BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: ***** (out of 5)
Studio: 20th Century Fox
BY KEVIN CARR
One of the greatest science fiction franchises ever created is the “Alien” film. Not all of the films have been fantastic, but it came out of the gate incredibly strong with Ridley Scott’s original film, then followed up seven years later with the James Cameron’s action take on the story. Spawning two more sequels, then eventually two “Alien vs. Predator” films (not included in this set), the original idea has provided inspiration for a range of movies.
Originally, the four proper “Alien” films were released on laserdisc, and later compiled into a fantastic DVD set known as “The Alien Quadrilogy.” Now, all four movies are brought together in high definition for the first time in the “Alien Anthology.” This solid box set includes the four films with the theatrical cuts and the extended edition cuts as well, plus two whole discs of vintage and new bonus material, comprising the features from the laserdisc release and “The Alien Quadrilogy.”
MOVIE: ***** (out of 5 stars)
Ridley Scott’s original “Alien” is hard to beat. With FOX coming off of the success of “Star Wars” (which I dearly, dearly love), this new breed of science fiction story takes a distinctive adult feel to it. The story follows a team of space miners who are awakened out of suspended animation to investigate a signal from a planet. When one of the members of the away team is attacked by a mysterious face-hugging creature, the science officer brings him back on board. Soon, the facehugger introduces the team to a new alien, a viscous creature that starts to hunt them down one-by-one.
So much about this film is amazing, from the production design to the alien design courtesy of H.R. Giger. It’s directed as a straight drama, not as a campy sci-fi or horror flick, which is why it works so well. We are also presented with a then-unheard-of female hero, a role that launched Sigourney Weaver’s career.
“Alien” is one of the best suspense movies I’ve seen in my lifetime. Plus, with the exception of some antiquated computer equipment on board the ship, it holds up perfectly even today. With Scott’s decision to keep the alien shadows for the most part, it plays like Spielberg’s “Jaws,” which makes the suspense of the film work so well and avoid being an effects showcase.
“Alien” is easily one of the best mixes of science fiction and horror, and the Blu-ray transfer looks fantastic, especially the wide shots of the ship and the grand vision of the alien ship on the deserted planet.
MOVIE: ***** (out of 5 stars)
After “Alien” became a huge hit with audiences and critics, it was thought that a worthy sequel was impossible. People today forget what it was like in the mid-1980s when sequels were rarely massive hits and franchises developed on their own rather than being planned from the first film’s script stage. What makes “Aliens” work is that James Cameron took a different approach to his film.
“Aliens” is a classic action sci-fi film where “Alien” was a suspense film set in a sci-fi backdrop. “Aliens” follows Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) as she comes back to earth after half a century adrift. No one believes her report, but when the Company loses touch with the colonists on the alien planet, Ripley is called back in to consult with marines sent on a rescue mission. When they get to the planet, they find it overrun with the aliens, who have used the colonists as incubation units. With the aliens on the warpath, Ripley and the marines struggle to find a way off the planet before they are killed by the creatures or vaporized by the overheating power plant.
Much like “Alien,” “Aliens” is a classic film, which alongside “The Terminator” put James Cameron on the map as a blockbuster filmmaker. It’s loaded with action movie cliches, as all of Cameron’s films are, but he manages to direct his way around them, letting the audience accept them for what it is.
Taken as a two-part film series, “Alien” and “Aliens” cannot get more perfect. They set down the entire mythology for the alien creatures and universe, which all other subsequent films must bow to.
MOVIE: ** (out of 5 stars)
When “Alien 3” came out in the early 1990s, it was a big let-down for me. To be honest, almost any movie would have been a huge let-down. I don’t know how anyone could have bested, or even matched, the awesomeness of “Alien” and “Aliens.” Since this film was released, David Fincher has become a highly respected director in Hollywood. But a worthy follow-up to two of the greatest modern science fiction movies just wasn’t in the cards for him on his feature film debut.
“Alien 3” finds Ripley’s shuttle crashed on a prison planet where the inmates have reformed through religion and are kept there as caretakers. Everyone else on the shuttle was killed, and Ripley grieves for them. However, she also becomes the focus of an investigation when people start to get killed, only to reveal that an alien egg was on the shuttle and results in a new alien hunting the prisoners on the planet.
There’s a lot to love about “Alien 3,” actually, just not in the story and characters. The production design is very ambitious and ahead of its time. You see a lot of what David Fincher was to become in the making of this film. It’s an exceedingly dark installment in this series, arguably the most dark.
There are some violations with this film, though, including the fact that the set-up basically negates everything that happened in the conclusion of the last film. This, to me, is the biggest sin, and I prefer now to watch “Aliens” as if there were no sequels that followed.
Though, I will say that after watching the supplemental materials about “Alien 3,” a lot of the problems are explained by a mixture of studio meddling, a young director who was too ambitious in some ways and not visionary enough in others, and a huge legacy to overcome in the first two films.
For what it’s worth, “Alien 3” looks pretty good on the Blu-ray transfer, which is good since the visual elements (even the less-than-pristine elements of the extended cut) are what makes the film worth watching.
MOVIE: **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
By the time that “Alien Resurrection” came about, my love for the “Alien” films as a whole had softened because of the let-down that was “Alien 3.” The first two films remained great, but “Alien Resurrection” was less of a crime because the series had already been tainted with a lesser movie.
The fourth installment follows a new ship’s crew which had cloned Ripley in order to extract the alien embryo inside her. What results are different stages of mutations. The most recent version is mostly Ripley with a little bit of alien mixed in. When smugglers get on board and bring humans cargo as potential incubators, the aliens that have already developed escape. The ship starts to auto-pilot back to Earth, and the smugglers have to escape and prevent worldwide infection.
When I saw these films in the theater, this was my least favorite. In retrospect and upon watching it again almost 15 years later, I have warmed up just a bit to “Alien Resurrection.” It’s still not a great film and have plenty of flaws (like boobies on the alien-human hybrid, just to name one), but I give the film credit for trying new things. The problem with “Alien 3” is that is was, in essence, just a rehash of the same conflict we saw in the first film. There are enough different elements to “Alien Resurrection” that make it a slightly better film.
The things I liked include Ron Perlman as the lead smuggler and the return of Sigourney Weaver as a Ripley clone. This is balanced out with a godawful performance by Winona Ryder and some really wacky pacing of the story. It’s silly and out-there, which is to be expected by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Without my expectations too high, as they might have been during the film’s release, “Alien Resurrection” isn’t too bad.
Each disc comes with the theatrical release and the special edition (or sometimes the director’s cut) of the film. The best one of these is that of “Alien,” which plays smoothly. The “Aliens” special edition cut adds a little too much to the story that messes with the pacing a bit. It is neat to see nonetheless. The restored workprint version of “Alien 3” is okay, except for the fact they use an ox rather than a dog as the incubator for the alien, and the special edition of “Alien Resurrection” is virtually indistinguishable from the original version.
Each disc also includes notes on which scenes differ from the theatrical and extended cuts, which is very helpful in comparing the versions of the film. Each film also includes audio commentaries and additional isolated score audio tracks, plus deleted and extended scenes.
The final disc includes all the archived elements from the previous releases of the movies. Each film is given a feature-length documentary about its process, covering pre-production, production, post-production and various other elements.
The fifth disc includes 12 hours of new content with making-of documentaries of each film. All of these elements are also bookmarkable from the movies on the other discs and can be accessed later through Mu-th-ur Mode. I prefer to watch things in a full stream, which is also available.
In particular, the “Alien 3” supplements are most interesting to watch how all the problems evolved. It’s not pretty for the studio, but it gives a brilliant insight into how this film was made.
On the whole, even if you don’t like all the films of the “Alien” series, or if you already own them, it’s worth checking this out for the hi-def experience and the supplemental features, which will take you many times longer to watch than the films themselves. The “Alien Anthology” Blu-ray set literally provides days of viewing material, more than two full seasons of television with special features included.