Unquestionably, ALIEN is one of the most influential science fiction/horror movies of all time. Although ALIEN has much in common with such genre films as IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE, Ridley Scott’s vision makes this film an unrelenting, claustrophobic nightmare that remains as horrifying today as it was in 1979. The plot of ALIEN follows the crew of the spacecraft Nostromo, a commercial mining vessel returning to Earth with its cargo of mineral ore. Halfway home, the ship's computer system awakens the crew from suspended animation, so they can investigate a transmission of unknown origin. The crew of the Nostromo set down on an unexplored world where they discover an alien spaceship, which appears to be the source of the signal. Entering the alien vessel, they find the fossilized remains of the ship’s pilot, as well as another compartment that contains what appear to be eggs.
One of the eggs burst open, releasing some sort of parasite that attaches itself to one of the crewmember’s face. The others return their fallen comrade to the Nostromo’s infirmary, hoping to find a way to remove the creature. Removing the alien becomes a moot point, when the alien creature detaches itself and dies. Just as things appear to be returning to normal, the next phase of the alien’s life cycle suddenly bursts out of the afflicted crewmember’s chest, with the newly emerged creature disappearing into the dark corridors of the Nostromo. For the rest of the film, the remaining member's of the Nostromo's crew try eliminate the hostile and rapidly growing alien before it eliminates them. The cast of ALIEN features a small, but impressive ensemble cast that includes Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto. Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett’s rich screenplay features sharp well defined characters that are brought to vivid life by the outstanding cast. Since the characters are able to take on a life all their own, the audience readily identifies with them. This makes the character’s plight even more urgent and increases the film’s tension exponentially.
ALIENS is one of those rare film sequels that not only lived up to the promise of the film that spawned it, it actually managed to surpass the original in certain ways. But then again, comparing ALIEN to ALIENS is something akin to comparing apples to oranges- both are fruit, but different in very many key ways. Where ALIEN was a claustrophobic exercise in terror, ALIENS is a slam-bang action movie set inside the same science fiction universe. Therefore, any comparison of the two probably isn’t relevant, since they take such a decidedly different tact to the material. Certainly, action fans are going to be more impressed ALIENS than they were with ALIEN, since there is virtually no action in the first film. On the other hand, horror aficionados are certain to revel in the unsettling, monster movie atmosphere of ALIEN, which was ultimately designed to scare the crud out of an audience.
The brilliance of ALIENS lies in what writer/director James Cameron brings to the table for this movie sequel. Stirring up the pot, Cameron plays on the audiences’ expectations of what a single alien could do- then multiplies it by hundreds of the nearly unstoppable creatures. Of course, to make it interesting, and somewhat fair to the human protagonists of the story, he throws in some state-of-the-art firepower, which revs up the film’s action level quite considerably. ALIENS opens with a deep space salvage craft discovering the shuttle pod containing Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver)- the sole survivor of the Nostromo’s deadly encounter with a hostile alien creature. Although in suspended animation for fifty-seven years, Ripley finds things on Earth have changed very little- with the corporate types not believing her story about the alien and blaming her for the destruction of a very expensive company asset- namely the Nostromo.
Ripley also learns that in the years that she has been gone, a colony of terraformers has been established on the world where the Nostromo first discovered a derelict spaceship containing the alien. Stripped of her flight certification by the company, Ripley is forced to take a job as a freight handler, until a company representative comes to her with a proposition. As it turns out, the company has lost contact with their terraforming colony, so they want Ripley to serve as an advisor to the platoon of space marines that they are sending on a rescue mission.
At first, Ripley doesn’t want any part of the mission, but if she is ever to overcome the damage to her psyche, she will have to face her greatest fear head on. When the marines arrive on the planet, the colony is disserted except for a small girl who has managed to stay alive by hiding in the ventilation system. When the aliens finally make their appearance, things erupt into an all out war. Utilizing their state-of-the-art firepower, the marines are able to neutralize some of the aliens, but not without suffering their own casualties. Ripley is forced to take charge of the situation and face down an enemy that she knows all too well. The cast of ALIENS also features Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Carrie Henn, William Hope, Jenette Goldstein, Al Matthews, Mark Rolston, Ricco Ross, Colette Hiller, Daniel Kash, Cynthia Scott, Tip Tipping, Trevor Steedman and Paul Maxwell.
In my initial 1999 review of ALIEN3, I admitted that I had never seen the film prior to its arrival on DVD as part of the ALIEN LEGACY COLLECTION. Back then; I stated that I didn’t think that ALIEN3 was as bad as its detractors made it out to be, which had me very much interested in seeing a then never released, but often mentioned, longer cut of the film, which was supposed to be much better than the studio sanctioned version. With the 2003 release of ALIEN QUADRILOGY- audiences finally got that much longer version of the film, although is not a director’s cut of the movie. Since the entire ALIEN3 experience left a bad taste in director David Fincher’s mouth, he declined the opportunity to create a definitive version of the film for home video release. However, this longer special edition version of ALIEN3 recreates Fincher’s initial assembly cut, which restores all of the subplots and interesting bits of the movie that were hacked away by studio interference in the project.
After viewing the 2003 Special Edition of ALIEN3, I can honestly say I appreciate the movie a whole lot more, even if it is still far from perfect. The gothic quality that Fincher brought to ALIEN3 is even more pronounced in this version, although the overriding bleakness of the story can’t be overcome by the director’s intended vision. The biggest problem with ALIEN3 is the fact that negates everything that happened to the characters that survived the ordeal of ALIENS. During the film’s first few minutes, the ship transporting the afore mentioned survivors back to Earth crashes on a barren world- with Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) as the only survivor.
Waking up to discover that her friends and comrades are dead, Ripley finds herself in a penal colony surrounded by the few remaining prisoners- now members of a "religious sect" serving as custodians to the defunct facility. Although these men have supposedly found religion, the inmates are all serving life sentences for the worst possible crimes, and the presence of a woman, namely Ripley, becomes an ever-increasing distraction to the sexual predators. However, the possibility of rape becomes secondary concern to Ripley, when she figures out that she wasn’t the only survivor of the crash, and that there is something far more deadly than the prisoners lurking in the dark passageways of the prison. The cast of ALIEN3 also includes Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Paul McGann, Brian Glover, Ralph Brown, Daniel Webb, Christopher John Fields, Holt McCallany, Pete Postlethwaite and Lance Henriksen.
Although some folks didn’t really like ALIEN RESURRECTION, I have to count myself amongst those who did. Sure, it isn’t the film classic that either ALIEN or ALIENS were, but it isn’t as downbeat as ALIEN3. ALIEN RESURRECTION is much more of a popcorn movie than its predecessors- with a definite bent towards being a funhouse ride. This fourth entry in the series sets out to frighten, thrill and amuse its audience with its combination of grotesqueries, action and black humor- succeeding marvelously in those areas. ALIEN RESURRECTION is also the slickest movie of the bunch, with a decidedly commercial appeal that should have resurrected the money making franchise for Fox. After seeing ALIEN RESURRECTION for the first time, I personally was ready for a fifth installment.
ALIEN RESURRECTION takes place two hundred years after the events depicted in ALIEN 3. Through genetic manipulation, scientists are able to clone a fully-grown Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), along with the alien queen embryo that was inside of her at the time of her death. Does it make sense? No, but I'm willing to give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt to get the ball rolling. Anyway, Ellen Ripley is no longer the woman she once was; the cloning process has fused her genetic makeup with that of the alien species. Thanks to the aliens, the memories of the original Ellen Ripley were passed down at the genetic level, along with a few other gifts. The new Ellen Ripley possesses enhanced strength and superior reflexes, which makes her a rather formidable predator in her own right.
While the Ellen Ripley clone may be of interest to the scientists who created her, the military consider her a meat byproduct of their efforts to get their hands on the ultimate biological weapon- the alien species itself. Even in the distant future, the term military intelligence remains an oxymoron, especially after the newly bred aliens break free from confinement and begin running lose through the deep space medical installation. All of the military personnel evacuate the medical spacecraft, leaving a group of smugglers and the new and improved Ellen Ripley to fend off a hostile alien assault. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet has an interesting visual style that works relatively well. However, Jeunet sometimes allows the camera to linger a bit too long on the film's grotesqueries, giving the film the flavor of a carnival sideshow. The screenplay by Joss Whedon has some of the same quirky humor that one would find in an episode of his television series BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. Of course, like the TV show, Whedon's heroine gets all the best lines. Speaking of the film's heroine, I very much liked Sigourney Weaver's portrayal of the new Ellen Ripley. Weaver's creepy performance makes one truly believe that there is a real predator lurking behind the familiar face of Ellen Ripley. The cast of ALIEN RESURRECTION also features Winona Ryder, Dominique Pinon, Ron Perlman, Gary Dourdan, Michael Wincott, Kim Flowers, Dan Hedaya, J.E. Freeman, Raymond Cruz, Leland Orser and Brad Dourif.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has made the ALIEN ANTHOLOGY ($140) available on Blu-ray Disc in the AVC codec. All four films feature very good to excellent 1080p presentations, although it is apparent that a bit more care went into went into the re-mastering first two installments in the series. Of course, I don’t want to give the impression that the final two installments were slighted in any way.
ALIEN is framed 2.35:1 and features the most startlingly impressive presentation. Image sharpness, clarity, fine detail and depth all surpassed my expectations for an inherently dark film from 1979. From the opening moments of the film that depict the awakening of the Nostromo and its crew, I marveled at the level of detail in the sets and production design that were just unnoticeable in standard definition. Color reproduction is excellent delivering fully saturated hues and natural looking flesh tones. Blacks are usually dead on; whites are crisp. Contrast and shadow detail are quite good. The film elements from which ALIEN was mastered are virtually perfect. Film grain is ever present, but is never excessive and enhances the overall organic quality of the presentation.
ALIENS is framed at 1.85:1 and features even more so impressive presentation than its predecessor, but for albeit different reasons. James Cameron shot ALIENS on what proved to be a notoriously problematic and excessively grainy film stock that has always required a good deal of massaging when transferring this movie to home video. On Blu-ray, ALIENS looks quite beautiful, surpassing every previous home video version. Yes, this high definition mastering of the film required more massaging of the image to produce an appealing result. Fortunately, the work was done with surgical skill and an eye for maintaining the film-like aesthetic- hence we have a richly detailed image that has not been compromised in the taming of the excessive grain. Unlike the recent PREDATOR travesty, ALIENS still looks very much like film and does display a grain structure throughout. Colors are fairly strong, but certain sequences are somewhat muted. Flesh tones always look correct. Blacks are a little variable, but I would imagine that is a shortcoming in the original film stock. Contrast and shadow detail are quite good. The film elements from which ALIENS was mastered are free from age related defects.
ALIEN3 is framed 2.35:1 and features a remarkably good presentation, despite a troubled production. Image sharpness and detail are strong, but not up the level of the first film. Some of the effects work displays some dated qualities that are a bit more apparent in hi-def. Colors are fairly natural in the level of saturation, while the flesh tones appear correct. Black, whites, contrast and shadow detail are all quite good. The film elements from which ALIEN3 was mastered appear clean. Grain in present in the image and maintains an organic appearance.
ALIEN RESURRECTION is framed 2.35:1 and features a strong presentation that replicates the film’s stylized visuals quite well, although the look of this film is so unlike its predecessors, that one may discount it as a significantly weaker presentation, which it is not. The stylized trappings gives ALIEN RESURRECTION and overly contrasted appearance that does reduce some apparent detail and skews the colors to some degree. For the most part, the image is crisp and clear, and displays good depth. Colors register as though they were shot under fluorescent lighting, which is further impacted by the high contrast look. Black and whites appear pretty accurate. Shadow detail has been tweaked, but works within the overall visual design. The film elements from which ALIEN RESURRECTION was mastered are without noticeable flaws. Modest grain is present within the image.
The films that comprise the ALIEN ANTHOLOGY are presented on Blu-ray Disc with 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks. Each of the films sound amazingly good and its obvious that the multiple re-masterings the film have undergone for various home video release have allowed for the original sonic elements, some of which originated in the matrixed surround era, to be smoothly upgraded (yet again) to lossless discrete clarity. ALIEN has the least amount of action, but features a highly impressive track nonetheless. There are plenty of little sounds that emanate from everywhere and envelope one within the confines of the Nostromo. ALIENS is action heavy and packs a whole lot of firepower into its soundtrack. Weapons fire, impacts and explosions are always impress and place one right in the middle of the action. ALIEN3 has had all previous audio/dialogue issues resolved. While ALIEN3 lacks the bombastic weaponry of ALIENS it proves enveloping and quite directional. ALIEN RESURRECTION brings back a level of weapons fire and explosions, and delivers sonically, on its action heavy, fun house ride premise. In addition to the sound effects, all of the soundtracks make the most of the lossless encodes for musical reproduction. Bass reproduction delivers all the weight, impact and ground shaking that most fans are hoping for. French DTS 5.1 channel tracks have also been provided for all of the films, along with Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 channel tracks. ALIEN and ALIENS also include Dolby Digital 4.1 channel tracks. Subtitles are available across the board in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the discs’ interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, which are spread across the six discs that comprise the ALIEN ANTHOLOGY, as well as the supplements, many of which have been ported from previous releases. Since the materials are so numerous I try to just provide a disc-by-disc breakdown. Discs one through four contain the feature films and each film can be viewed in an interactive MU-TH-UR Mode, which offers access to Audio Commentaries and Weyland-Yutani Datastream of trivia and factoids, as well as a way of bookmarking programs of interest that appear on discs five and six of the collection.
Disc one offers the 1979 Theatrical Version and 2003 Director's Cut of ALIEN. A Ridley Scott Introduction also accompanies the 2003 Director's Cut. There are two Audio Commentaries: Theatrical Version with Ridley Scott & Director's Cut with Ridley Scott, actors Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton and John Hurt, plus writers Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett. A Final Theatrical Isolated Score By Jerry Goldsmith (Dolby Digital 5.1), a Composer's Original Isolated Score By Jerry Goldsmith (Dolby Digital 5.1) and Deleted & Extended Scenes close out disc one.
Disc two offers the 1986 Theatrical Version and 1991 Special Edition of ALIENS. A James Cameron Introduction also accompanies the 1991 Special Edition. There is an Audio Commentary with director James Cameron, producer Gale Anne Hurd, alien effects creator Stan Winston, visual effects supervisors Robert Skotak and Dennis Skotak, miniature effects supervisor Pat McClung, plus actors Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, Carrie Henn and Christopher Henn. A Final Theatrical Isolated Score By James Horner (Dolby Digital 5.1), Composer's Original Isolated Score By James Horner (Dolby Digital 5.1) and Deleted & Extended Scenes close out disc two.
Disc three offers the 1992 Theatrical Version and 2003 Special Edition of ALIEN3. There is an Audio Commentary with cinematographer Alex Thomson, editor Terry Rawlings, alien effects designers Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr., visual effects producer Richard Edlund, plus actors Paul McGann and Lance Henriksen. A Final Theatrical Isolated Score By Elliot Goldenthal (Dolby Digital 5.1) and Deleted & Extended Scenes close out disc three.
Disc four offers the 1997 Theatrical Version and 2003 Special Edition of ALIEN RESURRECTION. A Jean-Pierre Jeunet Introduction also accompanies the 2003 Special Edition. There is an Audio Commentary with Jean-Pierre Jeunet, editor Herve Schneid, alien effects creators Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr., visual effects supervisor Pitof, conceptual artist Sylvain Despretz, plus actors Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon, and Leland Orser. A Final Theatrical Isolated Score By John Frizzell (Dolby Digital 5.1) and Deleted & Extended Scenes close out disc four.
Disc five offers the Multi-Part Documentaries that made their debut as part of the ALIEN QUADRILOGY. The Beast Within: Making Alien is a nine-part program broken down into the following segments: Star Beast: Developing The Story, The Visualists: Direction And Design, Truckers In Space: Casting, Fear Of The Unknown: Shepperton Studios, 1978, The Darkest Reaches: Nostromo And Alien Planet, The Eight Passenger: Creature Design, Future Tense: Editing And Music, Outward Bound: Visual Effects and A Nightmare Fulfilled: Reaction To The Film. Twenty-seven Alien Enhancement Pods (two to three minute programs) totaling one hour twenty minutes of programming are also included under the ALIEN section.
Superior Firepower: Making Aliens is an eleven-part program broken down into the following segments: 57 Years Later: Continuing The Story, Building Better Worlds: From Concept To Construction, Preparing For Battle: Casting And Characterization, This Time It's War: Pinewood Studios, 1985, The Risk Always Lives: Weapons And Action, Bug Hunt: Creature Design, Beauty And The Bitch: Power Loader Vs. Queen Alien, Two Orphans: Sigourney Weaver And Carrie Henn, The Final Countdown: Music, Editing, And Sound, The Power Of Real Tech: Visual Effects and Aliens Unleashed: Reaction To The Film. Twenty-five Aliens Enhancement Pods totaling fifty-nine minutes of programming are also included under the ALIENS section.
Wreckage And Rage: Making Alien 3 is an eleven-part program broken down into the following segments: Development Hell: Concluding The Story, Tales Of The Wooden Planet: Vincent Ward's Vision, Stasis Interrupted: David Fincher's Vision, Xeno-Erotic: H.R. Giger's Redesign, The Color Of Blood: Pinewood Studios, 1991, Adaptive Organism: Creature Design, The Downward Spiral: Creative Differences, Where The Sun Burns Cold: Fox Studios, L.A. 1992, Optical Fury: Visual Effects, Requiem For A Scream: Music, Editing, And Sound and Post-Mortem: Reaction To The Film. Twenty-nine Alien 3 Enhancement Pods totaling seventy-four minutes of programming are also included under the ALIEN3 section.
One Step Beyond: Making Alien Resurrection is a ten-part program broken down into the following segments: From The Ashes: Reviving The Story, French Twist: Direction And Design, Under The Skin: Casting And Characterization, Death From Below: Fox Studios, Los Angeles, 1996, In The Zone: The Basketball Scene, Unnatural Mutation: Creature Design, Genetic Composition: Music, Virtual Aliens: Computer Generated Imagery, A Matter Of Scale: Miniature Photography and Critical Juncture: Reaction To The Film. Twenty-six Enhancement Pods for Alien Resurrection totaling seventy-five minutes of programming are also included under the ALIEN RESURRECTION section.
Disc six consists of THE ANTHOLOGY ARCHIVES, which features all of the, scripts, image galleries and other ancillary supplemental materials that sometimes date back to the Laserdisc releases of the films. These materials are broken down by film and then production sub-type categories. ALIEN Pre-Production content includes the following: First Draft Screenplay By Dan O’Bannon, Ridleygrams: Original Thumbnails And Notes, Storyboard Archive, The Art Of Alien: Conceptual Art Portfolio, Sigourney Weaver Screen Tests With Select Director Commentary and Cast Portrait Gallery. ALIEN Production content includes the following: The Chestbuster: Multi-Angle Sequence With Commentary, Video Graphics Gallery, Production Image Galleries, Continuity Polaroids, The Sets Of Alien and H.R. Giger’s Workshop Gallery. ALIEN Post-Production And Aftermath content includes the following: Additional Deleted Scenes, Image & Poster Galleries, Experience In Terror, Special Collector’s Edition Laserdisc Archive, The Alien Legacy, American Cinematheque: Ridley Scott Q&A and Trailers & TV Spots.
ALIENS Pre-Production content includes the following: Original Treatment By James Cameron, Pre-Visualizations: Multi-Angle Videomatics With Commentary, Storyboard Archive, The Art Of Aliens: Image Galleries and Cast Portrait Gallery. ALIENS Pre-Production content includes the following: Production Image Galleries, Continuity Polaroids, Weapons And Vehicles, Stan Winston’s Workshop, Colonial Marine Helmet Cameras, Video Graphics Gallery and Weyland-Yutani Inquest: Nostromo Dossiers. ALIENS Post-Production And Aftermath content includes the following: Deleted Scene: Burke Cocooned, Deleted Scene Montage, Image Galleries, Special Collector’s Edition Laserdisc Archive, Main Title Exploration, Aliens: Ride At The Speed Of Fright and Trailers & TV Spots.
ALIEN3 Pre-Production content includes the following: Storyboard Archive, The Art Of Arceon and The Art Of Fiorina. ALIEN3 Production content includes the following: Furnace Construction: Time-Lapse Sequence, EEV Bioscan: Multi-Angle Vignette With Commentary, Production Image Galleries and A.D.I.’s Workshop. ALIEN3 Post-Production And Aftermath content includes the following: Visual Effects Gallery, Special Shoot: Promotional Photo Archive, Alien3 Advance Featurette, The Making Of Alien3 Promotional Featurette and Trailers & TV Spots.
ALIEN RESURRECTION Pre-Production content includes the following: First Draft Screenplay By Joss Whedon, Test Footage: A.D.I. Creature Shop With Commentary, Test Footage: Costumes, Hair and Makeup, Pre-Visualizations: Multi-Angle Rehearsals, Storyboard Archive, The Marc Caro Portfolio: Character Designs and The Art Of Resurrection: Image Galleries. ALIEN RESURRECTION Production content includes the following: Production Image Galleries and A.D.I.’s Workshop. ALIEN RESURRECTION Post-Production And Aftermath content includes the following: Visual Effects Gallery, Special Shoot: Promotional Photo Archive, HBO First Look: The Making Of Alien Resurrection, Alien Resurrection Promotional Featurette and Trailers & TV Spots.
The ALIEN ANTHOLOGY is definitely one of the most eagerly anticipated Blu-ray releases of 2010. Fox truly delivers the goods in terms of the quality of this release. ALIEN and ALIENS exceed all expectations in terms of video and audio quality, while ALIEN3 and ALIEN RESURRECTION have been smartly upgraded to high definition. Supplemental content is exhaustive and beyond reproach. Even the heavy-duty book styled packaging smacks of quality. Absolutely, positively recommended.
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