, Ripley. There is so much more going on under the surface of Ridley Scott’s Oscar winning classic however. Having a cast as talented as Ian Holm, Sigourney Weaver and the inimitable John Hurt usually helps of course. Just as important as the cast though, are the nightmarish landscapes and unforgettable life forms produced by mad genius H. R. Giger. The aliens are unlike anything imagined before or since in the entire sphere of science fiction and this is one of the main reasons why the franchise has endured over so many decades.
Ellen Ripley is one of cinemas most all time iconic characters and is surely the greatest female protagonist. It is a little disheartening that in nearly 40 years she is still unrivalled but those are pretty big boots to fill. Having Ripley as the leader aboard the Nostromo allows for a personality that is much more interesting and nuanced than most of her male peers. Veronica Cartwright as Lambert is the only other female character (apart from the alien) and she provides a stark contrast to Ripley. Lambert is selfish, panicked and hysterical and works as an effective counterpoint to emphasise how strong and compassionate Ripley can be, as Jones, the ship’s cat, can attest to.
Alien is without a doubt one of the most compelling and iconic science fiction films ever made. It spawned a wonderful franchise that I will be dipping into in the next few weeks. Watch this space.