The only survivor of the Nostromo’s deadly encounter with the alien, Ripley’s escape pod floats in space for 57 years. After being rescued, Ripley’s stunned when her story is met with disbelief. Then all communication is lost with the colonists who’ve settled on the alien planet. When the Company asks Ripley to accompany a team of high-tech Colonial Marines back to LV-426, she refuses. But she ultimately realizes that the only way to banish her fear is to confront it head on.
eyelights: Sigourney Weaver. Michael Biehn. its extended backstory. amazing special effects.
eyesores: Newt. Bill Paxton. its lengthy runtime.
The director’s cut of ‘Aliens‘ is likely the first non-theatrical version of a film that I’ve ever seen (although ‘Blade Runner‘s confusing history certainly blurs the data somewhat). It was released in a boxed set back in laserdisc’s glory days and I was fortunate enough to see it. Yes, laserdiscs (that’s the 78rpms of the DVD for those who are a bit confused).
While it wasn’t nearly as significant as the director’s cut of ‘The Abyss’, which I would soon see, it was actually a noticeable improvement over the theatrical cut – unlike the director’s cut of ‘Terminator 2’, which was interesting, but superfluous.
Notice the correlation: James Cameron.
I don’t know exactly why so many of his films had to be re-released as director’s or extended cuts: he proved his mettle time and again, so why is it that studios insist on cutting his films? It seems like a dumb thing to do when you have a sure-fire box office -if not critical- winner on your hands. Hmmm… perhaps it’s for the extra cash that re-releasing takes in.
Anyway, not only did I enjoy his cut of ‘Aliens’, but it also made me aware that not all films end up the way they were initially intended. Much in the way that record labels sometimes control their artists’ releases, films can get re-arranged, re-edited, …etc. Thankfully, ‘Aliens’ wasn’t too jarring a change from the original concept.
But there are a few significant changes that make the film better in some ways. And, unfortunately, less good in others.
I won’t go through all of the minutia because it would be tedious for all involved. For a more detailed analysis, please visit Movie-Censorship.com’s ‘Aliens’ page; they do a fine job of detailing every single second that has been changed in the movie. I’m not obsessive enough, nor do I have the patience, for that.
However, I would like to highlight one major change that has serious repercussions: In the director’s cut of ‘Aliens’, there is a short scene in which Ripley asks about her daughter, only to find out that she has died of old age in the many years since Ripley left on her mission (she was in hypersleep for 57 years after ‘Alien‘, so her daughter had aged considerably – and that doesn’t even consider the hypersleep before ‘Alien’).
The key contribution of this sequence is that it establishes Ripley as someone with mothering instincts. That may not seem like much, but it justifies everything that follows from the moment that Newt is discovered on the planet’s surface. The thing is, without this particular sequence, what we know about Ripley is that she is a tough, independent woman who tends to lay low and be a bit of a loner – it’s seemingly out of character that she would be so nurturing to this little girl.
That was my main issue with the theatrical version of ‘Aliens’, because not only did it spend an inordinate amount of time with Newt, not just caring for her, but being all *ugh* tender with her. Then they had to tie this in with the Alien queen, pitting one bad muthah against another. I appreciate the connections being made, but they just seemed out of place; with this segment thrown back in, it all makes a lot more sense now.
It’s not to say that every addition is a welcome change, though.
Firstly, there’s the sequence that introduces us to Newt’s family and establishes what happened on the colony. Sure, it shows Newt as a more “normal” child, but it’s a mostly superfluous scene – and the way the aliens were discovered seems slightly contrived to me (Really? No one had found the alien ship before that point in time? No one scanned the planet, and in the decades since they started colonizing, no one returned where the Nostromo had been before?)
Then there’s the small matter of giving Bill Paxton slightly more screen time. I’ve become a minor fan of the guy, especially after the woefully under-rated ‘ A Simple Plan‘ and ‘Frailty‘, but I must say that I wasn’t at all a fan in the early days. In fact, his earliest performances still irritate me – I’d even go so far as to say that he delivers the worst performance of the lot. To make matters worse, in this version of ‘Aliens’ his cocky character also shoots his mouths a bit too much for my taste. So the less we see of him, the better.
But, all in all, there are significant improvements to the picture in this director’s cut. However, given its unusually lengthy runtime (especially for an action movie!), it would probably be better if some of it was retained (ex: opening expository sequences, the sentry sequences towards the end) and some of it remained on the cutting room floor (ex: Bill Paxton and Newt’s extra moments). Basically, I would vote for a third cut, somewhere between these two versions.
Now if only someone would release a director’s cut of James Cameron’s first directorial effort, ‘Piranha II: The Spawning‘. Just kidding. It’s horrifying enough as it is.
Date of viewing: January 20, 2013