The Director’s Cut”
20th Century Fox
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett
Produced by Gordon Carroll, David Giler and Walter Hill
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright,
Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto
Scott’s “Alien” scares with a tightly wound combination
of fears—those of closed spaces, dark corners, corporate conspiracies
and, of course, practically unstoppable organisms that exist solely
to kill. If the last one doesn’t frighten you, it’s
because you haven’t seen the film. If that’s the case,
you might want to hurry and see it without knowing any of the surprises.
The 1979 film, now released in a new “director’s cut”
that’s quite close to the original, is one of the most aggravating
suspense films in the past 25 years. Refusing to rush to the violent
scenes, Scott paces the scenes slowly to create tension while he
observes the ship’s claustrophobic corridors—where death
may well lurk—and company politics, leading to an unpleasant
discovery of how the company values its crew.
The first half of the film plays like a drama with creepy undertones
for the first hour, although nowadays people are prepared for the
famous scenes of the film.
The freight employees are weathered and wary, not adventurers, and
when they respond to a signal from a ship, it’s not out of
obligation or curiosity, but because they won’t get paid for
the shipment they just completed if they don’t investigate
a signal from a desolate planet on their way back. These aren’t
careless partying teenagers, but older employees who want to play
it safe and go home.
Sigourney Weaver has driven the franchise with her portrayal of
Ripley, the heroine of all four “Alien” films. As a
hard-edged action hero, Ripley takes a no-nonsense approach to staying
alive. She doesn’t want to study the life form once she realizes
it’s dangerous, she simply wants to kill it. She doesn’t
want to let poor Kane (John Hurt) and the rest of the exploration
team on the ship once the alien infects him because they should
Ripley marks the first strong, successful female action hero. She’s
still different from many of today’s action heroines—and
heroes—because she acts with thought and intelligence. She
doesn’t flaunt her femininity, but rather does what she needs
to do to survive.
The other crew members in “Alien” are also drawn distinctively.
Harry Dean Stanton and Yaphet Kotto play engine workers Brett and
Parker, who aren’t particularly eager to do anything other
than get back home, but have to comply with contractual protocol
if they want to get paid. The science officer Ash (Ian Holm) is
the only one who wants to respond to the signal, even though it’s
initially unclear whether it’s a warning or an SOS.
A common rule in scary films is not to show the monster because
the idea of the monster is more frightening than the actual material.
“Alien” turns the table by showing the monster periodically,
but evolving it each time so it’s always different. The suspense
grows because we never know exactly what it looks like or where
it could be hiding. Attached to Kane’s face with several legs
with non-pliable grips, it can’t be cut off because its blood
is acidic. One great scene comes not from the alien chasing the
humans, but from the humans running to try to stop a drop of the
acid from eating all the way through the ship and creating a vacuum.
Scott skillfully executes the scenes to create anxious stress. When
Dallas (Tom Skerritt), the ship’s captain, goes into the air
ducts to hunt the alien, a monitoring device shows locations of
Dallas and, when it works, the alien. His crew mates have to give
him directions, but he can’t actually see the alien, and the
ensuing confusion creates plenty of turmoil before the climax. There’s
also a general tension throughout the film, as we observe the closed-off
location and wonder how anyone could escape. Even after seeing the
film and knowing its surprises, the quiet moments beforehand still
overflow with anticipation.
Repeated viewings also allow further observations of the brilliant
production design and even some humor. The inclusion of a cat on
board serves as a satirical jab that brings the oh-it’sjust-the-cat
moment into the sci-fi horror genre.
The combination of Sigourney Weaver’s strong portrayal of
a smart character, Scott’s tight direction and the brilliantly
conceived monster doesn’t resemble the current horror trend
of more shocks than suspense, but it more thoroughly creates terror.
It has inspired three sequels, including James Cameron’s strong
“Aliens” and two later, weaker films.
The differences between the original film and the new cut don’t
really add or distract from the original film. The main addition
is a cocoon scene that hints a little bit at “Aliens”
and the other additions that are mainly some nice shots. But the
main reason to go is to see a beautiful print of a film that still
has the tense feeling that seems to have a grasp on everything that’s