Saturday, November 01, 2003 Arts & Entertainment | Alien -- The horror, the horror

Unlike its increasingly baroque series of sequels, Ridley Scott's original 1979 "Alien" is a film about human loneliness amid the emptiness and amorality of creation.

Watching these scenes on the big screen, for the first time since cutting high school in May 1979 with a few friends to see the film on the Friday it opened, I recognize how few horror movies I've seen before or since that ever manage to capture such a tangible feeling of menace. "Alien" was only Scott's second feature and it remains his best, even compared to "Blade Runner" (which is a more important film, in the sense that it affected not only the future of movies but the future of urban design).

Strikingly, knowing what's going to happen -- and one can only assume that the audience for "Alien: The Director's Cut" mostly won't be virgins -- does little to dampen the experience. If anything, this digitally cleaned-up and remastered version, with a rejiggered six-track stereo soundtrack (and one grotesque, never-before-seen scene in the Alien's "nest"), makes you appreciate the delicacy of the film's symbolism, the masterly composition of shot after shot, and Jerry Goldsmith's subtly unsettling but never ham-handed score.

When I first saw "Alien" I could see no connection between it and Joseph Conrad's great novel "Nostromo," a philosophical adventure yarn about a corrupted Latin American revolution -- the naming of the ship just seemed like a little literary in-joke. (Nostromo is the name of a revolutionary leader in the novel, not of a vessel.) But nearly a quarter-century later, "Alien" has acquired a classic quality of its own, and seems to offer some of the uncategorizable fatalism and pessimism of the book, even if it's an entirely different kind of story.

I think that accounts for the dread we still feel at the end of "Alien," when Weaver, memorably clad in that bikini underwear, locks herself (and her irresistible cat, Jonesy) back into that plastic egg for the long ride home. She has survived, but toward what end? And the world she is returning to is the one that betrayed her in the first place.

EL Digest of Salon's review. I still think that Aliens 2 is a better film as well as a more crowd pleasing film. But then I like action better than horror. Except for this film I really don't like horror and this had to have a great sequel to grow on me.

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