Imagine how it must have felt seeing Alien for the first time, during its opening weekend in September 1979. You've been enticed by the enigmatic poster showing only a shadowy egg with a menacing crack across its surface, an eerie glow emanating from within. You have no idea that Sigourney Weaver (who she?) is the hero and sole survivor. There are no sequels yet; no James Cameron to turn it into a genius action movie, no plans by the studio to steer the franchise into a lava pit, then resurrect it into sci-fi farce. There's just you in a huge, dark room, watching a bunch of working-class space-schmoes fall prey to a fearsome, penis-headed creature out of your worst nightmares. You are, in short, happily cacking yourself.
If you were there, then lucky you. We're guessing, however, that your first encounter with Ridley Scott's classic was on a grainy, muffled VHS as you keenly waited to see "that bit where it comes out of his stomach", as related by the cool kid at school. Well now you have a chance to rediscover Alien as it was meant to be seen - on the big screen.
It's this, not the "Director's Cut" tag, that's the main selling point. After all, digital remastering and a sprinkling of additional scenes aside (save the cocoon moment, you'll barely notice them), this is the same movie we've all grown up with. What's different is the scale, the looming images allowing Ridley Scott's masterful exercise in horror to embrace you for the second time and smother you like never before.
Unlike today's slashers, Alien's not afraid of a steady build-up. We float silently around a huge, empty spaceship, Scott masterfully conjuring the mood: even without its extra-terrestrial threat, the Nostromo is an unsettling place, a gigantic haunted house drifting through the harshest environment known to man. Then there's the Brit helmer's use of science-fiction trimmings to crank up the tension, from the shaky, helmet-mounted cameras to the bleeping motion-tracking device that monitors Dallas' (Tom Skerritt) switch from hunter to hunted. All tricks, it should be noted, copied by James Cameron (to different effect) in Aliens.
Look as hard as you like, you won't spot a single flaw, even though the film's had 24 years to date. The Atari-level computer graphics and the then-popular sci-fi trick of covering every panel in flashing lights lend a realistic, retro-techno feel; and while the alien is finally revealed to be a bloke in a suit, it has a menacing physical presence that so many of today's pristine CG-beasties lack.
If you've never seen Alien on the big screen, this is a must-have cinematic experience that will leave you shivering and adrenalised. And even if you have seen it, the same holds true. It really is that damn good.