The Director's Cut of Alien is an alternate version of the 1979 film, released 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, and features several alternate scenes not included the original theatrical version. 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 included here (for sake of simplicity) are numerous instances where very slight edits (one or two seconds) have been made to the beginning and end of long camera shots to reduce their length; only major alterations have been noted.
- A tracking shot through the bridge is largely removed in the Director's Cut so that only the final part, where we see Dallas drinking coffee, is seen.
- Before the Nostromo sets down on LV-426, a scene is added where the crew listens to the radio signal coming from the moon on the ship's bridge. Lambert works out which planet the signal is coming from, and Ash points out that it is large and stable enough for them to explore.
- While Dallas, Kane and Lambert are investigating the surface of LV-426, a scene is removed in the Director's Cut where Ripley asks Ash if MU/TH/UR has been able to decipher the signal. When Ash replies in the negative, Ripley proposes she tries herself, despite Ash's suggestion that it would be a waste of time.
- A shot of Ash trying to contact Dallas after communications have failed is cut.
- When Ripley arrives at the medical bay after Kane is brought onto the Nostromo, Lambert violently slaps her for refusing to let them back on board earlier. In the theatrical version, Lambert does not say or do anything when Ripley arrives.
- After he removes his gloves in the medical bay, Ash having a drink and leaving the room is removed from the Director's Cut.
- Dialogue between Ripley and Dallas that reveals Ash was assigned to the Nostromo shortly before they left Thedus has been removed in the Director's Cut, implying that Weyland-Yutani did not know about the Alien in advance in this version of the film.
- A long circular tracking shot of the Nostromo's corridors is cut immediately before Kane's funeral.
- A new shot shows the Alien hanging from the chains before it attacks Brett.
- After Brett is taken, footage is added showing Ripley and Parker running into the room in response to his screams. They look up and blood drips from the ventilation shaft onto Parker.
- A scene where Dallas speaks to MU/TH/UR before going into the air shafts to find the Alien has been completely removed from the Director's Cut, as has the shot of the Nostromo flying through space immediately before it.
- After Ripley elects to continue with Dallas' plan following his death, footage of Parker going to refuel one of the flamethrowers and Ripley getting the access card for MU/TH/UR have been removed.
- When Ripley prepares the Narcissus, an exterior shot showing the lights coming on inside the shuttle has been taken out.
- Probably the most famous deleted scene from the entire Alien series is reinstated (albeit partially) in the Director's Cut. As Ripley attempts to escape after setting the Nostromo's self destruct, she discovers Brett and Dallas, the latter of whom is still alive, cocooned in the ship's cargo hold, with Brett apparently being transformed into a new Egg. Dallas begs Ripley to kill him and she fulfills his wish by incinerating him and Brett with her flamethrower.
- After the Alien corners Ripley aboard the Nostromo, forcing her to retreat and try and shut down the self destruct, the creature moves in to examine Jones in his box, which Ripley left behind whilst fleeing. After peering at the cat, the Alien violently swats the box aside.
- The Alien Director's Cut is the only extended/alternate version from the franchise to receive an official theatrical release, in 2003.