To celebrate the release of Prometheus this week, we’ll be taking a look at the other movies in the Alien franchise.
Alien: The Director’s Cut is a curious beast. It’s more of an alternate cut than a director’s cut of Ridley Scott’s iconic Alien. It actually runs a few seconds shorter than the original theatrical cut of the film, although it contains more than five minutes of different footage. While five minutes of footage can have a significant impact on the final cut of a film, I’d be hard-pressed to argue that they add considerable depth to Scott’s science-fiction masterpiece. Aliens: The Special Edition re-inserted scenes that expanded and developed the themes of Cameron’s sequel, while Alien³: The Assembly Cut offers a glimpse of a movie far different from the one released. In contrast, Alien: The Director’s Cut… doesn’t really do much of anything. It’s just an alternative to the theatrical edition.
Okay, there are differences between the versions. Still, we’re not talking about an entirely different film here. I don’t think the footage improves the film, nor would I argue that it diminishes the film – I think I’d prefer to watch the theatrical cut, but I’d have no objection if my companion opted for the director’s cut instead. I don’t think there are any flaws with the original film that really mandate an alternative cut like this, and Scott himself concedes that in the introduction he filmed for the set. “I’ve always been proud of it,” Scott muses, about the theatrical cut of the movie, and he’s quite right to be. This isn’t like Blade Runner, where the director has been slowly trying to recover his version of the film for decades.
Indeed, it sounds like the people producing the “Alien Anthology” came up to Scott and politely stated that James Cameron had extended his cut of Aliens and that editors were trying to salvage Alien³, so would Scott like the chance to produce his own alternative version of the first film? It almost seems like he produced it so that his film wouldn’t be the only movie in the set with only one version available. Scott has always been clear that he feels his version of Alien is as close to perfect as he could get it, and it’s hard to disagree.
That’s not to complain, or to be too cynical about this cut. It’s clear that Scott didn’t just trim some footage, add some footage and stick his name on it. One can definitely get a feel for what Scott is attempting to do in constructing this alternative cut of a classic and cult film. In many ways, it feels like Scott is trying to adjust the film for modern audiences who are already familiar with it. The biggest single change, at least in terms of style, is that Scott trims down on those atmospheric tracking shots. Those wonderful panning shots through the ship seemed to evoke a haunted house in space, creating an unnerving and ethereal quality. Scott trims those in order to pace the movie a bit faster.
He sacrifices a little bit of form for a little bit of plot. Instead of those long, roaming shots, we get a hint of the alien’s reproductive cycle, considerably different from how James Cameron would imagine it a few years later. We get to hear the beacon from LV-246, and it becomes immediately apparent that the crew are dealing with something completely outside their own frame of reference. It does slightly change the tone of the film, but not radically and not dynamically. Those without an intimate knowledge of the series would probably be hard-pressed to notice the changes, outside two key scenes.
The first, and the most interesting, occurs when Ash lets Kane back inside the ship, against Ripley’s orders. When Ripley comes to visit the sick bay, Lambert attacks her hysterically. Then, almost immediately, Dallas lambastes her for trying to lock them out of the ship. “Ripley,” he clarifies, “when I give an order I expect to be obeyed.” Ripley inquires, “Even if it’s against the law?” Dallas answers, “You’re goddamn right!” In case the audience hasn’t picked up on the subtext, Parker explicitly comments, “Maybe she has a point. Who in the hell knows what thing is?”
It’s a nice scene, if only because it very clearly identifies Ripley as the character with the most common sense on the ship. The theatrical cut tries to present Ripley as a supporting character until Dallas meets his untimely end, albeit one well characterised. Here, Scott puts an emphasis on her decision to lock Kane and the others outside the ship, while drawing the audience’s attention to the fact that Ripley might have avoided this whole mess had anybody listened to her. It also, and I think effectively, contrasts the stoic Ripley with the hysterical Lambert, as two different feminine characters.
Of course, it’s not essential. After all, we’ve literally just seen Ripley make her decision and we’ve seen Dallas protest it. It doesn’t take the most astute viewer to realise that Ripley is the smartest character on the ship, and that the failure of her male colleagues to actually listen to her accounts for a major part of the massive tragedy that unfolds. So, with that in mind, the scene seems to exist just to clarify that situation. Still, I think it makes for a nice inclusion, as it makes explicit a lot of the stuff that was heavily implicit.
The second major scene is the one that most fans of the series seem to pay attention to, when Ripley discovers what can only be described as a nest in the cargo bay. It looks like the creature is trying to make eggs out of Dallas and Brett. A lot of people make a fuss out of how different this is from the life cycle suggested by James Cameron’s Aliens, but I don’t mind. It was, after all, made first and deleted from the film. I just think it’s a very effective way of illustrating how alien the ship itself is, that the alien would actually be able to construct a nest in one of the most open areas of the ship without anybody realising it. I think it plays well into Scott’s core themes and works well with other sequences where the creature “camouflages” itself against the inside of the decaying ship.
That’s really about it, as far as differences go between the two cuts. There’s a very slight tonal difference, but not one that a casual observer would pick up. It doesn’t add too much, nor does it take away too much. It’s just a nice, fun, optional movie-length extra for fans of the series.
You might be interested in our reviews of the other films in the Alien series:
- Alien: The Director’s Cut
- Alien: Resurrection
- Alien vs. Predator
- Alien vs. Predator: Requiem
Filed under: On Second Thought Tagged: | alien, blade runner, Dallas, directors cut, Ellen Ripley, james cameron, List of Alien characters, Prometheus, Ridley, ridley scott, Ripley, Scott, sigourney weaver