The further we go in special effects, the more movies show us and ignore the unseen, the more people will return to dark horrors like this one.
It’s hard to look at this film without considering the sequels and knowing the alien itself, however when made the alien was mostly unseen and a mystery. It’s difficult to forget what you’ve seen, but it’s important to approach this film first if possible rather than joining the series late.
It’s amazing that this is over 30 years old – apart from the actors looking so young, the film doesn’t feel dated at all. The sci-fi visions here are still bleak and futuristic as they were then – this is not the Star Trek vision of the future. The foreboding exists long before John Hurt spills his secret, Scott’s direction is excellent throughout. Once the alien is “born” the tension is cranked up and the characters dispatched one by one (a formula we know oh-so well now!)
However here the characters are not merely alien-food but have some dimension to them. Weaver is excellent, while the support cast is full of great support actors (Stanton, Kotto, Hurt, Skerritt, Holm), but of course the real star is the one we see least of.
We barely see the alien in full detail, most of the time it is set in shadows, moving with deadly intent.The alien here is not simply a killing machine as seen in later films but is cruel with it. Witness the alien trap a female crew member and slowly rub up her leg, moving with slow seductive movements before moving with terrifying speed to kill another crew member sneaking up behind it. The slow movements betray the alien’s pure cruelty.
The film is a study in terror. It may not be as action packed as the other films in the series but it brings the claustrophobia of being hunted to a new level.