Scott's 'Alien': the shocks still rock


Alien, even with some scene tinkering that has left this "director's cut" one minute shorter than its original release, is still one of the creepiest, scariest, most shocking films ever. And what a fine Halloween treat that it's once again up there on the big screen, where its full pantheon of chills can be shown to most dramatic effect.

This is one of those movies that every horror-film director should be required not only to see, but also take notes on. It's a movie that understands the real horror is what remains unseen, not what is constantly shoved in the audience's face; that the spine can be tingled as much by the buildup as by the event itself; that chills can come from silence; and that horror-movie characters do not have to be cardboard cutouts.

It's also a movie that should scare the bejabbers out of anyone with a pulse.

As the film opens, the cargo ship Nostromo (Nostrodamus being a long-ago prophet of doom) is drifting silently through space, its eight-person crew in suspended animation for the long trip back to Earth. But then the ship's computer (called Mother by the crew) wakes the travelers early, so they can investigate the source of a radio beacon coming from a supposedly barren planet. What they find there is decidedly not human, though decidedly nasty.

To tell more about the plot would run the risk of undermining some of cinema's best-loved scares. Those who have seen the film know them by heart, while those who haven't should be able to appreciate the experience. (Here's a fun fact: In that scene where the newly arrived alien disrupts dinner, the look of shock on the actors' faces is genuine; they had no idea what was going to happen.)

One of the amazing things about Alien is that even if you know what's coming, it doesn't really matter; the shock and horror remain vivid.

When director Ridley Scott, a relative newcomer at the time (he's since been responsible for Thelma & Louise, Gladiator and Black Hawk Down, among others), gave us Alien in 1979, he threw down a gauntlet few of his successors have been able to match (one of the few exceptions was James Cameron's 1986 Aliens, the rare sequel able to meet and possibly even surpass its source).

For this director's cut, Scott trims a few minutes from the story with an eye on making things tighter (unnecessary, really, but it's hard to notice much difference) and adds seven scenes cut from the original, including one near the end that makes vivid the unfortunate fate of several crew members.

That scene actually adds to the film's already-considerable horror quotient (many fans already know about it, because it's been included on the DVD release as a deleted scene). And the new cut adds some texture to Sigourney Weaver's Ripley, one of the first action heroines of substance, and still one of the best - in no small part because of Weaver's intelligent, controlled performance.

Best of all, Alien: The Director's Cut is not a demonstrably worse film than its predecessor, something that can't be said for such redos as 2000's Exorcist: The Version You've Never Seen or 2002's Apocalypse Now Redux. Give or take a minute, Alien remains a top-notch thriller.

Alien: The Direc tor's Cut

Starring: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Yaphet Kotto

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Rated: R (Language, violence)

Released by: 20th Century-Fox

Time: 115 minutes

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