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Alien: The Director’s Cut (R) (2003; original release 1979)

20th Century Fox

Official Site

Director: Sir Ridley Scott

Producers: Gordon Carroll, David Giler, Walter Hill

Written by: Dan O’Bannon

Cast: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto

Rating: out of 5

Great movies should be regularly re-released on their 25th and 50th anniversaries just because of their inherent properties, but seeing as lately most major studios have needed the excuse of some kind of re-edit, typically a “director’s cut,” this is by far the most inoffensive of the bunch, neither adding 30 to 50 minutes of extraneous footage (Apocalypse Now Redux, Amadeus) or fundamentally screwing around with the visuals like George Lucas. In addition to digitally restoring Alien to gorgeous condition, Sir Ridley Scott has removed 10 to 15 seconds in various places of establishing shots and added a couple of unnecessary but unharmful scenes. The trade-off—a widescreen, loud theatrical viewing of one of the best-looking sci-fi movies ever made, with grainy outer-space effects and old Fox logo gloriously intact—is eminently worth it.

The working-class crew of the Nostromo works in a foul environment, but possibly one of the most sensuously explored in modern film history. Opening with languid tracking and panning shots of the deserted ship, Scott breaks the narrative rules by having a door open for the camera even though no one’s there—but it looks so irresistibly cool you might not notice. Hallways glow in an ambient gray, the sleeping pods are cocooned in white light, etc. For a while, environment reigns supreme. Gradually, the people come to life, and despite the nature of the film (genre films typically demanding subservience from all players), this is one of the neater ensembles of the ’70s. Ian Holm runs around being his usual uptight self, Harry Dean Stanton lights his cigarettes with a welder’s torch and acts like a creep, and Yaphet Kotto acts as though, the future though it may be, civil rights still haven’t come through—as the only black person on board, he constantly gripes about not getting an equal share of bonus pay.

In fact, famous feminist action hero extraodinaire Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is far from the obvious protagonist. For much of the film, she’s not in command (the top-billed Tom Skerritt is), and seems like just another member of the crew. Only as the film’s events force her to power does she emerge, and even then she’s a grimly enigmatic figure, whose personality we learn little about. Meanwhile, as you doubtless know, disastrous decisions resulting in unkillable aliens taking over the ship happen. The results are still some of the scariest in film history.

Alien is an old-school trip—in its casting misogyny, sure, but also in its pacing and ambitions. At times, it’s almost formalist, a marvel of scene compositions with minimal dialogue, with fire and water constantly doing battle. It’s also ridiculously conceptually rich in its visuals, teeming with all kinds of wombs and fluids and gooey stuff—so when was the last time you saw a movie that boasted not one but two influential pop artists (here Moebius and H.R. Giger)? It’s a little silly, sure (that infamous chest-burster looks like a demented children’s puppet), but scary as ever, and with visuals to die for. For most of its characters, literally.

—Vadim Rizov


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