Ridley Scott is one of the best directors filming today. His work on the original Alien, and his follow-ups on Blade Runner all the way to Gladiator were marvelous. Scott is an old-school director who lays the atmosphere and detail on thick and lets the actors find their way in the movie's trappings. He also shines on DVDs, contributing commentaries that make the movies even more appealing. But the commentary that he recently taped for Alien, and its "Director's Cut" is good enough to be required listening for any cinephile.
Scott is joined here by some of his crew and the bulk of the cast, including Sigourney Weaver. Harry Dean Stanton, who played Brett in the first film, sets the tone early on when he says that he was thinking non-stop about "pussy" on the set. And Dan O'Bannon, who wrote Alien and harbored a desire to direct it, contributes some whiney jabs at the film.
But it's Scott's show. He and Weaver clearly taped their parts of the commentary together, since she spends most of the time agreeing with Scott and compleimenting him. (She also talks about how much she wants to make another Alien film, and seems to be feeling out Scott's interest in the idea.) It's a brutally honest portrait of how Hollywood works, and it's fun, as Scott talks in detail about the importance of casting a film, and describes his first reactions on seeing Weaver while she listens with meek reactions. He even reveals what an early test-audience of women thought of her feminist heroine Ripley.
There's also a wealth of information about more technical aspects of the production. It turns out that the famous chest-bursting scene was filmed in one take, with the cast being kept off set until filming so that they would be genuinely horrified.
It's all interesting, and it's a step beyond the usual "I loved working on this picture" junk that fills most DVD commentary tracks. Right now, the only chance you have to hear it is to part with $100 for the Alien Quadrilogy or else rent it. But commentary tracks like the one on Alien have made DVDs a better bargain; for any fan of film, they add value to the purchase, and let you settle down with a favorite film that offers something new to think about.
Publication date: 12/25/03