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Alien
Reviewed by Dennis Morton


Almost a quarter of a century after Ridley Scott’s "Alien" first hit the big screen and forever changed celluloid space travel, I’ve paid it another visit, thanks to the folks who run the grand old Del Mar Theatre in downtown Santa Cruz. The new "director’s cut" is not significantly different from the original. What’s changed the most is me, and, I suspect, the rest of us who were mesmerized by the 1979 version.

If you haven’t seen the original and you value the surprise factor in movies, best to lower the volume on your radio now, because I’ll be mentioning events you’ll want to encounter with fresh eyes.

My critical faculties were fallow 24 years ago, and my appetite for pure entertainment more voracious than now. I remember loving this film. I’ve replayed the famous, literally gut-splitting scene over and over in my memory and imagination. And I’ve seen it referenced and revered and parodied almost as many times in popular culture over the years. There’s no way the original could live up to its reputation, and sadly, for me at least, it doesn’t. Nor could the climax retain its original impact – which, again, it doesn’t. And the ground-breaking portrait of the quotidian drabness of the long haul from earth to job site and back again – even that seems not quite so dourly impressive.

If art is defined partly by its inexhaustibility, that is, that you can’t wear it out by repeated visits, then "Alien" loses even more of its luster. But at the same time, I’ve the suspicion I’m not being fair to it. It has, after all, spawned a zillion imitators, and if the cliché is true, that’s at least high flattery.

If I’m less impressed with the story, and it’s telling, this time around, I’m more impressed with Scott’s prescient portrait of an earth gone terribly wrong. The plot boils down to putting in a long day’s work and on the way home picking up the hitchhiker from hell. In the end, quick thinking and a bit of luck salvages a frightening turn of events.

It’s what the survivors are coming home to, though, that’s really frightening. The future, as envisioned by Scott, is an unholy marriage of corporations and the state, a society in which the lives of workers are expendable, but potential weapons systems aren’t. "Alien" is set circa the 2030s. We’re on course for fulfilling Scott’s prophecy way ahead of time.
My second look at "Alien", almost a quarter of a century later, is not intended to discourage anyone from taking another look. I’ve seen the "director’s cut" twice, and may see it one more time.

For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.