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Film Review: Alien 40th Anniversary Showing

Alien (1979)
20th Century Fox

Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Dan O’Bannon
Starring: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto

Oh, the sheer thrill of seeing a classic, an all time classic, on the big screen 40 years after it was released. Alien, the original, is nothing short of an all time classic, and the tragedy is, so many people will only have seen it on a small screen. Thankfully, for the 40th anniversary, it has been shown for one night only at cinemas nationwide, and what an opportunity it was for fans to see this film in the way it was meant to be seen. Everything looks better in a cinema, and everything feels better in the cinema, so it was great that my local Odeon was nearly full for this event.

With my reviewer head on, it was interesting to look around and see not only some cinema goers that were half the age of the movie, but also fans that must have seen it when it was first released. Incredibly, there were still the moments that would create the most stir on a first viewing, still causing similar reactions in this most recent showing. The shock of the first appearance of the face-hugger, the horror of the chest burster, and the jump scares were so well crafted, that even after watching the film a hundred times, they still hold their initial response. This is the mark of a master craftsman, Ridley Scott, at his most inventive and ground breaking.

The sets, the direction, the attention to detail, the world building, the characters, all crafted so three dimensionally, that 40 years on, others are still trying to replicate it. Perhaps it was lightning in a bottle, momentarily establishing the perfect blend of horror, sci-fi and thriller, that makes Alien so special, but after watching it on the big screen, with a real live audience, it is easy to see why it is so spectacular. Sure there are small details that feel more dated today than others. The computer room where Ash chats with “Mother” and some of the signage on The Nostromo suffer slightly, but when the crew are in the deeper realms of the ship is where the atmosphere becomes so real, claustrophobic and dangerous, that as a viewer you can almost smell the terror.

Everything is lit to perfection, allowing us small glimpses of an alien creature that is so well designed that it’s impossible to know what it truly looks like. The ship is shrouded in steam and moisture, making it look run down and on the point of collapse, a trope re-used so often that we forget Alien must have been one of the first films to do it. The crew are a who’s who of acting, with John Hurt and Ian Holm going so against type, and no member of the cast giving anything but their best.

Most of all the alien itself is a thing of beauty. On the big screen, and with 40 years of hindsight, it’s easy to see the Xenomorph in Alien, however, can you imagine the first viewing of this film in 1979? Scott is so sparse with the shots that the alien appears in, that it’s easy to understand why nobody could describe what the thing actually looked like after a screening. HR Geiger’s design was so unusual that it was hard for the original audience to make sense of what they were seeing. The two pairs of teeth and elongated head with no other recognizable features, must have been mind blowing in 1979. The only true reveal is at the end when Ripley blows it out the air lock, but by then viewers were probably too traumatized to care.

If this films plays near you, go and see it on the big screen and marvel at the production values, direction and care that was obviously lavished on this film but the entire crew.
40 years old, but fresh as it ever was, the mark of a classic.