‘Does anybody know where we keep the self-destruct manual?’

I realize this is not the most earth-shaking cultural news at the moment, but over the weekend I watched the super-duper electric boogaloo DVD edition of the 1979 film Alien, and found that after three decades my opinion of it is unchanged: first half brilliant, thanks to the superbly creepy aliendesign work of Swiss artist H.R. Giger and the low-key acting that keeps everything grounded in believability; second half idiotic, thanks to the decision of scriptwriter Dan O’Bannon and director Ridley Scott to abandon the brainy atmosphere and turn the spaceship into an amusement park haunted-house ride. I also concluded, after watching the recut version with the famous “Kill me!” scene restored, that Scott had been correct to remove it from the original theatrical release. Maybe it could have been used more artfully, earlier in the narrative, but during the climax it simply slows things up.

The trouble with potentially great movies that go bad is that they leave you thinking about pointless things, such as: Why design a spacegoing freighter with a self-destruct mechanism? At any given moment, the world’s oceans are being criss-crossed by carrier ships loaded with immensely valuable cargo, but they aren’t equipped with jumbo warheads that will blow them sky-high after a few minutes of notice. So why equip an ore carrier with a portable Armageddon machine? And why put the control panel a great distance from the escape ship? And why line the escape route with strobe lights, steam jets, blind corners and other funhouse paraphernalia that will only increase the likelihood that the crew members blow up along with the ship?

On the other hand, the director’s cut of the first sequel, Aliens, improves on an already exemplary action film. Not that anybody really needs to know this, but . . . you know . . . I just thought I’d share the joy.

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3 thoughts on “‘Does anybody know where we keep the self-destruct manual?’

  1. le0pard13 says:

    I pretty much agree with on this. The first two in the Alien series were by far the best of the lot. I go back and forth in my opinion re: the director’s cut that includes the “Kill me!” scene. I always wondered what happened to the Captain–and at least you get to find it out, with all of its horrors. But, it does interrupt a great flow towards the ‘destruct’ end.

    Great observations re: freighter’s design features, though. But then, we wouldn’t had all that much frightful fun watching RIpley make her way to the escape shuttle, afterwards ;-). And, no question or iota re: Cameron’s preferred cut of his movie. Great post.

  2. Fred Kiesche says:

    Well, if a ocean-going cargo carrier loses power and hits a dock you ruin the dock. If a space-going cargo carrier moving at relativistic speeds loses power and hits the planet…you’re going to have a very bad day.

    If that doesn’t work for you, then there’s the “dramatic license” fee that Scott paid.

  3. Steven Hart says:

    Would the debris from the explosion continue moving at relativistic speeds, only scattered by the explosion? That would be even worse, I think. Any physics buffs want to weigh in on this?

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