Alien's plot is essentially the same as its title. The Nostromo is a cargo ship heading back toward Earth with its crew: Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), Ash (Ian Holm), Parker (Yaphet Kotto), Kane (John Hurt), Dallas (Tom Skerritt), Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton). It picks up a signal from an unknown but definitely alien source, and is mandated by law to investigate. It does, and...
Here's the thing: Alien isn't really a movie that lives and dies by its plot. Yes, the events of that plot are the movie's one and only driving force, but that isn't what makes this movie interesting. (Battleship also features alien-versus-human violence. It's hardly a panacea.) Scott - with huge help from Jerry Goldsmith, who wrote the score - creates an atmosphere of panic and doubt, imbues emptiness and silence with suspicion, and, shockingly, manages to surprise. Alien is 33 years old, and it's still more surprising, more suspenseful, and more imaginative than so many movies since then that have had far bigger budgets (Alien cost $33 million in 2010 dollars; by the same metric, Transformers cost $158 million) and access to far more impressive special effects. The plot doesn't make this movie entrancing. The all-but-forgotten emphasis on style and aesthetics make the plot entrancing.
|This is actually the final battle|
The acting is tight and understated. This was Weaver's breakout role, and she does a fine job. Kotto is also particularly charismatic. This isn't a film for over-the-top performances, or over-the-top anything. Anyone can keep an audience's attention by slamming explosions into one another for two hours (as sad as that is). Alien finds tension in what you don't see and what isn't happening, and it will keep you in limbo for its entire running time.
It's not a perfect movie. It's about fifteen minutes too long; oddly, it's not that it spaces out what it has too widely. It's paced wonderfully. It's just that it seems to disobey its own tightly wound narrative arc and ends up fizzling its way across the finish line instead of burning. It's about 1:40 of perfect movie, though, and it will leave no doubt in your mind as to why it's considered such a seminal work in its genre.
Highlights: It's a balm for anyone who's sick of most movies' assault on the senses; the effects and alien designs; seeing John Hurt and Ian Holm (you might know him better as Bilbo Baggins) as much younger men
Lowlights: Hardly any, other than the confused denouement