STARRING: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Yaphet Kotto, John Hurt, Ian Holm 

2003 (original cut: 1979), 116 Minutes, Directed by: Ridley Scott

Description: A landmark of science fiction and horror, Alien arrived in 1979 between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back as a stylishly malevolent alternative to George Lucas's space fantasy. Partially inspired by 1958's It! The Terror from Beyond Space, this instant classic set a tone of its own, offering richly detailed sets, ominous atmosphere, relentless suspense, and a flawless ensemble cast as the crew of the space freighter Nostromo fall prey to a vicious creature (designed by Swiss artist H.R. Giger) that had gestated inside one of the ill-fated crew members. -

When I knew that I was going to attend a cinema screening of Alien: The Director's Cut I was thrilled because I was going to see one of the most atmospheric and thrilling films of all time - all with new added footage.

Fans who picked up the DVD (now out of print to make way for the new nine-disc Alien Quadrilogy DVD set) may have already seen some of this footage deleted from the original cut. Other fans who didn't, and are going to purchase the quadrilogy, will be enthralled.

This film doesn't feature a wealth of new footage such as the recently released Apocalypse Now Redux. There are no scenes that could damage its flow, but instead gives us scenes that click together a bit better.

One of these is when Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) finds Dallas (Tom Skerritt) attached to the wall with the alien mucus seen later in the Aliens sequel. It doesn't make sense to feature it in the original cut, and director Ridley Scott was smart for deleting it when the film hit theaters back in 1979. It doesn't really make much sense, and stops the gripping flow of the ending when Ripley is racing to get to the escape shuttle. It causes people to think, What? and then their minds start wandering.

But now that we have seen Aliens, and understand the significance of the mucus (sounds funny, huh?), it makes complete sense.

Atmosphere is part of what makes Alien the terrifying nail-biter it is. This isn't a routine horror flick that jumps through all the hoops - it's original to a certain degree. Its inspiration comes from earlier films, but it improves upon them all for the most part.

"Tame by today's standards . . ."

From its opening shots to its final, it is eerie, moody, and scary. The fear of Alien lies in the anticipation of the jump, or the startle. We wait, and wait, and suddenly something leaps at the screen. It's not the alien. The alien is in front of the thing that jumped. Our heart stops and then jolts again. Forget pumping volts of electricity through dead people - place them in front of this and their hearts will pound once again.

James Cameron's 1986 sequel Aliens is often considered the better of the series, in terms of sheer excitement. But Alien, like the movie Signs, isn't really about aliens. The film Aliens is terrific - but so is Alien, as its central idea is too unnerve the audience through bumps and jolts and not through endless explosions.

Ridley Scott knows how to evoke wonder and magnificence from his shots. The opening sequence that shows the exterior of the Nostromo and then dissolves to the interior, crawling along the shafts as we wait for something scary to happen and then forget as we are wowed by the movement and visuals, is a fine example of the art of filmmaking and not the filmmaking itself.

Scott, when given the right material, can turn out wonders. Alien is his crowning achievement alongside the dark 1982 classic Blade Runner, another sci-fi feast for the eyes and mind. (I wasn't a fan of Gladiator, but let's not bring that up, shall we?)

Alien may seem tame by today's standards. But this isn't a film that wants to be another mindless blood and guts extravaganza. This is a smart horror film, one that is as involving as it visually magnificent, one that is as amazing as it is terrifying. This is horror at its finest.

Notes: The new director's cut version features over three minutes of never-before-seen sequences, as well as restored prints and a newly remixed surround-sound track. Attached to the director's release of the film is also the first teaser trailer for Alien vs. Predator.

- John Ulmer


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