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Alien: The Director's Cut

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4

*Also starring: John Hurt, Ian Holm, Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Kotto, Veronica Cartwright

Review by Steve Rhodes
4 stars out of 4

Ridley Scott's ALIEN, from 1979, has been called "the scariest movie ever made." While I wouldn't go that far, I do think it is one of the finest examples of the scary sci-fi genre, with its sequel, ALIENS, being the absolute best. The two subsequent sequels in the series are pretty worthless.

Now in the theaters is a director's cut version of ALIEN that is actually one minute shorter, since Scott is that rare director who realizes that his film might be improved by a combination of small additions and subtractions rather than a wholesale stuffing back of previously deleted scenes. For moviegoers like me, who haven't seen the movie in a couple of decades, the director's cut issue is unimportant. What is fun is seeing an old favorite on the big screen again. And for those viewers, like me, blessed with limited memory, watching ALIEN is almost like seeing a great movie for the first time.

As the story starts, Ripley (a very young and cute Sigourney Weaver) is one of seven members of a commercial spaceship. The third officer of the crew, she is far from being in charge, but events will conspire to make her into the movie's central character for this and all subsequent episodes. Reportedly, Weaver said recently that she wants to do a fifth film so that Ripley can finally bite the dust forever.

The crew has been awakened early by "Mother" from a blissful state of suspended animation in order to investigate a strange transmission which might be either an S O S or a warning. Mother is the name of the ship's all-knowing, on-board computer. Think of it as a more polite version of H.A.L. and one with less sinister motives. The crew, Ripley, Dallas (Tom Skerritt), Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), Brett (Harry Dean Stanton), Kane (John Hurt), Ash (Ian Holm) and Parker (Yaphet Kotto) are not happy campers. They want to return home to earth as planned and aren't the least bit interested in any dangerous missions. To be more precise, they all feel that way except Ash, who increasingly seems to be harboring some kind of hidden agenda.

"Swell!" Lambert sarcastically tells Dallas, their captain, who orders her to be in the first group to venture to the tiny planet where the radio message is being sent from. She smells trouble from the get-go and is the first to remark, "Let's get the hell out of here!" when something seriously strange happens in their mission on the ground. For most of the movie, it falls to Cartwright's Lambert to express the intensity of the fear that they must all be feeling. Only in the end does Ripley breakdown. The rest of the crew approach their chores with a relatively calm mixture of foolish bravado and resignation to their calamity.

As is obvious from the title, the villain of the piece is an alien, not some cuddly E.T. type but a fearsome foe that Ash describes best. With his usual cold, clinical approach, he says of the alien that "its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility." One of these vicious killing machines manages to get on-board their vessel, and, after that, the story becomes TEN LITTLE INDIANS, with the crew being slaughtered, one by one.

Most horror movies have cats to give the audience false frights. The cat will stir about, making a noise that makes us jump, thinking that it is the monster. And after a few such bogus frights, when we start assuming that any strange sound is just the cat, the monster hops out to scare us to death. In order to pull those same tricks on us in ALIEN, a cat is conveniently kept on ice with the rest of the crew. The technique is a little hokey, but it works.

Actually everything about ALIEN works. It is more of a think piece than the high action pictures that sci-fi buffs are used to today, but, for those with at least a modicum of patience, ALIEN provides great entertainment. It really makes me eager for the director's cut of ALIENS, which is supposed to come to the theaters next year. (That loud sound I just heard was merely one of my cats -- wasn't it?)

ALIEN: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT runs 1:56. It is rated R for "sci-fi violence/gore and language" and would be acceptable for most teenagers.

My son Jeffrey, age 14, seeing ALIEN for the first time, gave it ***, having nothing but praise for it. He said, somewhat relieved, that it wasn't as scary as he feared. He thought the sci-fi aspects were quite good, and he thought the big alien was very well done.

Copyright 2003 Steve Rhodes

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