31 October 2003 sees the theatrical release of Alien:
The Director's Cut.
An exclusive digital presentation is planned for the Odeon
Leicester Square, where the film first terrified audiences
in 1979. Scott's sci-fi masterpiece, digitally re-mastered
with additional scenes, is set to introduce a new generation
of cinema goers to the big screen terror that first shocked
audiences 24 years ago. Darren Rea looks at why you should
go to the cinema to revisit this classic sci-fi movie...
Reasons to See Alien on the Big Screen
Alien was filmed in Panavision widescreen 70mm, a film
format exactly twice the size of regular film. This means
that when the film is projected on a cinema screen, it is
twice as crisp and sharp as normal film, replicating digital
The fact that Alien was filmed in widescreen (ratio
2.35:1) means that roughly 50% of the screen image is lost
when presented on normal-sized television, the ratio of which
is 4:3 - ie, almost square. Even widescreen televisions have
a ratio of 16:9, meaning that either 33% of the image is lost,
or - if the image is reproduced in full - black bars still
appear across the top and bottom of the screen.
Filming Alien in widescreen gave director Ridley Scott
the ability to use the entire frame of the film to his advantage,
hiding movement in every darkened recess of the screen. Most
of this disquieting effect, which adds greatly to the chill
factor, is lost on the small screen.
Many of Alien's groundbreaking special effects were
achieved using 'physical' effects such as miniatures and full-scale
sets, rather than post-production effects. This means that,
when viewed on a cinema screen, Alien special effects
- notably, the terrifying alien creature itself - look even
more realistic than they do on the small screen - and twice
The claustrophobia and sense of dread which Ridley Scott carefully
built in filming Alien is partially lost when the film
is viewed in the environment of, say, a living room. The darkened
environment and relative dearth of distractions of a cinema
makes it the perfect venue to watch one of the scariest movies
Alien was released in 1979, at a time when cinema sound
systems were virtually unchanged since the inception of the
first 'talking pictures' half a century earlier. Today, the
film has been remastered in THX digital surround sound, making
Alien far scarier than it was when the original version
Although Alien certainly has its fair share of shock
moments, what Ridley Scott biographer Paul M Sammon has described
as "Scott's meticulous attention to the mechanics of cinematic
unease, including long, quiet, protracted 'takes' suddenly
shattered... by unexpected shrieks of sound or jolting slashes
of movement" which make Alien one of the scariest movies
ever made. Naturally, there is no better place to experience
this than a cinema.
Ridley Scott's almost unprecedented melding of the conventions
of science fiction and horror make Alien one of cinema's
true milestones. Seeing it on the big screen is the only way
to re-create the fear and dread with which cinema audiences
were first greeted when the film became one of the first major
science fiction films to follow George Lucas's Star Wars,
released two years earlier in 1977.
One of the most important elements for Ridley Scott was Alien's
production design. Scott deliberately hired different artists
- production designer Ron Cobb and Swiss surrealist H R Giger
- to conceptualise the human and alien elements of the film,
resulting in one of the most distinctive looking films of
all time. The spacecraft Nostromo, its environments, uniforms
and electronic equipment, all attest to a 'used future' -
something virtually unseen in the shiny and sleek science
fiction up to that point. The alien creatures and the derelict
ship, meanwhile, have an otherworldly look which has often
been copied but never improved upon. As might be expected,
the cinema screen is the only place such attention to detail
can truly be appreciated.
In addition to being restored and remastered specially for
the cinema, using state of the art THX digital sound, Alien:
The Director's Cut incorporates several minutes of footage
never before seen in cinemas.
Things You Never Knew About Alien
Alien was originally written by Dan O'Bannon - who
co-wrote and co-starred in John Carpenter's 1974 sci-fi comedy
Dark Star. When the film failed to find an audience,
O'Bannon suggested to friend Ronald Shusett that perhaps it
was easier to write something that would scare people than
make them laugh. Thus, they set to work on a script which
would one day become Alien. The original title: Star
Before deciding to make Alien, Ridley Scott had been
planning to follow his first film, The Duellists, with
an adaptation of Tristan and Isolde. He changed his
mind after being invited to a screening of Star Wars.
"I thought 'I must be out of my mind!'" he later recalled.
"This is what cinema is about!" Scott soon abandoned his plans
to make Tristan and Isolde and let his agent know that
he was looking for a science fiction film.
When Scott received the Alien screenplay, he was immediately
hooked - "right from the first page. In fact, I finished the
thing in a single go, in under an hour and a half, which is
an extremely rare thing for me to do. I was so impressed with
the Alien screenplay that, within twenty-four hours
of my reading it, I had decided that this would be my next
Ripley was originally scripted to be a male character. When
one of the producers suggested that they could change all
the rules of science fiction films by making her - essentially
the hero - a woman, Ridley Scott embraced the idea and a movie
legend was born.
According to Ridley Scott, fresh oysters and clams were used
for the facehugger innards. Model soldiers and children in
spacesuits - including Scott's two sons, now both directors
in their own right - were used to portray miniature astronauts.
Actress Veronica Cartwright, who plays the part of Lambert,
was originally cast in the role of Ripley. She only found
out that she was playing Lambert instead when she read the
nametag on her uniform during costume fitting. "I thought
I was playing Ripley," she says. "That's the only part I'd
ever read for, so that's what I thought. I'd never even looked
at the script from the point of view of Lambert, so I had
to reread the script."
The 'chestburster' scene, arguably the film's most famous,
was achieved by having John Hurt sit in a deckchair under
a table, with his head joined to a false body, leaving his
head writhing and his arms thrashing. (A similar technique
is used when Ash's severed head is revived later in the film.)
Scott had not warned the cast what would happen when the creature
burst from John Hurt's chest - that they would all be sprayed
with pig's blood - because he wanted their reactions to be
real. They are.
The ship at the centre of the story was originally named the
Snark, after the legendary creature being sought in Lewis
Carroll's poem The Hunting of the Snark. Its next name
was Leviathan - a reference to its enormous size - before
Scott eventually settled on Nostromo, the title of a novel
by Joseph Conrad, a quotation from whom opens the screenplay:
"We live as we dream - alone."
In addition to being restored and remastered, Alien: The
Director's Cut incorporates several minutes of footage
never before seen in cinemas: notably a scene in which Ripley
(Sigourney Weaver) discovers Dallas (Tom Skerritt) cocooned
by the alien creatures.
Released on 25 May 1979 on just 91 screens - far fewer than
the release of Alien: The Director's Cut - Alien
grossed just $3.5 million during its weekend debut, but went
on to earn a massive $78.9 million in the US alone.
thanks to Emily
Carr at Greenroom
Century Fox's Alien: The Director's Cut is
on general release from 31