Movie Review #845: ‘Alien’ does a fantastic job building atmosphere, but it lacks some of the more well-refined thrills its legacy may suggest.
By Red Stewart
|Rated R (contains gore, sci-fi violence, profanity)|
Not too long ago I found myself in a discussion about the merits of Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” and whether it qualified as a cinematic masterpiece or an imaginative failure. Someone claimed that it ruined the legacy set forth by Scott’s 1979 seminal “Alien”, resulting in another to retort that if “Alien” was released today, it would be passed over as a cheap slasher flick.
I don’t agree with this assessment at all, but I often wonder what the word “classic” should entail. To me, a classic film is a movie that’s not only established a strong historical heritage within the framework of its genre, but as also aged well, and regarding the latter, I can’t quite say that “Alien” has done that. Everyone’s familiar with the story by now; a hostile foreign organism accidentally winds up on a commercial spaceship and begins hunting down its crew. And while this does sound like the perfect setup for a B-movie horror flick, it’s Scott’s direction and the real human emotions displayed by the cast that elevate it above those foregrounds.
The prosthetics and practical effects have held up very well in the 21st century; this creature looks, sounds, and moves like a living nightmare, from its larvae stage to the full-grown beast ingrained in pop culture. The plainness of the ship’s interior emits a very desolate and bleak mood throughout the film, while Jerry Goldsmith’s low-key music plays up the tension perfectly.
Despite all these accomplishments, though, time has not been entirely kind to Alien. For starters, I never felt scared watching it. There was this one scene that was brilliantly executed on Scott’s part (you’ll know it when you see it), but aside from that things were more suspenseful than truly terrifying. Scott’s pacing was good, but he didn’t emphasize the isolating chilliness enough like Kubrick did with “The Shining”, nor did he play out the monster’s emergence as frequently as Michael Myers appeared in John Carpenter’s “Halloween”. The attempted balance between the two normally dreadful elements comes off as more uncomfortable than the synergized experience Scott was likely going for.
However, my main complaint has to be that “Alien” gives in to too many horror tropes that have become cliché in the 21st century. Things like nearly every character being a caricature over a fleshed out person, individuals making idiotic decisions, and of course, leaving only one person alive by the end of the movie.
Don’t get me wrong; “Alien” is a solid blockbuster with some fantastic set pieces and elegiac direction from Ridley Scott. However, horror buffs and cinema aficionados might not find it that spectacular or engrossing.