After nearly a quarter-century, Ridley Scott’s 1979 haunted-house-on-a-spaceship classic “Alien” has been released in what’s called a director’s cut. The actual differences in footage are minimal: a few scenes have been trimmed by what amount to seconds, and one substantial sequence has been added to show the fate of some of the creature’s unfortunate victims. The new material isn’t any great shakes, but it’s not embarrassing (as some viewers, for instance, found the added scenes that marked the expanded version of “The Exorcist” a couple of years ago). Technically what makes this new version of “Alien” so splendid is the beautiful remastering, which gives the images magnificent sharpness and depth and the soundtrack astonishing power (Jerry Goldsmith’s eerie score sounds wonderfully effective in this context).
Otherwise the film is as fine as ever–which is saying quite a lot. “Alien” remains a prime example of how a masterly director can maintain suspense and build almost unbearable tension simply through pacing and rhythm. One also can wonder anew at the skill with which Scott creates a mundane atmosphere among the spacebound crew by using overlapping dialogue and understated, down-to-earth antagonisms (the conversation between Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton is particularly “right”). Even the genre cliches–the scares frequently provided by Jonesy the Cat–seem almost freshly minted. And the low-key performances fit the piece marvelously. The youthful, brusque Ripley of Sigourney Weaver, the world-weary Dallas of Tom Skerritt, the frightened Lambert of Veronica Cartwright, the gruffly masculine Parker of Kotto, the reedy Brett of Stanton, the mysteriously emotionless Ash of Ian Holm–all are essentially cardboard figures who become more than that here. And, of course, there’s John Hurt’s Kane, whose table-top scene still carries a punch.
One can nit-pick “Alien.” A few effects moments come across as a trifle outdated by modern standards. But in the important areas of style and impact, it remains head and shoulders above today’s bloated, whiplash-paced blockbusters. It’s still one scary mother.