The first four Alien films were released in two different cuts – the original version seen in cinemas and an alternate special edition for the home entertainment market. So let’s take a quick look at the major differences between each version – and which one should you choose?
ALIEN/ALIEN: DIRECTOR’S CUT
Purists will more than likely stick with the original 1979 version, but don’t discount the Director’s Cut – there are a lot of cool additions. The major deleted footage restored to the 2003 Director’s Cut includes playback of the alien transmission, Lambert slapping Ripley, an alternate take of Brett’s death (including a bonus creature shot) and the legendary “cocoon” sequence (which does momentarily stall the pacing). These additions to the Director’s Cut version come at the expense of some minor trims – most notably Dallas enquiring of Mother, “What are my chances?”.
ALIENS/ALIENS: SPECIAL EDITION
Debate continues to rage over whether James Cameron’s gung-ho sequel is actually better than Ridley Scott’s tour-de-force of terror. But is the Special Edition superior to the 1986 theatrical cut? Cameron added 17 minutes of previously cut footage to the Special Edition release in 1991, including a lengthy scene depicting the discovery of the derelict spacecraft by Newt’s folks; the revelation that Ripley’s daughter has outlived her; some killer robot sentry guns; and numerous scene extensions with additional dialogue. One scene that wasn’t restored is Burke’s ultimate fate, which can be found in the Blu-ray bonus features. While the SE has now become the default for viewing Aliens (and why wouldn’t we want more?), in terms of pacing, the theatrical version does cut to the chase a lot quicker.
ALIEN 3/ALIEN 3: SPECIAL EDITION
The longer cut of first-time director David Fincher’s troubled Alien3 was reconstructed by DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika and his team using the original work print and shooting script, after Fincher declined to be involved. Almost half an hour of additional footage/alternate scenes make for a fascinating alternative cut, but does it improve what’s probably the most maligned Alien film? Yes and no. The most significant differences include the emergence of the alien from an ox, not a dog, and an extended opening rescue of Ripley from the crashed EEV. Golic’s obsession with the alien, Ripley’s realisation of the company’s intentions, and the prisoners’ devotion to religion have all been expanded. It’s a toss up, but once you’ve seen the longer cut, that’s probably the one you’ll go back to.
ALIEN: RESURRECTION/ALIEN: RESURRECTION: SPECIAL EDITION
French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Euro-grunge contribution to the Alien saga (as written by Joss Whedon!) is as unpopular with fans as Fincher’s film. Okay, so it’s got Winona Ryder and a naff new breed of alien with Disney eyes, but it’s also stylish, outrageously grotesque, and loads of fun. The extra footage amounts to little more than a new opening and closing sequence (the former featuring a crazy alien bug) and some minor scene and dialogue extensions. Jeunet admits in his intro to the Special Edition that he was happy with the theatrical version and the minor additions here exist simply to satisfy the requirements of a dual-version DVD set. The 1997 theatrical cut remains the preferred version in our humble opinion.