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Alien - DVD (18)



Review: Jack Foley

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Scene access; deleted scenes (10, including a scene about the alien's life cycle); outtakes; audio commentary by director Ridley Scott; Artwork and photo galleries; original storyboards; isolated original music score; alternate music track; original theatrical trailers; subtitles in 10 languages.

'IN SPACE, no one can hear you scream!
' read the poster to one of the most terrifying cinema events of all time. When John Hurt's chest-burster first stunned audiences the world over, the actor could not have known that he had given birth to one of the most successful screen sagas of all time.

The Alien franchise, as it has lucratively become known, owes its origins to Ridley Scott's claustrophobic original; a suspense-riddled, spine-tingling deep space nightmare which took a familiar theme - that of a crew which rescues a distress call only to find themselves harbouring an unwanted passenger - and turned it on its head.

Scott has rightly become regarded as one of modern cinema's supreme stylists, but Alien continues to rate among his finest work. Set sometime in the future, his film features the crew of the space tug Nostromo who receive an extraterrestrial transmission that originates from a desolate planet.

After discovering the tattered ruins of an ancient space ship, the investigating team stumble upon a chamber full of eggs, famously investigated by Hurt's hapless Kane, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Pitting their wits against the unrelenting creature which results are the likes of Tom Skerritt's captain, Harry Dean Stanton's simple crew hand, Yaphet Kotto's gung-ho mechanic, Ian Holm's sinister android and, of course, Sigourney Weaver's gutsy Ellen Ripley.

Where Alien excels, however, is in its eerie visuals, dimly-lit corridors, mind-numbing suspense and awe-inspiring special effects. Like Spielberg with Jaws, Scott cranks up the tension by offering only glimpses of his (or rather HR Giger's) alien creation. This is a beast which lives in the shadows, tucked away in corners, coiled high in ceilings, which strikes with a deadly quick precision - little wonder, then, that adults hated to return to dark homes after viewing it in even darker cinemas.

And there are very few death scenes (if any) that don't linger in the memory - whether it is Skerritt's futile search amid the pipes (as watched by the crew on a computer screen), or Dean Stanton's search for the cat - a scene which is repeated, much later, with Weaver's heroine.

Even today, many of the key moments of Scott's undeniable masterpiece continue to be copied or even lifted wholesale by other, lesser directors - I, for one, can't remember seeing a horror movie involving a heroine which does not involve the actress in question stripping down to her skimpies (it is damn near obligatory, post Ripley strip).

Likewise, several of the camera angles have been borrowed (Event Horizon, in particular, draws heavily), as have some of the plot contrivances.

That Alien manages to work as an intelligent chiller also marks it out as a modern classic - it seldom insults the audience, throwing in some nice food for thought during its quieter moments.

And while Alien's successors have continued to thrill audiences the world over (James Cameron's pumped-up sequel, in particular, standing out among them), Scott's original remains the daddy of the series.

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