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Alien Anthology Blu-ray Review

Three of the greatest directors in the world have essentially cemented their feet in the movie business through this franchise; a series of four films that have now spanned four decades (and will enter a fifth with a fifth movie from Ridley Scott soon).

The Alien Saga’s entries are as disparate from each other as opinions are worldwide on which one is the best one—but they all left us wanting more. These Geiger created beasts, easily the most terrifying movie monsters ever conceived, have indelibly crept into our minds and stayed there, both feared and simultaneously loved.

This series is a cinematic gem.

In the 1970s, a broke and despondent Dan O’Bannon (rest in peace, and very sorry you didn’t get to see this on blu-ray) hauled his ass off his buddy Ron Shusett’s couch and set down what would become one of the most celebrated science fiction films in history.

Unknown British director Ridley Scott was chosen to bring what was originally conceived to be a low-budget b-movie to life; and due to a talent that has never faltered in all these years now past, Alien became something much more.

What followed made Sigourney Weaver a star, had audiences lining up around the block to run from the theatres puking, and gave 20th Century Fox is second juggernaught sci-fi franchise in as many years.

Unlike today, where studios are announcing work on sequels before the first one has earned a dime, Alien’s follow up didn’t come until well into the next decade, where a brash and soon to be legendary unknown writer/director, James Cameron, had an idea. Wisely avoiding Scott’s unmatchable aesthetic, Cameron jettison the haunted house mould of the original and injected our favourite monsters into an adrenaline-fuelled, balls to the wall action movie called Aliens. It was a resounding success, and is commonly argued to be a superior film to Scott’s.

The early 90s saw another unknown director, David Fincher, then a music video director, attempt to bring the Alien franchise out of a lengthy and failed development in Alien 3. With no coherent script, and the studio allegedly undermining him at every turn, the young filmmaker eventually walked from what many consider to be a significant drop in quality for the saga. Well, despite Fincher—both then and now—wiping his hands of the production, his efforts still did well enough to keep us hungry for more.

And so, about five years after Ripley died, writer Joss Whedon found a way to bring her back. With French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet on board, Weaver, along with the likes of Winona Ryder and Ron Perlman, returned to try and push the franchise in new directions. While not the complete disaster some bile-spitting critics announced it to be, Alien Resurrection was the film where everyone pondered maybe it was time to retire our favourite acid for blood nasties.

Until now. Ridley Scott is coming back to the universe that made him a household name. A prequel, Ripley-less (or so we assume), it will be interesting to see what the man who started it all does to further the franchise, and very interesting to get an answer to the question I am sure everyone is pondering (especially after the stinking, piece of shit Alien vs. Predator movies): can there be an Alien film without Sigourney Weaver?

What can be answered quickly as easily is what a pleasure it has been to watch this series in high definition, and equally easy is to confirm that Fox has gone above and beyond to deliver the most generous and expansive box set yet offered on the new home-video format.

Before we get to the box set details, a brief rundown of the films:

Alien Anthology Blu-ray ReviewAlien
5 Stars

An isolated group of space truckers, hauling a monstrous refinery, are ordered to set down on a seemingly uninhabited planet and investigate a derelict space craft. When one of them comes back with a strange creature attached to his face, the group decides to get the hell out of dodge. But it’s too late. The creature attached to his face has implanted a parasitic creature that unleashed unholy hell and starts picking them off one by one. It becomes a young and idealistic lieutenant’s (Sigourney Weaver) burden to survive, escape, and destroy the terrifying Alien.

Claustrophobic, tension-filled, and shit-scary sci-fi gold.


Alien Anthology Blu-ray ReviewAliens
5 Stars

Ripley, who’s been asleep for a lifetime (literally), is discovered in her escape pod by a deep space salvage ship. Awakened, she is informed that the planet that caused the death of her entire crew is now inhabited by terra-forming colonists... who have mysteriously stopped transmitting home. Ripley reluctantly agrees to consult on a marine-led mission to the planet, seemingly to rescue the colonists. Of course all is not what it seems, and shit goes bad quickly. Trapped inside the colonist settlement, Ripley and the marines discover a lone survivor, a small girl, and the awful truth that they are trapped on the planet with hundreds of aliens until a remote ship from their space fairing vessel can provide their escape.

One of a teeny tiny select few sequels that equal its originator. Its own animal, Aliens is the perfect sequel to prove sometimes a follow up is warranted.


Alien Anthology Blu-ray ReviewAlien 3
4 stars

Ripley awakens the sole survivor on a penal planet filled with murderers, rapists, and all manner of flotsam and jetsam. Hicks and Newt, her fellow survivors from Aliens, are dead, and she has a long wait before she can leave the god-forsaken place. If that were her only problem, Ripley could handle it, but a face hugger has stowed away inside her escape pod and sets to its ghastly task on a Rottweiler (At least in the theatrical version; Ox in the exteneded cut). The alien that emerges is fast and vicious and all too quickly gets the criminals’ minds off Ripley and onto survival. Ripley and one of the criminals devise a plan to lure the alien to its death, but to succeed the unlikely group of collaborators must band together.

Stylish, violent, and unrelenting; what a film this might have been had people left Fincher alone to do his thing. Nevertheless, this is not a bad movie; its quality elements manage to outshine its flaws more than once.


Alien Anthology Blu-ray ReviewAlien Resurrection
3 Stars

Greedy people just won’t learn. 200 years after Ellen Ripley threw herself and the Alien Queen chest-burster into a molten pool of metal, those greedy twats have finally succeeded in cloning her and the monster within... or do they? Separating the Queen from the clone Ripley, the ship full of company men are breeding aliens for their nefarious purposes, thinking they have everything under control. Of course they don’t. A group of mercenaries come on board to steal an alien, but that is the least of the clone Ripley’s problems: the aliens, spawned from her queen, are far more intelligent, vicious, and have plans of their own. The clone Ripley must again try and ferry those few survivors to safety, but this time, she must also decide which side of her DNA is strongest—Ellen Ripley or the alien?

This is a slickly made film that amazingly does give Weaver a completely new angle to play with her character. Overall, though, there is very little in the way of a fresh approach, and for the first time an Alien picture feels a little stale. 3/5


Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - October 26, 2010
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles
: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French: DTS 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Six-disc set (6 BDs)

This is the blu-ray box set to grab this year. Just like the previous Alien offering from Fox, the new Alien Anthology is the most meticulous, expansive, and generous collection of material a viewer could ask for in one little box.

Just as in the DVD Quadrilogy, you get two version of the film, hours of documentaries and featurettes, a stylishly designed box and digi-pack—it’s just quality all the way. In addition to collecting the features from the laserdiscs, the Alien Legacy DVDs, and the Alien Quadrilogy DVDS, you get ‘Pod Enhancements’: hours of extra tid bits from all four pictures. You get ‘disc unbound’ for an Alien movie marathon: a genius function where, as you swap from disc to disc, they skip all the usual bullshit and get straight into the movie. And you get Mu-th-ur mode: a function that allows you to customize the 60+ hours of content and the films to your own personal requirements.

Video quality will give all technophiles and nerds an entertainment orgasm and blow any regular folk away. You have never seen these films like this before. The 4K AVC encodes on all four films make viewing them a first time experience—you have never seen them in this level of detail. Alien, heavily reliant on its blacks for atmosphere, is a glorious gothic splendour of detail, with strong detailed shadow and contrast. For those who were gasping when Cameron mentioned DNR in the same sentence as his Aliens clean up, fear not; the grain is intact, and Cameron’s signature blue palette has never looked this sharp. What really pops in this transfer is the depth of field, which really puts you in the complex and surrounding area like never before. Alien 3’s grimy copper palette renders the picture a little softer than the previous two, and the optical effects show their matte lines glaringly in hi-def, but this dark film is, again, the best its ever looked. The brighter, high-contrast look of Jeunet’s Resurrection really highlights the contrast advantages and detail of blu-ray. It’s not as spectacular as the first two films, but it’s not far off them.

Sound on all four films, a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 remaster for each, is nothing short of spectacular. All speakers will get a workout, dialogue is clear, and the disparate ambience of each film is effectively conveyed: Scott’s unsettling atmosphere will frighten the neighbours; Cameron’s bombastic world will deafen them; Fincher’s work print audio problems from the DVD have been solved, with Weaver and company adding new ADR; and Jeunet’s effort— aurally at least—match Cameron’s in balls out noise.

There really wasn’t much more that Fox could have offered (Also, this set is available in a Sideshow Collectables Alien Egg box set, so I guess they could!). This is a reference quality set that will blow away any home cinema. If only all film series would take a page out of their book. First class all the way.

Supplements:

Disc One: Alien

  • 1979 Theatrical Version
  • 2003 Director's Cut with Ridley Scott Introduction
  • 2003 Audio Commentary with Director Ridley Scott, Writer Dan O'Bannon, Executive Producer Ronald Shusett, Editor Terry Rawlings, and Actors Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skeritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, and John Hurt
  • Audio Commentary (for Theatrical Cut only) by Ridley Scott
  • Final Theatrical Isolated Score by Jerry Goldsmith (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Composer's Original Isolated Score by Jerry Goldsmith (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes (1080p, 6:39)
  • Deleted Scene Footage Marker: By activating this option during the Director's Cut, an on-screen prompt will appear to identify footage not present in the Theatrical release.

Disc Two: Aliens

  • 1986 Theatrical Version
  • 1991 Special Edition with James Cameron Introduction
  • 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, Actors Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, Carrie Henn, and Christopher Henn.
  • Final Theatrical Isolated Score by James Horner (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Composer's Original Isolated Score by James Horner (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes (1080p, 19:57)

Disc Three: Alien 3

  • 1992 Theatrical Version
  • 2003 Special Edition (Restored Workprint Version)
  • Audio Commentary (Theatrical Version) by 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 Henriksen.
  • Final Theatrical Isolated Score by Elliot Goldenthal (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes (1080p, 49:28): 31 deleted scenes.

Disc Four: Alien Resurrection

  • 1997 Theatrical Version
  • 2003 Special Edition with Jean-Pierre Jeunet Introduction
  • Audio Commentary by Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Editor Herve Schneid, 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.
  • Final Theatrical Isolated Score by John Frizzell (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes (1080p, 11:54)

Disc Five: Making the Anthology

  • The Beast Within: Making Alien (SD)
    • Star Beast: Developing the Story (18:14)
    • The Visualists: Direction and Design (14:54)
    • Truckers in Space: Casting (14:54)
    • Fear of the Unknown: Shepperton Studios, 1978 (24:03)
    • The Darkest Reaches: Nostromo and Alien Planet (17:28)
    • The Eight Passenger: Creature Design (31:35)
    • Future Tense: Editing and Music (16:28)
    • Outward Bound: Visual Effects (18:52)
    • A Nightmare Fulfilled: Reaction to the Film (19:22)
  • Alien Enhancement Pods (SD, 1:19:43)
    • 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 Badejo Alien Movement Tests
    • Discovering Bolaji Badejo
    • Giger on Giger
    • The Distrubing Brilliance of H.R. Giger
    • James Cameron Dissects Alien
    • 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
    • O'Bannon's Fight for Credit
  • Superior Firepower: Making Aliens (SD)
    • 57 Years Later: Continuing the Story (11:05)
    • Building Better Worlds: From Concept to Construction (13:29)
    • Preparing for Battle: Casting and Characterization (17:00)
    • This Time It's War: Pinewood Studios, 1985 (19:39)
    • The Risk Always Lives: Weapons and Action (15:12)
    • Bug Hunt: Creature Design (16:23)
    • Beauty and the Bitch: Power Loader vs. Queen Alien (22:25)
    • Two Orphans: Sigourney Weaver and Carrie Henn (13:48)
    • The Final Countdown: Music, Editing, and Sound (15:31)
    • The Power of Real Tech: Visual Effects (27:47)
    • Aliens Unleashed: Reaction to the Film (12:33)
  • Aliens Enhancement Pods (SD, 58:31)
    • 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
    • Prasing 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
    • From Producer to Stunt Double
  • Wreckage and Rage: Making Alien 3 (SD)
    • Development Hell: Concluding the Story (17:42)
    • Tales of the Wooden Planet: Vincent Ward's Vision (13:11)
    • Stasis Interrupted: David Fincher's Vision (14:13)
    • Xeno-Erotic: H.R. Giger's Redesign (10:20)
    • The Color of Blood: Pinewood Studios, 1991 (23:42)
    • Adaptive Organism: Creature Design (20:58)
    • The Downward Spiral: Creative Differences (14:55)
    • Where the Sun Burns Cold: Fox Studios, L.A. 1992 (17:33)
    • Optical Fury: Visual Effects (24:04)
    • Requiem for a Scream: Music, Editing, and Sound (14:53)
    • Post-Mortem: Reaction to the Film (8:25)
  • Alien 3 Enhancement Pods (SD, 1:14:03)
    • 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 Henriksen 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
    • Mixed Reactions
  • One Step Beyond: Making Alien Resurrection (SD)
    • From the Ashes: Reviving the Story (10:10)
    • French Twist: Direction and Design (26:09)
    • Under the Skin: Casting and Characterization (12:45)
    • Death from Below: Fox Studios, Los Angeles, 1996 (31:36)
    • In the Zone: The Basketball Scene (6:43)
    • Unnatural Mutation: Creature Design (26:21)
    • Genetic Composition: Music (13:10)
    • Virtual Aliens: Computer Generated Imagery (9:53)
    • A Matter of Scale: Miniature Photography (22:50)
    • Critical Juncture: Reaction to the Film (14:28)
  • Alien Resurrection Enhancement Pods (SD, 1:15:17)
    • 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
    • Future Franchise Directions

Disc Six: The Anthology Archives

  • Alien Pre-Production
  • Alien Production
  • Alien Post-Production and Aftermath
  • Aliens Pre-Production
  • Aliens Production
  • Aliens Post-Producton and Aftermath
  • Alien 3 Pre-Production
  • Alien 3 Prodction
  • Alien 3 Post-Production and Aftermath
  • Alien Resurrection Pre-Production
  • Alien Resurrection Production
  • Alien Resurrection Post-Production and Aftermath
  • Anthology

{pgomakase}

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