You know there is something to be said for perfection; seeing a perfect movie unfold as crafted by a master filmmaker; full of images both beautiful and horrifying all at once, coupled with performances that seem real. Just there up on the screen, for no other reason except for your enjoyment. That's what Alien is: Perfection. Say what you will for Cameron's visceral action, Fincher's claustrophobic creepiness, and Jeunets well general crappiness, Ridley Scott's Alien is it. Never had the alien been so dangerous, never had the fear and terror been so real, and never had the sense of in over our heads panic been so present. When I heard about the re-released director's cut I was both terrified and excited. For one thing it was a chance to see one of my all time favorite films restored and on the big screen. On the other hand why tempt fate? Why mess with perfection? Now I'm assuming that people reading this review are those who have seen the original film and want to know if the revisions muck it up. I won't go into spoilers here, but be warned newbie’s: Anything from the original cut is fair game for me.
Alien concerns a group of deep space miners who on the way home to earth. They stop to investigate a strange radio signal and find a giant ship with dead aliens and something... else which hitches a ride in one of the crewmembers. This stuff is classic Cronenberg before anyone knew who the hell Cronenberg was. There are so many great scenes that it is impossible to count. From the great opening titles with the low ominous music and stark white lines gradually appearing to spell out the title (trivia: their is one line for every crew member), to a trip into the alien space ship filled with Geiger's custom creepiness, to rows of mist covered eggs, to the organic horror of the chest bursting scene (still pretty shocking after all these years), to Ian Holm's terrifying attack scene ending with his chilling speech about the perfection of the creature, to the mad panic of the tunnel chase, to the final battle with the creature itself, everything about this film is top notch.
Well for those of you who were afraid that the new scenes would screw up the perfect balance of the original, don't worry. This isn't The Abyss, or Apocalypse Now, or New Hope where the additional footage is completely worthless. On the other hand, this isn't like Scott's own Blade Runner or Legend where the new footage improves the film by an incredible amount. It just sort of sits there neither adding nor detracting. The only really interesting stuff is found in scenes showing the nesting habits (I.e. slime cocoons) that where explored in great and gory detail in Aliens, an interesting scene between Dallas (Tom Skerrit) and Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) (I'll just say this.. Maggots), and some other random stuff. Basically if you own the DVD you've more or less seen all the deleted scenes that this has to offer.
So let's talk about this film. One thing that makes it for me is the performances. Most of the dialogue was improvised to give a feeling of reality and it does work pretty well, letting you get to know the characters. The hallmark though is how real they make it feel, kind of like Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Except that TCM didn't have recognizable faces that you had to deal with. Here you have to forget that its Fonzie, and that chick from Ghostbusters who are getting killed. By the end of the movie they make that easy, giving such impressive performances of panic and fear that you just accept them as people in over their heads and desperately trying to stay alive. That's what I really love about this film over the sequels. These people aren't Soldiers, or Convicts, or Scientists; they're blue-collar workers. They don't have guns, or armor, or intuition they have freaking cattle prods. They're Mechanics, and engineers, and miners, they're in over their heads and they know it, they don't know how to deal with this shit, they just want to get home. Where in the other films they plan, they counter attack, and they fight back; here they just panic, rush headfirst into situations they don't understand, and try to survive with sheer animal terror. Watch the look on Dallas's face in the tunnels, listen to the shrieks in the chestburster, or the acid wearing through the floor and the frenzied run to stop it from eating through the hull, or the terrifying scene where Ash attacks Ripley the way she jerks her whole body around, crawls away, never gives up just desperately searching for a way to get out, just a way to survive. Just great stuff.
Let’s look at the HG Giger's incredibly freaky artwork, the "perfect organism" of the alien dripping with slime all teeth and weapon, a full bodied weapon, ready to rip apart everything in its way. Or look at his vision of the victim aliens’ ship which looks threatening and organic, an ELP cover brought to life. Or the brilliant look of Ian Holm's meticulous design and the white blood that cakes him in his final speech. All of it is inescapably haunting work.
So what we have is a great film with wonderful performances, effects, and artwork. The new stuff doesn't detract or add it's just there. Basically gives us more good stuff. Like I said before, perfection pure and simple.