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Alien Anthology Blu-ray

Review by: 
Head Cheeze
Release Date: 
1979-1997
Studio: 
Fox
Genre: 
SF/Horror
Format: 
Blu-ray
Region: 
All
Aspect Ratio: 
various
Directed by: 
Ridley Scott
James Cameron
David Fincer
Cast: 
Sigourney Weaver
Tom Skerrit
Michael Biehn
Charles S. Dutton
Winona Ryder
Movie: 
4
Extras: 
5
Bottom Line: 
5
Video: 
Click to Play

Perhaps the most anticipated Blu-ray release of 2010, The Alien Anthology is a six-disc collection featuring not only two versions of each film in the franchise (both the original and “director’s” or extended cuts), but also the most exhaustive gathering of supplemental material I’ve ever seen amassed for any collection of films, period. While much of the material on offer has already been released as part of the superlative Alien: Quadrilogy DVD collection a few years back, Fox has gone back to the well , so to speak, and managed to wrangle up more goodies, as well as significantly enhance the entire experience through the power of Blu!

Most know the Alien films inside and out, by this point, and this review’s going to be long enough without going into too much detail about the plots of each individual film. All one really need know is that, throughout the four films in the series, there are two constants – Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), a tough-as-nails freighter jockey with intimate knowledge of the titular baddies, and the aliens, themselves; insect-like beasties, with acid for blood, and one hell of an overbite. We’re introduced to both in Ridley Scott’s Alien, a film that, in my opinion, still serves as the benchmark for Sci-fi/Horror.

The crew of the commercial towing vessel, Nostromo, are awakened from cryo-sleep when the ship’s computer  intercepts a distress signal emanating from a nearby planetoid. While investigating the source of the signal, one of the crewmembers, Kane (John Hurt), is incapacitated by a face-grabbing parasite, and, against the wishes of Ripley, allowed back on board the ship for treatment by the Nostromo’s science officer, Ash (Ian Holm). Despite the fact that the creature seems to be actually breathing for Kane and that removing it could actually kill him, Captain Dallas (Tom Skerrit) orders Ash to make the attempt anyway, only to discover that the creature has a pretty unique defense mechanism; molecular acid for blood! Just as they’ve given up on saving Kane, the creature frees him of its clutches and “dies”, leaving Kane in good spirits, if not a little worse for wear and more than a little hungry. However, while the crew all enjoy one last meal together before returning to their sleep chambers,  we soon learn that the face-hugger was merely a vessel, and, in one of the most iconic (and, for its time, controversial) scenes in motion picture history, we witness the bloody birth of the true alien.

Disc one of the set features both the original theatrical cut of Alien as well as Scott’s “director’s cut”, in which  he's excised a few minutes of mostly expository footage and replaced it with...well...more expository footage. While I did appreciate a scene in which Ripley discovers a cocooned Dallas and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton), much of the changes here are simply of the pacing variety. The film DOES move along at a slightly faster pace, but it's by no means an earth shattering difference. Still, it's different enough that many will make the new cut their version of choice, if only for the fresher experience.

Aliens is James Cameron’s far more ambitious and decidedly action-oriented follow-up to Scott’s more intimate thriller, with Ripley, the sole survivor of the Nostromo, being rescued after nearly sixty years of drifting through the cosmos. Ripley is debriefed by her former employers who collectively shrug at her story about the alien creature that decimated her crew as the planet where Ripley claims they discovered the creature – now known as LV 426 - has been colonized for decades with no report of incident.  When the company loses contact with the colony, however, Ripley is lured back into duty, this time to serve as an advisor to a squad of cocky Colonial Marines. The team land on LV 426 to discover that Ripley’s worst nightmare has come true, as the colony has been overrun by a xenomorph army.

As with Alien,  Aliens is presented in two versions; the previously available Director's Cut, and comparatively little-seen theatrical version, which many seem to prefer. Both versions are brilliant, in my opinion, however, I still prefer the Director's Cut simply because it fills in a lot of gaps and offers a bit more emotional investment in the Newt character, as well as the plight of the colonists.

Another film that benefits from a longer approach is the one that would seem least likely to; David Fincher's much maligned Alien 3. Filmed without a proper script, passed through the hands of three directors, and butchered by the studio in its initial release, Alien 3 is widely regarded as one of the biggest disappointments in the history of horror cinema, and for good reason. In its theatrical form, the film was just an absolute mess.

Ripley’s escape pod crashes onto the penal colony of Fury 161, where, once again, she is assumed to be the only survivor. We meet the planet’s inhabitants – a bunch of skinhead sex-deviants who’ve turned themselves over to god in hopes of salvation in the after-life. Ripley, of course, was not the only survivor of the crash as an alien egg somehow came along for the ride (you’d think she’d learn by now to check for such things), and finds a suitable host in the guise of a dog, resulting in a sort of alien/dog hybrid. Without weapons or any hope of rescue, Ripley must lead these murderers and rapists against an even faster, more cunning version of the creature, all the while harboring a terrible secret of her own.

So miserable an experience was working on Alien 3 that Fincher essentially wiped it from his résumé, and, instead of a Director's Cut (Fincher refused to participate), we are instead presented with an  "Extended Workprint". Running nearly forty minutes longer than the theatrical release, this version of Alien 3 is something of a revelation. While by no means perfect, Fincher's original vision is infinitely better than the cobbled together mess audiences were subjected to back in 1992. Fox has digitally remastered the whole affair, seamlessly melding the restored footage back into the theatrical cut, with an entirely new beginning, a different Alien origin, a much more palatable finale, and a very interesting development around midway through that works wonders for the final half of the film. It's a very satisfying experience and a somewhat redeeming one for Fincher, who had to shoulder the blame for what we now know was the result of studio meddling.

As much as audiences reviled Alien 3, nothing could prepare them for the eccentric and oftentimes infuriating Alien Resurrection. Directed by French auteur, Jean Pierre Jeunet (Amelie/City of Lost Children), Resurrection is a highly stylized and exceptionally oddball film. I remember leaving the theater thoroughly incensed after watching Resurrection back in 1997, but, after developing a taste for Jeunet’s work, I’ve since developed a fondness for it. The screenplay by Joss Whedon still troubles me, especially the "one liners" that are more irritating than funny, but, ultimately, the film has become a guilty pleasure.

It’s been nearly two-centuries since the events of Alien 3. The universe is now a police state, overseen by the United Systems Military, who have been conducting behavioral experiments on xenomorphs in hopes of making them a more manageable “weapon”. One of these experiments involves the legendary Ellen Ripley, who, after hundreds of ill-fated attempts, researchers have managed to clone. This new Ripley, however, possesses some of the characteristics of the original’s mortal enemies, with acid for blood, heightened awareness, and, most beneficially, the ability to communicate with the alien hive mind. Things quickly go awry, however, when these genetically altered and educated aliens take over the space station, putting it on a collision course with Earth, once again leaving it up to the new model Ripley, helped along by a motley crew of space pirates (including Winona Ryder as the robot/assassin “Call”), to save the day.

Resurrection doesn’t have a director’s cut, but, rather, an "extended" edition that features a few extra minutes of footage (including a slightly longer ending featuring a shot of the pirate ship, The Betty, landing on Earth) and a new credits sequence. As with Alien, none of this effects the overall film too much (not when compared to the differences the extra footage makes in Aliens and Alien 3, anyway!), but I do have to say I prefer this "new" cut. The new footage isn't essential to the plot, but it's welcome, nonetheless. Sadly, the “baby alien” ending is still intact.

Fox has put an immense amount of thought and care into putting together this Blu-ray collection, from its rugged, book-like packaging to the exhaustive assortment of extras amassed here, but, we all know what’s really important. How do they look? 

In a word, amazing!

From the moment the camera drifts down the hallway in the opening seconds of Alien, I knew I was in for a treat. The level of detail on display here is simply astonishing. Not just in faces and fabrics, but in the sets and props. The space helmets, for example, are covered with these ornate markings and symbols that I honestly never noticed before. Same goes for signage and symbols on hatches, walls, and doors. Until now, I’ve never fully appreciated just how visually complex the sets of this film really are. It’s just revelatory stuff!

Aliens looks amazing, as well, although there’s a hint of DNR at play, here, mucking up some of the fine facial details in few shots. Thankfully, Cameron didn’t go nuts with the processing, here, and the film still retains a nice amount of fine cinematic grain. Colors are exceptionally well balanced, and contrast is spot on,  with deep, true blacks lending the image an almost three-dimensional quality at times.

Alien 3 offers a solid image marred only by occasional overabundance of grain and the film’s own rather ugly aesthete. The film’s color palette is bland, to say the least, with lots industrial rust tones, browns, and blacks. It’s also an exceptionally dark film, with much of the lighting coming in the guise of flickering flames and glowing lava, casting an orange/reddish hue on just about everything. Surprisingly, though, it all holds up rather well, with no noticeable artifacting, impressive levels of detail, and balanced contrast.

Alien Resurrection seems to have benefitted the least from an HD makeover. Don’t get me wrong – it still looks well above average – it’s just that, when compared to the exceptional quality of Alien and Aliens, the newest film looks…well….old. I found that Resurrection suffered from an occasional softness to the image, and, overall, looked somewhat flatter than the other films. There are moments where the level off fine detail is exceptional, however, and the film’s vibrant color palette comes across wonderfully. Like I said, it’s by no means a bad transfer, just not up to par with the other films in the collection.

Audio quality is pretty much an A+ across the board. Each film features a 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track, and each is superb, offering a thoroughly immersive aural experience. Dialogue is crisp and right up front and center, while bass is explosive and in your face. The surrounds are constantly active, teeming with directional effects and atmospheric sounds.

We’re more than two-thousand words in and I’ve not even touched upon the extras! While most of the material is carried over from the Quadrilogy boxed set, many of the features have been upscaled to HD, while others have been dramatically altered (as is the case with Wreckage and Rage: The Making of Alien 3 which now features more than 20 minutes of additional footage detailing Fincher’s problems with Fox. Kudos to the studio for including this). The entire experience has been enhanced by the new MU-TH-ER mode, which offers shortcuts to scene-specific featurettes, a factoid filled datastream, and access to character profiles. This java-enhanced presentation is very slickly produced and really takes advantage of what Blu-ray has to offer, especially when one uses the bookmarking feature that allows the viewer to highlight specific material housed on discs five and six, and access them immediately upon loading.

Discs 1 through 4 feature two versions of each film, as well as commentary tracks, isolated score tracks, and deleted and alternate scenes, with the bulk of the materials housed on discs 5 and 6.

The bonus features on disc 5 are presented in three parts for each film: Pre-Production/Production/Post Production. The pre-production stuff is quite fascinating (for example, one of the early drafts of Alien 3 took place on a planet made entirely of wood and populated by a monastic order who have sworn off technology) and is probably my favorite part of the bonus stuff. I like the brainstorming and conceptualizing that go into a film, and this set covers that in great detail for each film. Of course, the production stuff is equally impressive, with loads of stuff no one's ever seen before, including all new documentaries, interviews, and some great behind-the-scenes footage that really takes you deep into the franchise's storied legacy. The post production segments include in-depth looks at the editing, sound, and scoring of the films, as well as a great assortment of publicity materials, trailers, poster and stills galleries, and interviews with the cast and crew about public reaction to the films. The discs feature remarkably candid interviews with the principals involved in each film, and I give Fox a lot of credit, especially for the verbal beating they take on the Alien 3 extras disc!

Disc six of the set is sort of a "catch-all" for all three films, and is broken down into Alien, Aliens, Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection segments. The majority of the material focuses on Alien, with a BBC documentary, and a trio of featurettes, but collector's will love the fact that Fox has included all of the original Laser Disc supplements for both Alien and Aliens here! The disc also features numerous trailers and television spots for all three films, more stills galleries (including one devoted to the Dark Horse comics series) and more. Here’s the complete rundown below!

 

Disc 1: ALIEN

**1979 Theatrical Version

**2003 Director’s Cut with Ridley Scott Introduction

**Audio Commentary by Director Ridley Scott, Writer Dan O’Bannon, Executive Producer Ronald Shusett, Editor Terry Rawlings, Actors Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton and John Hurt

**Audio Commentary (for Theatrical Cut only) by Ridley Scott

**Final Theatrical Isolated Score by Jerry Goldsmith

**Composer’s Original Isolated Score by Jerry Goldsmith

**Deleted and Extended Scenes

**MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience with Weyland-Yutani Datastream

 

Disc 2: ALIENS

**1986 Theatrical Version

**1991 Special Edition with James Cameron Introduction

**Audio Commentary by 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

**Composer’s Original Isolated Score by James Horner

**Deleted and Extended Scenes

**MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience with Weyland-Yutani Datastream

 

Disc 3: ALIEN 3

**1992 Theatrical Version

**2003 Special Edition (Restored Workprint Version)

**Audio Commentary by Cinematographer Alex Thomson, B.S.C., Editor Terry Rawlings, Alien Effects Designers Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr., Visual Effects Producer Richard Edlund, A.S.C., Actors Paul McGann and Lance Henriksen

**Final Theatrical Isolated Score by Elliot Goldenthal

**Deleted and Extended Scenes

**MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience with Weyland-Yutani Datastream

 

Disc 4: ALIEN Resurrection

**1997 Theatrical Version

**2003 Special Edition with Jean-Pierre Jeunet Introduction

**Audio Commentary by Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Editor Hervé Schneid, A.C.E., 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

**Deleted and Extended Scenes

**MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience with Weyland-Yutani Datastream

Disc 5: Making the Anthology

The Beast Within: Making ALIEN

**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 Eighth Passenger: Creature Design

**Future Tense: Editing and Music

**Outward Bound: Visual Effects

**A Nightmare Fulfilled: Reaction to the Film

**Enhancement Pods

 

Superior Firepower: Making ALIENS

**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

**Aliens Unleashed: Reaction to the Film

**Enhancement Pods

 

Wreckage and Rage: Making ALIEN3

**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

**Post-Mortem: Reaction to the Film

**Enhancement Pods

 

One Step Beyond: Making ALIEN RESURRECTION

**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

**Critical Juncture: Reaction to the Film

**Enhancement Pods

 

**MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience to Access and Control Enhancement Pods

 

Disc 6: The Anthology Archives

 

ALIEN

Pre-Production

**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

**Cast Portrait Gallery

 

Production

**The Chestbuster: Multi-Angle Sequence with Commentary

**Video Graphics Gallery

**Production Image Galleries

**Continuity Polaroids

**The Sets of Alien

**H.R. Giger’s Workshop Gallery

 

Post-Production and Aftermath

**Additional Deleted Scenes

**Image & Poster Galleries

**Experience in Terror

**Special Collector’s Edition LaserDisc Archive

**The Alien Legacy

**American Cinematheque: Ridley Scott Q&A

**Trailers & TV Spots

 

ALIENS

Pre-Production

**Original Treatment by James Cameron

**Pre-Visualizations: Multi-Angle Videomatics with Commentary

**Storyboard Archive

**The Art of Aliens: Image Galleries

**Cast Portrait Gallery

 

Production

**Production Image Galleries

**Continuity Polaroids

**Weapons and Vehicles

**Stan Winston’s Workshop

**Colonial Marine Helmet Cameras

**Video Graphics Gallery

**Weyland-Yutani Inquest: Nostromo Dossiers

 

Post-Production and Aftermath

**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

**Trailers & TV Spots

 

ALIEN 3

Pre-Production

**Storyboard Archive

**The Art of Arceon

**The Art of Fiorina

 

Production

**Furnace Construction: Time-Lapse Sequence

**EEV Bioscan: Multi-Angle Vignette with Commentary

**Production Image Galleries

**A.D.I.’s Workshop

 

Post-Production and Aftermath

**Visual Effects Gallery

**Special Shoot: Promotional Photo Archive

**Alien 3 Advance Featurette

**The Making of Alien 3 Promotional Featurette

**Trailers & TV Spots

 

ALIEN RESURRECTION

Pre-Production

**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

**The Art of Resurrection: Image Galleries

 

Production

**Production Image Galleries

**A.D.I.’s Workshop

 

Post-Production and Aftermath

**Visual Effects Gallery

**Special Shoot: Promotional Photo Archive

**HBO First Look: The Making of Alien Resurrection

**Alien Resurrection Promotional Featurette

**Trailers & TV Spots

 

ANTHOLOGY

**Two Versions of Alien Evolution

**The Alien Saga

**Patches and Logos Gallery

**Aliens3D Attraction Scripts and Gallery

**Aliens in the Basement: The Bob Burns Collection

**Parodies

**Dark Horse Cover Gallery

**Patches and Logos Gallery

**MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience

 

The Alien Anthology represents the franchise at its finest, and is truly a fan's dream come true. Fox has truly left no stone unturned, here, and I'm fairly confident that you'll wear out these Blu-rays long before the studio puts out anything that can top this. The films have never looked or sounded as good as they do, here, and the enormous assortment of special feature (including five hours of all new material culled for this set) will keep fans busy for days (seriously! I’ve had the set for a week and I’m still not through it all). The Alien Anthology is quite simply the best Blu-ray release of 2010, and easily earns my highest possible recommendation.

 

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