Alien: 40 years on
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40 years ago, Ridley Scott’s Alien was released in the US to critical acclaim and box office success. The film won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, three Saturn Awards, and a Hugo Award. So, how does it hold up four decades later? In short: pretty well.
In 2002, Alien was deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress. It was also selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In 2008, it was ranked as the seventh best film in the science fiction genre by the American Film Institute and the 33rd best film of all time by Empire magazine. Awards and accolades are arbitrary things, but Alien has earned its legacy and reputation. A lot of older horror doesn’t stand the test of time. Whether that’s because we’re used to better CGI now or as an audience we’ve just become desensitised to gore, violence, and threat, it’s just not always particularly scary anymore. But Alien’s existential dread still feels fresh. A big part of its fear-factor is its realism. The crew of the Nostromo are not on an epic adventure in deep space, they’re working. They’ve completed a job and they’re on their way home. Things are mundane and uneventful. Everything is as it seems until it’s not, and it’s this violent disruption of the quotidian that makes the events of the film seem so sinister. Sci-fi often makes space seem full of life, but Alien makes its audience painfully aware of how large and empty the universe is. None of the characters really get to explore their surroundings; instead, we are stuck with them inside their quiet, nondescript ship. They are left without help from Earth and the corporate powers-that-be, and as the film progresses Ripley is very much on her own. Unlike a lot of popular science fiction movies, the characters in Alien are not trying to save the world – the fate of humanity is not in their hands, they are simply trying to make it back home alive. The chilling message from ‘Mother,’ the ship’s computer system, really drives this home: “Priority one – ensure return of organism for analysis. All other considerations secondary. Crew expendable.”
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