"Alien" debuted in 1979, when science fiction - considered box-office poison a few years before - was rocketing to new heights on the strength of "Star Wars."
To this trend, director Ridley Scott brought an eagerness to combine traditional sci-fi with aspects of the monster movie and the gothic-horror film.
The result drew zillions of fans, spawned several sequels, and sparked a galaxy of imitators, even though it wasn't all that great a picture. It certainly had innovations, including its idea that monsters may lurk both within and without the human body. But mostly it settled for giving a grisly new look to popular old formulas.
Scott revisited the movie to make "Alien: The Director's Cut," tweaking the 1979 version so it conforms even more closely to his original vision.
There's a chilling moment, removed in 1979 to tighten the climax, where the heroine (Sigourney Weaver) finds the bodies of two fallen comrades (Tom Skerritt, Harry Dean Stanton) in a sort of web woven by the predator that's invaded their spaceship.
There's also an extra shot of the monster, and a bit of added tension between the story's two women. Still, the movie's running time is about the same, since Scott compensates for these additions by trimming some fat from other scenes.
In many ways, "Alien" is a response to two more brilliant movies: "2001: A Space Odyssey," made by Stanley Kubrick in 1968, and the original "Solaris," made by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972. They too deal with claustrophobic mysteries confronting voyagers in the far-flung reaches of deep space; but they take a more metaphysical view of human aspirations, fears, and ultimate possibilities of transcending the merely material universe.
Replacing philosophical overtones with aggressive violence and suspense-movie manipulation, both versions of "Alien" journey through fantasy terrain that's more familiar and less interesting.
r Rated R; contains violence.