The film that started it all, Alien represents a director at the top of his game: Ridley Scott lends his classy, atmospheric, moody style to what is essentially a monster movie slasher horror flick and the result is both genuinely unnerving and unique.
Not to mention friggin' great.
Only very few Ridley Scott movies have that dream-like quality to them and although Alien is most definitely one of them, this is more of a nightmare than anything else. H. R. Giger's detailed, oppressive style shot so poetically creates an atmosphere that's comforting on the surface yet holds an underlying darkness and mean-spirited violent chaos at its heart. One second you're having a nice dinner with the crew, the next you've got blood spurting out of some guy's chest into your eyeballs. Yes Alien has that typical slasher template of people-being-killed-off-one-by-one-by-something-unpleasant but it's so well done you do get attached to those characters, no matter how douchy they first come across. The alien isn't really a creature you can get behind, it really is pure evil: it sneaks up on you, it's gross, drools all over the place, impregnates your FACE...
These aliens are assholes.
The plot sees the crew of the Nostromo, a mining spacecraft, take a detour on some god-forsaken planet where they are made to investigate the inside of a seemingly deserted ship (or they don't get paid lol). Things don't quite go according to plan, as you can imagine, when it turns out that the ship isn't really as derelict as it first seemed. One crew member brings back an unknown organism onto the ship, against acting-captain Ripley's (Sigourney Weaver) orders, and it's not too long before the shit hits the fan.
Alien is one of the best-looking horror films you'll ever see: it's got that cold, clinical, futuristic perfection that's very 70's, complete with crazy amounts of useless blinking lights etc. but with a neat, very 80's mix of simplistic computers spouting out 01001000-type patterns and weird-ass robot sounds. The technology, the setting, it's an eclectic mesh, similar to how Blade Runner mixed different cultures and influences to create a brand new standalone, yet familiar, world. Somehow, it all fits.
The cast also includes John Hurt, Harry Dean Stanton (is there a movie he's NOT in?) and Ian Holm, all great, but Weaver is our hero here. Early on in the film, you barely notice her: she's kind of there but no one really listens to her or even really acknowledges her authority. When the shit starts going down, though, she slowly but surely starts making sense to everyone and becomes the true leader. Her transformation from relatively transparent crewmember to ass-kickin' heroine is subtly achieved and feels completely deserved. No wonder they kept Ripley as the franchise's driving force: you can't have an Alien movie without Ripley.
Unless it's Prometheus I guess...
Overall, Alien may look a bit dated now after James Cameron's more expensive, more polished sequel and Scott's latest outing, some effects looking more plasticky than they probably should and the alien itself not being quite as impressive as he's looked in more recent representations but the film's unique atmosphere has never been matched. It remains to this day my favourite Alien movie and one of the best sci-fi flicks out there.
Now to re-watch Aliens...