“In space no one can hear you scream” was the slogan that drew a conglomerate of horror and science fiction fans to theatres in 1979. Was it horror or sci-fi? Alien turned out to be a rare cross-genre film that managed to satisfy both audiences. Ridley Scott started out by bringing the “space ship” film away from the glamorous bright future and depicted a world startlingly very much like our own. In Scott’s gritty future companies are quasi-government agencies and these astronauts are not explorers out for glory and…heroism. They are strictly blue collar workers trying to make a buck. It’s hard to imagine that most of the cast, including Sigourney Weaver, were relative unknowns at the time. Weaver would create a new model for female leads that would later pave the way for actors like Linda Hamilton.
The crew of the mining vessel Nostromo are prematurely awakened from their suspended animation when the ship receives a distress call. They follow the mysterious signal to a barren planet. Here they enter a giant derelict that appears to be centuries old. Inside a creature leaps from an egg and attaches itself to one of the crew. The creature molts and soon becomes a stealthy badmouth that stalks the crew one by one from the ship’s ventilation system. Ripley (Weaver) manages to set the ship’s destruct in violation of company orders to bring the creature back to Earth for study. Ripley drifts in her escape pod in the hope that the creature was destroyed.
Alien is presented in a marvelous Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Although the film was done before the advent of surround sound, 20th Century Fox did an outstanding job of remixing the original material. This movie was creepy enough before, but now the DVD has effectively placed you in the claustrophobic confines of the Nostromo’s ventilation shafts. The winds of the planet will whirl about you in an almost dizzying fury. Jerry Goldsmith’s score is simply one of his best. The DVD picks up all the subtle nuances of this hauntingly effective music.
There is an audio commentary by Ridley Scott. It’s obvious his take on this film has evolved since 1979. He can’t help but also be tainted by the sequels, mostly ineffective but for Aliens. The commentary comes across as a person discussing their old school days as evidenced by his occasional critique on the work you’re seeing.
Alien is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. There have been many transfers of this film produced in the last 20 years, but this one is truly special. I had forgotten just how magnificent some of these sets really were. The “Jockey” is far more detailed than I remembered it. The colors are vibrant without losing the feel for the 1970’s film stock. There is notable grain but it is part of the film process Scott intended. The blacks are rock solid providing a rich environment for the film’s many chilling moments. Another surprise is the layer change… I usually notice it immediately, but I still don’t know where it is on this DVD. Not only does this disc sport a flawless transition, it also contains a beautiful video presentation.
There are many incredible features packed into this anniversary edition. Many are returned from previous releases including the deluxe laserdisc. The deleted scenes and outtakes are awesome. Many of these scenes have been hinted at over the years, like the scene where Dallas begs Ripley to kill him in his cocoon. From a historical point of view these scenes alone are a treasure. You can isolate parts of the soundtrack such as Goldsmith’s score. You can also hear the unfinished production track, often referred to as a “scratch track”. Most of it’s hard to hear, but you’ll happen upon set directions and conversations there. The menus are some of the coolest. As you navigate through portions of the Nostromo you’ll find trailers, production artwork, and the usual text based stuff.
Of course, Alien is all about … The Alien. H. R. Giger has created a truly memorable creature for this film. From its acid blood to the mouth within a mouth, this creature has been ripped from our worst nightmares. Even as the third and fourth installments continue to become weaker the appeal remains strong mostly because we can’t help but want one more look at this creature. About the only other thing you can say about it is: “Whatever it was… it was big”.
Special Features List
- Director’s Commentary
- Isolated musical score
- Alternate music and production sound track
- Deleted scenes
- Artwork and photo galleries
- Theatrical trailer