Alien: The Director's Cut Movie Review
Twenty-some odd years after scaring the bejesus out of me as a thrill-seeking teenager, Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi horror hallmark "Alien," re-released today in a new Director's Cut, doesn't hold up as well as I'd anticipated.
Sure, the infant alien bursting from the chest of John Hurt after gestating his gut is still a seat-gripper (although the stiff little puppet that emerges and scurries off screen has always been the worst special effect in the movie). Sure the seven poor saps onboard the ill-fated cargo spaceship are real personalities with depth and dimension (cynical blue-collar grunts stuck with each other in dead-end deep-space jobs) played by gifted actors like Ian Holm, Tom Skerritt, Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Kotto, Veronica Cartwright and sequel-bait Sigourney Weaver. These people are anything but the wisecracking beauty-before-brains WB-channel cast-off types that have always been fodder for B-horror killers Jason, Freddy and Leatherface.
Sure, "Alien" still boats what is arguably the best monster design in movie history (by H.R. Giger and Carlo Rambaldi). The exoskeletal alien itself -- with its razored fingers, its sleek, elongated dome head and its steely-fanged mouth that drips translucent goo and hides a tongue tipped with another set of teeth -- is ingeniously terrifying. The acid-blooded, mutant-crab-like face-hugger -- with the long, strangling spine that impregnates Hurt with the alien embryo -- is so masterfully rendered that even during its slimy autopsy close-ups the thing begets goosebumps. Modern CGI effects cannot hold up to this kind of substantive scrutiny. "Alien's" aliens are as real as movie monsters get.
But when the full-grown monster is loose on the ship, taking out crew members one by one as they try to track it and kill it, "Alien" begins to fall back on convention and contrivances -- like the presence of Jonesy the cat, an animal that exists only for cheap jump-out-of-cabinet frights and as an excuse to separate members of the crew ("Here, kitty, kitty, kitty!") while the monster sneaks up on them from behind, it's jaw dripping gooey saliva as it savors its victims' last moments of horror.
In a movie as initially intelligent as "Alien" is in its first two reels of spooky "2001"-like atmosphere, it's also harder to forgive such silly ideas as a ship in the middle of a self-destruct countdown that would fill with steam and be lit only by strobe lights -- as if that's going to help anyone make it to the escape shuttle.
In this Director's Cut, which is not fundamentally different from the original, Scott didn't even bother to fix the movie's biggest unintentional laugh -- a blatant continuity gaffe which calls attention to the fact that the talking severed head of an android is really just Ian Holm sticking his noggin through a hole in a tabletop.
Ridley Scott demonstrates an extraordinary talent for exploiting chilling silences in "Alien," which, along with the uniquely otherworldly production design by Michael Seymour and Roger Christian, help create a memorably ominous aura that has survived intact over the 24 years since its creation. But while "Alien" is still a milestone of sci-fi fright, it's not the brilliant bone-chiller it once seemed to be, if only because it falls frustratingly short of living up to its more cerebral and psychological potential.