|Directed By||Ridley Scott|
|Music By||Jerry Goldsmith|
|Distributed By||20th Century Fox|
|Release Date(s)||May 25th, 1979|
|Running Time(s)||117 Minutes / 116 Minutes (Director's Cut)|
|Language(s)||English & Spanish|
|Gross Revenue||$104,931,801 Million|
|Proceeding Film||Blade Runner|
|Preceeding Film||The Duellists|
Alien is a 1979 science fiction horror film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto. The film's title refers to its primary antagonist: an unknown extraterrestrial creature (at the time simply referred to as "the alien"), later known as a "Xenomorph".
Alien garnered both critical acclaim and box office success, receiving an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, Saturn Awards for Best Science Fiction Film, Best Direction for Scott, and Best Supporting Actress for Cartwright, and a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, along with numerous other award nominations. It has remained highly praised in subsequent decades, being inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2002 for historical preservation as a film which is "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and being ranked by the American Film Institute in 2008 as the seventh-best film in the science fiction genre.
The success of Alien spawned a media franchise of novels, comic books, video games, and toys, as well as three sequel and two prequel films. It also launched Weaver's acting career by providing her with her first lead role, and the story of her character Ripley's encounters with the titular Alien creatures became the thematic thread that ran through the sequels Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992), and Alien Resurrection (1997). The subsequent prequels Alien vs. Predator (2004) and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007) abandoned this theme in favor of a crossover with the Predator franchise.
The commercial towing spaceship Nostromo is on a return trip from Thedus to Earth, hauling a refinery and twenty million tons of mineral ore and carrying its seven-member crew in stasis. Upon receiving a transmission of unknown origin from a nearby planetoid, the ship's computer awakens the crew. Acting on orders from their corporate employers, the crew detaches the Nostromo from the refinery and lands on the planetoid, resulting in some damage to the ship. Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), Executive Officer Kane (John Hurt), and Navigator Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) set out to investigate the signal's source while Warrant Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Science Officer Ash (Ian Holm), and Engineers Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) and Parker (Yaphet Kotto) stay behind to monitor their progress and make repairs.
Dallas, Kane, and Lambert discover that the signal is coming from a derelict alien spacecraft. Inside it they find the remains of a large alien creature whose ribs appear to have been bent outward from the inside. Ripley, meanwhile, determines that the signal transmission is some type of warning. Kane discovers a vast chamber containing numerous eggs, one of which releases a creature that attaches itself to his face. Dallas and Lambert carry the unconscious Kane back to the Nostromo, where Ash allows them inside against Ripley's orders to follow the ship's quarantine protocol. They unsuccessfully attempt to remove the creature from Kane's face, discovering that its blood is an extremely corrosive acid. Eventually the creature detaches on its own and is found dead. With the ship repaired, the crew resume their trip back to Earth.Kane awakens seemingly unharmed, but during a meal before re-entering stasis he begins to choke and convulse until an alien creature bursts from his chest, killing him and escaping into the ship. Lacking conventional weapons, the crew attempt to locate and capture the creature by fashioning motion trackers, electric prods, and flamethrowers. Brett follows Jones, the crew's cat, into a large room where the now-fully-grown Alien attacks him and disappears with his body into the ship's air shafts. Dallas enters the shafts intending to force the Alien into an airlock where it can be expelled into space, but it ambushes him. Lambert implores the remaining crew members to escape in the ship's shuttle, but Ripley, now in command, explains that the shuttle will not support four people.
Accessing the ship's computer, Ripley discovers that Ash has been ordered to return the Alien to the Nostromo's corporate employers even at the expense of the crew. Ash attacks her, but Parker intervenes and decapitates him with a blow from a fire extinguisher, revealing Ash to be an android. Before Parker incinerates him, Ash predicts that the other crew members will not survive. The remaining three crew members plan to arm the Nostromo's self-destruct mechanism and escape in the shuttle, but Parker and Lambert are killed by the Alien while gathering the necessary supplies. Ripley initiates the self-destruct sequence and heads for the shuttle with Jones, but finds the Alien blocking her way. She unsuccessfully attempts to abort the self-destruct, then returns to find the Alien gone and narrowly escapes in the shuttle as the Nostromo explodes.
As she prepares to enter stasis, Ripley discovers that the Alien is aboard the shuttle. She puts on a space suit and opens the hatch, causing explosive decompression which forces the Alien to the open doorway. She shoots it with a grappling gun which propels it out, but the gun is caught in the closing door, tethering the Alien to the shuttle. It attempts to crawl into one of the engines, but Ripley activates them and blasts the Alien into space. The film ends with Ripley and Jones entering stasis for the return trip to Earth.
Direction & The Design Edit
O'Bannon had originally assumed that he would direct Alien, but 20th Century Fox instead asked Hill to direct. Hill declined due to other film commitments as well as not being comfortable with the level of visual effects that would be required. Peter Yates, Jack Clayton, and Robert Aldrich were considered for the task, but O'Bannon, Shusett, and the Brandywine team felt that these directors would not take the film seriously and would instead treat it as a B monster movie. Giler, Hill, and Carroll had been impressed by Ridley Scott's debut feature film The Duellists (1977) and made an offer to him to direct Alien, which Scott quickly accepted. Scott created detailed storyboards for the film in London, which impressed 20th Century Fox enough to double the film's budget from $4.2 million to $8.4 million. His storyboards included designs for the spaceship and space suits, drawing influences from films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars. However, he was keen on emphasizing horror in Alien rather than fantasy, describing the film as "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre of science fiction".
O'Bannon introduced Scott to the artwork of H. R. Giger; both of them felt that his painting Necronom IV was the type of representation they wanted for the film's antagonist and began asking the studio to hire him as a designer. 20th Century Fox initially believed Giger's work was too ghastly for audiences, but the Brandywine team were persistent and eventually won out. According to Gordon Carroll: "The first second that Ridley saw Giger's work, he knew that the biggest single design problem, maybe the biggest problem in the film, had been solved." Scott flew to Zürich to meet Giger and recruited him to work on all aspects of the Alien and its environment including the surface of the planetoid, the derelict spacecraft, and all four forms of the Alien from the egg to the adult.
O'Bannon brought in artists Ron Cobb and Chris Foss (who he had worked with on Dark Star and Dune, respectively) to work on designs for the human aspects of the film such as the spaceship and space suits. Cobb created hundreds of preliminary sketches of the interiors and exteriors of the ship, which went through many design concepts and possible names such as Leviathan and Snark as the script continued to develop. The final name of the ship was derived from the title of Joseph Conrad's 1904 novel Nostromo, while the escape shuttle, called Narcissus in the script, was named after Conrad's 1897 novella The Nigger of the 'Narcissus'. The production team particularly praised Cobb's ability to depict the interior settings of the ship in a realistic and believable manner. Under Ridley Scott's direction the design of the Nostromo shifted towards an 800-foot (240 m)-long tug towing a refining platform 2 miles (3.2 km) long and 1.5 miles (2.4 km) wide. Cobb also created some conceptual drawings of the Alien, but these were not used. Moebius was attached to the project for a few days as well, and his costume renderings served as the basis for the final space suits created by costume designer John Mollo.
Casting calls and auditions for Alien were held in both New York and London. With only seven human characters in the story, Scott sought to hire strong actors so that he could focus most of his energy on the film's visual style. He employed casting director Mary Selway, who had worked with him on The Duellists, to head the casting in the United Kingdom, while Mary Goldberg handled casting in the United States.
In developing the story O'Bannon had focused on writing the Alien first, putting off developing the characters for a later draft. He and Shusett had therefore written all of the roles as generic males with a note in the script explicitly stating that "The crew is unisex and all parts are interchangeable for men or women." This left Scott, Selway, and Goldberg free to interpret the characters as they liked and to cast accordingly. They wanted the Nostromo's crew to resemble working astronauts in a realistic environment, a concept summed up as "truckers in space". Scott has stated that this concept was inspired partly by Star Wars, which deviated from the pristine future often depicted in science fiction films of the time.
- Tom Skerritt as Dallas- The Captain of the Nostromo.
- Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, the only survivor of the events of the film and arguably the protagonist. The character of Ripley was originally written as a man, but eventually it was decided to make the main character a woman to help distinguish the film from the largely male-dominated genre of science fiction.
- Veronica Cartwright as Lamburt- the navigator aboard the nostromo.
- Harry Dean Stanton as Brett- the nostromo's engineer.
- John Hurt as Kane- the executive officer aboard the Nostromo and the host of the alien.
- Ian Holme as Ash- the science officer aboard the nostromo
- Yaphet Kotto as Parker- The chief engineer aboard the nostromo.
Set Design & Filming Edit
Alien was filmed over fourteen weeks from July 5 to October 21, 1978. Principal photography took place at Shepperton Studios in London, while model and miniature filming was done at Bray Studios in Water Oakley. Production time was short due to the film's low budget and pressure from 20th Century Fox to finish on schedule. A crew of over 200 workmen and technicians constructed the three principal sets: The surface of the alien planetoid and the interiors of the Nostromo and derelict spacecraft. Art Director Les Dilley created 1/24th scale miniatures of the planetoid's surface and derelict spacecraft based on Giger's designs, then made moulds and casts and scaled them up as diagrams for the wood and fiberglass forms of the sets.
Tons of sand, plaster, fiberglass, rock, and gravel were shipped into the studio to sculpt a desert landscape for the planetoid's surface, which the actors would walk across wearing space suit costumes. The suits themselves were thick, bulky, and lined with nylon, had no cooling systems and, initially, no venting for their exhaled carbon dioxide to escape. Combined with a heat wave, these conditions nearly caused the actors to pass out and nurses had to be kept on-hand with oxygen tanks to help keep them going. For scenes showing the exterior of the Nostromo a 58-foot (18 m) landing leg was constructed to give a sense of the ship's size. Ridley Scott still did not think that it looked large enough, so he had his two sons and the son of one of the cameramen stand in for the regular actors, wearing smaller space suits in order to make the set pieces seem larger. The same technique was used for the scene in which the crew members encounter the dead alien creature in the derelict spacecraft. The children nearly collapsed due to the heat of the suits, and eventually oxygen systems were added to assist the actors in breathing.
The sets of the Nostromo's three decks were each created almost entirely in one piece, with each deck occupying a separate stage and the various rooms connected via corridors. To move around the sets the actors had to navigate through the hallways of the ship, adding to the film's sense of claustrophobia and realism. The sets used large transistors and low-resolution computer screens to give the ship a "used", industrial look and make it appear as though it was constructed of "retrofitted old technology". Ron Cobb created industrial-style symbols and color-coded signs for various areas and aspects of the ship. The company that owns the Nostromo is not named in the film, and is referred to by the characters as "the company". However, the name and logo of "Weylan-Yutani" appears on several set pieces and props such as computer monitors and beer cans. Cobb created the name to imply a business alliance between Britain and Japan, deriving "Weylan" from the British Leyland Motor Corporation and "Yutani" from the name of his Japanese neighbor. The 1986 sequel Aliens named the company as "Weyland-Yutani", and it has remained a central aspect of the film franchise.
Art Director Roger Christian used scrap metal and parts to create set pieces and props in order to save money, a technique he had used while working on Star Wars. Some of the Nostromo's corridors were created from portions of scrapped bomber aircraft, and a mirror was used to create the illusion of longer corridors in the below-deck area. Special effects supervisors Brian Johnson and Nick Allder made many of the set pieces and props actually function, including moving chairs, computer monitors, motion trackers, and flamethrowers. Four matching cats were used to portray Jones, the Nostromo crew's pet. During filming Sigourney Weaver discovered that she was allergic to the combination of cat hair and the glycerin placed on the actors' skin to make them appear sweaty. By removing the glycerin she was able to continue working with the cats.
H.R. Giger designed and worked on all of the alien aspects of the film, which he designed to appear organic and biomechanical in contrast to the industrial look of the Nostromo and its human elements. For the interior of the derelict spacecraft and egg chamber he used dried bones together with plaster to sculpt much of the scenery and elements. Veronica Cartwright described Giger's sets as "so erotic...it's big vaginas and penises...the whole thing is like you're going inside of some sort of womb or whatever...it's sort of visceral". The set with the deceased alien creature, which the production team nicknamed the "space jockey", proved problematic as 20th Century Fox did not want to spend the money for such an expensive set that would only be used for one scene. Ridley Scott described the set as the cockpit or driving deck of the mysterious ship, and the production team was able to convince the studio that the scene was important to impress the audience and make them aware that this was not a B movie. To save money only one wall of the set was created, and the "space jockey" sat atop a disc that could be rotated to facilitate shots from different angles in relation to the actors. Giger airbrushed the entire set and the "space jockey" by hand.
The origin of the jockey creature was not explored in the film, but Scott later theorized that it might have been the ship's pilot, and that the ship might have been a weapons carrier capable of dropping Alien eggs onto a planet so that the Aliens could use the local lifeforms as hosts. In early versions of the script the eggs were to be located in a separate pyramid structure which would be found later by the Nostromo crew and would contain statues and hieroglyphs depicting the Alien reproductive cycle, offering a contrast of the human, Alien, and space jockey cultures. Cobb, Foss, and Giger each created concept artwork for these sequences, but they were eventually discarded due to budgetary concerns and the need to trim the length of the film. Instead the egg chamber was set inside the derelict ship and was filmed on the same set as the space jockey scene; the entire disc piece supporting the jockey and its chair were removed and the set was redressed to create the egg chamber.
Alien originally was to conclude with the destruction of the Nostromo while Ripley escapes in the shuttle Narcissus. However, Ridley Scott conceived of a "fourth act" to the film in which the Alien appears on the shuttle and Ripley is forced to confront it. He pitched the idea to 20th Century Fox and negotiated an increase in the budget in order to film the scene over several extra days. Scott had wanted the Alien to bite off Ripley's head and then make the final log entry in her voice, but the producers vetoed this idea as they believed that the Alien had to die at the end of the film.
Editing & Post ProductionEdit
Editing and post-production work on Alien took roughly twenty weeks to complete. Terry Rawlings served as Editor, having previously worked with Scott on editing sound for The Duellists. Scott and Rawlings edited much of the film to have a slow pace in order to build suspense for the more tense and frightening moments. According to Rawlings: "I think the way we did get it right was by keeping it slow, funny enough, which is completely different from what they do today. And I think the slowness of it made the moments that you wanted people to be sort of scared...then we could go as fast as we liked because you've sucked people into a corner and then attacked them, so to speak. And I think that's how it worked." The first cut of the film was over three hours long; further editing trimmed the final version to just under two hours.
One scene that was cut from the film occurred during Ripley's final escape from the Nostromo: she encounters Dallas and Brett who have been partially cocooned by the Alien. O'Bannon had intended the scene to indicate that Brett was becoming an Alien egg while Dallas was held nearby to be implanted by the resulting facehugger. Production Designer Michael Seymour later suggested that Dallas had "become sort of food for the alien creature", while Ivor Powell suggested that "Dallas is found in the ship as an egg, still alive." Scott remarked that "they're morphing, metamorphosing, they are changing into...being consumed, I guess, by whatever the Alien's organism is...into an egg." The scene was cut partly because it did not look realistic enough and partly because it slowed the pace of the escape sequence. Tom Skerritt remarked that "The picture had to have that pace. Her trying to get the hell out of there, we're all rooting for her to get out of there, and for her to slow up and have a conversation with Dallas was not appropriate." The footage was included amongst other deleted scenes as a special feature on the Laserdisc release of Alien, and a shortened version of it was re-inserted into the 2003 "Director's Cut" which was re-released in theaters and on DVD.
- Main article: Alien (score)
The musical score for Alien was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, conducted by Lionel Newman, and performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra. Ridley Scott had originally wanted the film to be scored by Isao Tomita, but 20th Century Fox wanted a more familiar composer and Goldsmith was recommended by then-President of Fox Alan Ladd, Jr. Goldsmith wanted to create a sense of romanticism and lyrical mystery in the film's opening scenes, which would build throughout the film to suspense and fear. Scott did not like Goldsmith's original main title piece, however, so Goldsmith rewrote it as "the obvious thing: weird and strange, and which everybody loved."
Another source of tension was editor Terry Rawlings' choice to use pieces of Goldsmith's music from previous films, including a piece from Freud the Secret Passion, and to use a piece by Howard Hanson for the end credits. Scott and Rawlings had also become attached to several of the musical cues they had used for the temporary score while editing the film, and re-edited some of Goldsmith's cues and re-scored several sequences to match these cues and even left the temporary score in place in some parts of the finished film. Goldsmith later remarked that "you can see that I was sort of like going at opposite ends of the pole with the filmmakers of the picture." Nevertheless, Scott praised Goldsmith's score as "full of dark beauty" and "seriously threatening, but beautiful." It was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, a Grammy Award for Best Soundtrack Album, and a BAFTA Award for Best Film Music The score has been released as a soundtrack album in several versions with different tracks and sequences.
Release and ReceptionEdit
An initial screening of Alien for 20th Century Fox representatives in St. Louis suffered from poor sound in the theater. A subsequent screening in a newer theater in Dallas went significantly better, eliciting genuine fright from the audience. Two theatrical trailers were shown to the public. The first consisted of rapidly-changing still images set to some of Jerry Goldsmith's electronic music from Logan's Run. The second used test footage of a hen's egg set to part of Goldsmith's Alien score. The film was previewed in various American cities in the spring of 1979 and was promoted by the tagline "In space no one can hear you scream."
Alien opened in theaters on May 25, 1979. It was rated "R" in the United States, "X" in the United Kingdom, and "M" in Australia. The film had no official premier in the United States, yet moviegoers lined up for blocks to see it at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood where a number of models, sets, and props were displayed outside to promote it during its first run. Religious zealots set fire to the model of the space jockey, believing it to be the work of the devil. Alien did have a formal premiere in the United Kingdom at the Odeon Leicester Square on September 6, 1979, but it did not open widely in Britain until January 13, 1980. Critical reaction to the film was initially mixed. Some critics who were not usually favorable towards science fiction, such as Barry Norman of the BBC's Film series, were positive about the film's merits. Others, however, were not: Reviews by Variety, Sight and Sound, Vincent Canby and Leonard Maltin were mixed or negative. A review by Time Out said the film was an "empty bag of tricks whose production values and expensive trickery cannot disguise imaginative poverty".
The film was a commercial success, making $78,900,000 in the United States and £7,886,000 in the United Kingdom during its first run. It ultimately grossed $80,931,801 in the United States and $24,000,000 internationally, bringing its total worldwide gross to $104,931,801.
Alien won the 1979 Academy Award for Visual Effects and was also nominated for Best Art Direction (for Michael Seymour, Leslie Dilley, Roger Christian, and Ian Whittaker). It won Saturn Awards for Best Science Fiction Film, Best Direction for Ridley Scott, and Best Supporting Actress for Veronica Cartwright, and was also nominated in the categories of Best Actress for Sigourney Weaver, Best Make-up for Pat Hay, Best Special Effects for Brian Johnson and Nick Allder, and Best Writing for Dan O'Bannon. It was also nominated for British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards for Best Costume Design for John Mollo, Best Editing for Terry Rawlings, Best Supporting Actor for John Hurt, and Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Role for Sigourney Weaver. It also won a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and was nominated for a British Society of Cinematographers award for Best Cinematography for Derek Vanlint, as well as a Silver Seashell award for Best Cinematography and Special Effects at the San Sebastián International Film Festival. Jerry Goldsmith's score received nominations for the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, the Grammy Award for Best Soundtrack Album, and a BAFTA Award for Best Film Music.
Home Video ReleaseEdit
Alien has been released in many home video formats and packages over the years. The first of these was a seventeen-minute Super-8 version for home projectionists. It was also released on both VHS and Betamax for rental, which grossed it an additional $40,300,000 in the United States alone. Several VHS releases were subsequently sold both singly and as boxed sets. Laserdisc and Videodisc versions followed, including deleted scenes and director commentary as bonus features.
A VHS box set containing Alien and the sequels Aliens and Alien 3 was released in facehugger-shaped boxes, including some of the deleted scenes from the Laserdisc editions. When Alien Resurrection premiered in theaters, another set of the first three films was released including a Making of Alien Resurrection tape. A few months later the set was re-released with the full version of Alien Resurrection taking the place of the making-of video. Alien was released on DVD in 1999, both singly and packaged with Aliens and Alien 3 as The Alien Legacy. This set was also released in a VHS version and included a commentary track by Ridley Scott. The first three films of the series have also been packaged as the Alien Triple Pack.
In 2003 20th Century Fox was preparing the Alien Quadrilogy DVD box set, which would include Alien and its three sequels. In addition, the set would also include alternate versions of all four films in the form of "special editions" and "director's cuts". Fox approached Ridley Scott to digitally restore and remaster Alien, and to restore several scenes which had been cut during the editing process for inclusion in an expanded version of the film. Upon viewing the expanded version, Scott felt that it was too long and chose to recut it into a more streamlined alternate version:
Upon viewing the proposed expanded version of the film, I felt that the cut was simply too long and the pacing completely thrown off. After all, I cut those scenes out for a reason back in 1979. However, in the interest of giving the fans a new experience with Alien, I figured there had to be an appropriate middle ground. I chose to go in and recut that proposed long version into a more streamlined and polished alternate version of the film. For marketing purposes, this version is being called "The Director's Cut."
The "Director's Cut" restored roughly four minutes of deleted footage while cutting about five minutes of other material, leaving it actually about a minute shorter than the theatrical cut. Many of the changes were minor, such as altered sound effects, while the restored footage included the scene in which Ripley discovers the cocooned Dallas and Brett during her escape of the Nostromo. Fox decided to release the Director's Cut in theaters, and it premiered on October 31, 2003. The Alien Quadrilogy box set was released December 2, 2003, with both versions of the film included along with a new commentary track featuring many of the film's actors, writers, and production staff, as well as other special features and a documentary entitled The Beast Within: The Making of Alien. Each film was also released separately as a DVD with both versions of the film included. Scott noted that he was very pleased with the original theatrical cut of Alien, saying that "For all intents and purposes, I felt that the original cut of Alien was perfect. I still feel that way", and that the original 1979 theatrical version "remains my version of choice". He has since stated that he considers both versions "director's cuts", as he feels that the 1979 version was the best he could possibly have made it at the time. The Alien Quadrilogy set earned Alien a number of new awards and nominations. It won DVDX Exclusive Awards for Best Audio Commentary and Best Overall DVD, Classic Movie, and was also nominated for Best Behind-the-Scenes Program and Best Menu Design. It also won a Sierra Award for Best DVD, and was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best DVD Collection and Golden Satellite Awards for Best DVD Extras and Best Overall DVD.
- Alien at Internet Movie Database