Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Harry Dean
Stanton,Yaphet Kotto, Veronica Cartwright
Director: Ridley Scott
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 117 Minutes (Theatrical), 116 Minutes (Director's Cut)
Release Date: January 6, 2004
When Star Wars first came on the scene, it wasn't long before all of the studios were trying to find their own winning science fiction formula for the big screen. Ironically, one of the best to spring from the wake of that legendary film came from the same studio, 20th Century Fox. By bringing together director Ridley Scott, writer Dan O'Bannon, and conceptual artist H. R. Giger, they managed to create something new and different from the other movies in the genre: Alien.
There was nothing adventurous about it. It was light on action. There were no high tech battles with futuristic weaponry. Really all it had was a premise. A mining ship with seven passengers returning to earth picks up an unwelcome visitor.
First off, the Alien is one of the most fantastic creations to come out of either science fiction or horror. It's black, slimy, with powerful metallic jaws, and it oozes and bleeds acid. It's fast, powerful, and horrifyingly lethal. It's not easy to kill.
Secondly, Scott's filmmaking makes for maximum impact with the creature. Like in Spielberg's Jaws, we don't even get a look at the alien for the first 45 minutes or so of the film. Scott uses this time for brilliant set up, and to begin to play on many psychological fears: fear of darkness, fear of the unknown, claustrophobia, isolation, and so on. The audience is already quite tense before the monster appears, and are more than ready to scream when it finally does.
I have to mention also what fantastic sets and lighting are incorporated in the picture. Scott lovingly films the interiors of the ship Nostromo, and uses his camera to give us a quiet, eerie tour of the vessel prior to meeting the crew. One gets the sense that much of the camerawork and editing was more inspired by 2001 than Star Wars. Light and shadows, along with some nice smoke and fog effects add to the dismal and unnerving atmosphere.
In 2003, Ridley Scott revisited his film to do a little cutting and pasting. The resulting film is no better or worse than what we originally saw, so it may just be a matter of preference among fans. The new version includes a scene where Ripley sees Dallas cocooned, as well as a few other small bits added here and a few stretches tightened there.
The overall result of these elements is a tense, imaginative and thoroughly satisfying movie experience. It's no wonder this film and its sequels have remained so popular over the years.
As with their original release of this title, Fox did a superb job with the anamorphic transfer of Alien. Scott's many murky atmospheres challenge the medium, but the disc is more than up to the challenge, keeping color schemes realistic and detail level sharp throughout. Even the vastness of space, which can sometimes belie digital limitations, look great. Fantastic job.
The real improvement is the soundtrack...with the addition of DTS, Alien now sounds as sinister and foreboding as it looks. The surrounds, with the constant noises of the ship in operation, keep you in the middle of the suspense and action, and the .1 channel keeps the Nostromo humming along nicely. Dynamic range is potent, and spoken words sound cleaner and fuller than before.
There's a lot going on with this double disc collector's edition...the first disc allows your choice of original or director's cut version, and if you opt for the latter, you can get an on screen indicator to let you know what footage was added.
A solid commentary track makes for an enjoyable listen...Ridley Scott is there, sometimes alone and sometimes beside Sigourney Weaver. Actors Tom Skerritt, Harry Dean Stanton and Veronica Cartwright speak together for some amusing memories. John Hurt offers a few brief thoughts. Rounding out are writer Dan O'Bannon, executive producer Ronald Shusett and editor Terry Rawlings. You can hear the commentary on both versions; the director's cut offers an on-screen introduction by Ridley Scott.
Finally, you can watch the five extended or deleted scenes restored to the director's cut independently of the movie..
Disc Two boasts the sprawling "The Beast Within" documentary, which can be viewed in one setting or navigated through pre, post and production menu screens. You can also see Sigourney Weaver's screen test, read Dan O'Bannon's original screenplay, peruse some of Ridley Scott's notes, check out some multi-angle studies, or flip through numerous galleries including storyboards, stills and looks at H. R. Giger's original art. There are also seven remastered deleted scenes not selected for use in the director's cut by Scott.
One minor complaint...the menu screens are cool, but not nearly as much as what the original DVD had.
Maybe no one can hear you scream in space, but they sure can hear you in your living room. This is a classic, well made horror and sci-fi film that will probably remain a staple of both genres for a long time to come. And there has never been a better way to experience the movie at home than this DVD. This is a must own.