In space no one can hear you scream
The future lies before the human race, and that future is the stars! The start of every year is always the best time for aspirations - be it loosing weight or hoping to pierce that starry sky with you spiraling rocket ships, so I'm using it as an excuse to do a movie that I do watch at least yearly, and am ashamed to say in the two some-odd years of doing this I haven't gotten around to yet. The original movie of this would-be franchise left many an impression across the time of it's existence so it's almost silly for me to even do up one of these about it - but then again some people don't know my opinion on this classic, so it's worth it. Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you are just bursting with excitement for an excuse to remember or re watch this one.
Our story starts drifting in space, and this title-card reveal will really set the mood for a lot of the movie to come. A ship floats through the picture, and our camera switches inside to reveal the empty and somewhat creepy corridors. In the bridge, a console blinks to life, displaying a number of readouts and commands. Slowly, the ship starts coming alive, lights flickering on and air flowing through the rooms and corridors. Life support kicks on and a bank of cryo-tubes opens, revealing the crew stowed inside. They slowly start to wake, leaving the pods and gathering in the mess hall. After some waking up, they all get to their jobs ready to prepare for landing back home on Earth, only to find out they aren't even in the right system yet. Seems the ships A.I. Mother had something else in mind for them.
Picking up some form of signal, they undock their landing craft from their resource cargo and go to check on the signal, but their landing is a little rocky and the ship takes some damage. While the repair team fixes up the damage, the captain decides to take two others with him on a space walk to check out the signal they were receiving - already there and don't really have a choice if they want to get paid, so might as well right? They find a derelict craft, seemingly as though it crashed at some point, but given it's alien design who really knows - and the best thing to do with an unknown thing is go in and check it out. They are discovering all manner of strange architecture, with walls that look like bones and strangely textured - and in the middle of a giant room they find what can only be assumed is an alien in a giant chair. On closer inspection, it seems it's chest has exploded form the inside and it has been long dead. Nearby, they find a drop down - something they soon will wish they hadn't found.
In the pit they find eggs, and in those eggs a creature so friendly it wants to hug your face - enough so that it will break straight through your helmet to do so. The three return to the ship, and the science officer lets them in against protocol on the basis of trying to save the life of the crewman who has this strange beast attached to his face. When they try to pry it from his face, it tightens the grip of it's tail around his neck, and when they try and cut it off they discover it's blood is some form of molecular acid - eating its way through multiple floors of the ship (but stopping short of the hull). Best to leave the science officer to deal with it for now, and the others get back to working on getting home. After re-docking with their cargo module, they all get called down to the infirmary to find the crewman is free of the beast (which seems to have died) and is feeling fine. One last dinner before cryosleep they decide - but they didn't expect the guest they get, one that's a hungry growing creature that they aren't equipped to deal with. Will the crew survive this encounter of an unfriendly kind?
There's a very unique feeling style to this movie in how it presents the future. In a way, although it's noticeably science fiction future, it's also very rooted in the past with most the technology interfaces being very basic and mechanical looking compared to the modern visions of holographs and projections. It's very much a "working mans" sort of future, grungy and dirty, with closed-in corridors and piping everywhere as though it's more of a workshop built for function than any sort of pleasure cruise or sleek galaxy explorer. In a way, this is pretty important to the movie, as one of the strongest elements in this tale is the setting - it's dark and spooky and for all purposes feels much like a haunted or dark house set in outer space. Random chains hang from the ceiling, pipes are dripping with moisture, and the only rooms you'll ever be in that feel clean is the science bay and the cryo room.
The crew does a great job acting in this fantastical fare. They feel as though an actual crew of workers stuck together on a spaceship long haul would feasibly feel - down to silly things like arguing over shares and bonuses, but still finding time to laugh at each other. Some of the lines can feel kind of pushed at times - as though it's more the writing demanding it then a character actually wanting to deliver it - but when it comes time to put up some reactions on the screen, these people do great. The dinner scene alone has some great reactions to the event going on, to the point where it's easily believable that the director and crew may have left out the inclusion of certain practical effects before shooting. That being said, the audio can be a bit hit or miss - in the setup I'm watching it, for example, the audio balance between characters was a little shot (I assume this is primarily my setup, and would be fixed via better balancing and/or use of headphones) and it wasn't uncommon for me to resist the urge to turn the volume up when I couldn't hear one character, fully knowing the next time the other character says something I would be deaf instead.
Effects work is splendid for it's time. Seeing well-shot miniatures used as spacecraft never gets old, and the amount of details on the Nostromo is glorious. The creature designs are this wonderful combination of organic and nightmare, weaving in H R Giger's established style of blending eroticism and the breadth of life and death and earning that nickname of "beautiful monster." Of course, that being said, there are scenes when the full suit is in the shot where the movements don't quite look all that well, and it's most effectively used earlier on when things are shot in a manner that obscures most of it. There are more effects than just the creatures of course, and they are also done pretty well - and yet, not one to shy away from pointing out faults when tooting my fan trumpet I should also point out there are inconsistencies that crop up if your watching. Some of these may be from scenes that didn't make it into the Theatrical Cut (which is the one I decided to watch, since I watched the "Director's cut" when I viewed it last year) that just didn't get double-checked before they were left in (such as Ripley's random bloody nose), and although some of the effects do make sense (such as the tracker's screen), how the scenes involving them might not make as much sense (not being able to tell what level something is on when moving, when we've scene it can distinguish vertical movement).
I do love this movie, despite it's little mishaps and it's slow pace however - something I'd be remiss to not mention. Fans of the old slow-burn spooky flicks, such as the dark house genres that have atmospheric, creepy settings with that slow body count will appreciate this much more than a slasher movie fanatic, for example. As much as it can be seen as a monster movie, the pacing is a bit slower - especially at the beginning - than one would usually get, even considering the normal amount of build to the monster. The director's cut helps the pacing a bit, cutting out some scenes to add in content later (and still ending up with a shorter run time), and it isn't uncommon to find people on both sides of the "which is better" camps. It's worth a rental for those who can stomach it's content (it is R rated after all), even though most murders do take place off-screen, so you never get too much detail in comparison to some of the movies you might see nowadays. I own it, I love it, and there are a lot of others out there who would agree - and I'd wager it's worth the chance on it to find out if you are one of them.