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