Alien Kicks off Alien Madness festival

Location: Aero Theatre - 1328 Montana Avenue in Santa Monica
In Person: Ronald Shussett
I caught the director's cut of ALIEN at the Aero Theatre last night, where it launched the American Cinematheque's Alien Madness festival. This is the version that was briefly released in 2004 for the film's 25th anniversary, before going onto DVD. It trims a few scenes and adds a few shots here and there, including the famous cocoon sequence near the end, wherein Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) discovers Dallas (Tom Skerrit) and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton), who bodies are slowly mutating into alien eggs.

Executive producer Ronald Shussett was on hand to answer questions after the screening. I'm a bit busy today, so I'll try to get a transcript and/or video posted tomorrow. Of course, considering that ALIEN came out in 1979, there are not too many unheard-of scoops left, but Shussett was a lively, entertaining speaker, and of the people involved with the film, I've heard his perspective much less than that of screenwriter Dan O'Bannon, director Ridley Scott, and alien designer H. R. Giger, so it was nice to get his views.

Two things struck me about the director's cut. The first was that, prior to 2004, just about everybody associated with the film has long suggested they had no interest in re-editing the movie. Way back when the film first came out, before DVDs had made director's cuts de rigieur, Cinefantastique asked producers Walter Hill and David Giler whether they might restore the missing footage for a "special edition," along the lines of what Steven Spielberg had done with CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, and they said no, because they were happy with the film's pace as it was.

I asked Shussett about this decision to remove the cocoon sequence in 1979 and then restore it in 2004. His response was that it was a good scene, but it seemed to hurt the pacing of the climax, when Ripley is running around trying to get to the escape pod before the Nostromo's self-destruct mechanism goes off. But, he added, twenty-five years later, it seemed like a good idea to restore the sequence for the benefit of fans who had heard and read about it (or scene is as a bonus feature on the laser disc and/or DVD).

The other thing that struck me about the restored footage was that it seemed like a slap in the face toward James Cameron's ALIENS. The origninal concep of the alien life cycle was that the face-hugger implanted a seed in a host, which burst out of the chest and grew to full size. Then the full-sized alien cocooned its victims, which mutated into alien eggs, which would birth new face-huggers to start the cycle anew.

With the cocoon sequence deleted, this last aspect of the alien's method of reproduction was missing. This allowed Cameron to posit a completely different method in ALIENS, which showed an alien queen laying eggs. By restoring the cocoon sequence to ALIEN, we finally get to see the life-cycle of the alien as originally intended, and it creates an inconsistency with the films that followed.

Which is fine with me. As much as I like ALIENS (even the disappointing ALIEN 3 and ALIEN RESURRECTION have their moments), none of them comes close to matching the impact of the original. So it's nice to see a plot point that seems to set ALIEN apart as a stand-alone film, separated from the sequels that followed.

The Alien Madness festival continues Sunday evening at 6:30pm with ALIENS. Several people involved with the special effects are supposed to be on to discuss the film. Thursday and Friday there will be more screenings -- of other alien invasion type films, including THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD and LIFEFORCE (with director Tobe Hooper in attendance).

Apparently, this is all a preview for a festival dedicated to special effects that is schedulled to take place in July. I'll be back with more details as soon as I have them.