The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Earlier this year, I saw and liked 2012's Prometheus a lot....if I was a little confused. From director Ridley Scott, it was a quasi-prequel to his 1979 sci-fi classic Alien. I'd never seen Alien in its entirety in one sitting, having seen pieces here and there. Well, apparently I wasn't the only one trying to catch up with the 1979 film. Netflix had it on 'Long Wait' for the last four months. I waited it out, finally catching up with it this weekend.

In the near future, the Nostromo, a deep space towing vessel, and its crew is returning to Earth with an immense shipment of ore mined on a far-off planet. The crew, including Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt), Kane (John Hurt), the executive officer, and Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the warrant officer, are awakened from a deep slumber. The Nostromo's computer has sensed a message -- possibly an S.O.S., possibly a warning -- from a nearby planet. Following orders, the ship sets down on an Earth-like planetoid, but one of the search party brings something back aboard the ship. The crew debates what to do, but it's too late. The creature is free and loose. With improvised weaponry, the Nostromo's crew now finds itself fighting for survival.

This is a movie that is hard to review. Why's that? Well, for one, that's a compliment. Released in 1979, Alien has basically influenced every horror-science-fiction-thriller made in the 30-plus years since its release. Having seen Prometheus just a few months ago, it's obvious how similar the "new" movie was to the original. We're talking spot-on. So through no fault of its own, this 1979 original does feel -- for lack of a better word -- familiar. It doesn't take away from the quality, but some of the scares and twists are somewhat predictable. Still, it's a gem. Anything that influenced so many movies since is worth a recommendation.

Directing just his second feature film (and three years prior to another classic, Blade Runner), Scott does an admirable job here. There's nothing quite as scary as deep space for me. Who knows what kind of horrors are out there? Oh, and there's nowhere to run...not quickly at least. Scott's vision of the future is just that, very visual. The Nostromo is both well-lit and furnished, but in its depths is claustrophobic, dank, damp and hiding all sorts of fear. In other words, plenty of space for our Alien to hide in. The scares are slow-burns, long scenes with little movement or sound suddenly broken up by quick GOTCHA! bursts that will have you jumping (okay, I did). While it is scary, it's more importantly smart scary. Most of the scares from the unsettling mood; the quiet and foreboding. At its best, this is an underplayed scare fest.

The focus is on the scares and the Alien that starts to dispatch members of the crew. 'Alien' doesn't have time or room for anything else. We're introduced to the characters, but know nothing about them more than what their duties on-board are. It strips away everything superfluous and maintains that focus on the survival aspect. The crew -- fodder for the Alien -- include the always cool Tom Skerritt, the similarly cool John Hurt and Weaver. Also included are Yaphet Kotto as Parker, the engineer, Harry Dean Stanton as Brett, the assistant engineer, Ian Holm as Ash, the medical officer, and Veronica Cartwright as Lambert. There really isn't a weak performance in the bunch, Skerritt, Kotto and Holm especially standing out. The real standout though is a young Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, the intelligent, reasonable-thinking heroine, a part that would help make her a star. A female star in an sci-fi movie was something new, and Weaver is a great lead.

Did I love this movie? No, but I liked it a lot. Seeing it in 1979, Alien would have no doubt had a different impact on me than it does now. It did influence countless movies since -- a credit to its power -- but viewing it now, it does affect the viewing. The surprises are solid, but they're not completely out of left field. If you're paying attention, you'll see them coming. On the other hand, it's still a gem 33 years later. A very pointed story with no dead weight anywhere in sight. Still well worth a watch.

Alien <---trailer (1979): ***/****


  1. upon rewatching this movie, i like to center on Iam Holm since he knows what we don't know.

  2. Even having seen Prometheus, I didn't see the twist coming with Holm. Great twist for a great character.