The concession area at Eveningstar Cinema in Brunswick’s Tontine Mall. Photo by Shaun Boyle

As much as we all love our streaming, our sofas and our lovingly hoarded DVD collections, the big screen is where movies should be seen. And if that big screen hangs in a small, arthouse indie theater, so much the better. Toss in one of the greatest, slam-bang sci-fi/horror extravaganzas ever, and you’re talking a perfect night out at the movies.

So thanks to the fine folks at Brunswick’s Eveningstar Cinema for booking a screening of James Cameron’s ridiculously entertaining horror sequel, “Aliens,” on Thursday. The Eveningstar is the sort of single-screen movie palace the world needs more of, complete with a no-joke video store for patrons who just can’t get enough movie goodness, and their throwback screenings are always chosen for maximum nostalgic enjoyment. The 1986 film “Aliens,” of course, is Cameron’s follow-up to Ridley Scott’s flawlessly terrifying “Alien,” and succeeds on its own merits thanks to Cameron’s choice to open up the original’s claustrophobic chills into a full-blown war movie, with Sigourney Weaver’s peerlessly kick-ass survivor, Ripley, reluctantly joining a group of gung-ho space marines investigating the source of the previous film’s toothy terrors.

It goes poorly, thankfully for us, with the film’s Vietnam allegory on full display with the cocky and futuristically well-equipped soldiers running up against a much cannier enemy who can seemingly appear and vanish from out of the darkness. Weaver’s terrific, the action is nonstop, and the xenomorph aliens of the title are nastier than ever. It’s tempting to think that director Cameron was as tightly focused as anyone who ever mounted such a large-scale Hollywood blockbuster.

Except … anyone who’s seen the “director’s cut” of “Aliens” knows he most definitely was not. Directors increasingly love to go back and monkey with their films. Sometimes, that’s great – a director’s cut presents the argument that the theatrical cut of a film was a result of studio tinkering, with those money-conscious philistines in Hollywood making clumsy changes in order to ensure greater audience satisfaction. (Think “Brazil,” “Once Upon a Time in America,” “The Magnificent Ambersons,” just to name a few.) The director’s cut, in those cases, involves the director putting back the ambiguities, challenging questions, and subtleties ironed out by the production and screening process. Hooray for art!

But sometimes, a director’s cut shows that the image of the all-knowing and art-conscious director isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Richard Kelly’s 2001 cult film “Donnie Darko” got the director’s cut treatment, and revealed that all the mysterious and enigmatic touches that made that Jake Gyllenhaal-starring mind trip of a movie so compelling were, instead, a result of Kelly not being able to get his more literal and, frankly, silly ideas on the screen. (Seriously, if you like “Donnie Darko,” never watch the director’s cut of “Donnie Darko.”)

Sometimes, directors have to be saved from their own worst impulses. George Lucas took plenty of heat for spray-painting his shiny new CGI toys all over the beloved old school “Star Wars” film (as well he should). But the real eye-opener is seeing Lucas’ assembly cut of the first “Star Wars,” a lumbering, clunky mess of exposition and poor narrative choices that would have sunk the most lucrative movie franchise in history before it even got going. Credit is mainly given to none other than Lucas’ editor and then-wife, Marcia Lucas, who, after a disastrous screening for Lucas’ pals, Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palma, got out the scissors and reedited “Star Wars” (or “A New Hope,” if you want to get revisionist about it) into the lean, cracking space adventure that conquered the world. (Check out the YouTube video “How Star Wars Was Saved in the Edit” if you don’t believe me.) As anyone who has watched Lucas’ six “Star Wars” films can see, success meant there were fewer people to rein in Lucas’ wonky storytelling instincts (cough, Jar Jar, cough), and we all paid the price.


Which brings us to James Cameron. Now one of the most successful filmmakers in history, the “Avatar,” “Terminator” and “Titanic” director was still working under limitations in 1986. Famously, “Aliens” producer Gale Anne Hurd, then married to Cameron, kept her auteur husband on budget and under control, even forcing him to pony up for one special effects sequence out of his own pocket. When ”Aliens” became a commercial and critical smash, Cameron, like Lucas, decided that all those external limitations had hampered his true vision, so, in 1991, Cameron released his own director’s cut. And I hate it. (Spoilers ahead.)

Director James Cameron at the Academy Awards in 1998. Featureflash Photo Agency/Shutterstock

The primary offense Cameron makes is in prosaically showing just how the unfortunate settlers of xenomoph-infested planet LV-426 uncovered the slimy and invasive beasties right at the start of the film. We see child survivor Newt and her family attacked by aliens immediately, Cameron’s plodding narrative choice robbing all tension from Ripley’s unwilling voyage back to the planet where the original film took place. It’s such a bafflingly stupid choice that I, after my initial excitement at seeing the Eveningstar’s listing, actually called the very nice person at the box office to make sure they were showing the theatrical cut, and not Cameron’s bloated, 157-minute do-over. Since the Eveningstar is not run by dummies, that is most definitely the case, the screening’s listed 137-minute running time confirming that fans will get what they, and not James Cameron, really want.

“Now, wait a minute,” I imagine someone objecting, “aren’t you the snob who’s always complaining about studio interference and saying that the artist is always right?” Yup, imaginary reader, I am. Except when I’m not. Movie history is littered with potentially great films hobbled by everything from censorship to financial concerns to the stereotyped cigar-smoking executive who thinks he knows better. But it’s also dotted with examples of directors retroactively spoiling their legacies by monkeying with what made their films great in the first place. Cameron, like Lucas, became so powerful in Hollywood that nobody could say no. (I’m of the camp that sees the “Avatar” films as self-impressed technically proficient snoozes.)

Filmmaking is a team art form, as much as directors love to buy into their own hype. There’s no shame in admitting that you need a little input – like, “Leave ‘Aliens’ alone.”

The original theatrical cut of “Aliens” is showing on Thursday at the Eveningstar Cinema in Brunswick at 7 p.m. Tickets are $11, $8 for kids, and $9 for seniors and students. The film is rated R for all the right reasons.

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