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"ALIEN: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT"
(2003) (Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Sci-fi/Horror: Crewmembers must contend with a deadly, rogue alien that's killing them one by one onboard their spaceship.
PLOT:
The commercial space vehicle Nostromo is headed back to Earth, but its onboard computer, "Mother," has received a mysterious beacon and thus decided to awaken the crew from their deep, interstellar sleep. Following their directive, the ship's captain, Dallas (TOM SKERRITT), decides they must investigate and thus they set down on an inhospitable planet.

There, Dallas and two crewmembers, Kane (JOHN HURT) and Lambert (VERONICA CARTWRIGHT), go to investigate and discover an ancient spaceship and the fossilized remains of a huge creature. They also discover an array of egg pods from which springs a small alien that attaches itself to Kane's faceplate.

He's rushed back to the ship, but Ripley (SIGOURNEY WEAVER) won't allow him in, knowing it will be breach the ship's quarantine. Science officer Ash (IAN HOLM), however, disregards that and Kane is saved. When the alien then appears to have died, the crew, including mechanics Brett (HARRY DEAN STANTON) and Parker (YAPHET KOTTO), prepare for another ten months of deep sleep.

A new alien, however, changes their plans when it literally pops out on the scene and flees somewhere into the massive ship. From that point on, the crew tries to avoid the alien that has acid for blood, is progressively growing larger by the minute and seems determined to kill all of them.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
In order to make a movie, any given filmmaker needs to be in complete control of the effort from start to finish. Of course, there are powers that be - who are usually higher up the filmmaking food chain - who decide to put their "creative" two cents into the process. As a result, few directors have what's highly coveted and known as "final cut" when it comes to their work.

Thus, the introduction of what are known as director's cuts where filmmakers get the chance to show their film the way they originally intended or have since re-imagined it should be. Of course, it's also a way for the releasing studio to squeeze some extra profit - on the big screen and then from home video - out of their preexisting properties.

Such would seem to be the case with Ridley's Scott's "Alien" that now arrives with the secondary title, "The Director's Cut." Pretty much universally deemed as a sci-fi masterpiece upon its release and ever since, there wouldn't seem to be much to add, cut or alter with the original 1977 work that made Sigourney Weaver ("Holes," the "Ghostbusters" films) a star and gave a new meaning to chest pains.

While Scott ("Matchstick Men," "Thelma and Louise") contends that he shortened the intros and exits of various scenes, the only significant change I noticed was the inclusion of a scene that reportedly never made it into the theatrical release (although I swear I remember seeing it in the theater during its first run) but was later added to the laser disc version. It features Weaver's character discovering several others encased in the Alien's nest, a scene that James Cameron emulated in his 1986 sequel.

Speaking of which, while this film still stands up quite well, it's not quite as entertaining to behold with repeated viewings as "Aliens." That film's visceral quality still packs quite a punch, whereas the original relied more on surprises and fear of the unknown in creating its creepy atmosphere and shocking developments.

That doesn't detract from what screenwriter Dan O'Bannon (who wrote the story with Ronald Shusett) concocted to jolt viewers. Even so, one's knowledge of most everything that occurs does somewhat diminish the film's effectiveness after the first go-round. You'll still appreciate the masterful artistic work at hand, but the surprises will no longer be there.

Basically a haunted house (and dare I say serial killer) type flick set in space, the script combined those elements with plot material from 1958's "It! The Terror From Beyond Space" (where an alien hunts down the crew of a spaceship returning to Earth) with "20 Million Miles to Earth" (that introduced the quickly growing space monster thread).

Other than some conspiracy minded material that develops in the second half, the plot is amazingly simple. In short, various members of a spaceship crew try to avoid an alien that bleeds acid and appears desirous of killing all of them. Details of the creatures' intelligence would late be expanded in Cameron's film, but the bare-bones story is all that's needed to keep viewers on the edge of their seats.

The terrific set and production design nicely adds to the atmosphere, what with its claustrophobic trappings, while various set elements are designed as red herrings and "gotcha" elements. While some of the effects look a bit dated - including a large, outer space explosion - Scott hasn't messed with them. The creature work, however, still looks rather good, especially when considering the pre-CGI world in which all of it was created.

What also makes the film work are the believable and non-flashy performances. Weaver's Ripley character would grow exponentially in the sequel, but the actress does a terrific job portraying her here. Work from the rest of the cast -- Tom Skerritt ("Tears of the Sun," "The Turning Point"), Veronica Cartwright ("The Witches of Eastwick," "The Right Stuff"), Ian Holm ("The Sweet Hereafter," the "Lord of the Rings" films), Harry Dean Stanton ("The Green Mile," "The Straight Story"), John Hurt ("The Elephant Man," "Midnight Express") and Yaphet Kotto ("Running Man," "Live and Let Die") - is on the money.

Culminating a terrific end of the decade run of 1970s sci-fi films (following "Star Wars" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"), this effort put Weaver and Scott on the radar scope of Hollywood and spawned a number of sequels.

The film's original tagline was "In space, no one can hear you scream." Yet, with this solid and engrossing piece of filmmaking and storytelling, Hollywood and others certainly heard it along with the resultant praises. "Alien: The Director's Cut" rates as a 7.5 out of 10.




Reviewed October 13, 2003 / Posted October 29, 2003


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