Weyland Industries wants an alien. We’re talking about a “perfect organism…its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility…a survivor…unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.” I mean, who wouldn’t want one of those? So they send the commercial towing vehicle Nostromo out to get one.
They just kind of neglect to tell the crew. There’s a reason for that which revolves around the whole remorseless killing machine bit. This isn’t exactly a job a human volunteers for.
On their return trip to Earth, the Nostromo crew are awakened from hibernation to find that they are still ten months’ travel time from Earth. Why are they up? They’ve picked up what might be a distress beacon from a nearby planet and they are lawfully obligated to investigate. Upon landing their shuttle, three of the seven-man crew head out to do just that. They run into a bit more than they bargain for.
For instance, they find a very large spaceship that they can’t identify. The first thing they see on this ship is a huge fossilized alien manning what looks like a gun turret, but hey, it could be anything. It’s kinda dark. Undaunted, Kane (John Hurt) is lowered into a huge chamber and finds what appears to be a massive collection of eggs. Under normal circumstances (or for that matter, in a comedy-action sequel) they’d get out as fast as they can and nuke the thing from orbit, as that’s the only way to be sure. But seeing as this is a horror movie, Kane had to go prodding around on those eggs, poking and teasing and…whack! to the face.
Meanwhile back on the shuttle, acting captain Ripley has been puzzling over decoding the “distress signal” and is beginning to believe that it’s a warning. Despite this, science officer Ash (Ian Holm) declines to pass on this information to the surface crew. When the crew comes back lugging the alien-attacked Kane, Ripley refuses to open the airlock, purely on procedural grounds. Quarantine, the whole thing. Pretty standard. Ash opens it anyway. Something’s not right about that guy.
And that’s what has happened to Kane. There’s a facehugger alien sticking its ovipositor down his throat. They can’t even cut the damn thing free once they get back to the Nostromo because it’s got “molecular acid” for blood. Whatever “molecular acid” is, it eats through metal, and they sure don’t want to poke a hole in the hull. A hole in three decks is quite enough, thank you very much. But in what at first appears to be a stroke of luck, the facehugger releases Kane and dies. (Hey, you know why? Because IT SERVED ITS PURPOSE, idiots.) Kane seems OK, until dinner starts to disagree with him.
By dinner, I mean the alien larva in his chest. And by disagree, I mean burst out in a bloody mess. That’s it for Kane – we’re down to six crewmembers. Worst of all, the larva got away.
And it’s molting.
And it appears to be violating the laws of conservation of mass, unless it’s able to eat metal or photosynthesize really quickly or something. Because a little larva that couldn’t weigh more than about two pounds takes perhaps a few hours to grow into a ten-foot high vicious killing machine which begins picking off the crew one by one. It gets mechanic Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) when he’s out hunting for the larval version, and then it gets Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) when he tries to flush it from its hiding place in the air ducts to an airlock (Ducts! Always with the ducts, Hollywood! What’s the deal?)
Well, this means Ripley is now Captain, and dammit, she’s now got the authority to look into Ash’s orders, and not trusting him she’s damn well going to do it.
Turns out she was right to be suspicious. Ash isn’t even human – he’s an android. And he’s programmed to bring that alien back to Weyland Industries, in secret, without regard for the life of the crew. Ripley, of course, must be eliminated once she starts digging, but I think nobody ever taught androids that the most effective way to choke someone is probably not by shoving a rolled-up nudie magazine in their mouth. I mean, not that it wouldn’t work eventually, but it certainly gave the two remaining human crew members enough time to figure out Ripley needed some saving, and when it’s android against fire extinguisher wielded by a burly, pissed mechanic – well, fire extinguisher wins (take note, Amare Stoudemire).
Androids die kinda messy.
Anyway, now that the crew is down to three, they decide that the best course of action is to give up on the whole airlock idea and self-destruct the ship with the alien on it while escaping on the shuttle. It’s a good plan, but things go a bit wrong. For one, the alien kills Lambert and Parker before they can carry out the plan, leaving only Ripley.
Oh, yeah. And Jonesy the cat. Ripley leaves the shuttle to rescue Jonesy from the self-destruct. She manages to get him, put him in a hibernator, and escape the Nostromo before it goes all boom. Unfortunately in the commotion involved in saving Jonesy the alien stowed aboard the shuttle too.
This one looks like the toughest situation yet, but Ripley manages to crawl into a space suit and open the shuttle door, vacuuming the alien out into space (and incidentally into the exhaust of the ion drive engine) leaving Ripley and Jonesy to fly back to Earth and into a series of inferior sequels.