At the heart of the four movies that comprise the Alien Anthology is a simple but bold original idea: The mother of all badass extraterrestrials terrorizes the bloody hell out of a bunch of charismatic spacefarers. And yet this unlikely premise served as an invitation for some of the best filmmakers in Hollywood (and beyond) to pick it up and run with it.
The shock and fear of Ridley Scott's Alien caught audiences off-guard in 1979, a triumphant achievement in both science fiction and horror as a strange, violent creature hitches a ride on an interstellar mining ship. James Cameron added an element of action to Aliens, as dozens of these things overrun a terraforming colony, only to be pushed back by a squad of high-tech marines.
Alien3 lost its creative way at some point, and so the tale of critters reborn on a monastery/prison/foundry world winds up tiresomely talky and derivative. In its first minutes, it also pisses all over the beloved ending of its predecessor. And under the direction of the renowned Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Alien Resurrection emphasized humor in its exploration of genetic engineering set 200 years after Alien3, sometimes successfully, but also crossing over into silliness, which no other movie in this series ever did.
The new Alien master shows the faint presence of ringing and noise and grain, but what we're really left with here is a rich, beautiful new transfer that is a joy to behold. The sets and costumes are famously elaborate, and it's all here, even the very deliberate minutiae in the backgrounds. The subtleties of the colors are really celebrated here, too. Aliens was never a very pretty film so I'm surprised that some of the shots, notably special effects, look as clean as they do. But other scenes look grainy and noisy, especially in the shadows. Detail can be striking, right down to Sigourney Weaver's pores, but blacks and out-of-focus backgrounds could be stronger.
Budgets grew and technology advanced in the six years between Aliens and Alien3, and yet despite some fancy new-style special effects, I found the image here to be little soft, and frankly a little noisy, which is a shame considering all the dark shadows of the locale. Alien Resurrection cannot claim to offer a gorgeous master of a gorgeous film, with video here that is again softer and noisier than I was expecting, while blacks are at times a hot mess. There's an unpleasant shift in the quality between certain scenes, even in the theatrical version where nothing was reinserted off of the cutting room floor. The colors are weird, but that at least is by design.
Only the second film in the series has an original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the other three are all 2.35:1.
The exquisite presence of Jerry Goldsmith's music in Alien, the fine detail particularly in the strings, serves to draw us into this world. The adventure is further enlivened by the ample bass which turns little plastic models into enormous spaceships. Aliens makes deft use of all five speakers, particularly for some terrific front-to-back and other directional phasing effects, Here again, bass is absolutely fantastic, with roomy trebles for little Newt's screams.
More aggressive rears were becoming the norm in cinema by the time of Alien3 (1992 was the same year that Dolby Digital 5.1 was introduced) and yet the audio here is more subdued than I'd like, perhaps in keeping with the events on screen. There are lots of echoes and more delicate resonance in this track at least. The surrounds for Alien Resurrection are subtle but not state-of-the-art, and bass is not impressive either. We see lots of nifty weapons, but none are fully brought to life by the sound.
All four movies are accompanied by a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack.
Each film carries a full running audio commentary, and Alien even has two. Director Ridley Scott is joined by 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 first, flying solo on the second. For Aliens, director James Cameron re-teams with producer Gale Anne Hurd, alien effects creator Stan Winston, visual effects supervisors Robert Skotak and Dennis Skotak, miniature effects supervisor Pat McClung, and actors Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, Carrie Henn and Christopher Henn.
Director David Fincher has distanced himself from Alien3, his first feature film, and so the experts here include cinematographer Alex Thomson, B.S.C., Terry Rawlings again, alien effects designers Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr., visual effects producer Richard Edlund, A.S.C., and actors Paul McGann and Lance Henriksen. And for Alien Resurrection we can tune into director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, editor Hervé Schneid, A.C.E., Gillis and Woodruff, Jr. again, visual effects supervisor Pitof, conceptual artist Sylvain Despretz, and actors Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon and Leland Orser. All of these commentaries have been previously released.
Music lovers, rejoice: The complete film scores have been isolated in Dolby Digital 5.1. For Alien (Jerry Goldsmith) and Aliens (James Horner) we are offered both the final theatrical isolated score and the composer's original isolated score with some intriguing differences between them. Little indicators pop up on the screen as we listen. Alien3 (Elliot Goldenthal) and Alien Resurrection (John Frizzell) are final scores. All are synched to the original theatrical cut of the film in each case.
Before I go any further, I must point out that there is so much bonus material here that we are given the Interactive MU-TH-UR Mode, named for The Nostromo's shipboard computer, with its own tutorial. It helps us organize what's on each disc, including the topics of discussion currently on the commentaries, as well as tag points of interest while we watch, so we can pull up relevant featurettes later, when we get to Discs Five and Six. It's a compact but thorough graphic overlay that we can access at any time, once we opt into this Bonus View Mode, which also incorporates Weyland-Yutani Datastream trivia.
Deleted/alternate/extended scenes for each movie can be identified during the special editions with an onscreen "X," or we can index them all or view any we choose via branching during the theatrical cuts. Make sure you have fresh batteries, because the remote control is going to get quite a workout.
Disc Five is entitled "Making the Alien Anthology," one of the most comprehensive behind-the-scenes studies ever assembled for home video. It is categorized by the four films, with a quick, effective Datasearch of key words that can take us to the specific ideas we want to know more about. The video is largely recycled, but presented in a fresh way, with additional "pods" that cull previously unseen interview footage to provide priceless new amplification to the stories of the making of the films.
Disc Six is "The Alien Anthology Archives," a roundup of seemingly every remaining bit of bonus content, a multimedia extravaganza (still/text frames, alternate angles, alternate audio) created for each of the four movies, plus some that span the entire saga. Thankfully, the groundbreaking laserdisc special editions are encompassed here as well.
Beyond what's on the individual movie platters, expect to spend literally days sorting through everything here, and I can definitely understand a fan's motivation to do so.
This set also boasts some of the deepest, most thoughtfully designed menus I've ever seen. And the discs arrive inside a kinda cool, kinda impractical boardbook-type package, accompanied by stills and artwork from the film.
I am tempted to use my old Alien Quadrilogy boxed set as a doorstop from now on. Fox's magnificent new Alien Anthology is the only way I ever want to watch these movies again. Would that I had the time to discover every last surprise on the two bonus discs, too. Ah, to be young and dateless...
UPDATE (10/24): Some early purchasers and reviewers have noted some compatibility issues with the "Alien Anthology" Blu-ray set. We have tested the set on seven different players and seen only minor issues so far: the OPPO BDP-83 begins the "Director's Cut" of Alien with the screen zoomed in on the left corner of the image. Hitting the "menu" button, then going back to "Play" restores the image to its proper size. Also a Samsung player squishes Ridley Scott's intro to that same Director's Cut of "Alien" to 4:3 (should be 16:9). But other than that, we've seen no compatibility issues on Samsung, Panasonic and LG Blu-ray players so far. See the thread in our forum: Alien Anthology Blu-ray Player Compatibility for details
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Also available in a Region-Free Version (reportedly works fine on US Blu-ray players, including all supplementary content):
Extras on Alien Anthology Blu-ray:
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