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Alien Anthology Blu-ray Review

“Alien Anthology” is the best Blu-ray of 2010.

Instead of doing the usual introduction, I’m just going to break down the 4 films themselves. First up is the first and best installment of the “Alien” franchise- “Alien.” What more can be said about this film really? It’s one of Ridley Scott’s masterpieces and it’s one of the best horror/sci-fi films ever made. It’s an effective, convincing, atmospheric, claustrophobic, tension filled chiller revolving around a nasty alien preying upon 7 members of a towing ship. Yes, the plot is simple, but that’s the point. It’s a story about characters, fear, survival, and an evil corporation (with the “company” subplot). Praise aside, however, I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I could do without the cat (Jones).

With “Aliens,” director James Cameron takes a different approach and makes a more action-horror oriented flick. The story picks up 57 years later where Ripley and a group of marines are sent to the planet LV-426 (where the aliens were discovered in the first film) to try and find out what happened to the colonists there. Naturally, they find all of the colonists wiped out (save one) and lots and lots of aliens (including a queen). Of course, the “company” (AKA Weyland-Yutani) has an alterior motive once again.

“Aliens” treads similar ground as the first film with the inclusion of flame throwers, an airlock sequence, and Ripley facing off against the aliens, but mostly, the film is one big action film. Instead of having a claustrophic feel to it like the first film, the sequel is bigger in scope. There are more aliens, more weapons, more characters, more humor, and more action set pieces. Basically, there’s more of everything. Keep in mind that’s not a knock on the film. In fact, “Aliens” is arguably one of the most memorable sequels around. To me, however, it did feel like an over indulgent spectacle at times. Thankfully, the performances by Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, and Lance Henriksen help bring a human element to the film.

“Alien 3” (directed by David Fincher) should have been the final film in the Ripley/aliens saga, but alas a fourth film was made (I’ll get to that later). In this third installment, the ship Ripley, Hicks, and Newt were on jettisoned a pod containing the 3 inidviduals which ends up landing on a former prison planet turned lead works factory named Fury 161. The planet is inhabited by 25 former prisoners who have now found religion and are working as custodians for the lead works business. Unfortunately for Ripley, her life further falls apart when she learns that not only were Hicks and Newt killed, but that an alien was on board the ship. Even worse, the lead works corp. has no weapons because it was formerly a prison. There’s even worse news still for Ripley, but I won’t go into that spoiler territory if you haven’t seen the film yet.

I know this is not a popular opinion, but I am a fan of “Alien 3.” To me, it’s a dark, gutsy Hollywood sequel that surprisingly takes risks. There’s simply no way this film could get made in today’s studio system and I respect it for that. Now, I realize the film has its flaws. The film feels like it is missing scenes (which it is) and the end corridor sequence is certainly confusing and overlong. With that said, there is much to admire here. To me, the first 3 alien films were almost entirely about Ripley, the aliens, and Weyland Yutani Corpation. Ripley’s life has undoubtedly been ruined by both of those entities and she has to do something about it (which she does). To me, this film created a satisfying resolution to that story arc which pleased me as a fan of the series. I know many folks were hoping for something else (possibly involving Newt and Hicks), but would anyone really want to see a happy ending?

On a side note, I do have to say that the 2003 special edition version of “Alien 3” is even better than the theatrical cut. Granted, it has some pacing issues, but it’s a much more developed film that boasts more characterization.

Finally, there is the dreaded “Alien Resurrection.” When I first saw this film 13 years ago I didn’t mind it so much. Watching it today, I can’t understand what I ever liked about it. You’d think that with two talented individuals working on the film (director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and writer Joss Whedon) and a good cast (Sigourney Weaver, Ron Perlman, Brad Dourif and Winona Ryder), the end product would have been at least interesting, but alas no.

 The story, for those that care, sees the creation of a Ripley clone (complete with an alien inside her) on board a US Military medical vessel. You can imagine the chaos that results from that. To be perfectly honest, this is a pointless and needless sequel that makes no sense. Of all the stories to tell in this universe, why go with a story about a clone and an alien/human hybrid? It’s just flat-out embarassing to watch on screen and the cringe-worthy dialogue doesn’t help either. About the only positive elements of the film are the cast and the semi-intriguing ending. Other than that, this film is a colossal waste of time and talent.

Note: It should be noted that viewers have the option to play the 1979 theatrical cut or the 2003 director’s cut of “Alien,” the 1986 theatrical cut or the 1990 special edition cut of “Aliens,” the 1992 theatrical edition or the 2003 special edition of “Alien 3” and the 1997 theatrical cut or the 2003 special edition of “Alien Resurrection.”

“Alien,” “Alien 3,” and “Alien Resurrection” are presented in 2.35:1 1080p while “Aliens” is presented in 1.85:1 1080p. While the picture quality is remarkably great for “Aliens,” “Alien 3” and “Alien 4,” it’s the transfer for “Alien” that really blew me away. The film has simply never looked better. So many details are more noticeable on the Nostromo ship and the aliens themselves look slimier and nastier than ever. All of those folks who worked on this Blu-ray release deserve much praise for their work here.

All 4 films are presented in 5.1 DTS-HD. From the sound of the burning acid and the echoes in the ship corridors to the gunfire and alien hisses, these tracks really deliver in the sound department. Also included are Dolby Digital 4.1 audio tracks for the theatrical editions of the first two films.   

You want extras? You get a ton here. This set includes everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the Alien films and a whole lot more. Extras include: isolated scores for all 4 films, a 2003 audio commentary on “Alien” by Ridley Scott, Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett, Terry Rawlings, Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, and Veronica Cartwright, a thoughtful 1999 Ridley Scott commentary on the “Alien” theatrical version, 7 deleted scenes from “Alien,” an interactive pop-up feature titled “MU-TH-UR” which includes production notes and videos, trivia facts, 3 deleted scenes from “Aliens,” a 2003 commentary on “Aliens” by James Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd, Stan Winston, Robert and Dennis Skotak, Pat McClung, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, and Carrie and Christopher Henn, 2 deleted scenes from “Alien 3,” a 2003 commentary on “Alien 3” by Alex Thomson, Terry Rawlings, Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff, Richard Edlund, Paul McGann and Lance Henriksen, a Jean-Pierre Jeunet introduction for “Alien Resurrection,” and a 2003 commentary for “Alien Resurrection” by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Herve Schneid, Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr., Pitof, Sylvain Despretz, Ron Perlman, Dominiqe Pinon and Leland Orser.

On disc 6, you get even more extras. There’s a first draft screenplay, storyboards, Ridley Scott notes, concept art, Sigourney Weaver screen tests, a photo gallery, a multi-angle scene, video graphics gallery, production and continuity image galleries, and alien set and H.R. Giger’s Workshop galleries for “Alien.” For “Aliens,” there are video graphics, image/art of “Aliens”/production image/continuity/weapons and vehicles, and Stan Winston Workshop galleries as well as Nostromo dossiers, Colonial Marine Helmet Cameras, a James Cameron treatment, videomatics, storyboard archives, more deleted scenes, a Laserdisc archive, main title featurette, footage of the “Aliens” ride, and 4 trailers and a TV spot. “Alien 3” extras include art, storyboards, a furnace construction scene, image/visual f/x/photo, and workshop galleries, a multi-angle sequence, a quick featurette, a promotional featurette, 5 trailers and 7 TV spots. Finally, there are the “Alien Resurrection” extras which include: test footage, first draft screenplay by Joss Whedon, pre-viz rehearsels, storyboards, an HBO and promotional featurette, 2 trailers, 4 TV spots, and visual f/x, character design, image, promo photo, and workshop galleries. But wait, there’s more! Dark Horse Comics still gallery, patches and logos, “Family Guy” and “Spaceballs” clips, a featurette on “Alien” merchandise collector Bob Burns, “Aliens 3D” script and gallery, and 3 additional TV documentaries titled “The Alien Saga” and “Alien Evolution.” Two versions of “Alien Evolution” are included.

The real meat of the extras are on disc 5 in the form of 4 fantastic, in depth making of featurettes (with enhancement pods containing more extras) on all 4 films titled “The Beast Within: Making Alien,” “Superior Firepower: Making Aliens,” “Wreckage And Rage: Making Alien 3,” and “One Step Beyond: Making Alien Resurrection.” The most interesting making of of the bunch is easily the “Alien 3” documentary as it highlights the troubled production.

November 23, 2010 - Posted by | Blu-Ray review | , , , , , , , ,

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