Alien: The Director's Cut
October 22nd, 2003
As great as home video is, movies should be seen on a big screen. It does not matter how many times one may have seen a beloved title sitting in their living room, the experience is intrinsically altered when you are sharing it in a darkened theatre with a group of friends and strangers. With increasing frequency, film fans are given the chance to re-experience a favorite movie at their local theatre. This year, Fox and Ridley Scott have revisited the director's seminal 1979 sci-fi horror classic, "Alien," giving the film not only the requisite digitization of the soundtrack but a rethinking of the entire narrative. While several minutes of deleted footage familiar to owners of the laserdisc and DVD have been reinserted back into the story, this Director's Cut has ended up two minutes shorter than the original cut, becoming a tighter and richer work. This is one of the few times a director's cut has actually improved on the original work, and should be become celebrated by even the most demanding fans.
The story remains the same. A group of deep space miners on their way back to Earth are awakened from hibernation by their ship's computer, to investigate a potential distress call emanating from a passing planetoid. The crew discovers the automated call derives from a derelict spacecraft of unknown origin, where one of them is attacked by a small alien, who attaches itself to the crewmember Kane's (John Hurt) face. Breaking quarantine, the captain brings the crewmember and the alien aboard their ship, where the alien is discovered to be a killing machine with an acid-like liquid for blood. One by one, the creature kills off the crew, until only one human is left to destroy the beast.
The scenes integrated back into the narrative seamlessly, as if they were always there. The major added scene is the "The Nest" sequence, where Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) discovers, as she is trying to escape from the soon to be detonated ship, the alien has not killed her fellow crewmembers so much as insulated them as future food. With her time running out, her captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) quietly begs her to kill him. Other additional scenes include an extended look at the mining ship Nostromo in the opening titles, and extensions of previously existing scenes of the crew awakening, them listening to the transmission, a confrontation with several of the crew after the alien is brought aboard, discussions of Kane's condition, of the repairs to the ship and of looking for the alien, the death of Brett (Harry Dean Stanton), and of the deaths of Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) and Parker (Yaphet Kotto).
So with all this new footage, how did the film end up shorter? Scott and his team have trimmed a number of shots down, improving the overall pace of the film, and many of the added sequences are given a judicious trim before reintegration into the film. (The Nest scene, which runs over three and a half minutes on the Special Edition laserdisc and DVD, is around half that length in the Director's Cut.) The filmmaker has also taken the original six-track sound mix for the 70mm prints and given it a rethink, subtly making changes, which include a more ominous mix for the alien transmission. Additionally, the images have been cleaned up, with darker shadows and an overall clearer picture.
This Director's Cut of "Alien" is a most welcome return to cinema screens, a wondrous reminder of how imagination can triumph over budget. What was a classic before is an improved classic today. I give "Alien: The Director's Cut" an A+.
My rating: A+