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Photograph by Robert Penn

Touched by an Alien: Harry Dean Stanton doesn't have long to live in 'Alien.'

Bug Chaser

The squid stays in the picture: Ridley Scott's original 'Alien' revisited

By Richard von Busack

WITH A SNARL, Jones pounced. There was a sickening sound as the vengeful claws sunk home into the Alien's tentacles. In seconds, the hell-creature was nothing but a shredded mess that looked like the aftermath of an explosion at a sushi bar. Ripley turned her face away in disgust. The Alien expired noisily, with a last telepathic cry: "Beware the beast man! Especially beware his companion animal, the marmalade-colored tomcat!" Some fans will complain, but I for one thought this new director's cut of Alien was a great improvement on the original.

Despite the new "Death Kitty 2037" ending, Alien is--in a digitally scanned new print--almost what it was in 1979. The fates of Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) and Dallas (Tom Skerritt) are slightly more explicit, in a sequence later redone for Aliens. New viewers, hearing this original haunted-spaceship opus described as "the scariest movie ever made," will be in for inevitable disappointment, as would anyone faced with that kind of hyperbole. Director Ridley Scott claims that the opening scenes have been trimmed 10 seconds here or there; the change in rhythm isn't particularly noticeable. And the Nostromo is starting to show its age. Note the disco lighting in the communications room, the computer commands conducted in what looks like a combo of ASCII and Pac-Man graphics.

Yet Alien is well remembered for its art direction, an amalgam of H.R. Giger, Ron Cobb and Moebius, as well as for the then-innovative way the ship is warmed by the hominess of cigarettes and beer, wind chimes and Hawaiian shirts. Evidence of humanity counters the industrial funk of the Nostromo, a barge flying in outer space, layered with grit, oil and moisture. Stanley Kubrick's 2001 is a model for this, including the slow shots at the beginning. And note how Ripley half-sings a tune from "Singin' in the Rain" as she gets ready for violence, just as Alec the Droog does. But Kubrick wouldn't have gone for the bizarre yet sweet passage where Brett turns his face up to a leaking water tank for an impromptu shower.

As for the central love story, time cannot stale it. The tall, dark leading man is a 9-foot-tall cephalopod with molecular-acid blood and titanium teeth. "Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility," observes science officer Ash (Ian Holm). The creature's partner is Sigourney Weaver, whose structural perfection is matched only by her hostility. But she's not the emotionless action-man-in-drag heroine, like the ones (such as Ms. Jolie) who began turning up in the field after Alien became a hit. The film's most touching moment comes when Ripley bursts into tears when she learns that the Nostromo has been set on a lethal mission. Alien made a star out of Weaver, and the Alien saga is a success due to her and her evolution: as a motherly macha in Aliens, as the shaven-headed prisoner in the honest, if thoroughly depressing AIDS allegory Alien3 and as the spawning hum(alie)n in Alien Resurrection. The morals of the story, both useful, are "Don't trust corporations" and "Don't let the cat out!"

Alien: The Director's Cut (R; 116 min.), directed by Ridley Scott, written by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusettt, photographed by Derek Vanlint and starring Sigourney Weaver and Harry Dean Stanton, plays at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the October 30-November 5, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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