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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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Knight Moves (1992, Carl Schenkel)

I think I’ve seen Knight Moves at least twice before. The first time I saw it I stopped watching Night Moves and went back to the video store for this one.

What can I say? I had no taste when I was fourteen.

Starting it this time, though, I knew what I was getting into (okay, I didn’t know it ran almost two hours). I knew Christopher Lambert’s performance would be awful–I’m not sure he could convincingly order a cup of coffee–and I assumed Diane Lane’s would be too. There’s this amazingly directed scene of them on a beach… and, wow, are they awful. I mean, their scenes together are just laughably atrocious.

For the most part, however, the rest of the film isn’t. The third act is terrible, but it’s otherwise a decent murder mystery, with Tom Skerritt giving a great performance as the cop. Daniel Baldwin’s okay as his sidekick; he’s occasionally bad.

But the reason I watched Knight Moves, the only reason to watch Knight Moves, is director Carl Schenkel. Schenkel is, near as I can tell, totally unappreciated (I can’t really say anything–I love the guy and had no idea he had dead). He shouldn’t be unappreciated though. Knight Moves is one of the finest directed Panavision mysteries–until the complete script failure in the third act. Every frame is exquisite. I can’t even imagine what Schenkel would have been able to do with a slightly better script and actual actors for leads.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Carl Schenkel; written by Brad Mirman; director of photography, Dietrich Lohmann; edited by Norbert Herzner; music by Anne Dudley; production designer, Graeme Murray; produced by Jean-Luc Defait and Ziad El Khoury; released by Republic Pictures.

Starring Christopher Lambert (Peter Sanderson), Diane Lane (Kathy Sheppard), Tom Skerritt (Capt. Frank Sedman), Daniel Baldwin (Det. Andy Wagner), Alex Diakun (Grandmaster Lutz), Ferdy Mayne (Jeremy Edmonds), Katharine Isabelle (Erica Sanderson), Kehli O’Byrne (Debi Rutlege), Blu Mankuma (Steve Nolan), Monica Marko (Miss Greenwell), Charles Bailey-Gates (David Willerman), Arthur Brauss (Viktor Yurilivich) and Sam Malkin (Doctor Fulton).

Whiteout (2009, Dominic Sena)

I spent a lot of Whiteout wondering why Dominic Sena, whose first film is Kalifornia, didn’t go crazy stylizing the film. It’s relatively stylized as thrillers go, but it’s not at all extreme. And it didn’t even occur to me until the last shot of the film, which lots of people probably don’t have the patience for, to realize what Sena was and wasn’t doing with Whiteout. Whether he realized it or not, he’s created the first mainstream film noir with a female lead (and set in Antarctica).

With the constant use of flashback (but not narration, which is strange, since the comic was heavily narrated and the film takes breaks for it then doesn’t fill them, resulting in frequent white spaces), the tortured protagonist and the suspicious members of the opposite sex, it’s the first film with Kate Beckinsale where I’d ever say she was playing the Sterling Hayden role.

The film does stumble through its first act. Until the cast is established, it’s awkward, as the pacing isn’t quite right for such a large cast. But then, once everyone is introduced, it’s all of a sudden this wonderful experience, watching these people act together.

Beckinsale’s good (though the film’s early objectifying of her is problematic), but without wowing. This role isn’t a hard one (Whiteout‘s about as much of a feminist blockbuster attempt as Sheena). Gabriel Macht’s excellent as are Columbus Short and Shawn Doyle. Tom Skerritt and Alex O’Loughlin are both solid too.

It’s a fine film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Dominic Sena; screenplay by Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes, based on the comic book by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber; director of photography, Christopher Soos; edited by Stuart Baird and Martin Hunter; music by John Frizzell; production designer, Graham ‘Grace’ Walker; produced by Susan Downey and Joel Silver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kate Beckinsale (Carrie Stetko), Gabriel Macht (Robert Pryce), Tom Skerritt (Dr. John Fury), Columbus Short (Delfy), Alex O’Loughlin (Russell Haden) and Shawn Doyle (Sam Murphy).