Alien – 40th Anniversary (Review)

From its stripped-back poster design to the invention of the modern horror/sci-fi genre. Ridley Scott’s Alien has embedded itself into modern cinematic history. While continuing to enthral new audiences with a trip into the coldest reaches of space. Cleverly combining the emergence of the 1970s slasher film with classic 1950s science fiction. Alien weaves both into a stark and bold new genre in science fiction/horror. While using its stark colour pallet and sound to create a vacuum of isolation and terror for the viewer.

As a horror film, Alien plays with many of themes found in the creation of the slasher horror genre. With a particular focus on the film that started the slasher sub-genre of horror The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Providing us with a single female, stripped of power while struggling against a relentless killer. However, unlike Texas Chainsaw, Alien merged this with the emerging themes of late 70s female empowerment. For example, while Ripley ends up alone in her battle, she is also part of a crew featuring two strong females. Within a ship’s computer named ‘Mother’. Therefore while paying homage to the chase of a shrouded killer, Alien also integrates female strength, in a way few other mainstream horrors would manage until the late nineties. With Weaver giving us a heroine who is not only strong and resilient but also far more intelligent than her male counterparts.

While horror may sit at the heart of Alien, its science fiction roots are clear to see. Especially within the realms of B-Movie science fiction of the 50s from Invasion of the Bodysnatchers to IT – The Terror From Beyond Space. While weaving the fear of the unknown generated in classic science fiction with the terror of the horror. In turn, creating a journey where human life hangs in a balance of technology and life vs the inhospitable vacuum of space. With the introduction of a species superior to humanity acting as the equivalent of an intelligent and sadistic murderer.

Meanwhile, the crew of the ‘Nostromo’ are all flawed, driven by emotion and a need to comprehend their environment. While being equally scared of losing control. The ship acting as a microcosm of humanity, a floating life raft of everything we all hold dear. From fragile security to our hope in the ingenuity of humankind. The ships very structure and place in the wide and cold reaches of space feels delicate, tense and liable to fail. A feeling transplanted to its crew, who are never truly at ease in the operation of the ship. Only relaxing when eating and drinking together, briefly forgetting the environment they sail within.

Add to this delicate mix an emergency transmission of unknown origin and a planet of strange archaeological finds. And a species who understands its environment better than its human counterparts. And the result is pure cold terror.

40 years on Alien is still fresh and remarkably undated. Much of this is achieved through a filmmaking process that understood the importance of balancing effects with the story. Focusing on the need to build suspense, while never revealing too much, a homage to classic horror and thriller. Alien uses its stark colour pallet and sound to create a vacuum of isolation and mystery for the viewer. Mixing the sounds of technology and organic life to create a truly immersive landscape of the built versus the natural. While Jerry Goldsmith’s sublime score plays with the overriding feeling of isolation; a symphony of space.

Visually Alien uses is the stark colour set to further imbed a feeling of fear. With the rich deep earthly colours of the human crew set against the stark clinical white of technology and the silver of the Alien.

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