"In space, no one can hear you scream." In 1979, the year I joined the ranks of teendom, that tagline for Alien was irresistible for my friends and me. We all snuck into that forbidden Rated R auditorium to see it again and again. Then we had to walk home, alone, late at night in the dark... I can still remember the chill that was brought on by more than just the crisp air of our small, mountaintop town. (And it's, er, alien to me now that in 1979, we 12 and 13 years olds wandered the midnights with not much other than fear itself to fear.)
In an era of horror remakes (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre out now, and The Fly, The Thing, and The Hills Have Eyes all slated to be "reimagined" soon), Alien, the original, stands alone as such. Like vinyl records versus CDs, there is a warmth and texture to the film and an organic feel to the hand-painted mattes and the clunky spaceship that lumbers through space. And then there's the dripping, gooey and gelatinous, oh-so-real alien itself, who was designed by the superlative Swiss surrealist, H.R. Giger... not some geeky graduate of the USC Film School who's only drawn in pixels and never in pencil. Alien also pretty much introduced the kick-ass female heroine to the genre with Sigourney Weaver, a stage actress who stepped into the role initially written for a man.
This is where it all began, kiddies. Now is your chance to see Sir Ridley Scott's innovative piece of alien horror. Stanley Kubrick might have started the idea of no one hearing you scream in space with 2001: A Space Odyssey ten years before, but Scott, a man who never directed a music video, eviscerated that idea and threw the guts everywhere, by showing us why. On the big screen, you can fully experience the seminal "alien birth" scene as suffered by John Hurt. You can see the details of the primal, hermaphrodite killing machine which has a phallic head and a vaginal double-mouth. You can read the abject terror in the gloss of the devastated crew-member's eyes. You cannot fully realize any of that on VHS or DVD.
If you are indeed from another planet and haven't seen Alien yet, here's the gist: the Nostromo crew lands on a far-flung planet in deep space to investigate a mysterious transmission emanating from its bowels. While on the alien planet, one of the crewmembers is attacked by a spider-like creature that adheres itself to his face. He is taken back to the Nostromo, where it is learned -- too late -- that the creepy critter has laid an egg into his body. Like all incubating eggs, it waits only to hatch... and it turns out to be anything but over-easy as it stalks the crew, picked them off one-by-one in the hollow, dark, shadowy and cyberpunky floating vacuum of the Nostromo. Where no one's screams are heard.
It's amazing now to think back and realize that this very important film was only nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Visual Effects and Best Art Direction/Set Decoration). It did win one of those Oscars, thanks to designers Giger and Heavy Metal French artist, Moebius. The success of Alien led to the financing of Scott's next futuristic film, Blade Runner (1982) and spawned a league of sequels and imitators that haunt us to this day. But there is really only one Alien. (We can thank our lucky stars that O'Bannon's original screenplay title, Star Beast, was nixed).
The additional scenes in the Director’s Cut don’t change the film as dramatically as did the "spider" scene in the release of The Exorcist, but even if one new frame hadn't been inserted, it is still well worth seeing Alien on the big screen again.