"I admire its purity."
—Ash (from Alien)
Have you ever delved into a lavish DVD set and found yourself simply overwhelmed? How often do you get the feeling that the creators of a particular DVD package have put forth every Herculean effort to provide the very best home-video presentation in the history of the medium? It hasn't happened to me very often. Perhaps Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings sets fall into this realm, but those DVD producers have it comparatively easy: All those film elements and supplementary materials are recent and easy to gather, and in fact have been produced with the eventual DVD treatment in mind.
Look at this Alien Quadrilogy set. When you consider the task that DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika and his production team faced—gathering supplemental elements for films as old as 24 years, arranging interviews with participants whose experiences on the films weren't exactly heart-warming, searching the globe for lost footage—this 9-disc collection is a must-own in every respect. The Alien Quadrilogy is a DVD behemoth that will astound and amaze even the most demanding Alien fan.
Prepare yourself for sparkling new video transfers and audio mixes, especially in the case of Alien, which will—quite frankly—blow you away. Get ready for new footage in all four films, including a new Special Edition cut of Alien3 that vastly improves the troublesome film. Watch Aliens in its original Theatrical Release form for the first time on DVD. Immerse yourself in an almost incomprehensibly vast collection of behind-the-scene footage, uncommonly candid interview segments with a huge variety of participants, on-set antics and camaraderie, special-effects tests and failures, amusing outtakes, peeks behind the intricate sets, in-depth looks at memorable scenes, and an awe-inspiring archive of original art, conceptual designs, storyboards, production photographs, and candid shots. I've spent a number of days navigating through this set, as you'll see below, and I feel that I still haven't seen everything.
The greatest two aspects of the Alien Quadrilogy set are its perseverance and its honesty. In putting together this fabulous set, the producers obviously encountered stumbling blocks, not least of which was David Fincher's decision not to take part in the presentation of Alien3. Undaunted, the crew assembled all the information it could find about Fincher's original cut and constructed a Special Edition that is as close as we'll ever see to the definitive presentation of the film. There are other similar decisions made for this set, on a smaller scale, that illustrate the bend-over-backwards efforts of this DVD production team. And I truly admired the tone of the voluminous supplements: They never shy away from the more difficult stories, and some interviewees are noticeably unhappy with their experiences. The result is a refreshing honesty that elevates this set even further. And watch out for naughty language!
So now let's start the exhaustive process of digging into these films. The Alien films—particularly the first two—are very close to my heart, and revisiting them was a joy. So let's step back 24 years, to a theater on the west coast, where it all began for this Alien fan…
The year was 1979, and I was an 11-year-old movie geek fresh off of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. My father—bless his huge heart—had agreed to take me to see the new whispered-about R-rated science-fiction horror flick Alien at the big Newport Cinema in Newport Beach, California. I had spent weeks savoring that creepy teaser trailer on TV, so I was giddy with nervous energy as we bought our tickets and entered the gigantic auditorium, which was already half full and trembling with uneasy anticipation. We took our seats, and before long, the lights dimmed, and the haunting, throbbing whisper of Alien's opening credits took hold of my soul. By the time the alien organism made the second of several dramatic debuts, in that indelible arterial spray, I knew I was watching something that would stay with me for a long time. Little did I realize at the time that my first viewing of Alien would become one of the defining moments of this film fan's life.
Alien takes its sweet time to scare the shit out of you. Its first hour is a masterfully slow, quiet escalation toward horror, leaving you rooted to your seat, waiting and worrying. A great benefit of this approach is that while you're on the edge of your seat, you're getting to know the characters intimately, as they go about their interstellar routine. You're privy to their private moments, even as the mood surrounding them is full of ghastly portent. More than any of its sequels, Alien takes a logical, realistic approach to its story, which is undeniably a horror story.
The setting for this horror story is the commercial towing vessel Nostromo, on its way home from a successful mission to mine ore on distant worlds. When the ship's computer, Mother, awakens them prematurely from hypersleep, the crew of seven—Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Dallas (Tom Skerritt), Kane (John Hurt), Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), Ash (Ian Holm), Parker (Yaphet Kotto), and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton)—soon learns why: The ship has intercepted what seems to be a distress signal from a tiny, unknown planetoid. A search team investigates the source and finds a crashed derelict craft with an insidious passenger. Before long, an eighth passenger has boarded their ship, and what was once a comfortable mission home has become a waking nightmare in which the crew is gradually decimated.
Much of the film's success is due to its human element. Its tight seven-member cast, effortlessly portraying the humor and frustration and pettiness of the weary group dynamic, acts as poignant counterpoint to the vicious foreign intruder. We become eerily empathetic with these realistically drawn people, so that when they start feeling fear, and later terror, we feel it right along with them. One groundbreaking element of Alien is its casting of a female in the lead action-hero role. Sigourney Weaver signaled a changing of the guard in Hollywood, in the era of Dirty Harry and Rocky. Today, characters as Lara Croft and Clarice Starling owe at least a nod of gratitude to Lt. Ellen Ripley.
Alien is a perfect concoction of streamlined storytelling, naturalistic acting, and innovative art design. In a screen collaboration that surely ranks as one of the most effective in horror-movie history, director Ridley Scott and writer Dan O'Bannon enlisted artist H.R. Giger to design the film's indelible monster and its alien environments. The combination of Alien's serious horror and Giger's darkly erotic stylings give the film a slimy psychosexual menace that somehow grounds the film firmly within the id. Alien is an elemental story, almost archetypal, and even after countless viewings, it retains its power to deeply unnerve.
I was 18 when I first saw James Cameron's sequel Aliens. Working for Edwards Cinemas in Orange County, California, I lucked out by attending an advance employee screening the night before the film's premiere—again at the big Newport in Newport Beach. I remember loving the symmetry of that, the return to the very screen on which I'd beheld the already-legendary first film. What I remember most about that late-night screening is the outrageous volume at which the projectionist cranked the film. Watching Aliens for the first time was a jangly, visceral experience.
Aliens goes for action/adventure instead of straight-out horror—although it certainly has its shares of thrills and scares. Although I still treasured the elemental horror of the first film, I admired how the sequel explored a new direction while respecting the world and characters that Ridley Scott had established in the original film. Ripley gains a heart-wrenching backstory (particularly evident in the Special Edition) that adds new depth to her character. The world of Alien expands believably to show us more of the dreaded company and even a glimpse of Earth. And most importantly, the threat of the Alien itself is increased by the fact of sheer numbers.
When Aliens opens, we find Ripley adrift in an escape craft, in hypersleep oblivion to the fact that she's been lost in space for 57 years. Rescued by a deep-space salvage team, she soon learns that while she's been away, the planetoid on which the Nostromo discovered the Alien has been populated by human colonists—and, worse, those colonists have been mysteriously wiped out. Reluctantly, Ripley joins up with a ragtag bunch of interstellar Marines in an effort to investigate the human colony and ultimately destroy the Alien menace. The crew—which includes such standouts as Hicks (Michael Biehn), Hudson (a scene-stealing Bill Paxton), Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein), Bishop (Lance Henriksen), and company man Burke (Paul Reiser)—soon find that the task is more difficult than imagined, and the team of Marines is quickly overwhelmed by a frightful Alien onslaught. And intriguingly, Ripley finds herself in the position of surrogate mom to lone colonial survivor Newt, lending an emotional impact to the war against the Aliens.
I think it's fair to say that Cameron has fashioned one of the most successful sequels…ever. When you listen to his comments in the audio commentary, you'll get a sense of how closely he studied the original film—from its structure to its look to its mood—and respected the canvas upon which he was working. His love for the original film is one reason for the success of his sequel, but that amounts merely to a foundation. A gratifying aspect of Aliens is that it carries the signature of its creator, who took the basic conceits of the first film and pumped them with adrenaline, plugging a credible Starship Troopers military grunginess into Ripley's saga. With astounding confidence, Cameron made Aliens his own.
One aspect of Aliens that is at once disappointing and understandable is its alteration of the original Alien life cycle. Whether out of ignorance or just because he didn't really care, Cameron ditched Giger's vastly more interesting concept of the cocoon in favor of eggs laid by a Queen Alien. My initial reaction to the change was outrage, but I freely admit to the effectiveness of the Queen as a character and as a focus for the film's climax. Yeah, it's a cheat, but it's a good one that makes Aliens even more memorable.
So now we get to the moment of gargantuan betrayal. When Alien3 debuted, I was a full-fledged adult but still enamored with the Alien saga and the potential of the continuing story. I remember my anticipation for the film after seeing an early teaser whose tagline was something to the effect of "On Earth, everyone can hear you scream," implying that the nefarious creatures might find their way to our planet and wreak all kinds of havoc. That concept might have begun a nice concluding chapter for Ripley and Newt and Hicks, our heroine's new surrogate family, and might have provided for a ripping climax that stayed true to the Alien spirit engineered by Ridley Scott and James Cameron.
Years later, beholding the grim spectacle of Seven, I would become an avid David Fincher fan, but when the director stamped his morbid sensibilities on Alien3, his debut film, he essentially murdered the soul of the franchise and created (as you'll hear in the film's audio commentary) an "interstellar snuff movie." I'll admit that as a concept, an interstellar snuff film is pretty cool—but, nope, not for these characters, who have fought so hard and deserved something more respectful. Alien3 is a profoundly disappointing and infuriating sequel.
If you've never had the displeasure of viewing Alien3, here's a short synopsis: At the beginning of the film, the aforementioned survivors of Aliens, except for the ubiquitous and ever-suffering Ripley, are dead. They have died brutally. To make matters worse, an Alien had been on board with them the whole time, so when their craft crashes on a high-security prison planet, we know one of their bodies is carrying the Alien that will drive the plot of the film. We meet a motley crew of God-obsessed inmates, headed up by Dillon (Charles S. Dutton), as well as sympathetic doctor Clemens (Charles Dance). The vast majority of these characters are interchangeable bald-headed Alien food with no distinct personalities. The plot of the film is simple and redundant: In this relatively close space, find the Alien and determine a way to kill it. A subplot involving Ripley is dour and tragic, and even though I admire its intentions, it's out of place in the saga.
Alien3 wants to return to the mood and style of the first film, but among the many missteps it takes, perhaps the most fatal is that it abandons character. Lance Henriksen, in his commentary over this film, says that he didn't know who to care for in the film. He says it's "nihilism on top of nihilism." You get the feeling he doesn't think much of the film. He ain't alone.
Yet another dismal aspect of this production is its use, for the first time, of a bluescreen puppet-model Alien plugged like ugly CGI into the film. It's a terrible use of the technology, a move away from the first two films' use of practical monster effects, and it looks ridiculous. The effects suck all the terror from the creature scenes, leaving you weeping and shaking your head. The film's few practical effects work fairly well, but these animated Aliens look worse than a Roadrunner cartoon. It's another change from established protocol that falls absolutely flat.
It was after a 5-year bout of severe disillusionment that I learned that a fourth Alien film was coming out of Hollywood in 1997. I didn't really care. Considering the fate of Ripley and the franchise in Alien3, any fourth film would by nature have to be an extension of the betrayal wrought by the previous film. But then I discovered that the film's director would be Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who had created Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, two French arthouse favorites that boasted darkly unique visuals and a nightmarish sensibility. So my expectations were somewhat elevated when I walked into the auditorium that would unspool Alien Resurrection. I only hoped the title would hold some truth for the saga itself.
Alien Resurrection tries valiantly to fix some of the many errors of Alien3, but in the end it tries too hard. To bring the series back from the merciless pessimism of the third film, Alien Resurrection overcompensates by injecting a weird, French black humor into the proceedings, an over-the-top element more at home in an Alien comic book than in an Alien film. In places, you almost expect to see snarky dialog bubbles popping into frame. And if you're into the whole comic-book mentality, perhaps Alien Resurrection has some fun thrills. I can enjoy parts of the film for what they are, but there's no denying that the weight and drama and paranoia and sense of character from the first two films are still very much absent.
The infamous Weyland-Yutani Corporation is dead, "bought out by Wal-Mart," and now it's the United Systems Military with a weapons-program interest in the Alien organism. In place of Weyland-Yutani's "Mother" computer is the new "Father." We're now 200 years after the events of the third film, and deep in the bowels of a military vessel orbiting Earth, scientists have cloned Ripley from blood taken from the prison planet of Alien3. In cloning Ripley, the military has also managed to clone an Alien Queen (for reasons made clear in the third film), which has already laid some eggs and produced some offspring. The plot kicks into gear when a group of interstellar pirates—Elgyn (Michael Wincott), Hillard (Kim Flowers), Christie (Gary Dourdan), Johner (Ron Perlman), Vriess (Dominique Pinon), and Call (a strangely miscast Winona Ryder)—boards the station just as the cooped-up Aliens start bursting from their cages, and just as an Alien-hybrid Ripley is gathering snippets of genetic memory and a tendency for wisecracks. The action devolves into yet another run-from-the-Alien exercise, and there are big explosions at the end, not to mention an eye-roller of a surprise.
Alien Resurrection is a comic-book adventure that takes place in a world that shares a few characteristics with the Alien universe. Both Ripley and the Aliens seem strangely out of place in this film, especially the Queen, who is supposed to be menacing but just seems to be asking, "What am I doing here?" The central group of characters never exhibits the same cohesiveness of the characters in the first two films. Aside from a few inspired sequences, and despite springing from the mind that would eventually create the wonderful Amelie, Alien Resurrection never emerges from the shadow of Alien3, and is content to be merely a weird diversion.
Alien Resurrection adds CGI to the visual-effects mix, and even though the Alien effects are more effective than those in the third film, they still occasionally detract from the sense of threat that the creatures need to convey. To its credit, the film uses many more practical effects than CGI effects, and the former work quite well. And damned if those underwater Alien effects don't hold up remarkably well. But why oh why did the filmmakers find it necessary to introduce that stupid new monster at the end?
The highest compliment I can pay Alien's stunning transfer is that you would never believe this is a nearly 25-year-old film. Fox's 2.35:1 anamorphic-widescreen presentation is really something to savor. The depth and clarity of this image belie the film's age. Detail is exquisite, reaching well into backgrounds, and close-up detail is particularly impressive. Check out the facial details of Brett in his climactic scene, or the sinister, sweat-soaked sheen of Kane's torso when he's at the mercy of the facehugger. Scott's cold, gritty blue color palette comes across beautifully. The hard whites of other scenes, such as the awakening from hypersleep, avoid excessive grain. The depth of this image is gorgeous.
A direct comparison with the image of the Alien Legacy DVD reveals that the new image is much more stable. Clarity and detail and depth are much improved, as are brightness and color. Fleshtones on the older disc tend toward pinkish yellow. Grain has been drastically reduced, although not unnaturally so. The new image remains faithfully filmlike. Perhaps the biggest revelation that comes out of a direct comparison is the cleanliness of the new print. The older image is filled with minor scratches and flaws and specks. I also noticed many more instances of digital artifacting such as aliasing in the older image. All this is not to say that the older image is terrible. For its time, it was an impressive transfer. But improvements in mastering technology, along with the image improvements meticulously performed on the new Director's Cut, have produced a truly top-notch image.
I did notice edge halos in a few instances of hard lines, but they were exceedingly minor and nearly unnoticeable, even on a 65" monitor. In other scenes, I noticed no such edge enhancement at all, as if the sharpening effect was used very sporadically. (By comparison, the older image had noticeable ringing edges and halos.) I noticed no other instances of blocking or aliasing. The print itself is unbelievably pristine, showing nearly zero instances of dirt or flecks. The film appears to have not aged one bit since 1979.
Finally, I noticed perhaps a half dozen instances of apparently missing frames, in which a given shot would skip noticeably. These instances were random and didn't correspond to the location of added scenes, for example. But this might be a player-specific issue that results from the disc's streaming branching of deleted scenes. (I viewed the film on a Toshiba 6200.)
Unfortunately, the 1.85:1 anamorphic-widescreen presentation of Aliens can't match the brilliance of Alien's image. The good news is that detail is damn good and colors seem fairly accurate to Cameron's typical steely blue color palette. The bad news is that the image has a flatness that you don't see in the image of the first film. Aliens just doesn't have the depth of Alien. The image seems to have a barely perceptible gray gauze hanging over it, making skin tones appear a bit washed out and pasty. Blacks are deep, but at the same time, everything seems the slightest bit dim. The print itself also exhibits some wear and tear in the form of flecks and scratches. I don't want to give the impression that this is a terrible transfer, because that's far from the case. It's just that if you watch this DVD of Aliens directly after watching this set's pristine version of Alien, you're going to be disappointed.
The transfer's biggest offense is its digital artifacting, which gives the film a blocky, shifty look. Even in close-up detail, on faces for example, you'll see a distracting number of compression artifacts. Darker scenes, of which there are many, are alive with mosquito noise. Don't even get me started about the many smoky scenes. As far as edge enhancement, I noticed only minor instances of ringing but no obvious halos.
A direct comparison with the previously released Alien Legacy DVD reveals that the new image is extremely similar to that of the older set. In fact, is it my imagination, or is the older image slightly preferable? Colors, particularly skin tones, seem a tad warmer in the old release, and instances of digital artifacting are fewer. The major difference seems to be that contrast in the new image is cranked, giving the film a harder look but also magnifying grain and artifacting problems. Another unfortunate revelation is that the new set seems to have used the same print for its transfer, which means you have all the same dirt and flaws, except for a few areas where it appears to have been touched up.
It's a shame that Aliens didn't go through the meticulous restoration that Alien went through. I'd argue that it's the only other film in the quadrilogy that deserves the special attention.
I'm quite impressed by the image quality of the third film. The strongest asset of this 2.35:1 anamorphic-widescreen transfer is its colors, which glow warmly from the screen in autumnal oranges and sepia browns in the midst of prison grays and murky greens. Combined with this accurately rendered palette is a level of depth and detail that gives the film a dark realism. Blacks are deep and gorgeous, and shadow detail impressive. Close-up detail is very fine, but backgrounds tend toward softness.
I noticed few instances of digital artifacting in this effort, which is really saying something, because opportunities for blocking are many: The film is filled with smoke effects and indistinct gray backgrounds. I watched very carefully for edge halos and saw them on a few occasions, but they're actually rare. In some scenes, though, they're quite noticeable. This is a very filmlike effort.
A direct comparison with the Alien3 disc in the Alien Legacy set reveals that the new image is somewhat sharper, appearing slightly more in focus. Otherwise—for example, regarding color—image quality is essentially the same. Fine detail is improved in the new image, and edge haloing occurs less often. The print itself also appears cleaner. In general, though, the differences between these two transfers are slight.
Alien Resurrection, presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic-widescreen, looks good. Detail is quite fine, particularly fine close-up detail, but backgrounds tend toward softness. However, the transfer is very dark. The film has a naturally dark, contrasty look, thanks to the talents of cinematographer Darius Khondji (Seven), but I found myself often frustrated that I couldn't make out details lost in blackness. Jeunet calls Khondji the "prince of darkness," but I don't believe the film is supposed to be this dark. I can't remember the theatrical experience, but a lot of shadow detail seems lost here.
A direct comparison with the image of the Alien Resurrection DVD in the Alien Legacy set reveals that the Alien Quadrilogy DVD contains a much stronger image. The older image is awash in grain and diffuseness and artifacting. There's a flatness to the image, and detail is questionable. The comparison definitely makes you appreciate the new image. But, blacks aren't as oppressive in the older image, and shadow details are more evident.
I noticed more instances of seemingly missing frames, but again, this could be a player-specific problem resulting from streaming branching.
The disc offers two English-language tracks: a DTS 5.1 track and a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. (You also get a Spanish mono track.) Both the new sound presentations offer a more immersive, rounded audio experience than the soundtrack on the Alien Legacy set, although the original track was no slouch. Both the high and low ends are cleaner, and the surround channels are more aggressive. The score moves to the rears more frequently. And ambient noise is much more interesting. In his commentary, Scott talks about the importance of the film's ambient sound effects, which lend a sense of paranoia and itchy fear to the proceedings. The new track's surround channels are positively alive with these ambient effects, which include clicks and beeps and hissing and clanging alarms, all of which give the film an extra sense of creeping unease. The front soundstage is very wide and full, and dialog mostly clean and accurate. Some of the louder dialog, such as yelling, comes across with some harshness and minor distortion.
I listened closely for differences between the Dolby and DTS tracks and came away with few. The DTS is only slightly more tight, particularly in the low end, but it's hardly noticeable. I would have been happy with either one of these tracks solo.
I noticed an odd instance of missing dialog at the 23:40 mark, where Ripley mouths the word "Yeah," but on this new disc, the soundtrack is strangely silent for that split second. The word is intact though slightly muted on the Alien Legacy disc.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix on this disc is the same as the one featured on the Alien Legacy set, which is a moderate disappointment. I wish that Cameron had approved new visual/audio improvements to his film, because even though he apparently thinks they're fine, they could use some massaging.
This soundtrack is admittedly pretty good, but it's weighted toward the front with minimal surround activity. Again, after listening to the wonderfully immersive track over Alien, you'll find this one to be a bit flat and disappointing. To be fair, the front soundstage is used effectively, with strong dialog and only rare high-end distortion, and James Horner's score fares particularly well. The low end has a throbbing presence.
You don't get a DTS option on this DVD, apparently because of the length of the movie. I know a lot of people are somewhat blindly attracted to merely the acronym DTS and will be disappointed. But without a reworking of the sound presentation itself, DTS would have been a meaningless inclusion anyway.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix on this disc hearkens back to the audio quality of the first film's mix: It's a generously immersive experience that features a great deal of surround activity. Pans across the front and to the rears are very involving. Dialog is clear and natural, and I noticed no high-end distortion. The low end gives the film a near-constant feeling of menace.
Again, because of the length of the included Special Edition cut, the disc includes no DTS option. I have no problem with that decision. Frankly, any benefits a DTS track might add are minor. This Dolby track is more than worthy.
As I explain in the Supplements section, the audio quality of the newly added Special Edition scenes is sometimes not up to the quality of the Theatrical Release footage. Although the DVD's producers have done an excellent job of restoring the footage, some of the original sound elements had seen some wear and tear, and there was only so much they could do. After learning about this misfortune, I was expecting some truly rough stuff, but the truth is that it ain't that bad.
Alien Resurrection is only 6 years old, and its sound mix benefits from the advantage of its young age. The disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 is an impressive effort, typical of a recent mix. The front soundstage is expansive, and surround activity is generous with ambient sound and music. The low end comes across nicely. Dialog is accurate and clear (except for a problem mentioned in the next paragraph), and I noticed no high-end distortion. Again, the DTS is extremely close to the quality of the Dolby track, with perhaps a slight edge in the punchiness of the bass.
The strongest aspect of both sound presentations is the film's score, which comes across brightly and with great force. Unfortunately, the music and the sound effects tend to drown out some of the dialog. Levels don't seem quite accurate in that respect.
The supplements in this set are overwhelming. There's just no other word for them. You're going to spend days wandering through these discs—with a big ol' smile plastered across your face. With this set, Fox has lavished uncommon attention to each of these films, treating them with precise care and an adoring fan's love.
You probably want to know what the set excludes. Understand that the supplements from the Alien Legacy set aren't carried forward into this set. That means you'll be missing some cool features—notably a fantastic audio commentary over Alien by Ridley Scott. You also don't get that original disc's isolated audio tracks. Also, although fans hoped that the contents of the limited-run Alien Legacy Bonus Disc might be ported here, such is not the case. Finally, the recently released Alien Saga DVD remains a completely independent release that you'll have to purchase separately.
All that being said, once you take a gander at these spectacular supplements, assembled with such attention to detail, you won't care about the exclusions.
On Disc 1, you can choose to view the recent theatrically released Director's Cut (which runs 1:55:40) or the original 1979 Theatrical Cut (which runs 1:56:30). When you choose to view the Director's Cut, the disc plays a 1-minute Introduction by Director Ridley Scott, presented in anamorphic widescreen, in which the director speaks briefly about his reasons for creating the new cut.
The Director's Cut adds a few tantalizing scenes to Alien, but really nothing of great substance that you haven't seen before as deleted scenes on the previously released Alien Legacy set. Many of the scenes are merely brief shots, scattered here and there, so that watching the new cut becomes a subtly different experience than you remember. Scott has also excised certain scenes and shots to trim up the film's pace. For example, the second scene with Dallas communicating with Mother is gone. (Frankly, the scene always struck me as somewhat obvious.) A conversation between Dallas and Ripley about Ash has been shortened. Ripley's mad dash through the ship toward the film's end has also been streamlined. I must admit that it's very gratifying to see the Dallas cocoon sequence in beautiful, finished form, but there's no getting around the fact that it interrupts the momentum of the climax. A very cool feature on Disc 1 is the Deleted Footage Marker, which lets you view the Director's Cut with a subtitle feature that displays the words "Director's Cut" whenever newly added footage is playing. On the downside, the subtitle doesn't let you know when footage has been deleted. You can also choose to watch these Deleted and Extended Scenes separately, from their own menu. I'm extremely happy to report that the image and sound quality of the deleted scenes in Alien perfectly matches that of the rest of the film, so they're seamlessly integrated into the narrative.
The new Audio Commentary by Director Ridley Scott, Writer Dan O'Bannon, Executive Producer Ronald Shusett, Editor Terry Rawlings, and Actors Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, and John Hurt is a wonderfully informative and entertaining track. Scott and Weaver are recorded together, as are Skerritt, Cartwright, and Stanton. The other participants are recorded on their own, and comments are edited together. The happy result is a track that contains the benefits of a group commentary and also the focused comments of a recorded-separately track. The conversation covers just about every aspect of the film that you can imagine, from casting to scoring to atmosphere to the genre conventions of the horror film. Unfortunately, Cartwright tends to dominate the conversation away from Skerritt and Stanton, making you think of her Witches of Eastwick character, but she gets to reminisce about the legendary anecdote involving Lambert's reaction to the chestburster. Another interesting tidbit that arises out of that three-way discussion involves a backstory about two of the characters having an affair. Stanton talks entertainingly about his inability to portray terror. I particularly enjoyed Scott's and O'Bannon's comments about incorporating H.R. Giger's art design. O'Bannon's recollections of working with Giger on the facehugger are quite interesting, as are his strong opinions about the addition of the Ash subplot. And Weaver shares a hilarious story about the "rolled-up magazine," as well as fascinating Beauty and the Beast notions about the film's ending. Keep in mind that this newly recorded commentary replaces the illuminating Scott commentary to be found on the Alien Legacy edition. Scott does talk somewhat generously about a few of the deleted scenes.
Over on Disc 2, you get a plethora of newly produced full-frame documentaries, photo archives, and art collections that amount to a single presentation called The Beast Within: The Making of Alien. You can navigate this extensive collection of supplements in a couple ways. First, you can choose to watch all featurettes, view all artwork, and view all photos in three separate all-encompassing batches. Alternatively, you can access the supplements according to Pre-Production, Production, and Post-Production. I'll take the latter route for the purpose of this review.
In the Pre-Production section, you get an informative (if talking-head heavy) 18-minute featurette called Star Beast: Developing the Story. Dan O'Bannon, Ronald Shusett, producer Gordon Carroll, producer David Giler, associate producer Ivor Powell, Fox prez Alan Ladd Jr., and conceptual artist Ron Cobb talk about Alien's origins in the film Dark Star, and the circuitous route that the film took toward production. Interestingly, Giler and O'Bannon speak somewhat contentiously about Giler and Walter Hill's substantial rewrites to O'Bannon's original script. We also learn of the first meeting between Alien's creators and the artist H.R. Giger. Ronald Shusett, as in his commentary contributions, seems a little too satisfied with his involvement, but the stories that all participants share are undeniably fascinating.
Also in this section is Dan O'Bannon's original First Draft Screenplay of Alien, preceded by a long text introduction written by O'Bannon, in which he repeats a lot of the stories he tells elsewhere in these supplements. Although the screenplay is radically different from the finished film, you'll be surprised by how much of the film's mood and ideas were present from the very beginning.
Next is The Visualists: Direction and Design, a 16-minute featurette that's an extension of the first one. Ridley Scott joins the discussion, talking about his introduction onto the project. The visual influences of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars are acknowledged, as is the horror-genre influence of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Most important, lots of attention is paid to the collaboration with Giger, as well as the "beautiful as well as threatening" aspects of his art. My favorite aspect of this piece is Giger's own remembrances, as he talks from his studio about his experiences on the film.
Ridleygrams is advertised as a gallery of all of Scott's thumbnail storyboards and notes, which led 20th Century Fox to double Alien's original $4.2 million budget. (Some viewers have found that, in fact, not all of these Ridleygrams are in evidence.)
Storyboard Archive is a gallery of storyboards for five sequences from the film—Landing, Breach, Awakening, Expedition, and Narcissus.
The Art of Alien is a portfolio of conceptual art from artists H.R. Giger, Ron Cobb, Chris Foss, and Jean "Moebius" Giraud.
The 15-minute featurette Truckers in Space covers the casting of the film. Scott's aim from the beginning was to cast marvelous actors who needed little direction, so that he could focus on the film's visual aspects. Casting director Mary Selway offers her thoughts about the process. The most interesting aspect of this discussion is the notion of casting a woman as the lead character. All the actors except for Yaphet Kotto and Ian Holm take part in the interviews.
A nice follow-up to that featurette is Sigourney Weaver's Screen Test, which you can view with or without Ridley Scott commentary. Over the 5 minutes of footage, Scott talks in-depth about his initial reactions to her screen presence, as well as his thoughts about the screen-testing process. He says Weaver was "born to be Ripley."
The Cast Portrait Gallery is a short series of posed in-character shots.
The Production section starts off with Fear of the Unknown: Shepperton Studio 1978, a 24-minute cast-and-crew recollection of working on the film. Art director Roger Christian joins the ensemble of participants to discuss Scott's struggles with the studio suits, who were constantly on his back. And the cast talks about their experiences inside those suffocating space suits. You even get actual footage of Scott's kids playing miniature versions of the characters in space suits, as well as some groovy behind-the-scenes shots of Tom Skerritt in the cocoon sequence. Production designer Michael Seymour and cinematographer Derek Vanlint also chime in. The focus of this one takes a terrific shift halfway through, as it veers off into a very welcome discussion about the camaraderie among the actors. There are also some cool outtakes here, and behind-the-scenes shots of the Ash head sequence.
The Production Gallery is a large photo archive of shots of The Nostromo, Egg Chamber, Kane's Fate, Brett's Death & MU-TH-UR, Ash, Parker & Lambert's Death, Cocooned, The Narcissus, and Filming in Progress.
Continuity Polaroids is a fascinating look at how photos of sets, props, and other details are used to maintain a film's continuity.
The Darkest Reaches: Nostromo and Alien Planet is a 17-minute featurette about the design of those two components of the film. The piece provides many enticing behind-the-scenes glimpses of Giger at work, including his personal airbrushing of the incredibly impressive space-jockey set.
The Sets of Alien is a photo archive of—you guessed it—the film's sets.
I found the 31-minute featurette The Eighth Passenger: Creature Design to be a wonderfully odd and informative look at Giger and how his disturbing yet beautiful work was translated to the screen. Much of the piece is devoted to the physical effect of the facehugger bursting from its egg, as well as the facehugger's innards. While discussing the chestburster scene, even Giger himself is visibly disturbed by the life cycle of his Alien. But now we get the greatest aspect of the piece: an in-depth look at the filming of the chestburster scene, complete with much behind-the-scenes footage and great outtakes. The adult Alien is also discussed, and Carlo Rambaldi joins the discussion to talk about the mechanics of the head and the mouth. This is a fantastic piece, full of energy and gory detail.
The Chestburster: Multi-Angle Sequence is another highlight of Disc 2. It lets you watch production dailies of the chestburster scene from a couple different angles, complete with production sound. Alternatively, you can view with Ridley Scott commentary. This is an incredibly illuminating look at a classic scene.
H.R. Giger's Workshop is a very strange photo archive, but if you're a Giger fan, you'll love it.
The first featurette in the Post-Production section is the 16-minute Future Tense: Music and Editing. Editor Terry Rawlings talks about the film's deliberate pace. Scott and Skerritt talk about the decision to cut the Dallas cocoon sequence. Jerry Goldsmith also talks about scoring the film, and in particular his unhappiness with the opening theme! The filmmakers' collaboration with Goldsmith seems to have been generally contentious.
There's also a Deleted Scenes section here that includes scenes not restored by Scott into the Director's Cut. The scenes are titled Kane in the Morning, The Derelict, Kane's Condition, Repairs Interrupted, Regrouping, Ripley Soothes Lambert, and Airlock Sequence. Half are presented in remastered and fairly nice-looking anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, boasting Dolby Digital 5.1 sound because they almost made it into the new cut. The other half are in flat-looking non-anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 2.0. A couple of these are real clunkers, but at least one adds fascinating backstory.
The 19-minute featurette Outward Bound: Visual Effects is a straightforward look at the film's special effects. Visual effects supervisor Brian Johnson and supervising modelmaker Martin Bower talk about the creation of models, the innovation of camerawork to achieve planetary and ship-motion effects, and the ever-present use of smoke.
The Visual Effects Gallery is a photo archive of, yes, you guessed it again, the film's visual effects.
The final featurette of the Alien component of the set is the highly entertaining 19-minute A Nightmare Fulfilled: Reaction to the Film. Many of the aforementioned participants talk about the initial preview screenings. I question the anecdotes about fainting ushers and people fleeing to the lobby to barf, but they're fun. Dan O'Bannon talks about being overcome with emotion at the premiere, and everybody has something to say about their own first viewing.
In Poster Explorations, you can view a gallery of posters, logos, and lobby cards. Some of this stuff is never-before-seen and pretty hilarious.
Special Shoot is an archive of promotional photographs.
Finally, Premiere is a photo archive of various shots from various movie-theater premieres.
On Disc 1, you can choose to view the Special Edition (which runs 2:34:15) or the 1986 Theatrical Release (which runs 2:17:02) of Aliens. The Special Edition cut is the same cut that was featured in the Alien Legacy box. Interestingly, and quite gratifyingly, this is the DVD debut of the Theatrical Release, which I believe is the more powerful and effective cut. That being said, the Special Edition does have a couple of extremely nice additions that I believe should have remained in the Theatrical Release cut. When you choose to view the Special Edition, the disc plays a 1-minute Introduction by Director James Cameron (audio only), in which the director speaks briefly about preferring the Special Edition to the Theatrical Release.
The scenes added to the Special Edition are mostly unnecessary and give Aliens an unwelcome bloat. Take, for example, the long sequence that takes place on the soon-to-be-wiped-out colony planet, before Ripley returns. This entire sequence is unnecessary and detracts from the momentum of the narrative. It also undercuts the unease that we feel later. However, there are two scenes here that are worthy of inclusion within the original cut: One involves Ripley learning about her daughter, and the other involves the appearance of sentry guns late in the film. Again, you can enable a Deleted Footage Marker, which lets you view the Special Edition with a subtitle feature that displays the words "Special Edition" whenever newly added footage is playing. You can also choose to watch these Deleted and Extended Scenes separately, from their own menu.
The new 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, and Actors Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, Bill Paxton, Carrie Henn, and Christopher Henn is just as terrific as the track over Alien. Cameron contributes his comments solo, which works for the best, I think. Recorded in separate groups are Hurd and Winston; the Skotaks and McClung; the Henns; and Biehn, Henriksen, Goldstein, and Paxton (much of the cast of Near Dark!). The comments are edited together with great effectiveness, often seeming to feed off each other. Not surprisingly, Cameron's comments are the highlight of the track. One aspect of his discussion that I found particularly interesting is the degree to which he studied the original film and Ridley Scott's visual style. Also, he admits that if he had to do it all over again, he'd shoot Aliens in 2.35:1 (anamorphic) widescreen. And he has a lot to say about the scenes added to the Special Edition. As counterpoint to the geek intrigue of Cameron's comments, the group discussion between the four actors is a hilarious and casual free-for-all that's too infrequent! It will make you wish you could hear their comments over the entire film. One of the great improvements from Alien to Aliens is the movement of the Alien itself, and Stan Winston has interesting comments about the efforts to improve the "performance" of the creatures. He also says it's his favorite movie of his career. Toward the end, Cameron has some interesting comments to share about Alien3, and he reveals a cool special-effects mistake.
Over on Disc 2, you get the same kind of special-features treatment that you got with Alien: a massive collection of featurettes, art, and photographs that make up a single presentation called Superior Firepower: The Making of Aliens. You can navigate this presentation in a couple ways. You can choose to watch all featurettes, view all artwork, and view all photos in three separate all-encompassing batches. Alternatively, you can access the supplements according to Pre-Production, Production, and Post-Production. Again, I'll take the latter route for the purpose of this review.
The first item in the Pre-Production section is the 11-minute 57 Years Later: Continuing the Story featurette, which is a collection of talking-head interviews with director James Cameron, actor Sigourney Weaver, executive producer David Giler, and producer Gale Anne Hurd. Cameron's comments come in the form of new and production-era interviews. The participants talk about the genesis of the project, focusing mostly on how Cameron became attached and how the genre shifted from gothic horror to military adventure, as well as how Weaver was enticed to take part (thanks mostly to a huge paycheck).
The Original Treatment by James Cameron is the original September 1983 screenplay by Cameron, Giler, and Walter Hill, with no text introduction.
Next up is Building Better Worlds: From Concept to Construction, a 13-minute featurette about designing the film. Conceptual artists Syd Mead and Ron Cobb speak in-depth about their original sketches for the look of ships and corridors and control rooms, and production designer Peter Lamont talks about bringing it all to life on set.
The Art of Aliens is a portfolio of conceptual art that follows the previous featurette nicely.
In Previsualizations, you can view a videomatic presentation of the film's visual-effects models for several scene snippets. It's a multi-angle presentation that lets you switch from the videomatic to a comparison of the videomatic and the finished film. You can choose to watch with a sampling of the film's score or audio commentary by miniature effects supervisor Pat McClung. This lasts just a few minutes but is worth your time.
Preparing for Battle: Casting and Characterization is a 17-minute featurette that boasts the generous participation of casting director Mary Selway, stunt coordinator Paul Weston, and actors Jenette Goldstein, Mark Rolston, Carrie Henn, Christopher Henn, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Al Matthews, Sigourney Weaver, William Hope, and Paul Reiser. I particularly enjoyed how this featurette combined production-era cast interviews with newly recorded interviews with the same people. The fascinating aspect of Carrie (Newt) Henn's involvement is that in her production-era interview, she has a rather thick British accent, and yet in a recent talking-head interview, the accent is gone. This discussion of training and camaraderie is quite fun. Interestingly, Michael Biehn doesn't take part in this piece, but he has a lot to say about his casting in the next featurette below. Strange.
Next is a Cast Portrait Gallery, an archive of production pics.
The first item in the Production section is This Time It's War: Pinewood Studios, 1985, a 20-minute featurette that lacks real focus. It features special effects supervisor John Richardson, actor Michael Biehn, miniature effects supervisor Pat McClung, senior special effects technician Joss Williams, creature effects coordinator John Rosengrant, creature effects coordinator Shane Mahan, make-up supervisor Peter Robb-King, actor Jay Benedict, and other participants that we've seen before. The featurette covers diverse topics such as Biehn's casting but finally focuses on the tenseness brought to the set by Cameron. You get evidence of quite a few instances of strife between Cameron and various crew members. You even get snippets of Cameron working on a shot involving a leaping facehugger, and he comes across as a real ass, albeit an ass with a passionate sense of the movie he wants to make. Much is made of how Cameron balked at the UK tradition of the tea break. I enjoyed the honesty of this piece.
The Production Gallery gives you an archived series of photographs from the production of the film.
As with Alien, you get a series of Continuity Polaroids.
I got a visceral kick out of the 15-minute featurette The Risk Always Lives: Weapons and Action. It's an in-depth look at the conception and design of the film's many weapons. Armorer Simon Atherton walks us through each creation with a subdued military glee. Sigourney Weaver talks about her moral reluctance to carry a weapon, then Bill Paxton and Michael Biehn counter her attitude with appropriately wide-eyed Marine enthusiasm. There are some terrific behind-the-scenes shots of Ripley preparing to blow up some Alien eggs. And the actors relate a few dangerous moments on set.
Weapons and Vehicles follows up that featurette with a photo archive of exactly what it describes.
The 16-minute Bug Hunt: Creature Design featurette talks about the evolution of the Alien creature from the first film to the second. Creature effects coordinators Tom Woodruff Jr., Richard Landon, Shane Mahan, John Rosengrant, and Alec Gillis join James Cameron in his belief that "you don't create fear with gore; you create disgust." So he scaled back the amount of blood and viscera from that of Alien. The change in the look of the chestburster (now with arms!), the facehugger (now with spiderlike motion!), and the adult Alien (now with freer movement and ribbed heads!) are covered in depth.
The 22-minute featurette Beauty and the Bitch: Power Loader vs. Queen Alien focuses on the creation of the Queen Alien. Interestingly, the participants talk from the mistaken perspective that the Alien life cycle always included a Queen. Stan Winston even seems surprised that the makers of Alien neglected to design her! The fairly well-known fact (at least among us Alien nerds) is that the eggs featured in the first film never came from any womb; rather, they were the ultimate result of cocooned human beings. The deleted Dallas scene in the original film makes this clear. So one of the big disappointments of these Aliens supplements is that the major life-cycle change is never addressed. All this being said, the Alien Queen has an undeniable place in the saga, and the footage of her being designed and manipulated is pretty damn cool.
Stan Winston's Workshop is a photo archive, even though I would have welcomed a half-hour tour.
Two Orphans: Sigourney Weaver and Carrie Henn is a nice 14-minute featurette about the relationship that developed between the two actresses. Both speak about filming their scenes together. Henn talks about her most vivid memories. Weaver talks for the third or fourth time about how much she hates guns (representing the only real repetition in these features). There are a couple of minor gaffes in this piece: A couple of times, it flashes pictures of Henn's stunt double when it means to show Henn.
In the Post-Production section, the first item is The Final Countdown: Music, Editing, and Sound, a 15-minute featurette. After a short discussion of editing, composer James Horner takes over the featurette to call his experience with the score and production a "nightmare." This is a very honest piece with wonderfully tense comments from Horner. And of course, attention is paid to that great signature cue that's used in almost every action-movie trailer to come down the pike. Chief dubbing mixer Graham Hartstone then joins the piece for a brief talk about sound effects.
The Power of Real Tech: Visual Effects is a 28-minute featurette that takes a look at the film's visual effects, but it looks mostly at miniature work and physical effects, so this discussion belongs more appropriately in the Pre-Production or Production section. But the Post-Production section is kinda light, which is probably why it appears here. The new participants to this piece are visual effects supervisors Robert Skotak and Dennis Skotak. This one is filled to brimming with great behind-the-scenes shots of the miniatures in action.
The Visual Effects Gallery complements the preceding featurette effectively.
The final featurette on the Aliens supplemental disc is the 12-minute Aliens Unleashed: Reaction to the Film. This is a very gratifying and entertaining piece, similar to its Alien counterpart, that talks with key cast and crew about their first screenings of the film. Lance Henriksen and Michael Biehn, in particular, have great stories to tell.
Film Finish & Release is a photo archive of the film's music recording, premiere, and special shoot.
On Disc 1, you can choose to view the Special Edition (which runs 2:24:44) or the 1992 Theatrical Release (which runs 1:54:45) of Alien3. The great disappointment of this Alien Quadrilogy set (besides the betrayal of the film itself) is that David Fincher decided not to involve himself in a Director's Cut of his film. In fact, he's not involved in this boxed set at all. Despite that fact, the producers of the set have responded to fans by creating a Special Edition that restores over 30 minutes of footage and removes an entire subplot.
When you choose to view the Special Edition, the disc displays a text screen that explains the existence of this "Assembly Cut," which was presented to 20th Century Fox in 1991. Much effort has been expended to recreate the film according to Fincher's original vision. DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika and his team have gone back to several sources—the original shooting script, notes from the director and editor, and an existing workprint version of the film—and have created something that's as close to what fans have clamored for as possible. All of the footage that the studio excised has been restored. The restored footage has a terrific, finished look that blends right in with the film. Unfortunately, although the image quality of the added footage is generally fine, the sound quality suffers in places, and for that reason, subtitles (switchable) have been added over potentially unintelligible dialog.
If you can get past your anger at the existence of Alien3 in this saga and watch the film as, say, a standalone entity that tells its own separate story, this never-before-seen Special Edition cut is a great improvement over the Theatrical Release cut. The scenes added to this Special Edition change the film dramatically. There's no getting around it. Although Alien3 will never be on my list of favorite films—in fact will always be one of the great disappointments of my moviegoing life, right up there with The Phantom Menace—the Special Edition is a more deliberate, more interesting, and more weighty film. I found myself far more involved in the characters, the situations, and the world. Consider the long opening sequence, completely new, in which Clemens finds Ripley washed ashore. Or the entire studied sequence in which we find that an ox (rather than a dog, which is gone from this new cut) was actually the first victim of the Alien. Or the more elegantly treated climax. Or simply the vast number of dialog additions that give the film more sense and more depth. There are 26 scenes added to this cut, some lengthy, some merely snippets, but they completely elevate the film. (They don't make it any better as an Alien film, though.) Again, you can enable a Deleted Footage Marker, which lets you view the Special Edition with a subtitle feature that displays the words "Special Edition" whenever newly added footage is playing. Believe me, this subtitle appears a lot in this film. You can also choose to watch these Deleted and Extended Scenes separately, from their own menu.
The new Audio Commentary by Cinematographer Alex Thomson, Editor Terry Rawlings, Alien Effects Designers Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Visual Effects Producer Richard Edlund, and Actors Paul McGann and Lance Henriksen is mildly interesting but, as you can see from the titles of the participants, tends to focus on technical aspects rather than the real juicy questions such as "What have we done?" and "Why did we decide to piss off every fan of the series?" and even "Why isn't David Fincher here?" Sadly, Fincher's name comes up very frequently here, making you miss his presence almost constantly. Again, these men are recorded in small groups, the actors singularly, and the result is a fairly lively discussion (although one with quite a few dead spots). But they simply didn't talk much about what I wanted them to talk about. They do acknowledge the decision, but they just blow it off and share some quiet laughter. One participant briefly states that the film would have gone over better had it been the second film. Perhaps, but this isn't the second film! A few of the commentators try to take the tack that the film is more admired as time goes on, or that it's more appreciated in Europe, but they're deluded. I was also amused to hear that these guys admire most of those Alien cartoon shots. One thing I did admire about this commentary is that it's edited masterfully between the Special Edition and the Theatrical Release. It's essentially the same on both, but comments about deleted or added footage flow naturally, regardless of which cut you choose to watch.
Over on Disc 2, you get the same kind of special-features treatment that you got with the first two films: a large collection of featurettes, art, and photographs that make up a single presentation called The Making of Alien3. You can navigate this presentation in a couple ways. You can choose to watch all featurettes, view all artwork, and view all photos in three separate all-encompassing batches. Alternatively, you can access the supplements according to Pre-Production, Production, and Post-Production. Again, I'll take the latter route for the purpose of this review.
The first item in the Pre-Production section is the 17-minute Development: Concluding the Story featurette. Perhaps the most interesting revelation in this piece is that its producers, David Giler and Gordon Carroll, were never enthused about the prospect of a second sequel, which might go some way toward explaining why they decided to kill everyone we cared about. Renny Harlin chimes in to talk about his initial involvement, and after hearing his ideas, you'll wish he'd stayed on. Many concepts are tossed around. Even Michael Biehn and Carrie Henn return to talk about how hurt they were that they weren't included. Story writer Vincent Ward and production executive Jon Landau talk about the mistake of favoring release date over concept. You're not going to believe some of the ridiculous idea sketches and marketing-department boneheadedness that this piece contains.
Tales of the Wooden Planet: Vincent Ward's Vision is a 13-minute featurette that discusses the film's originally designed setting. The sketches have a Death Star look, but it's more of a biosphere for Earth castaways. Yeah, it's a groovy bohemian concept, I guess, but does it have a place in the Alien saga? Not by a long shot. This piece goes into great depth about the wood planet, but I grew uninterested after a few minutes, simply because the ideas are so far removed from anything that respects the saga's characters.
The Art of Arceon is a conceptual art portfolio with lots of designs of the wooden planet.
The 12-minute featurette Pre-Production: Part III takes a look at David Fincher's introduction to and involvement on the film. Many members of the crew speak about the confidence that the young director brought to the project. Sigourney Weaver mentions how pleased she was when Fincher wanted her to be bald. But as more of the Alien3 production story becomes clear through these featurettes, the more clear it is that it wasn't Fincher who ruined the third film but rather the studio suits. Kinda reminds you of the Weyland Yutani corporation, huh?
You get an archive of Storyboards, as well as a conceptual art portfolio called The Art of Fiorina.
I never knew that H.R. Giger was consulted to create new creatures for the third film, but as you'll see in the minute featurette Xeno-Erotic: H.R. Giger's Redesign, such was the case. Giger is interviewed again, as well as model-makers from this film, but as great as some of these designs are, they would ultimately be betrayed by the film's unfortunate bluescreen puppetry. I enjoyed seeing some of Giger's unused designs. But the most telling aspect of this featurette is that Giger was unhappy with how his art was used.
The Production section begins with the 18-minute featurette Production Part I, which talks about the "tough shoot" at Pinewood Studios. Finally, we get to see some footage of Fincher on the set. He exhibits a calm confidence on set, working with authority but seeming often overwhelmed and frustrated. Fincher gets nothing but praise from his cast and crew.
Production Gallery is a photo archive to complement the preceding featurette.
Furnace Construction presents a 5-minute time-lapse sequence chronicling the construction of a massive set.
The 20-minute featurette Adaptive Organism: Creature Design begins by talking about the Super Facehugger, which is the facehugger that carries the Queen Alien, and goes on to show some hilarious footage of a dog dressed in an Alien costume. At least the participants recognize that this whole idea is ridiculous. For a while, the piece moves away from the creature and focuses on the animatronic Bishop (which I think is one of the best effects of the film). Then we see much behind-the-scenes footage of the Alien costume.
A.D.I.'s Workshop is a photo archive of on-set creature effects.
The EEV Bioscan: Multi-Angle Vignette shows the making of the CAT-scan-like video image of Ripley's innards. The shot is made up of four layers, and you can view each layer separately, then in a final composite shot. You can choose to watch this piece with commentary by Alien effects designer Alec Gillis.
The 15-minute featurette Production: Part II provides an interesting discussion about the fact that there was no real end to the shoot. Toward the end of the production, much uncertainty shrouded the film. No one was very happy with Alien3, particularly when the suits viewed the initial 3-hour cut. Reshoots are discussed, as well as the need to squeeze the most showtimes out of it per day. It's all about money, after all. So some of the deleted scenes are discussed here. Overall, this piece leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
Production: Part III is a 9-minute featurette that returns the focus of the supplements to David Fincher. Editor Terry Rawlings compares him to Ridley Scott, saying he had the same "eye." I found myself sympathizing with Fincher when I learned that he never had a finished version of the script. Everything was open-ended for the entire production. Poor guy.
The first item in the Post-Production section, Optical Fury: Visual Effects, is a 23-minute featurette that focuses on those Roadrunner effects I complained about earlier. Admittedly, the concept of a fast-moving, sleek Alien is a good one, but every effort to make it look menacing with these techniques simply failed, and they destroyed any sense of fear. Intentions were good, however. A lot of footage here just makes you cringe and feel bad for all involved, hoping they've moved on to bigger and better things.
The 15-minute featurette Music, Editing, and Sound is exactly what you think it's about. Composer Elliot Goldenthal begins the discussion, talking about the way he approached the score and about his pride in the finished product. Sound editor Gregory Gerlich and supervising sound editor Gary Gerlich talk about the early notion that the film not have any music at all and instead rely completely on sound effects.
Visual Effects Gallery is a photo archive that complements the Optical Fury featurette.
It was with great interest that I watched the 8-minute featurette Post-Mortem: Reaction to the Film. Every participant speaks with hesitation about his or her reaction. There's no sense of the celebration that characterizes the similar featurettes for the first two films. David Giler says something interesting: "The film doesn't deliver on genre expectations." Many people here try to mount a weak defense of Alien3, but I ain't buying it. Sure, the Special Edition cut might make it somewhat interesting in its own right, but the film still doesn't belong in the Alien saga. Pure and simple.
Special Shoot rounds out this film's special features with a promotional photo archive.
On Disc 1, you can choose to view the Special Edition (which runs 1:56:02) or the 1997 Theatrical Release (which runs 1:48:43) of Alien Resurrection. The Special Edition appears here for the first time. When you choose to view the Special Edition, the disc plays a 1-minute Introduction by Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, in which the director states emphatically that the Special Edition is not a Director's Cut, because that already appeared in theaters in 1997.
The scenes added to the Special Edition are mostly minor scene extensions, but we do get a new opening credit sequence and a slightly new ending shot that's appropriate, considering the director. There's also a nice scene of Ripley reacting emotionally to a picture of a little girl. Once again, you can enable a Deleted Footage Marker, which lets you view the Special Edition with a subtitle feature that displays the words "Special Edition" whenever newly added footage is playing. You can also choose to watch these Deleted and Extended Scenes separately, from their own menu.
The new 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, and Actors Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon, and Leland Orser has a similar feeling to those over the three previous films: small groups recorded separately and edited together for maximum informative and entertaining effect. The conversation has a typical focus, though, on how effects were achieved and how great everybody else's work is. No real great revelations here, but there are some mildly amusing set anecdotes. One interesting, revealing aspect of Jeunet's discussion is when he reveals that he has no real understanding of the horror genre. Hilariously, Ron Perlman talks about peeing in the water scene. In fact, Perlman is a great commentator, and I'd like to hear more from him.
Over on Disc 2, you get the same kind of special-features treatment that you got with the first three films: a plethora of featurettes, art, and photographs that make up a single presentation called One Step Beyond: The Making of Alien Resurrection. You can navigate this presentation in a couple ways. You can choose to watch all featurettes, view all artwork, and view all photos in three separate all-encompassing batches. Alternatively, you can access the supplements according to Pre-Production, Production, and Post-Production. Again, I'll take the latter route for the purpose of this review.
The first item in the Pre-Production section is the 10-minute featurette From the Ashes: Reviving the Story. The piece features interviews with writer Joss Whedon and actress Sigourney Weaver, discussing the origins of the cloning idea. We also hear from Winona Ryder. They acknowledge the "fall off" in public perception following Alien3, and remember that the screenplay was the buzz of Hollywood for a while. David Giler says the creators of Resurrection made it without his blessing.
Next up is the entire text-based First Draft Screenplay by Joss Whedon.
French Twist: Direction and Design is a 26-minute featurette that begins with Alien effects creators Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff discussing the possibility of hiring Danny Boyle (28 Days Later) before bringing on Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Then, we get a lot of interviewees praising Jeunet's visual style. Jeunet mentions that at the time he was hired for the film, he was writing Amelie. Turns out, the studio loved Jeunet and all he promised to bring to the project—quite a change from Fincher's experience on the third film. We also hear from cinematographer Darius Khondji. I liked hearing how respectful Jeunet and Khondji were to the original Alien.
The next featurette is the 13-minute Under the Skin: Casting and Characterizations. This is a fun piece that features talking-head interviews with most of the key cast. Jeunet talks about gathering favorite performers (like Ron Perlman and Dominique Pinon) who had been in his previous films, simply to make his first Hollywood more comfortable.
Test Footage: Creatures & Costumes comprises two items: 10 minutes of practical-effects footage showing various stages of the Alien life cycle and some blood and gore (which you can play with commentary by Alec Gillis) and 5 minutes of makeup and costume footage with Sigourney Weaver. If you're a Weaver fan, you might be interested to learn that she's practically naked in these shots.
The Marc Caro Portfolio is an outlandish look at some of the character designs dreamed up by Jeunet's French associate.
The Art of Resurrection is a conceptual art gallery, and you also get an archive of Storyboards.
Previsualizations is a 3-minute series of multi-angle rehearsals for crucial sequences in the film, shot by Jeunet. You can choose to view this footage as just storyboards, just video rehearsal, or a composited shot with final film footage. You audio choices are rehearsal audio or final film audio. This is a cool feature that gives you a strong glimpse at Jeunet's scene preparation. Three scenes are covered, including the basketball scene.
On to the Production section. The first item is the 32-minute featurette Death from Below: Fox Studios Los Angeles, 1996, a look at the filming of the treacherous underwater sequence. Underwater cinematographer Pete Romano remembers Fox converting an entire soundstage into a swimming pool. He calls it the perfect shooting scenario. Even Khondji got down there to do some shooting. A story of bravery involving Winona is a fun listen.
I got a kick out of the 7-minute featurette In the Zone: The Basketball Sequence. Sigourney talks about studying with a basketball coach and preparing for the climactic shot in which Ripley tosses the ball over her shoulder for an improbable basket. Sigourney wanted to try the shot herself, but everyone else doubted her abilities and wanted to use CGI or other trickery. But lo and behold, she made the shot. Swish. You get to see raw footage of the shot, and the ecstatic reactions of the cast and crew.
Production Gallery is a large photo archive focusing on production props, the Betty ship, and a few Aliens.
The 26-minute featurette Unnatural Mutation: Creature Design focuses on Alien effects creators Tom Woodruff and Alec Gillis, who have been with the series for three films. There's some cool behind-the-scenes costume footage here of Aliens swimming, and some glimpses of early designs for that ridiculous creature at the end of the movie. The men talk about all their effects innovations for the film.
A.D.I.'s Workshop is a photo archive that complements the preceding featurette.
Over in the Post-Production section, the first item is the 13-minute featurette Genetic Composition: Music, which is of course about the score. Composer John Frizzel talks about his experiences putting together the music. He mentions trying the bring a Frenchness and eroticism to the score.
The 10-minute featurette Virtual Aliens: Computer Generated Imagery discusses the series' first real use of CGI for the creature.
A Matter of Scale: Miniature Photography is a 23-minute featurette that covers a different kind of special-effects photography: miniatures. We walk through the various ship designs used in the film, tour-guided by the effects team. Khondji talks about the models as part of his cinematography.
The Visual Effects Gallery is a photo archive that complements the preceding featurette.
The final featurette on the disc mirrors those from the other films: the 14-minute Critical Juncture: Reaction to the Film. Jeunet talks about the good response to the film in France, and the so-so response in the United States. He remains proud of the movie. "No regrets," he says. Response among all involved is at least more positive than we saw with the third film. Tom Woodruff says that the saga still needs a conclusive way to wrap up the series, and Jeunet throws out an insane idea about a potential fifth film.
The final feature on the Alien Resurrection disc is a Special Shoot promotional photo archive.
THE BONUS DISC
The supplements on the Bonus Disc are divided into four primary sections, one for each film, and also include a few miscellaneous items.
The Alien section begins with Alien Evolution, a 64-minute documentary from Channel 4 UK. It's an interesting look at the film that puts Alien in perspective among other genre efforts, but it repeats much of the information in the Quadrilogy set. But this effort is very much worth watching, if only for its necessarily different point of view. The participants, who are many, offer slightly different perspectives than the ones they offer in the main set. But mostly, it's a lot of redundancy. There's also some fun audience reaction to gore scenes at the end.
Experience in Terror is a 7-minute original 1979 promotional featurette that's more of a curiosity than anything else. There are some fun old interviews here, though.
The 16-minute Ridley Scott Q&A was recorded September 14, 2001, following a showing of Alien at the American Cinematheque. The discussion is moderated by Dennis Bartok.
The Laser Disc Archive is a recreation of the Widescreen Collector's Edition Laser Disc of Alien. What an amazing little feature this is! You get the features and supplements of the old disc in their entirety. The result is a terrific trip down memory lane, and it shows you how far we've come with the presentation of a film on disc.
Next is a complete collection of Alien Trailers and TV Spots. Among the TV spots is the one that got me all creeped out as a kid.
You get the Laser Disc Archive again, this time a comprehensive look at the Special Widescreen Collector's Edition Laser Disc of Aliens. What a treat!
You also get the film's terrific assortment of Theatrical Trailers and TV Spots.
You get a 3-minute Advance Featurette that hints at the betrayal to come, and you also get the film's Theatrical Trailers and TV Spots
For the fourth film, you get only Theatrical Trailers and TV Spots.
Finally, you get a fascinating 17-minute featurette called Aliens in the Basement, a look at Bob Burns, who has amassed, with the help of Fox and others, a gigantic collection of Alien memorabilia. We get to tour his basement and look at actual props from the film. But he's not just a collector, he's an archivist of sort, and in fact, the makers of Alien Resurrection came to him to reuse the model of the Alien Queen.
The final items on the Bonus Disc are a Dark Horse Still Gallery of comic-book covers and a DVD-ROM feature than lets you perform script-to-screen comparisons.
The Alien Quadrilogy's menus have a subtle "Mother"-inspired computer-readout theme that gives the set a unified but understated creepiness. The menu theme is consistent across all the discs, showing a text readout of the Alien life cycle—Egg, Facehugger, Chestburster, Warrior, Queen—and then gets down to the business of providing viewing options. I'm a big fan of the animated menus of the Alien Legacy set, which use character voices, score samples, and even imagery from each of the films, as well as newly created theme animation, to give each disc a distinct flavor. But I also appreciate the new menus' simplicity. Still, I gotta give the edge to the Alien Legacy set as far as menus go.
I haven't said a word yet about the set's name: Alien Quadrilogy, which seems a bit off to me. The term "trilogy" comes from Greek roots, so it seems to me that the proper term for a series of four films would be "tetralogy." And if there were ever a fifth film, we'd have a "pentalogy." But I digress...
Although I'm exhausted by my long journey through this set, I remain astonished by the level of commitment that Fox has devoted to the Alien saga. The $100 price tag might seem high, but considering the breadth of content, I can tell you with no exaggeration that the price is a bargain. Plunk down that cash and own this thing of beauty.