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"Alien Anthology" {Blu-ray} - (Wayne)
Reviewer:
Wayne Klein
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Video
Genre:
Horror
Release Date:
10/26/10
Special Features:

2003 and 1999 commentary tracks featuring directors and/or cast members; documentary on the making of "Alien 3" (unedited); Mu-Th-Ur interactive feature/trivia track, production featurettes, behind-the-scenes photos, promotional materials, documentaries on the production of the "Alien" saga, isolated music scores, isolated production music scores

Review:

In space no one can hear the sound of the cash register. It's also a big place with lots of empty space so it's possible that you aren't going to notice that this has been released many, many times before in various formats and with various extras. Fox certainly hopes that's the case as they have reintroduced the "Alien" saga on home video. The sad part is that Fox has driven this fine series of films into the ground allowing less talented directors to chop the first two (and part of the worthy third and in that case the studio did the dirty work) films into the ingredients of a mediocre gruel known as "franchise" genre films. There are some franchise films that stand or fall with each installment but generally can hold up with less than dignified treatment (the Bond films, the Indiana Jones films are but a few) but, ultimately, the "Alien" films were turned into little more than theatrical filler by film directors who gave new definition to the term "hack". ***

While that may have diluted much of the impact of the first couple of films, it hasn't destroyed the overall power and vision of the directors that helmed these projects. Ridley Scott, James Cameron and David Fincher all became well known for other projects outside of the "Alien" franchise and they all brought their considerable skills to the projects with fresh ideas. ***

Sadly Fox butchered Fincher's film taking it away from him during the editing process and crafting a film that while interesting was much less than the sum of its parts. The Work Print version included here isn't Fincher's original vision but it's probably about as close as we will ever get to it (Fincher declined to participate in the project due to his anger at Fox over his unjustified treatment). *** In the first film we meet the crew of the Nostromo; Dallas (Tom Skerrit), Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Ash (Ian Holm, "The Lord of the Rings"), Kane (John Hurt, "The Elephant Man"), Parker (Yaphett Koto), Lambert (Veronica Cartwright, "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers") and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) all of whom have been on an interstellar mining trip refining the raw materials as they travel back home. Mu-Th-Ur the ship's computer awakens the crew when it receives a distress signal rerouting the ship on an intercept course. The crew land on a raw, inhospitable world primordial in nature. They also discover an alien spacecraft covered in eggs from some unknown creature. When Kane is sent down to investigate the eggs, he becomes infected by a parasite. Dallas and Lambert bring Kane back to the ship where Ash the science officer violates protocol against Ripley's orders and lets them back on the ship to treat Kane. The result is that a deadly alien creature with acid for blood escapes and stalks the officers on the ship. ***

Essentially a haunted house film set in outer space "Alien" won kudos for its influential production design by H.R. Giger and Ron Cobb as well as its strong performances and atmospheric direction. Based on a screenplay by Dan O'Bannon ("Total Recall", "Screamers") and Ronald Shusett, the original plan was to produce a B movie monster movie set in outer space but Scott recognized the potential in O'Bannon and Shusett's script (which went through rewrites by writer/director Walter Hill and his producing partner David Giler altering much of the material but keeping the basic core idea from the original script intact). The film was a massive success and inspired many poorly done imitations that couldn't touch on the tension generated by the first film. ***

Fox contracted Giler and Hill for a sequel. The two had seen "The Terminator" which hadn't been released yet and been impressed by writer/director James Cameron. They contacted Cameron and the writer/director took a story he had been working on involving intergalatic marines and grafted on the elements of "Alien" to the project. He did demand one thing however from the producers; he wanted the chance to direct something unique that wouldn't just be an imitation of the first film or a remake. His film would be action/adventure/suspense vs. the horror of the original. ***

In "Aliens" Ripley the only survivor of the Nostromo adrift in a shuttle is found by a salvage crew. She's been in hibernation for 52 years surviving a horrible event only to find that she has outlived her daughter and everyone she ever cared for. The Company that owned the Nostromo blames Ripley for the destruction of the ship as they can't find any evidence of the creature and have, in fact, put settlers on the planet they landed on 52 years ago. When the Company loses contact with the settlers they have Burke (Paul Reiser) a company representative accompany Ripley and a group of Marines to the planet to save the settlers if the alien creatures (which the company didn't believe existed only days before) have attacked. In many respects, "Aliens" is a western set in outer space or it could just as easily be seen as a war film set behind enemy lines. Cameron's film is every bit as vital as the original and is an example of a sequel that is equal. ***

The third film began as a project by director Vincent Ward. Ward's script focused on a planet of monks living as if they were in the 16th century. Ripley shows up as does an alien egg which infects the colony and the Alien is seen as a demon of sorts. Ward's original script was unique to say the least with an interesting religious undertone. ***

When David Fincher ("Se7en", "Fight Club", "Benjamin Button") stepped in he had no experience as a film director and most of his work had been done in commericals and music videos. Still, the rewritten script kept elements of Ward's original version and Fincher's take on the material if the "workprint" version is any indication would have been as unique as powerful as the first two. In the revised script Ripley crash lands on a male prison planet. She immediately causes problems just by her gender but her claim that an Alien creature may be preying on the prisoners generates even more controversey. When the Company finds out she is alive they send a ship to retrieve her but Ripley is determined to destroy the creature once and for all not realizing that she herself has been infected. The original religious subtext where the creature ends up being worshipped by one of the insane inmates is carried over to the work print but, sadly, is completely absent from the finished theatrical release. The potential of "Alien 3" was largely wasted due to the studio and the producers second guessing Fincher's vision for the film. ***

In the "final" film "Alien Resurrection" we jump 100 years after "Alien 3". Ripley is, amazingly, alive. It turns out that if an Alien infects someone that the resulting creature will have both the memory and take on some of the DNA characteristics of the creature that was its host. The military has decided that the Alien species can and will be its next weapon breeding them from the DNA of Ripley herself. The resulting creatures are far more Alien than human but the resulting experiment also brought back Ripley but one that is...different than the original woman. Ripley now has enhanced strength, acid like-blood and when her memory returns she's determined to destroy the creatures once and for all finding help in the form of a Android (Wyonna Ryder) and the crew that brought colonists as experimental subjects to the military ship where Ripley has been trapped. ***

Each film in the "Alien" series was unique and interesting (at least until Fox cheapened it by combining the "Alien" franchise with the "Predator" franchise) with scripts that featured a number of fascinating ideas and solid casts. Each film had its own unique tone and even if each one wasn't a classic, they were unique enough to make the films worthwhile whether it be the dread of Scott's original film, the military action of Cameron's, the examination of faith, forgiveness in a violent prison or the satire of the fourth. Hopefully the Ridley Scott helmed prequel will live up to the best of the "Alien" films and won't further cheapen the franchise that Fox managed to run into the ground. ***

Not counting the individual title releases (or VHS), this is the fifth go round for the "Aliens" films on disc but first on Blu-ray. After all of that experience you'd expect Fox to turn out a perfect product. While not exactly perfect, it's very very close. ---

Image & Sound:

The first two films "Alien" and "Aliens" receive top notch brand new HD transfers. A lot of folks were afraid that these films would turn out looking like the recent reissue of "Predator" with the overuse of digital noise reduction which actually REDUCES fine detail in pursuit of reducing grain. The grain management used here is subtle and improves the image quality. ***

Both the original theatrical version of "Alien" and the "Extended Cut" from 2003 look exceptionally good here. There are some minor variations in some of the material due to some minor differences in color timing from what I can tell but overall both versions look amazingly consistent with a richer, darker image but plenty of detail reflecting an experience closer to the theatrical showing for the original film. ***

"Aliens" always the film with the most grain (which James Cameron didn't like at the time but they were working with a new type of film stock)doesn't lose its film-like look, retains much of its grain but looks the best it ever has on home video. Each disc features seamless branched editions of the original theatrical versions and the extended cuts. For "Aliens" the two versions look slightly different at times (to my eyes) but are surprisingly consistent given the source material. ***

"Alien 3" and "Alien Resurrection" both look quite good although they are clearly from older HD masters with a bit more heavy handed use of DNR and detail not quite as sharp. Still, both look very good indeed and are a step up compared to the original DVDs. There was also some redubbing of dialogue for a couple of scenes for "Alien 3" with the original cast brought back in to provide clearer sound compared to the production sound on the "Workprint" version. ***

We get both the original theatrical cuts and extended editons prepared in 2003 for "Alien 3" and "Alien Resurrection". ---

Special Features:

Folks who purchased the previous set will enjoy the fact that all of the extras from the previous editions have been ported over (at least I couldn't find any missing off the top of my head). Unfortuantely the new commentary tracks that star Sigorney Weaver was supposed to record didn't happen for reasons of logicistics. Likewise missing (at the request of James Cameron's Lightstorm)is the originally promised outtakes which featured actor James Remar in the role of Hicks. That's unfortunate but not a deal breaker. We do get to see the deleted scenes that showed us Burke's fate (it was cut wisely because it brings the film to a dead stop). ***

We get isolated scores, commentary tracks, behind-the-scenes footage, interviews new and old and the uncut documentary made on the debacle that occurred with "Alien 3" (the previous version was edited due to some negative comments about Fox). ***

We also get the 2003 commentary tracks for "Alien" as well as the 1999 one. All the other commentary tracks that were on the original DVD "Quad" set and/or "Anthology" are included here yet again. ***

The Bad: The packaging while innovative in design and handsome looking isn't the best place to store these discs. Housed in a hardback Blu-ray sized case, the films come in a heavy cardboard book with spots to slip the discs in and out. The only concern I would have is wear and tear and possible scratching although it should be noted that generally Blu-ray can withstand more wear and tear than normal DVDs. I personally would have preferred the option of purchasing this in a standard Blu-ray case with a booklet featuring the photos inside the hardback book. ***

There is also a small booklet detailing the contents of the discs and how to navigate the interactive features. There is a really cool new interactive feature which allows you as you go from one disc to the next to skip all the annoying FBI and logos that act as introductions to the discs taking you directly to the feature film or special features. It's a nice innovative touch that ALL studios should apply to their Blu-ray boxed sets. When you take the disc out and are loading the next disc in the logo of the "Company" that is also a character in the films stays on your screen. ***

We also get the "Ridleygrams" (illustrations that Ridley Scott would use to help show others on the crew what he wanted to achieve) that were on the original "Quad" set but inaccessible due to an encoding problem. ---

Final Words:

Over all this is an outstanding set and worth the upgrade for fans of the films who want these in high def. Is this upgrade worthwhile? That will depend on you and how important these films and new extras are to you. I realize that there are those that are upset with the price on these and the best I can suggest is to buy it while it is low priced or wait until they come down in price during the Christmas season. Recommended.

 

 
 
 
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