Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and Ridley Scott's Alien bookend a decade of space-themed films, and the distance between them is telling. Released a year before the lunar landing, 2001 looked to the stars with an almost religious sense of optimism. At the end of the following decade–after Star Wars, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, and others–1979's Alien suggested another view of space: It could suck. Written by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett and directed by Scott, Alien opens with a series of scenes depicting life on the deep-space cargo vessel Nostromo, where the food is bad, management quarrels with labor, and the computer wakes the crew up to check out weird signals coming from some godforsaken planet. Plus, there's the small matter of an alien getting loose and killing everyone. Reissued apparently to celebrate the film's 24th anniversary, this new cut of Alien adds a few intriguing but negligible scenes that will already be familiar to laserdisc and DVD fans. No matter. Despite years of imitators, sequels (some great, some not so), and edited-for-television broadcasts, Alien has lost none of its power, and the big screen only intensifies its impact. Scott's slow, unrelentingly dread-inducing direction, which makes even the shadow of some wind chimes look scary, has a lot to do with it. So does the never-equaled creature design by Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger, who crafts a giant bug-monkey of bottomless appetites, dreadful appendages, and an uncomfortable resemblance to certain portions of the human anatomy. But there's another reason, too: Where 2001 and Close Encounters suggested that humanity would bring its best impulses and brightest hopes beyond the clouds, Alien served as a reminder that its worst fears would also be part of the package. It's bodies, not ideals, that travel the stars, and bodies break, burst, and scream.
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