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Alien: The Director's Cut - revisiting a classic and adding extra material



Feature by: Jack Foley

THE special edition of Alien originated two years ago when Twentieth Century Fox commenced preservation efforts on the original 1979 film.

The studio and director, Ridley Scott, while pleased with the condition of the negative, decided that additional enhancements were in order.

"Surprisingly, the negative still looked pretty good," says Scott, "but the blacks were a little 'fluttery' and it was starting to go a little grainy."

To preserve and enhance the film's colors, the studio made black-and-white preservation elements, creating an Interpositive print (IP) from the original camera negative, which was then digitally scanned.

As this work proceeded, Fox approached Scott with the idea of creating a special edition of Alien, adding scenes and footage never before seen in theaters.

"I don't usually revisit my films, but after I took a look at Alien, I thought that it really held up well after 24 years," says Scott. "At the same time, I realized a new generation of filmgoers has never seen it properly - on the big screen. So it seemed the right time to release Alien again, theatrically.

"And why not adjust something if you think it's not quite right," Scott continues. "I wanted to keep the film fresh for today's audiences, and preparing a new edition was a way to accomplish this."

Scott and the studio brought aboard a team of film "archaeologists" to search for and archive missing picture and sound elements.

Their search took them to London, where they discovered hundreds of boxes of original camera negative deleted scenes, outtakes and original sound recordings, stored in a vault. The footage was brought to Los Angeles for Scott's evaluation for inclusion in the planned Director's Cut of the film.

The additional footage underwent the same restoration process and digital scanning as the original 1979 film. Then, Scott and his team digitally assembled a new cut.

The digital realm facilitated additional clean-up work on the film, not possible through traditional 'chemical'/negative preservation.

Scott, a relatively new convert to the world of digital cinema, was thrilled with the results of these additional enhancements. "Alien looks today as good as it did 24 years ago - maybe better," he says. "The digital work is a great way to preserve the film for future generations."

Among the new material in this special edition of Alien is a scene Scott calls "The Nest," in which Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, finds the remains of Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) and Dallas (Tom Skerritt).

Scott has always liked the scene, but in 1979 he opted not to include it because he had thought it interrupted the breakneck pace of the film's final 17 minutes.

"It was a matter of dynamics," he says. "I thought that the nest scene might interrupt the tension as Ripley races for the escape vehicle. But when I reexamined the scene, it seemed to work very well, so it's back in."

The additional material also includes a confrontation that turns physical between Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) and Ripley, and a shot of the Alien hanging from chains just prior to its capture of Brett.

The creation of this special edition also enabled Scott to make some subtle trims to the film. "In looking at the film again, I became impatient with what I call my 'preambles'" - characters entering or existing shots.

"I was, perhaps, too in love with the sets and the lighting."

So, Scott began snipping several shots in increments of 10-15 seconds. "We shaved things a bit," he says, "which creates a slight difference in energy from the 1979 version."

The restoration of the film's audio tracks plays an equally important role as the visuals in this Director's Cut of Alien.

The filmmakers went back to the film's original six-track stereo mix, created for its 70mm engagements, only to discover that the mix was incomplete. So, they re-built the six-track surround sound - and created a new six-track mix for the additional scenes.

Among the notable improvements in the new soundtrack is a different Alien transmission signal, which famed sound designer Ben Burtt (Star Wars) recorded in 1979.

While Jerry Goldsmith's acclaimed score is unaltered, Scott is pleased that the new sound mix will give audiences the chance to experience it as Scott and Goldsmith intended.

"What's nice about the mix is that it's a kind of lesson in minimal use of music," says Scott. "We only use the score when we need to, so when it comes in it's always for a reason. I think Jerry's score is evocative and chilling as well as beautiful. It's still one of the best, scariest scores I've heard."

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