In the year 2122, the Nostromo, an interstellar commercial towing-vehicle, is on its way back to Earth, hauling twenty million tons of mineral ore. The Nostromo holds a crew of seven and is controlled by an onboard computer system simply called "Mother" by the crew.
While floating through space, Mother receives an apparently unidentifiable signal from a moon orbiting a nearby planet. The computer wakes the crew from stasis, so they can investigate the signal's origin.
After setting down on the moon, Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) and two other members of the team, Kane (John Hurt) and Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), set out to find where the signal is coming from. What they find is an enormous derelict ship of unknown origin. The group discovers a large fossilized creature at the controls of the ship, with its ribcage bent outward.
After exploring the spacecraft further, Kane finds a chamber beneath the main deck containing thousands of leathery eggs. As Kane examines the chamber and its contents, one of the eggs opens and an organism leaps out, burning through the visor of Kane's spacesuit and attaching itself to his face.
Dallas and Lambert recover Kane and bring him back to the Nostromo for treatment, where Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) refuses to let them in, citing quarantine protocol. Another member of the crew, Science Officer Ash (Ian Holm), disregards Ripley's decision and lets them in.
Back onboard, in the ship's infirmary, Dallas and Ash attempt to remove the organism from Kane's face, but soon discover they can't remove it without harming him. When they try to cut off one of its digits, the creature's highly acidic blood splashes on the floor and burns its way through several decks of the spaceship.
While the crew contemplates what to do with Kane, the creature eventually detaches from his face on its own, and is discovered dead by Ash. Kane awakens and seems fine, citing only a bad dream as his only side effect of the encounter.
Later while at dinner, we learn that all is not well with Kane. He begins to choke and seizure, his limbs flailing about out of control. The crew spreads him out on the table in an effort to hold him down when suddenly a spurt of blood appears on his shirt.
The sounds of bone breaking and flesh being ripped fill the ship's kitchen as a parasitic life form bursts through Kane's chest. This is the alien for which the film is named. A terrifying creature, which gestated inside Kane's body after the facehugger (the aptly-given name of the egg creature) laid an embryo in Kane's throat.
Swiss painter, sculptor, and set designer H.R. Giger designed the Alien creature for Ridley Scott's film, which is characterized by Freudian sexual undertones and multiple phallic symbols. The alien is presented in an overall feminine form - a flawless, terrifying organism with highly concentrated acid for blood and no eyes, perhaps the most haunting feature of its anatomy.
Throughout the film's 116-minute length, the creature begins to grow and develop from a "chestburster" to a full-grown organism. It sheds its skin and eventually comes to be larger than a man, towering its victims in stature.
Dallas and the rest of the Nostromo's crew must track down the creature as it moves through the airshafts of the ship. The film feeds off natural fears of the dark and unknown. The atmosphere of the Nostromo itself is horribly claustrophobic and unsettling. The ship's computer, Mother, is reminiscent of HAL-9000, the cold, calculative computer from "2001: A Space Odyssey."
The set design is intimidating. The interiors and exteriors of Nostromo, as well as the mysterious derelict ship are so intricate in their detail, it is easy to believe they actually exist somewhere out there in the universe. The "space jockey" as its known, that pilots the derelict ship is also something of a mystery. In the films that would follow "Alien," the pilot is never mentioned and its connection to the other species is fully known.
"Alien" is essentially "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" in space. Few horror films have been able to grasp the level of unbearable tension and suspense created in "Alien." This film also catapulted Sigourney Weaver's career as Ripley stood out as one of the first heroines in a science-fiction / horror film. Her character would go on to be replicated countless times in other works.
Overall, "Alien" is a masterful study in horror. We are treated to an expertly built story, with levels of suspense that layer on top of each other through each scene. If you haven't had the chance to experience such a superior work, then do yourself a favor and see "Alien" now.By Adam Frazier