The Director's Cut of Alien is an alternate version of the 1979 film, released theatrically in 2003. Contrary to the vast majority of so-called "director's cuts", it is actually a shortened version of the movie, decreasing the run time by around a minute. It features several alternate scenes not included the original theatrical version, including the infamous "Eggmorphing" scene. Its creation was overseen by Alien director Ridley Scott.
In 2003, 20th Century Fox was preparing the Alien Quadrilogy DVD box set, which would include the four theatrical films from the Alien franchise. In addition, Fox also wanted to include alternate versions of each of the films in the form of "special editions" and "director's cuts", likely influenced by the pre-existing Special Edition of Aliens. Fox approached Ridley Scott to digitally restore and remaster Alien for the set, and to also restore several scenes which had been cut during the editing process for inclusion in an expanded version of the film.
Upon completion of this process, Scott felt that the movie was too long and chose to recut it into a more streamlined alternate version.
- "Upon viewing the proposed expanded version of the film, I felt that the cut was simply too long and the pacing completely thrown off. After all, I cut those scenes out for a reason back in 1979. However, in the interest of giving the fans a new experience with Alien, I figured there had to be an appropriate middle ground. I chose to go in and recut that proposed long version into a more streamlined and polished alternate version of the film. For marketing purposes, this version is being called "The Director's Cut"."
- ―Ridley Scott
Fox decided to release the Director's Cut in theaters, and it premiered on October 29, 2003. Despite its name, the alternate cut of the film is not technically a director's cut in the traditional sense of the phrase, as Scott still considers the original theatrical release to be his preferred version, as mentioned on the Quadrilogy DVD itself (and subsequent home video releases).
- "The traditional definition of the term "director's cut" suggests the restoration of a director's original vision, free of any creative limitations. It suggests that the filmmaker has finally overcome the interference of heavy-handed studio executives, and that the film has been restored to its original, untampered form. Such is not the case with Alien: The Director's Cut. It's a completely different beast."
- ―Ridley Scott
Scott has stated that he was very pleased with the original theatrical cut of Alien, saying that, "For all intents and purposes, I felt that the original cut of Alien was perfect. I still feel that way", and that the original 1979 theatrical version "remains my version of choice". He has since stated that he considers both versions "director's cuts", as he feels that the 1979 version was the best he could possibly have made it at the time.
Here follows a rundown of the differences between the theatrical release of Alien and the Director's Cut. Not detailed here (for the sake of simplicity) are numerous instances where very slight edits (two or three seconds) have been made to the beginning or end of long camera shots to reduce their length; only major alterations have been noted.
- Before the film begins, there is a brief introduction to the alternate cut by Ridley Scott.
- When Dallas goes to see why MU/TH/UR has woken the crew, the theatrical cut has a long panning shot that first shows the Nostromo's deserted bridge, then settles on Dallas drinking his coffee in the doorway, before finally following him to the entrance to MU/TH/UR's interface room. In the Director's Cut, the first half of this shot has been removed so that it starts with Dallas sipping his coffee and stepping onto the bridge.
- After Dallas briefs the crew on the signal, a scene is added where he, Kane, Ripley, Ash and Lambert listen to the transmission on the Nostromo's bridge. Ripley points out that the strange sound is nothing like any radio signal she has ever heard, while Lambert suggests it could be a voice. Dallas has Lambert track the source and she locates the planetoid from which the transmission is coming. After she analyzes the moon, Ash somewhat ominously points out that it is large and stable enough for them to walk on.
- After Dallas tells Kane and Lambert to knock off their bickering as they trek across the planetoid, the film cuts back to the Nostromo. In the theatrical version, we see Ripley drinking coffee before she calls Ash at his science station and asks if MU/TH/UR has had any luck deciphering the signal. When he says not she asks if she could give it a try, and Ash gives his blessing. This is removed in the Director's Cut, which jumps straight to Ripley taking a seat and beginning her analysis.
- When communication with the ground team finally fails, the second shot of Ash as he tries to contact Dallas over the radio is cut.
- The first frontal shot of Dallas climbing up beside the Pilot's corpse and looking it over has been removed.
- After Kane first notices movement in the Egg, there is a brief new shot of him cautiously raising his laser pistol. The subsequent shot of him leaning in for a closer look also uses an alternate take, in which he can be seen lowering the weapon again.
- An alternate, much longer take is used when Ripley joins the others outside the medical bay after Dallas and Ash remove Kane's helmet. Before she arrives, Brett reacts with disgust to the Facehugger attached to Kane. Parker then asks how he is still breathing, before querying why they don't "just freeze him". Compared to her rather subdued mood in the theatrical cut, Ripley storms in furiously, only for Lambert to jump up and violently slap her for refusing to let them back on board earlier. Parker quickly breaks them up, before Dallas calls in over the intercom, admonishing Ripley for ignoring his order to open the hatch. When she replies that his order was against the law, Parker sides with her, pointing out, "Who in the hell knows what that thing is?!"
- In the theatrical cut, the scene where Ripley confronts Ash in the medical bay ends with Ash sipping a drink, putting the glass down, throwing his gloves into a bin and leaving the room. In the Director's Cut, the end of the scene has been trimmed so that it now ends as Ash takes a drink.
- Ripley and Dallas' confrontation in the corridor after Dallas lets Ash keep the dead Facehugger is shorter in the Director's Cut. Much of their dialogue from the middle of the scene is removed, including Ripley asking Dallas if he ever served with Ash before, along with Dallas' response revealing that Ash was assigned to the Nostromo just two days before they left Thedus. Ripley telling Dallas that she doesn't trust Ash, along with his response, "I don't trust anyone," is also cut. As a result of this change, the film no longer implies that Weyland-Yutani knew about the Alien in advance and sent the Nostromo there on purpose, but instead paints the situation as being more of an unfortunate coincidence.
- The panning shot through the Nostromo's corridors after the Chestburster scene is shorter in the Director's Cut and crossfades into the next shot of the crew gathered on the bridge for Kane's funeral. In comparison, these two shots are longer in the theatrical version, and there is a hard cut between the two.
- When Brett holds his face under the dripping water shortly before he is killed, a new shot shows the Alien hanging from the chains above.
- Immediately after Brett is taken, the theatrical version shows a closeup of Jones nonchalantly watching as Brett's screams fade. The Director's Cut instead shows Ripley and Parker running into the room in response to his cries. They look up and Parker realizes some of the drops pouring down on him are blood, which stains his shirt. He drops his cattle prod in shock. The closeup up of Jones is then seen, but instead of hearing Brett's death cries over the shot, we hear Parker calling out Brett's name.
- An establishing shot of the Nostromo flying through space has been removed after the crew formulate the plan to flush the Alien out of the air shafts.
- The subsequent scene where Dallas consults MU/TH/UR before going into the vents has also been completely removed from the Director's Cut.
- The scene where Ripley elects to continue with Dallas' plan after he is taken is extended slightly at the end. In the Director's Cut, we see her rise from her seat and leave the room, after which there is an additional closeup of Lambert watching her go.
- Immediately after this, the short scene where Parker nervously heads through the ship as he goes to refuel Dallas' flamethrower is removed.
- The subsequent shot of Ripley getting the access card for MU/TH/UR is also trimmed at the beginning, beginning only after she has pressed the button to open the doorway.
- In the theatrical cut, Ripley, Lambert and Parker are seen moving through the ship after Parker has torched Ash in a lengthy single take. In the Director's Cut, the middle part of this take has been removed, meaning it is now two shorter, separate shots.
- The scene where Ripley prepares the Narcissus is shorter in the Director's Cut. Most obviously, the shot from outside of the shuttle's interior lights coming on before the external cover retracts has been removed. The subsequent shot of Ripley tying her hair back is also trimmed at the start so that it begins once her hair is already tied up.
- Probably the most famous deleted scene from the entire Alien series is reinstated (albeit partially) in the Director's Cut. After Ripley sets the Nostromo's self destruct, we see her climbing down a ladder to the ship's lower decks. She hears a strange whimpering and follows it, discovering the Alien has been constructing a nest in the bowels of the ship. She looks up and discovers the source of the whimpering — it is Dallas, who has been cocooned to the wall. Brett is also cocooned nearby and is apparently transforming into a new Egg. Dallas feebly begs Ripley to kill him and she reluctantly incinerates them both with her flamethrower.
- An alternate take of the Alien inspecting Jones' carry case is used, ending with the creature violently swatting the box aside.
- When Ripley returns to the upper deck after failing to deactivate the Nostromo's self destruct, the Director's Cut removes a shot of her climbing out of an access ladder and moving towards camera and into the corridor ahead of her.
- Similar to the earlier cut when Ripley, Lambert and Parker were moving through the ship, a lengthy single take of Ripley creeping around the Nostromo before she recovers Jones in his carry case is cut in the middle, becoming two separate, shorter shots in the Director's Cut.
- The Alien Director's Cut is the only extended/alternate version from the franchise to receive an official theatrical release (not counting the special Aliens Live event).