In space, no one can hear Judge Clark Douglas scream. He's definitely screaming, though.
Our reviews of Alien (published June 5th, 1999), Alien: Collector's Edition (published December 15th, 2003), Aliens (published June 7th, 1999), Aliens: Collector's Edition (published December 15th, 2003), Alien 3 (published June 6th, 1999), Alien3: Collector's Edition (published December 15th, 2003), Alien: Resurrection: Collector's Edition (published January 6th, 2004), and The Alien Quadrilogy (published December 2nd, 2003) are also available.
On Blu-ray, everyone will hear you scream.
"My mommy always said there were no monsters. No real ones. But there are."
Facts of the Case
In Alien, we follow the seven-member crew of the commercial towing spaceship Nostromo as they're making a return to earth. Along the way, the ship computer schedules a detour: a transmission from a nearby planet is intercepted, forcing the crew to stop and investigate for any life forms that may be on the planet. During this process, Kane (John Hurt, V for Vendetta) is attacked by a strange alien creature which attaches itself to his face. Though protocol suggests that leaving Kane behind would be the only way to ensure the safety of the crew, Science Officer Ash (Ian Holm, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) insists that he be brought back onboard in order to (A) try to save Kane's life and (B) further examine the alien creature. The creature eventually removes itself from Kane's face and slinks away to die. Kane begins to heal, and it seems that things have returned to normal.
Alas, it seems the alien planted its seed inside Kane's body, causing an even nastier alien creature to come bursting forth from his chest. The creature bleeds a form of extremely potent acid, has killer instincts and seems to be growing larger and more dangerous by the minute. As members of the crew are picked off one by one, the sinister truth of their mission's nature is revealed. Will Dallas (Tom Skerritt, Space Camp), Ripley (Sigourney Weaver, Avatar) and the others find a way to defeat this terrifying monster?
As Aliens begins, Ripley is found by a salvage crew after floating through space in a state of cryogenic sleep for 57 years. In her absence, it seems her employers have sent human beings to do terraforming work on the planet where the "facehugger" was found. However, they claim that no alien life forms have been seen there since the arrival of the 60+ families that now call the planet their home. Unfortunately, the company loses communication with the colonists soon after, and they suspect the mysterious creatures Ripley has described may be responsible. Since she is the only survivor of the initial encounter with the creature, Ripley is sent with a unit of Marines to investigate the situation. When they arrive, they discover that the alien creatures have all but wiped out human life on the planet. Is there any hope of making it back home alive?
In Alien³, Ripley finds herself stranded in an all-male prison colony on a distant planet…and it seems one of the aliens has arrived there along with her. Ripley must persuade the other prisoners to stand together and battle the beast, but that's going to be particularly difficult this time around: no significant weapons of any sort are kept at the prison. Will Ripley and her new comrades be able to fight off the creature until help arrives?
Finally, Alien: Resurrection jumps forward 200 years, to a time in which Ripley has been cloned for scientific purposes. Joining together with an eclectic band of mercenaries, Ripley once again finds herself saddled with the task of fighting off horrible aliens. But this time, there's a nasty twist.
When the Alien Quadrilogy box set was released in 2003, critics praised it as one of the finest DVD releases ever produced (including our own Judge Dan Mancini and the merry band of fellow critics that aided him in creating an impressively comprehensive review). The set offered alternate versions of every film, commentaries, feature-length documentaries and an assortment of additional goodies: just about everything you could want in a box set. Now, the films are being re-released in hi-def as the Alien Anthology (I guess someone told Fox that "quadrilogy" isn't a real word). You wouldn't think that there would be much left to offer, but sure enough, this box piles on a heaping helping of new supplements in addition to absolutely everything that was released before. Once again, the Alien films are given one of the best box sets this particular format has offered to date.
The films have been analyzed in considerable detail on this site already (not to mention just about everywhere else on the web), so I'll try not to spend too much time on the actual films. Still, there are surely folks out there who remain unfamiliar with some or all of these flicks, so for their sake we'll press on as usual.
There's a good deal of debate over whether Ridley Scott or James Cameron turned in the best installment of the franchise. It's admittedly a tough call, but I have to go with the former. In the wrong hands, Alien could have easily been a B-grade monster movie. After all, the basic plot isn't anything special: a horrible alien boards a spaceship and kills its crew members one by one. However, Scott was an up-and-coming filmmaker at the time with a lot to prove, and his ambition trickled down to the entire cast and crew. The film is superb on every single level: H.R. Giger's now-legendary design work, Dan O'Bannon's intelligent screenplay, Jerry Goldsmith's icily atmospheric score, Derek Vanlint's ominous cinematography, the refreshingly mature, low-key performances of the entire cast, Scott's tension-filled direction—everything works, providing us with a film that's consistently absorbing and eventually quite terrifying.
Alien remains the only genuinely frightening film of the franchise, if only because it emphasizes the fact that nothing is more terrifying than the unknown. The alien grows and evolves considerably over the course of the film, and nearly every time it appears it looks and/or behaves in a chillingly unexpected manner. It's a clever variation on the trick employed by Steven Spielberg in Jaws: rather than hiding the monster to keep it from becoming too familiar, Scott simply alters it to achieve the same effect. The film also borrows a page from Psycho in its casting, killing off its top-billed character with 45 minutes left to go and turning the then-unknown Sigourney Weaver into an unexpected movie star. A bold move, but one that paid off tremendously: Weaver aces the film's final act, and Ellen Ripley is now regarded by many as cinema's greatest action heroine. Despite its obvious inspirations, Alien boasts enough distinct qualities of its own to deserve a place on any list of classic horror flicks.
Making an effective sequel is a problematic endeavor in any genre, but particularly so in horror. There are a couple of reasons that Halloween 2, Jaws 2, Psycho II, A Nightmare on Elm Street: Part 2, and so many other well-intentioned horror sequels simply fail to recreate the magic of the original: the elements that were so unnerving the first time just aren't as frightening when repeated, and the ambitious directors of the originals were replaced by less accomplished individuals. Fortunately, Aliens found a way around both pitfalls. First, skilled director James Cameron (hot off the success of his groundbreaking sci-fi actioner The Terminator) was placed at the helm. Second, Cameron took the novel approach of placing the emphasis on action rather than horror, replacing one kind of thrill with another. By doing this, he created a film that often feels as fresh and inventive as its predecessor.
Aliens may not boast any of the jump-out-of-your seat moments of terror, but it certainly is a magnificent piece of entertainment. Once the battle with the aliens gets underway, Cameron delivers a relentless barrage of white-knuckle action that builds to that beloved scene in which Ripley takes on the alien queen with a cargo-loader. While Weaver remained in the background of a large portion of Alien, she gets to fully embrace her status as an action movie icon in this film. She's a more fully-realized character this time around, and contrasts her grim intensity with surprising tenderness during her scenes with young Newt (Carrie Henn). Lance Henrikson does some of the best work of his career as the android Bishop, while Michael Biehn (The Terminator), Bill Paxton (Near Dark) and Jenette Goldstein (Terminator 2: Judgment Day) add enjoyable flavor to the supporting cast. While I do find some of the initial macho camaraderie a little thinly-written (I realize I'm probably in the minority on this), everyone fares quite well after the occasionally-awkward opening act. Aliens is a bit less resonant and artful than the first film, but it's definitely the most exciting chapter of the Alien saga.
David Fincher's Alien³ is both the most problematic and most underappreciated film of the series. The film suffered all kinds of pre-production problems, and Fincher has distanced himself from the film in the years following its release. There's no question that it's a step down in quality from both Alien and Aliens, but some of Alien³'s most-despised elements are actually worth valuing.
In a way, the film is the bleakest and most cynical of the franchise, hammering home a point the previous two films (unintentionally or otherwise) collaboratively made: every victory won is merely a prelude to another battle. At multiple points throughout both movies, a moment of triumph would quickly be followed by yet another nasty situation. Yes, both had happy endings of sorts, but in the world of Alien there isn't room for happy endings. Alien³ tells the story of Ripley coming to the realization the she simply can't beat these bastards and live to tell the tale. The only road to victory is through mutually assured destruction, an idea the film explores to grimly moving effect.
Admittedly, not everything works. The film has a huge cast of characters, but very few of them make any sort of lasting impression. The CGI work is particularly shoddy in spots, contrasting sharply to the practical effects of the first two films. Still, Alien³ has a lot of powerful moments to deliver, most of which come courtesy of Sigourney Weaver. Even as the series declined, the actress found ways to make her characterization of Ripley increasingly interesting, and in this film she has some of her finest moments. When she approaches an alien and says quietly, "You've been in my life so long, I can't remember anything else," we believe her. Fighting the creatures is no longer a fight for survival so much as it is part of her everyday routine.
I'm a big defender of Alien³'s controversial conclusion, which I feel brought an appropriate sense of closure to the saga. Only thing is, Fox was still eager to make some money from the franchise, so along came Alien: Resurrection. Regardless of how you feel about the film's quality, it can't help but feel like a footnote in the wake of the story told over the course of the first three films. The movie's primary excuse for bringing Ripley back into the mix centuries after her death feels immensely contrived, but if you can get past the initial narrative gimmickry (not to mention the film's somewhat pointless existence), you may be pleased to discover an entertainingly offbeat flick.
Though Ridley Scott, James Cameron, and David Fincher all have their own distinctly different styles, their films feel of a piece in a way. Jean-Pierre Jeunet's loopy cinematic voice easily makes his film feel like the odd man out. Alien: Resurrection dispenses with the brooding intensity of the franchise, blending cheerful elements of humor with quirky sci-fi doodlings. The aliens are no longer a huge threat so much as a springboard for Jeunet's eccentricities (this one, for instance, makes room for a scene in which Brad Dourif makes silly faces at one of the creatures). Still, the film's best moments are those that explore the cloned Ripley's search for identity, which Jeunet is smart enough to take seriously: Ripley's discovery of failed cloning attempts is an intensely emotional, creepy piece of horror. Then Johner (Ron Perlman, Hellboy) quips, "Must be a chick thing." Despite fleeting moments of depth, it's casual irreverence that defines the final installment. It's fun, but relatively unimportant.
Transfer-wise, the set gets off to a stunning start with a magnificent 1080p/2.39:1 transfer for Alien. The film looked solid on DVD, but this is easily the biggest leap in quality from standard-def to HD the film has to offer. The level of depth and shadow delineation during the film's darker scenes is simply magnificent, bringing an all-new level of clarity to moments that sometimes seemed a bit murky in the past. Detail is excellent throughout, and there's a pleasing layer of natural grain present (Alien boasts the most distinctly filmic look of all four films). The audio track on Alien stands apart from the rest of the films in its design, offering a subtler, creepier, track that appropriately veers much closer to horror than action. The mix is masterful, with the nuanced sound design and Goldsmith's razor-sharp orchestration creating an appropriately chilling atmosphere. To be sure, things rock pretty hard when the explosive moments come, but this is a track marked by its understated nature.
Things are a bit more problematic when it comes to Aliens. James Cameron terrified DNR-haters everywhere when he declared that, "We got rid of all the grain," on the new Aliens transfer. Fortunately, he wasn't being entirely truthful. There's still some measure of grain left intact, though it's obvious that DNR has been employed to some degree. For the most part, the actors manage to avoid looking too "waxy" (certainly nothing on the level of the recent Predator debacle), but it's still a bit much for my tastes. Still, this is easily the best the film has looked to date, with detail and depth vastly beyond that of the DVD version. The audio, on the other hand, is nothing short of sublime. This is a loud, intense track that still manages to achieve subtlety when it needs to. Despite a chaotic blend of elements (including James Horner's memorably militaristic score), the mix maintains impressive clarity throughout (save for a couple of brief dialogue scenes that seem to have a bit of hiss). Prepare yourself for a room-rattling experience.
Whether you prefer the natural look of Scott's film or the much-tweaked look of Cameron's, there's no doubt that a great deal of work and attention was put into both transfers. However, both Alien³ and Alien: Resurrection look like typical '90s catalogue releases: good, but not great. Both offer respectable detail and depth in their 1080p/2.39:1 transfers, along with a pleasing measure of natural grain. Fincher's film has a drab orange/tan palette while Jeunet's boasts all sorts of wild colors, so it's only natural that the latter pops off the screen a bit more. Still, I'd put both transfers in roughly the same category. Audio, once again, is excellent on the latter two films. While Alien³ has the more powerful individual moments (Elliot Goldenthal's score is given such a spectacular mix), Alien: Resurrection is a bit more consistent. In the case of the former film, the dialogue has a tendency to be a bit quiet in contrast to the action scenes, while the latter provides a more even-handed mix. Again, they're roughly equal overall.
The Alien Anthology contains over 60 hours of supplements and over 12,000 still photos, meaning that many viewers probably won't even get through everything this set has to offer. Still, it's great to have such a broad selection of material, and almost everything here is of the highest quality. Let's dig in.
Packaging: The six Blu-ray discs are housed inside a very attractive hardcover "book" with the discs kept inside slits on the pages. While I'm generally worried about scratching with this sort of packaging, this particular set seems considerably sturdier than most. Considering the fact that Blu-rays are scratch-resistant, I have no real worries. The book is housed inside an equally sturdy cardboard box.
MU-TH-UR Mode: This Blu-ray exclusive viewing mode allows the viewer to customize their viewing experience in a wide variety of ways. In this mode, you can tinker with the audio and video options (turning on a commentary clip, for instance), tag bonus features that you want to watch later, save favorites scenes and so on. I'm not particularly in need of this sort of feature, but I'm sure some folks will dig it. The most valuable aspect of this viewing mode is the genuinely excellent trivia track it offers for every single film. That option in and of itself justifies this mode's existence.
Disc Unbound: So, when you eject a disc from the Alien Anthology, you'll get a Weyland-Yutani corporate logo instead of your usual Blu-ray player default screen. Then, when you put in the next disc, your player will automatically bypass the logos, disclaimers and so on and take you straight to the menu. A neat time-saver if you're doing a marathon.
Alternate Versions of Each Film: You're technically getting eight movies in this set when you consider that every one of these films has an alternate version. Ridley Scott's 2003 Director's Cut of Alien simply removes a few scenes and adds in some others, which doesn't particularly improve or hurt the film—it's just a little different. James Cameron's 1991 Special Edition of Aliens adds to the running time without adding much to the story, as does Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 2003 Special Edition of Alien: Resurrection. The one essential alternate version is the 2003 restored workprint version of Alien³, which goes a long way towards making that film a more compelling experience. Watching the extended version of Alien³ is essential—the rest I'll leave up to you.
Commentaries: Alien is blessed with two commentaries—a Ridley Scott solo track on the theatrical version, and a group track (featuring Scott, writer Dan O'Bannon, Executive Producer Ronald Shusett, Editor Terry Rawlings and Actors Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton and John Hurt) on the Director's Cut. Aliens offers a group track with Director James Cameron, Producer Gale Anne Hurd, Alien Effects Creator Stan Winston, Visual Effects Supervisors Robert Skotak & Dennis Skotak, Miniature Effects Supervisor Pat McClung, Actors Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henrikson, Jenette Goldstein, Carrie Hehn and Christopher Henn. Alien³ offers a group track featuring Cinematographer Alex Thomson, Editor Terry Rawlings, Alien Effects Designers Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr., Visual Effects Producer Richard Edlund, Actors Paul McGann and Lance Henrickson. Finally, Alien: Resurrection offers a group track featuring Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Editor Herve Schenid, Alien Effects Creators Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr., Visual Effects Supervisor Pitof, Conceptual Artist Sylvain Despretz, Actors Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon and Leland Orser. The latter three tracks are available on both versions of each film (they're simply shortened on the theatrical versions).
Introductions: The Director's Cut of Alien receives an intro from Ridley Scott, the Special Edition of Aliens receives an intro from James Cameron and the Special Edition of Alien: Resurrection receives an intro from Jean-Pierre Jeunet. David Fincher, of course, did not participate in the creation of this set on any official level.
Isolated Scores: Film music lovers will be pleased to note that the theatrical versions of all four films receive isolated score tracks. In addition, Alien and Aliens receive original score tracks featuring the music as Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner originally intended it to be heard before Mr. Scott and Mr. Cameron made significant alterations.
Deleted and Extended Scenes: A handful of deleted scenes (not included in the extended versions of any of the films) are included on each of the first four discs.
The Beast Within: Making Alien: This feature-length documentary is broken up into nine parts—"Star Beast: Developing the Story," "The Visualists: Direction and Design," "Truckers in Space: Casting," "Fear of the Unknown: Shepperton Studios, 1978," "The Darkest Reachers: Nostromo and Alien Planet" "The Eighth Passenger: Creature Design," "Future Tense: Editing and Music," "Outward Bound: Visual Effects" and "A Nightmare Fulfilled: Reaction to the Film." While this documentary is thrillingly comprehensive, a collection of other subjects are explored in a host of new "Enhancement Pods" (running approximately 80 minutes combined). You can watch these pods as part of the documentary, or you can watch them on their own. Included are "Conceiving the Alien Lifecycle," "The Influence of Jodorowsky's Dune," "O'Bannon Working with Shusett," "Ridley Scott's Epiphany," "Jon Finch Sets the Record Straight," "Finding the Right Ripley," "Actors as Props," "Sigourney Weaver Learns the Ropes," "The Functional Art of Ron Cobb," "Dailies: Parker and Brett Ad-Lib," "That Used Future Look," Bolaji Bodejo Alien Movement Tests," "Discovering Bolaji Bodejo," "Giger on Giger," "The Disturbing Brilliance of H.R. Giger," "James Cameron Dissects Aliens," "Cocoon of Love," "Jerry Goldsmith Recalls Alien," "Goldsmith on Silence," "The Pros and Cons of Temp Tracks," "Same-Sex Relationships in Space," "Toy Birds of Destruction," "Oscar Night Memories," "Test Footage: Nostromo on Forklift," "End of a Genre," "First Impressions," and "O'Bannon's Fight for Credit."
Superior Firepower: Making Aliens: This feature-length documentary is broken into eleven parts—"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," "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." You also get 59 minutes of Enhancement Pods: "Without Sigourney Weaver," "Origins of Acheron," "Building Hadley's Hope," "Cameron's Design Philosophy," "Finding an Unused Power Plant," "Cameron's Military Interests," "Working with Sigourney Weaver," "The Importance of Being Bishop," "Paul Reiser on Carter Burke," "The Paxton/Cameron Connection," "Becoming Vasquez," "On Set: Infiltrating the Colony," "Props: Personal Light Unit," "Simon Atherton Talks Weapons," "Praising Stan Winston," "Test Footage: Chestburster," "Fighting the Facehugger," "Test Footage: Facehugger," "Stan Winston's Challenge," "Test Footage: Queen Alien," "Stan Winston's Legacy," "Cameron's Cutting Edge," "Sigourney Weaver's Triumph," "Re-Enlisting with Cameron," and "From Producer to Stunt Double."
Wreckage and Rage: Making Alien³: This feature-length documentary has been restored to its full running time, offering a completely no-holds-barred look at the making of this film. The documentary is broken into eleven parts—"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 Re-Design," "The Color of Blood: Pinewood Studios," "Adaptive Organism: Creature Design," "The Downward Spiral: Creative Differences," "Where the Sun Burns Cold: Fox Studios, L.A." "Optical Fury: Visual Effects," "Requiem for a Scream: Music, Editing and Sound" and "Post-Mortem: Reaction to the Film." You also get 74 minutes of Enhancement Pods: "Renny Harlin Quits," "Explaining the Wooden Planet," "Ezra Swerdlow's Concerns," "Intimidating Baldies," "Roaming the Fury 161 Set," "The Art of Storyboarding," "Hicks' Alternative Future," "Costuming for Character," "On Set: Filming the Alien's POV," "Head Casting with Charles Dutton," "On Set: Filming the Oxburster," "Sausage-Motivated Alien Whippet," "Fincher's Alienation," "Lance Henrikson Returns in Style," "Sucking Up to Fincher," "Detailing the EEV Miniature," "Matte Painting Memories," "How to Make Alien Acid Saliva," "The Sulaco's Cameo," "The Weaver Wagger," "Bald Cap Blues," "Bragging Rights," "Stealing Sigourney's Top," "Creating Alien Sounds from Scratch," "Dangerous Location Recording," "Painful Low End Frequencies," "The Power of Silence," "Ripley's Evolution," and "Mixed Reactions."
One Step Beyond: Making Alien: Resurrection: This feature-length documentary is broken into ten parts—"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." You also get 75 minutes of Enhancement Pods: "Costuming the Betty Crew," "Intentionally Uncomfortable Costumes," "Creating Ripley's New Look," "Downsizing the Design," "Dueling Design Sensibilities," "Breaking the Language Barrier," "The Storyboard Bible," "Preparing for Action," "Winona Ryder Answers the Call," "Surviving the Shoot," "Swimming with Aliens," "The Art of Slime," "The Cloning Process," "Considering Giger's Legacy," "Newborn Dick Removal," "The Evolution of the Alien," "Designing the Newborn," "Becoming a Film Composer," "The Burden of Temp Music," "Animating Underwater Aliens," "VFX: Knifing Ripley's Hand," "VFX: Shooting Miniature," "Abandoning the Bug Opening," "Ending After Ending After Ending," "Remembering the Premiere," and "Future Franchise Directions." All four of these documentaries are housed on disc five.
Anthology Archives—Alien: Disc six offers a selection of
oddities, galleries and archival features for each film. Here's what
Alien has to offer:
Anthology Archives—Aliens: Another considerable batch of
archival material is offered up for Aliens:
Anthology Archives—Alien³: A smaller batch of additional
items is available for Alien³:
Anthology Archives—Alien: Resurrection: Yet another batch of
items for the fourth film in the franchise:
Anthology Archives—Additional Items: Wait, there's more!
While the Alien films certainly vary in quality, they're all ambitious sci-fi outings and there's not a genuine stinker among them. The films look strong, sound superb, and boast one of the greatest supplemental packages of all time. This is a must-own collection.
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