DIRECTED BY Ridley Scott
STARRING Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Hatry Dean Stanton
Opened October 31, Cert 15, 115 mins
Scott’s franchise-launching 1979 future-shocker is one of those rare, pure, primal films that works as both highbrow modern myth and trouser-soiling midnight movie. Combining elements of horror, stalk’n’slash chase movie and sci-fi into one impeccably orchestrated space-age nightmare, Alien is a symphony in terror.
Scott’s new edit keeps the basic plot intact: the crew of a space mining ship pick up a chillingly grotesque face-hugging parasite on a remote planet, kicking off a deadly search-and-destroy showdown with a killer alien. Echoing its loose genesis in co-writer Dan O’Bannon’s script for John Carpenter’s 1974 astro-satire Dark Star, the crew’s semi-improvised dialogue establishes a mood of deceptively mundane realism before all hell breaks loose. Weaver’s career-making role as Ripley was originally meant to be male but switched because, she claims, audiences would not expect a woman to survive.
Remixing a near-perfect cult classic demands a light touch, as Scott learnt with his ponderous Blade Runner makeover. Aside from a little extra banter between Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton, the sole significant plot change here is the notorious “cocoon scene”, in which Ripley stumbles across several of the crew in alien gestation pods. Purists have protested that this addition screws with the hive logic of James Cameron’s 1986 sequel, to which there are two possible answers: (a) not necessarily, as lone aliens may still be programmed to prepare hosts for possible fertilisation; and (b) get a life, you sad fucks.
Any further changes are subtle technical tweaks sharpening up pace, image and sound. Minor stuff on paper, but on the big screen Alien is reborn as a pin-sharp composition. Especially well served are HR Giger’s Oscar-winning production designs, a Freudian military-industrial-Oedipal complex of tumescent starships, penile-headed beasts and moist vaginal openings. Weaver once claimed Alien is all about heterosexual man’s fear of penetration, and Giger’s timeless, suggestive, unnervingly organic designs certainly add an extra layer of intriguing body horror.
Scott initially wanted to end the film with Ripley being decapitated. Thankfully, wiser voices prevailed. Alien remains the Geordie director’s most powerful, haunting, memorably understated masterpiece.