A rather unglamorous looking spaceship floats through the darkness of space. Its name is The Promise, and it carries with it a population of 131,079. There are only seven crew members, the rest are all part of a cargo of men, women and children in hyper-sleep stasis. These are the elite and wealthy members of the human race who have used their privilege to leave behind an ecologically devastated Earth for the untainted new frontier of a planet orbiting the Alpha Centauri star.
The Promise is a paradoxical craft. Although it is designed with the luxurious provenance of its cargo in mind by feeding them a steady series of neuro-electrical stimuli to provide them with a relaxing forty year sleep, kinesthetic optimizers to reduce muscle atrophy and an optimized somatic feeding system to keep them at the peak of nutrition, the working conditions of its crew are hardly ideal.
Its corridors are built at economically reduced dimensions to minimize construction costs while inducing claustrophobia for its crew. Lighting is minimal and functional, with absolutely no aesthetics in mind, and the hyper-sleep capsules of its crew are cramped and devoid of any externally beneficial functions. The crew exists only to maintain and oversee the journey periodically through its forty year cause, the real piloting work is done by a navigation intelligence known as Mother.
The sleep of its crew is prematurely interrupted by the electronic pulsing of Mother, which has unsealed their coffin-like hyper-sleep capsules. Over breakfast, they assume that they have been forcibly awakened by Mother because they are within range of their destination. But an electronic signal goes off and Commander Alexander Dallas, the nondescript but fairly stoic leader of the crew, tells his compatriots that he must speak with Mother in private.
Meanwhile, the crew members take their positions on the bridge, and it soon becomes apparent that they are in an unfamiliar area of space. Navigator Sandra Lambert, a mildly religious officer with some wariness towards technology, notes that Earth is nowhere to be found. Science Officer Cleave Hunter, libertarian-natured empiricist, notes that this is “not our solar system,” and asks Communications Officer Ellen Ripley, a provisionary officer with a mild distrust of authority, to relay a message to the interstellar traffic control station at Ganymede, but there is no response: they are too far to be heard by their home system.
In the unappealingly dark bowels of the ship, Chief Engineer Chaz Parker, a mercenary-like malcontent, complains about the lack of respect that comes with their job. Parker views his duties as a maintenance man as unappreciated by not just the higher ups who pay his check, but by his fellow ‘space truckers’ role: a peon who feels disenfranchised among his fellow blue-collar workers.It is not long until the entire crew reconvenes at the mess table. Dallas informs everyone that they are only halfway home. Mother has interrupted their sleep to alert them to the presence of a distress signal originating from an uncharted moon. Parker protests the detour, “Our goals are the same, only insofar as we get paid. Beyond that, the interests of Mother and the Captain do not concern me. It might be different if we were treated equally around here, but...,”
Parker is interrupted by the normally taciturn Engineering Technician Brett Standard, a soft-spoken non-confrontational type who often makes feeble attempts at amiable resolution. “What Parker means to say is that a little respect now and then would help him see things from a better perspective.”Warrant Officer Ash Broussard, a coldly dispassionate officer who places a premium on efficiency, notes that they are obligated by contract. “It’s not a question of willingness, Parker. This crew is not a democracy.” Dallas leads everyone to the planetary shuttle, which takes them to the surface of the moon, whose name is a coldly technical ‘LV-426’..
Hunter, Lambert and Dallas don atmospheric suits and some minor weaponry to facilitate further investigation, while Broussard monitors the situation to ensure they follow operating protocol. In their exploration of the planet, they come across a bizarre space vessel that resembles a wishbone with extremely phallic like extensions. It is a crashed derelict spacecraft of seemingly extraterrestrial origin. The ship’s interior walls have a leathery and ribbed texture, and there they discover an elephantine humanoid carcass that seems to be what’s left of the craft’s pilot. It’s been dead for so long that it has become reduced to a fossilized skeletion, and its rib cage is bent outward, as if something exploded from within.
Dallas leads the way into a chamber beneath the pilot, discovering thousands of leathery eggs. One of the eggs opens, and some manner of creature leaps out, burns through the visor of Dallas’ spacesuit and attaches itself to his face. Hunter and Lambert carry the unconscious Dallas back to the shuttle. Ripley insists that they be kept out, citing quarantine protocol. However, Broussard calmly disregards such concerns and lets them in. As the ranking officer, there is no place to argue with him on such matters.In the ship’s infirmary, Hunter attempts to remove the creature from Dallas’s face, but cannot do so without harming him, against the insistence of Broussard. Hunter is absolutely fascinated by the creature, with its reptilian tail and finger-like limbs and highly acidic blood. “As far as I’m concerned, Dallas is this far away from being a dead man. As long as this thing is keeping Dallas alive, I see no point in threatening it with laceration unless it poses an actual threat to us.” Ripley argues testily with Hunter: “We broke quarantine protocol. We shouldn’t have. As Science Officer, doesn’t that matter to you?” Hunter replies, “It does matter. Just not when I’m on the other side of that shuttle door.” Eventually the creature detaches from Dallas's face on its own, and the crew find it dead. Kane wakes up, seemingly unharmed.
Ripley has concluded that the signal that Mother intercepted is not a distress call, but a warning. She raises her concerns to Broussard who as Warrant Officer holds rank when Dallas is not onboard, “I don’t think Mother got the signal right. It’s no plea for help, it’s a warning: A warning to stay away.” Broussard coolly notes that there’s no point in telling anyone since the danger has already passed.
Ripley is upset that Broussard’s questionable decisions in Dallas’ absence, and she airs her grievances towards Hunter. Hunter is exasperated with Ripley, and says: “Look, I’m just a scientist here… a lab monkey. I don’t have a real place on this ship unless Broussard tells me what it is.”Before re-entering hypersleep as they leave LV-426, Dallas begins to choke and convulse until a hissing, razor toothed lizard like creature explodes from his chest, a violent birth from his torso. It shrieks and howls before it scurries off Dallas to hide somewhere in The Promise. Lambert and Parker panick at the sheer shock and disbelief over what has transpired before their eyes. The entire crew now faces an alien creature that will stalk them for nourishment.
The Commander is dead and leadership falls onto Broussard. While Lambert and Parker have accessed the armory for small arms such as a machine pistol and a hunting rifle, Hunter insists that they avoid harming the creature as much as possible. “It’s the perfect killing machine. It’s got acid for blood and an epidermis made entirely of polarized silicon. Just think about what we could learn from it.”This excites Parker, who sees with the capture of the creature the possibility of financial reward. As they search cautiously throughout the ship’s corridors, a trigger-happy Parker kills Standard, who initially registered as an unknown signal on their motion detector. Only moments after Lambert observes something behind Parker: a creature with a long, coiled tail and with massive jaws. It is a malevolently murderous thing that proceeds to pull him into an air shaft and Lambert only hears his screams from above.
Lambert flees in terror and when she recounts what she saw, and Ripley, Broussard and Hunter conclude that it is unlikely Parker survived the attack. Ripley nags Hunter for some scientific analysis that can yield a solution. He suggests that most animals are averse to fire. Lambert volunteers herself to hunt and track the monster, confiding to Ripley that, “You’ve seen how Broussard and Hunter look at this thing. The technological opportunities that this thing presents are more important to them than their own survival, let alone ours.”
Lambert enters the network of air shafts armed with a flame thrower. She intends to drive the alien into an airlock in order to blow it out into space. Using the trackers, the crew picks up the alien's signal moving toward Lambert. As Lambert attempts to flee to a safer corner, the creature ambushes her. Now only Ripley, Broussard and Hunter are those left of the crew.An irate Ripley manages to convince Hunter to assist her in communicating with Mother, and together they discover that it had detected AND decoded the signal. Someone from the Earth government had paid good money to secure an alien for study into possible military applications. Because of the largely automated design of The Promise, the crew was regarded as expendable. Just as they are about to leave the Commander’s quarters, Broussard steps in and attacks them when they realize that he was a traitor who had known about this special request all along. Hunter decapitates Broussard with a fire axe and white goo spurts forth from his neck, revealing him to be an android.
Hunter and Ripley decide to destroy most The Promise. Ripley and Hunter are no murderers, and detach their 131,072 person cargo to leave it floating in space with a communications beacon alerting any other vessels to its presence. While Ripley preps up the shuttle for launch, Hunter proceeds to gather coolant for the shuttle’s life support system, but is killed by the creature. Ripley activates The Promise’s self destruct sequence and races back to the shuttle as the creature pursues her.
She boards the shuttle and takes off in time for The Promise to explode. As she prepares for hypersleep, she discovers that the alien has snuck on board, and slips on an atmospheric suit. She opens the airlock and the resulting decompression blasts the alien out of the shuttle. Ripley activates the engine and the stellar combustion incinerates the alien outside.
The film ends as Ripley gives her closing words:
“Final report of The Promise, commercial colony transport. Communications officer reporting. The other members of the crew, Captain Dallas, Lambert, Parker, Standard, Ash and Hunter are dead, and the ship destroyed. The 131,072 colonists should remain in their hypersleep stasis on emergency power for about six weeks. With a little luck, the network will pick them up. This is Ripley, last survivor of The Promise, signing off.”
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