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Alien (1979, Ridley Scott), the director's cut

Ridley Scott’s director’s cut of Alien feels like vaguely engaged exercise more than any kind of devout restoration. Its less than artistic origins–Scott cut it together a combination, apparently, of fan service and studio marketing needs–actually help it quite a bit in the first act. Scott’s new cut rushes things, though it doesn’t really rush them anywhere. At the beginning, it’s kind of neat to see how he’s able to move things faster (so long as you’re generally familiar with the film and its plot), only once he runs out of story, Scott and the film stumble repeatedly.

This Alien maintains establishing shots and transition shots; Scott and new editor David Crowther hurry the actual scenes, cutting into performances. John Hurt is deemphasized, Ian Holm is more emphasized. Even though there might be more Sigourney Weaver, it takes her even longer to assume the lead role because with an increased presence for Holm, the dynamic changes. And Scott and Crowther don’t really adjust for it later, because they’re not cutting for performances, they’re cutting getting in new footage. In trying not to be sensational, Scott just makes it even worse. He doesn’t account for what his new pace is doing to how the film plays on its own, not as a special feature.

The collision of Holm and Weaver doesn’t pace well, for instance, but once its resolved, Alien: The Director’s Cut finds its footing once again. Sure, it loses it again and never quite recovers, but it loses it in the place where Alien just loses its footing, the third act. There are some “director’s cut” specific problems in the third act, which hurt the pacing and the overall experience because it’s clear when inserted footage is taped in–Crowther’s editing doesn’t match Terry Rawling’s at all, which is another big problem. It’s disjointed. In the first act, it’s kind of charming; after over an hour, it’s just tiresome.

Maybe the greatest disservice of Alien: The Director’s Cut is to the Jerry Goldsmith score. It feels more rushed than anything else. Goldsmith creates this sterile calm, a disappointing tranquility, and Scott and Crowther don’t have any time for it.

Scott should’ve just let the additional footage bloat Alien. The trims he makes elsewhere aggravate quickly before ultimately failing. At least bloated, the film would have some personality. Instead, it feels like Scott trying to turn Alien into more of a crowd-pleaser. But for a limited, familiar audience. He’s not trying to make a better film.

Luckily, the pieces are still strong. Holm, Weaver, Yaphet Kotto, Tom Skerritt, all great. Veronica Cartwright gets more to do and has less of a character as a result. Weaver experiences something similar; Scott hacks at her and Skerritt’s scenes just enough to weaken them both. Weaver’s performance deserves a lot more respect, frankly. It takes her too much for granted.

And somehow Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton lose their mojo in the new cut. Most of the content remains, but none of the personality. Again, Crowther’s using a dull hatchet on Rawling’s delicate scalpel cuts.

Alien, the director’s cut, isn’t so much a missed opportunity as a pointless endeavor. But it could have turned out a lot worse. Scott’s lack of ambition might be the saving grace.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ridley Scott; screenplay by Dan O’Bannon, based on a story by O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Derek Vanlint; edited by Terry Rawlings, Peter Weatherley, and David Crowther; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Michael Seymour; produced by Gordon Carroll, David Giler, and Walter Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tom Skerritt (Dallas), Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Veronica Cartwright (Lambert), Harry Dean Stanton (Brett), John Hurt (Kane), Ian Holm (Ash), and Yaphet Kotto (Parker).


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Alien (1979, Ridley Scott)

Can you even watch Alien if you have epilepsy?

After about a hundred minutes of elegant direction, Scott relies on this strobe effect for the remainder of the film’s running time. Yes, it makes a disquieting effect, but it gets old in a few minutes and he uses it for at least fifteen. And, strobe effect or not, it does not disguise the strange inadequacy of the climatic threat resolution shot. The special effects—after two hours of great ones—are all of a sudden pedestrian. It’s like Scott gave up.

Luckily, Jerry Goldsmith saves the day with a lift from Howard Hanson and all is reasonably well.

The first hour of Alien is very different from the second. It’s a group film, with Scott not really concentrating on any one actor more than another (except Veronica Cartwright, who’s clearly at the back of the line). In fact, traditionally speaking, the filmmaking implies John Hurt is going to be the lead from his introduction. But the background activity—what the cast members who aren’t the focus of scenes are doing—is what makes the film so striking. Whether it’s “real” or not, Alien’s supporting cast gives the impression of being deep characters. It’s something of an illusion, but it doesn’t much matter. The unsuccessful finish saves them.

While Sigourney Weaver is really strong, Yaphet Kotto and Ian Holm might be stronger. She’s best with the other actors. And Tom Skerritt can’t be discounted.

Alien’s mostly masterful, which counts for something.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ridley Scott; screenplay by Dan O’Bannon, based on a story by O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Derek Vanlint; edited by Terry Rawlings and Peter Weatherley; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Michael Seymour; produced by Gordon Carroll, David Giler and Walter Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tom Skerritt (Dallas), Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Veronica Cartwright (Lambert), Harry Dean Stanton (Brett), John Hurt (Kane), Ian Holm (Ash) and Yaphet Kotto (Parker).


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From Hell (2001, Albert and Allen Hughes)

I had no idea Heather Graham was ever a lead in such a high profile project. I knew she was in From Hell, but she’s got a lot to do–and with an Irish accent. I suppose it’s the best performance I’ve ever seen her give, maybe because her character isn’t a twit and Graham tends to play morons. She does a decent job, even if her hair coloring looks unnatural, not to mention her general appearance not seeming very realistic for a Victorian era streetwalker.

From Hell‘s a solid Jack the Ripper thriller. There’s nothing particularly outstanding about it–the graphic violence, which I guess caused a stir, is somewhat tame (it’s a Jack the Ripper movie after all), but it’s solid. Johnny Depp has a fine accent and he’s a dependable lead in this one. It’s hardly a showy role–regardless of him being psychic, which doesn’t seem to help with with the case at all. Robbie Coltrane gets all the good lines as Depp’s sidekick.

The star of the film is really the production values. It looks and feels like one thinks the 1880s London would look and feel. When the Hughes brothers do sequences with visual flourishes, well… it doesn’t exactly work. Depp’s opium-fueled fantasies look a whole lot like someone running film through iMovie filters. They’re effective due to their content, not their presentation.

Again, it’s fine. It might be too hard to really get involved with a Jack the Ripper thriller; no point.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Albert and Allen Hughes; screenplay by Terry Hayes and Rafael Yglesias, based on the comic book by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell; director of photography, Peter Deming; edited by Dan Lebental and George Bowers; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, Martin Childs; produced by Don Murphy and Jane Hamsher; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Johnny Depp (Fred Abberline), Heather Graham (Mary Kelly), Ian Holm (Sir William Gull), Jason Flemyng (Netley), Robbie Coltrane (Peter Godley), Lesley Sharp (Kate Eddowes), Susan Lynch (Liz Stride), Terence Harvey (Ben Kidney), Katrin Cartlidge (Dark Annie Chapman) and Ian Richardson (Sir Charles Warren).


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Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984, Hugh Hudson), the extended version

Greystoke ought to work. From the opening, it really seems like it might. It survives a massive narrative hiccup–switching perspective from young Tarzan to explorer Ian Holm. It establishes people in ape costumes as believable, sympathetic, feeling characters. It’s got beautiful cinematography, Hugh Hudson’s a fine director, and John Scott’s got one great score for the film. But it fails in the end. It doesn’t sputter out–the second half of the film, the return to civilization, is lengthy and problematic, but it isn’t failing–the film fails in the third act. It becomes contrived and trite, something the entire civilization half always teeters on anyway.

The script’s constantly reminding the viewer of previous scenes (death is a big thing, all the major death scenes are the same) and it’s unclear why the screenwriters went the hackneyed route. There’s a lot of aversion in Greystoke–the film avoids addressing both Christopher Lambert’s loincloth and lack of facial hair–but the film’s straight-forward attempt at telling its story, with the beautifully produced ape scenes, is creative. The problem seems to be a storytelling one (there are some production problems I’ll get to in a minute) and it has to do with perspective. The film’s not comfortable making grown Tarzan (Lambert) the protagonist. He’s always the subject. When Tarzan’s a kid, he can be the dialogue-free protagonist… but as an adult capable of speech, the film abandons him. Instead, it’s all about Ralph Richardson, Ian Holm and John Wells observing him.

The Ralph Richardson scenes are fine. He and Lambert have a definite chemistry, and so do Lambert and Holm. The Holm scenes aren’t as good, because the film avoids the most interesting part–how he and Lambert get from Africa to England–but whatever. As soon as they leave the jungle, Greystoke‘s on the path toward being a BBC winter fiasco. The constant voiceovers (both Lambert and Richardson think of previous conversations in the film, to show the viewer what they’re thinking) don’t help at all.

The film doesn’t even stay with Lambert at the end, instead going with Andie MacDowell. MacDowell’s performance is poor, even with the obvious hurdle–the poorly synced dub by Glenn Close–because it’s clear MacDowell isn’t taking the film’s events seriously. Occasionally, when she’s silent and looking around, she’s fine. But mostly she’s just bad.

Lambert is good. He isn’t silly in the jungle scenes and he’s genuinely effecting in the civilization half. Some of it comes from his lack of affected accent–and lack of dialogue–but I was pleasantly surprised with his performance. It’s too bad he doesn’t get to be the main character. Again, whatever.

The film is long, though the jungle scenes are really well paced, and rather jejune. Even with Richardson’s good performance, it only goes so far. If the script is repetitive, Hudson is obvious and the combination leads to a rather unrewarding experience.

Given the film has quite a few excellent scenes, it’s a strange it isn’t a cohesive experience. Hudson doesn’t bring much unified vision to it though and that lack might be the missing glue. The film’s last scene looks entirely different from any of the previous scenes, which makes the conclusion disconnect even more.

But with John Alcott’s photography, John Scott’s score, the wonderful Rick Baker ape make-up… it should have worked.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Hugh Hudson; screenplay by Robert Towne and Michael Austin, based on a novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs; director of photography, John Alcott; edited by Anne V. Coates; music by John Scott; production designer, Stuart Craig; produced by Stanley S. Canter and Hudson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ralph Richardson (The Sixth Earl of Greystoke), Ian Holm (Capitaine Phillippe D’Arnot), James Fox (Lord Charles Esker), Christopher Lambert (John Clayton), Andie MacDowell (Miss Jane Porter), Cheryl Campbell (Lady Alice Clayton), Ian Charleson (Jeffson Brown), Nigel Davenport (Major Jack Downing), Nicholas Farrell (Sir Hugh Belcher), Paul Geoffrey (Lord John Clayton), Richard Griffiths (Captain Billings), Hilton McRae (Willy), David Suchet (Buller) and John Wells (Sir Evelyn Blount).


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