ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, OCT. 30, 2003
By Steve Newton
The first movie I can remember that set me on the road to becoming a lifelong horror fan was It! The Terror From Beyond Space. It was made on the cheap in 1958, and featured a guy in a hokey, zipper-up-the-back monster suit, but to my six-year-old eyes it was a masterpiece of terror. The plot basically involved a nasty extraterrestrial that gets onboard a spaceship and starts killing crew members one by one.
Director Ridley Scott took that idea and ran with it in 1979, the result being Alien, a critical and box-office smash that went on to gross $100 million worldwide, a huge amount for that era.
Alien: The Director’s Cut includes some additional footage selected by Scott, including a scene in which the heroic Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) discovers the cocooned remains of two alien victims (Harry Dean Stanton and Tom Skerritt). There have also been digital restorations and improvements to the original film’s negative and sound mix, but the best thing about this rerelease is simply the opportunity to see the awesome Alien in theatres again.
By only offering brief glimpses of the H. R. Giger–conceived creature until the climax, Scott brings incredible tension and foreboding to the screen. Ace screenwriter Dan O’Bannon cuts out all the fat, and every cast member—Weaver, Stanton, Skerritt, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, and Veronica Cartwright—delivers a realistic performance.
From a production-design standpoint, about the only thing that seems somewhat dated about this 24-year-old film is the data on the main spaceship’s computer screens. The eerie vastness of the rundown Nostromo still commands awe, and the claustrophobic chills brought on by the doomed search for the alien through its dingy cooling vents still resonate. The strange, biomechanical look of the Giger-designed mysterious derelict spacecraft in which the alien is first discovered in its “face hugger” form continues to enthrall with its otherwordly beauty.
There’s not nearly as much action as when James Cameron took over for 1986’s powerful Aliens sequel, but the gory “chest burster” scene, the android meltdown, and Ripley’s race against the countdown to Nostromo’s self-destruction enliven the ominous proceedings with well-placed bursts of adrenalin. By providing such a potent supply of memorable movie moments, Alien not only lives up to its billing as one of the scariest films ever made, it also qualifies as one of the best.