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Fox / 552 Minutes / 1979-1997 / Rated R / Street Date: October 26, 2010
Watch the skies! The titular creature of Alien, which resembles nothing so much as a giant penis with teeth, is the ultimate in bio-mechanical terror. Mr. Pissed-Off Genitalia has acid for blood, an insatiable appetite for human destruction and, when it wakes up from its nap, is not in the best of moods. It (or he, or she) also has a nasty habit of laying giant eggs, which hatch spidery facehuggers that like to attach themselves to the most readily available human host for a little sleepy-time. Then, if you're lucky, when you wake up, you'll get to enjoy a quick meal before your chests bursts open and an icky, gooey little maggot slithers out.
Who said being in a sci-fi horror classic was easy?
Ridley Scott's Alien is an art film. It is austere, cold and clinical, awash in vast, barren landscapes as oppressive as they are ominous. Like Steven Spielberg's JAWS, its effectiveness is largely due to the technological limitations of the time. With no CGI at his disposal, Scott had to rely on the old man-in-a-suit gag, so he hid his creature behind oblique angles, lots of mood lighting and quick, blink-or-you'll-miss-it fast cuts. It's all arty and spooky and creepy, which helps us forget that nothing much really goes on for nearly two hours.
You have to give props to Scott for casting f Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, the first female action/sci-fi heroine, but she is given little to do but look panicked and inexplicably shimmy down to her panties, complete with exposed ass crack.
Not that any of this makes me love Alien any less. Critics sniveled at the wafer-thin characters and derivative plotting, but who cares? All a good horror movie has to do is be scary, and Alien manages to do what few have, and actually horrifies us. Too bad Scott had to go muck it up with the new "Director's Cut" - and what a cheater! As he reveals in the included liner essay, it isn't a director's cut at all, just a marketing conceit designed to get us to see it again on the big screen. As Scott himself agrees, the original theatrical version is still the best. So stick with the first, and still the best, Alien.
1986's Aliens is the first of follow-ups and, for many, the better picture. James Cameron updated the mythos by adding lots of action, expanding the alien's lifecycle and actually giving Ripley some dialogue. It is easy to trace the Cameron lineage back to The Terminator; like Aliens, The Abyss and Titanic, all are chick flicks of mass destruction, but this time all that gooey mother-daughter stuff with Newt actually pays off. Yes, this is a horror film with heart. (Awwwww!) And that the flick was made on the cheap only makes it greater, because you can't even tell.