I was really looking forward to seeing Alien. After “2001”, it was one of the few ‘culturally significant science fiction’ films I hadn’t yet seen. Throw in a famous movie monster and some iconic sequences (facehugger, chestburster, etc.) and I assumed I was guaranteed to have a good time. And while I’d file this under the “glad I finally watched it” column, I wouldn’t say I particularly loved it.
I know, I know!—let’s get my preferences out of the way: I’m admittedly not a huge fan of horror and I struggle when I can't buy into a character or two. While I ultimately learned to like Ripley, in general, I found the crew to be uninteresting, unintelligent, and underdeveloped. They all seemed to be victims, less of the alien or their company, but of their own bad decisions. The motives that drove the story felt like clunky plotting masquerading as “mysterious”. And while I understand why some folks say the “effects still hold up”, there were a few "meh" puppet shots and a some glaringly choppy bits (in particular, a bad jump-cut between puppet Ian Holm and actual Ian Holm).
I’m not trying to seem like I’m in a full-on Alien-hating camp; there were things I liked. Like I said, I learned to like Ripley and enjoyed seeing her grow in confidence out of necessity. The film was also tremendously well shot. Close-up framing of the crew’s faces added to the feeling of claustrophobia (one of my favorite shots was a full shot of Ripley depicting the moment she’s the “last one standing”). I also thought the addition of a “fourth act” was brilliant and generated some of the most sincere tension/action in the film.
I know some folks really like this film and I’m sure seeing it on the big screen in ’79 was a hell of a trip. After all, it combines Star Wars-level visual effects with Jaws-like tension. Also, after perusing other reviews of the film, I’m now actually really intrigued to give Aliens a go as it seems different in ways I prefer. But as far as the original film is concerned, it played like an uninteresting bottle/horror episode of Doctor Who, just without the Doctor to clean up everyone’s mess.