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New Directors Cut 3 Star, while original is solid four star.
on November 6, 2003
Alien is one of my favorite films of at time. It is a master-piece of tension, physical space, atmosphere, tidy special effects, ensemble acting, and the unrelenting desire to unsettle. Its gorgeous cinemascope frame remains one of the best photographed in the history of film, and its legacy lives on both in the trilogy of sequels it has spawned, the presence of its titular beast (one of the most influential move monsters ever) in our pop culture, and in Sigourney Weavers incarnation of the iconic Ellen Ripley. It remains one of the few films that I can watch over and over again and never get tired of.
All this explains why news of a theatrical re-release became my cinematic event of 2003. I had been looking forward to this for years. Too young to have seen the original film in theaters, I had hoped that eventually the opportunity would present itself.
The chance to see at the marvelous tracking shots through the corridor of the Nostromo, Brett's (Harry Dean Stanton) quest to find the cat Jones in the bowels of the ship, Dallas' (Tom Skerrit) trip into the ventilation system, the verbal and later physical spacing between Ash (Ian Holm) and Ripley, Parker (national treasure Yaphet Kotto) and Brett's comic interplay ... all of that, finally on the big screen.
What's unfortunate about this re-release is the same as most theatrical re-releases of moderate-to-classic films: The director has suffered from a cumulative attack of coulda-woulda-shoulda syndrome, and decides to rethink and rework the film for contemporary audiences. Apocalypse Now Redux. The Exorcist: The version that you've never seen. Those Star War's "special editions." What do all of these films have in common? All of them were diminished with the addition of unnecessary material. In each case, a director who just can't leave well enough alone sullies the classic status of the Original film. (Mad props are due to Brian DePaima, who refused to let Scarface be altered in any way for its limited theatrical reissue before its DVD release ... sense a pattern?)
In interviews, Alien director Ridley Scott has spoken of making little trims here and there to help the pacing of the film) and show more glimpses of the alien). He has said, too, that the addition of the often spoken of "cocoon sequence" now fits very well in the film (the exact opposite of what he had been saying for years).
The original version of Alien starts out slowly, building gradually until the last 25 minutes are as relentlessly paced as any action classic. To try and speed up the first part of the film, then stop dead the last act to include a shocking, previously-deleted scene seems nothing more than a sop to contemporary film-going audiences with no patience for `70s pacing and a fetishized devotion to the cuff of the deleted scene. This is the innovator, not the imitator, and each shift feels like a tiny betrayal.
For This version of Alien to be coiled "The Director it Cut" is a lie. Ridley Scott wasn't forced to cut any material from the original at the studio's behest, nor did he have grave censorship concerns which required toning down any sequences. The film as released to theaters in 1979 was his director's cut, because he and editor Terry Rawlings cut it. This new version, I strongly suspect, exists to promote Fox's up coming Alien DVD box set. The seven-person (and one cat) crew of the Nostromo is again expendable; the priority is delivering more of the alien.
Should you see it? Absolutely as a good 90 percent or more it is still the same film, and its' soundscape will mess you up in a theater with a good system, and the DVD directors cut sounscape definitely falls into the same category, regardless of how large your home TV screen might be. Will it replace the original? Defiantly, no. For new version I give it a *** rating, while rating the original receives a solid **** star rating.