A Summary and Review of Alien

A Summary and Review of Alien

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  1. Alien is a prime contender for the greatest horror movie of the twentieth century. It combines a mastery of suspense with relatable, driven characters to create a film that is as provocative as it is chilling.

    The 1979 Ridley Scott production stars Sigourney Weaver as third officer Ripley, Tom Skerritt as Captain Dallas, and John Hurt as second officer Kane. The movie opens when the cargo ship Nostromo intercepts a supposed SOS beaming from an unexplored planet. After landing on the planet’s surface, a three-person team including Dallas and Kane makes its way out to track down the signal’s origin.

    The team discovers an alien craft whose crew is long dead. As they search the ship for clues to what happened, Kane finds a trove of eggs below the main deck. While he goes down to investigate, Ripley, still aboard the landing craft, learns that the signal is a warning rather than an SOS. Kane quickly discovers why when one of the eggs hatches and a creature resembling a giant spider attaches itself to his face.

    The other members of the investigative party hasten Kane back to the science lab, where Dallas and science officer Ash find that they cannot remove the creature without killing Kane. As upset as they are, they are even more disturbed when a few hours go by, the creature detaches itself, and Kane seems unscathed.

    The crew decides to eat a last meal before setting a course back to Earth. In the most famous scene from the film, Kane comes to a gory, agonizing, and protracted death as an alien bursts from his chest. The creature takes off for the air ducts, and the remaining crew members hunt it down with fatal results.

    Alien follows a formula typical of horror films: once the monster enters the picture, it picks off the characters one by one until a lone survivor remains. Unlike most horror films, however, this film answers the central question of, "Why don’t they just leave the haunted house/ deserted campsite/ etc.?" The Nostromo‘s crew cannot leave. They are trapped in deep space on a cargo ship whose shuttle only has enough room for one person.

    Scott elevates the suspense in this tense plot so masterfully that even seasoned horror-movie veterans can’t help but sit on the edges of their seats. He plays into viewers’ expectations–they know the alien lurks just around the corner, but so do the characters. The cargo ship’s crew presses on just the same, knowing that their choices are certain death and slightly-less-certain death. 

    The heroine’s reactions to these options enhances the film’s likeability. Ripley is not a typical horror-movie Last Woman Standing. She has a job to do and decisions to make, and she knows screaming and playing up her femininity will do nothing to defeat her enemy. When the going gets tough, Ripley gets going with a jury-rigged flamethrower. 

    The movie’s titular monster deserves a tip of the hat all its own. As an alien intelligence (and the director’s cut indicates that it could, in fact, possess intelligence), its motives and movements are by nature unknowable. The eponymous character, and character it is, earns the movie’s horror designation and secures its place as a prime example of the genre.

    Alien has become such a classic that there are few who have not seen it in its entirety. It is, however, a classic for a reason, and it is worth either a first viewing for those who have not been introduced or a revisit for those who love it already. 

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