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Brace yourself for a whole new breed of Blu-ray: Four powerful films...eight thrilling versions...in dazzling, terrifying, high-def clarity with the purest digital sound on the planet. Two bonus discs and over 65 hours of archival and never-before-seen content, including the totally immersive MU-TH-UR mode feature, makes this definitive Alien collection!
For more about Alien Anthology and the Alien Anthology Blu-ray release, see Alien Anthology Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on October 26, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Lance Henriksen, Tom Woodruff Jr., Tom Skerritt, Charles S. Dutton, Carrie Henn
Directors: James Cameron, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Ridley Scott, David Fincher
This Blu-ray release includes the following titles, see individual titles for specs and details:
Alien Anthology Blu-ray Review
Out of this world...
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, October 26, 2010
Friday afternoon, I heard the UPS truck pull up outside my house, the crunch of the deliveryman's boots up the gravel walkway and, finally, the distinct thud of a package landing on my doorstep. My review copy of the Alien Anthology had finally arrived. I cleared my weekend calendar immediately, shut off the lights, closed the blinds, and settled in for an epic four film marathon—two on Friday night, two on Saturday— followed by a Sunday spent parsing this Blu-ray box set's near-infinite supply of supplementary materials. It's now Monday morning and I've only recently emerged from my home theater cocoon, eyes bleary, head filled with all things Alien. My first thoughts? Yes, yes, and yes again. What we have here is a prime contender for Blu-ray release of the year, a total package that includes two versions of each film (presented via seamless branching), beautiful high definition transfers, gut-quaking, dread-inducing audio, and over 60 hours of accumulated special features. Forget Anthology; given its exhaustiveness, this hefty 6-disc set could've been called Unabridged Alien Encyclopedia. File this release under "A" for Awesome.
Given the fact that the Alien franchise is now a permanent monument on the landscape of international pop culture, writing a review of the four films, by this point, seems superfluous. It's like being asked to write a review of the Bible. If you're an acolyte of all thing sci-fi, then the Alien quadrilogy is already part of your holy writ, the canon of films you consult on a regular basis. In this case, you've probably also got a firm opinion on which of the four movies is your favorite. If that's you, you'll want to skip on down to the audio/video/supplementary portion of the review, where you'll find everything you want to know about how this new Blu-ray set stacks up against the 2003 Alien Quadrilogy DVD release. On the other hand, if you haven't seen any of the Alien movies yet, 1.) Where have you been? And 2.) You belong to a minority just as small as the vocal contingency of proud folk who can claim they've never seen Titanic, Star Wars, or, more recently, Avatar. You don't want to be that guy, do you? You know the one, the guy who patently—and loudly—refuses, on principle, to go see the big populist summer blockbuster. You'd be sorely missing out if you pulled that routine here. The Alien Anthology deserves to be seen. The first two films are bonafide action/horror classics, and even the lesser entries—Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection—have plenty to offer genre fans.
The film that started it all, 1979's Alien, is an unholy amalgam—in the best possible way—of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Jaws, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. From the cinematic DNA of these iconic progenitors, screenwriter Dan O'Bannon and then-young director Ridley Scott, like scientists whipping up life in a test tube, created a cinematic icon of their own, one that would mutate the already grotesque face of the horror genre. Alien is unsettling from its very first frames. A camera drifts through the Nostromo, a dilapidated space freighter. This is not an optimistic 1950s vision of bright, sterile space travel. The ship's corridors are dark, metallic, dank, more Das Boot than Star Trek. The crew is woken from cryo-sleep; the ship's computer, MU-TH-ER, has detected a signal coming from a nearby planetoid, and they're obligated by law to check it out. The source of the beacon is a derelict alien vessel. In its hull, Executive Officer Kane (John Hurt), discovers a batch of leathery eggs. When he leans over one to investigate, an arachnid-ish creature pops out and attaches itself to his face. Warrant Officer Ripley (a then unknown Sigourney Weaver) knows that letting Kane back on board would violate the quarantine protocol, but she's overruled by Ash (Ian Holm), the ship's stoic science officer. Bad idea Ash. As it turns out, Kane is being used an incubator for an alien embryo, which soon explodes out of him in a scene known, by fans, as the "chestburster sequence."
The titular alien, designed by Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger, is—hands down—one of the top-10 boogeymen in all of cinema. It starts small, a wormy, eyeless, silver-fanged fiend, but quickly grows into the phallic-shaped, highly sexualized, acid-bleeding, mucous-dripping monster we all know and love and fear, a creature of pure id that exists solely to propagate its kind. If that means chomping you to gory bits or hitching a ride on your spacecraft, then so be it—this thing's a survivor, an amoral killing machine. Hence, O'Bannon pitching the film to 20th Century Fox as "Jaws in space." And like Jaws, the monster here is scary, yes—in its unexpectedness—but it's really not the star of the show. Before the beastie ever erupts forth from John Hurt's chest, Ridley Scott has established a real world filled with real characters, making the first half of Alien play almost like a documentary of the grim, unglamorous realities of space travel in the 22nd century. Everyone seems tired, hassled, on edge. Engineers Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) and Parker (Yaphet Kotto) bitch about how little they're getting paid. The captain, an impressively bearded Tom Skerritt, is constantly beleaguered by complaints and proves poor at delegating responsibility. The two female crewmembers, played by Weaver and Veronica Cartwright, get no respect. You know how airline pilots jokingly call themselves glorified bus drivers? In Alien, astronauts are glorified long haul truckers, and its dirty, thankless work. That the cast is so convincing—and what a great cast!— goes a long way to help us invest in the story.
Of course, we know—basically—what's going to happen, minus a few strategic twists. The alien is essentially Michael Meyers in reptilian form, jumping out from the shadows to kill the crew members one by one. But what separates Alien from the slasher pack is its emphasis on suspense over gore and graphic kills. The film is at its scariest when nothing is happening, as Ridley Scott allows plenty of space for our imaginations to run wild, turning every dark recess and shhh-what-was-that noise into a potential nightmare scenario. The jump scares are huge here—although less inherently terrifying than the stretches of Hitchcockian tension that lie between them—and it helps that the creature looks different nearly every time we see it. We may know what's going to happen, but we have no idea what to expect at any given moment, a quality that fills the whole film with lingering dread.
For the 1986 sequel, Aliens, director James Cameron takes an opposite—but no less effective—approach, ditching the lonely survival horror of the first film and replacing it with bigger, louder, faster guns a'blazin' action. Where its predecessor's tagline was "In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream," the sequel's threatening slogan is "This Time, It's War." And it is. If you've ever played a video game where the main character is a grizzled, battle-hardened Space Marine—think Gears of War, Doom, Killzone 2—chances are it was inspired, at least tangentially, by Aliens. That archetype is now well past its expiration date—see Avatar, in which Cameron recycles many of Aliens' thematic and visual motifs—but at the time, the idea of gun-toting space grunts was fairly novel. Cameron could've easily made a loose remake of Alien, with a singular creature hunting down its vastly overpowered prey, but instead, he made the admittedly brave choice to do something different and expand the universe of the first film. I still prefer Alien, but I can see and appreciate why some fans call Aliens their favorite.
The film picks up with Ripley being rescued after 57 years drifting through space in her cryo-chamber. Carter Burke (Paul Reiser), a corporate lawyer for Weyland-Yutani, the conglomerate that owned the Nostromo, informs her that her daughter on Earth died two years prior—at age sixty. Burke wants Ripley to accompany a group of Marines to a terraforming colony on LV-426, the planet where the alien egg was first discovered. You can see where this is going. When they arrive, the colony has been wiped out, the only survivor a terrified young girl named Newt (Carrie Henn), who quickly forms a bond with Ripley—as you'd expect in a film where a motherless daughter encounters a daughterless mother. This development gives Aliens more emotional impact, but it's only part of the story, which involves the nefarious Weyland-Yutani corporation hoping to weaponize the alien creature to turn a profit. You can really see Cameron flexing his muscles for Avatar here, from the armored "mech" that Ripley pilots to the themes of capitalist warmongering and the futility of military intervention. It's no spoiler to say that the Marines get almost completely wiped out by the end, their sentry guns and assault rifles ultimately ineffective against the alien horde.
Yes, horde. Where the mantra of Alien was the less we show the monster, the scarier it is, Cameron's motto is the more creatures we have, the more we can show them slaughtering and getting slaughtered awesomely. There's less suspense and artistic nuance in this tact, but it makes for an explosive, rock'em sock'em action film, all culminating in a showdown with the alien queen—the bitch of all bitches—in her egg chamber. After Alien, Sigourney Weaver was quickly touted as the first real female action hero—she even referred to herself as "Rambolina," a play on Rambo—and that tough, ass-kicking side of Ripley's character is definitely played up for the sequel. Most of her accompanying space Marines are disposable alien fodder, but there are a few stand-out faces, including Bill Paxton as the amped-up Private Hudson—the sole comic relief in a film that otherwise moves at breakneck intensity—Michael Biehn as Corporal Hicks, and Lance Henriksen as fan-favorite Bishop, an android officer who would return briefly in the third installment, one of the few characters to show up in multiple films.
Which brings us, of course, to Alien 3, the much-loathed dark horse of the franchise. Here, Ripley's escape pod crashes onto Fury 161, a penal colony/smelting facility operated by bar-coded prisoners of a quasi-monastic order. Straight away, the film alienates fans of the second movie— if you'll pardon the pun—killing off all the surviving characters besides Ripley. Of course, an alien egg was conveniently stowed away on the escape craft—I still have no idea how it got there—and havoc inevitably erupts in the prison. Basically, Alien 3 is more of the same, but with a few obligatory new ideas, like having Ripley unwittingly become the host for an alien queen embryo. Little about the movie works, in any conventional sense, and though it strives for both, there's neither the suspense of the first film nor the all-out action of the second. There's a moment here when Ripley says to one of the creatures, "I've known you so long that I can't remember a time when you weren't in my life," and this seems indicative of the film itself—stale, too familiar, passionless.
And yet—and I don't think I'm alone here—while I recognize that Alien 3 is a frequently incoherent mess, it's at least an interesting, sometimes beautiful mess, and I have a certain underdog appreciation for it. I like Golic (Paul McGann), the pariah who bears a thematic similarity to Dracula's Renfield—he's fascinated with the alien creature—and I've always enjoyed the film's bleak tone and religious sub-current. If only a better script could've been crafted out of these occasionally effective elements. Once you know the back-story, though, the film's lack of cohesion makes more sense. Alien 3's production was a legendary disaster. When Renny Harlin dropped out, Fox handed the reins to hotshot commercial and music video director David Fincher—later of Fight Club, SE7EN, and Zodiac fame—but the studio and the young would-be auteur butted heads constantly over funding and creative control. To make matters worse, the script had gone through numerous revisions and hadn't even been completed before shooting. Fincher abandoned the project during the editing phase, and the film that was released to theaters was critically mauled. While the 2003 "Restored Workprint Version" makes some improvements to the plot and characterization, Alien 3 is still a jumbled assortment of half-baked ideas that lack a singular creative vision.
1997's Alien Resurrection has its share of detractors as well, but on the whole, I think it's a satisfying—if slightly goofy—end to the series, and while it never rises to the terrifying highs of the first two films, it's at least more focused than its predecessor. Written by Joss Whedon and directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet—whose darkly brilliant City of Lost Children proved he had the visual chops to take on an Alien film— Resurrection is exactly that, a story of re-birth. Some 200 years after Alien 3, Ripley is cloned from a drop of blood by the United Systems Military, who want to extract that promising alien queen embryo that once dwelled in our hero's chest cavity. These people never learn. Thanks to some black-market medical test subjects delivered by a group of space pirates—including Ron Perlman, Michael Wincott, Dominique Pinon, and Winona Ryder—the USM's lead researcher, Dr. Gediman (the always wacky Brad Dourif), is able to "harvest" his own chestbursting aliens, who quickly escape and, well, you know, kill everyone. There's some crazy stuff here, with Ripley enjoying newfound alien powers and the alien queen birthing a human/alien hybrid that adopts Ripley as its mommy.
But seriously, enough about the films themselves. If you're reading this, you probably want to know about the meat, gristle, blood and guts of this terrific new Blu-ray set. Read on!
Alien Anthology Blu-ray, Video Quality
So, is this the set we've all been waiting for, visually speaking? The definitive presentation—for this current technological generation, at least—of the Alien Anthology? With a few minor caveats, I say yes. My high expectations for the picture quality of these four films were met and quite frequently surpassed. To start with, I never dreamed that Alien could look as good as it does here, courtesy of an all-new 4K master and 1080p/AVC encode. The print is immaculate, film grain is fine and intact, and clarity is greatly boosted in comparison to the standard definition DVD. We get a better sense than ever of the architectural details of the Nostromo—both the full-scale interiors and the exterior miniature model work —and the creature design, in close-up, is truly a thing to behold in high definition. What I was worried most about—in a film filled with dark hallways— was the transfer's ability to balance deep black levels with revealing shadow detail. My worries were completely unfounded. Blacks are inky and dense —there's no overly apparent chroma or compression noise—and contrast is perfect. Color is weighty as well, and while the film's palette is often intentionally bleak, there are moments of vividness, like the insanely red blood during the chest-bursting scene, the orange fire from Ripley's flamethrower, and the blue laser light that skims the surface of the fog when Kane discovers the alien eggs. Alien is simply stunning on Blu- ray, and I honestly can't imagine it looking much better than it does here.
The look of James Cameron's Aliens, comparatively, may be slightly divisive. Fans will no doubt remember the director's remarks, a few months ago, concerning the film's remaster:
"It's spectacular. We went in and completely de-noised it, de-grained it, up-rezzed, color-corrected every frame, and it looks amazing. It looks better that it looked in the theaters originally. Because it was shot on a high-speed negative that was a new negative that didn't pan out too well and got replaced the following year. So it's pretty grainy. We got rid of all the grain. It's sharper and clearer and more beautiful than it's ever looked."
The statement understandably got people—videophiles especially—riled up, envisioning Aliens DNR'ed into oblivion, much like the recent Predator: Ultimate Hunter Edition. Well, rest easy—not all of the grain has been removed. There are scenes where it's definitely apparent that some noise reduction has been used, but most of the time the image still appears natural and filmic. That is, grain isn't "frozen" in place, and there's none of the smeary, blurry quality you normally associate with heavy-handed DNR. There are a few shots where faces take on a mildly waxy look, but these are thankfully rare. In this case, noise reduction has been used selectively and—for the most part—unobtrusively. The film certainly looks better than it ever has. While fine detail is sometimes limited by the graininess of the original high-speed negative, the leap in clarity from DVD to Blu-ray is immediately appreciable. Black levels aren't quite as tight this time around, but color is strong and there's a nice sense of depth in the 1.85:1-framed picture. (Aliens was the only film to be shot in this ratio. All the others are in 2.39:1.) A solid presentation, overall, but not quite as impressive as Alien.
The same could be said for the final two films in the franchise, which see tremendous upgrades from their DVD counterparts but aren't as dazzling as they potentially could be. Both Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection seem a hair softer and more inconsistent than their predecessors, overall, and I think it's safe to assume that less money was poured into the restorations of these moderately less popular entries. Still, I'm more than satisfied; the grain structure of both films is stable, color is nicely balanced, and there are no overt compression problems to report. (This goes for all four films.) Alien Resurrection is arguably the more eye-popping of the two, if only because of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's richer, high contrast color palette, a directorial trademark.
If forced to rate each of the films on our 5-star scale—which values accurate representation of a film's intended appearance—I'd give Alien an unhesitant 5/5 and the remaining three films not-quite-perfect-but-definitely impressive 4/5s. As a whole, the Alien Anthology is a stunner on Blu-ray and well worth the wait. There are some minor PQ issues here and there, but you should feel no qualms about swiftly retiring your DVD copy of the quadrilogy.
Alien Anthology Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The flying leap in picture quality is reason alone to upgrade from the DVDs, so consider the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround tracks to be aural icing on the Blu-ray cake. I thought about writing a separate audio analysis for each film, but I quickly realized that I'd become redundant, reusing bombastic, room-shaking, immersive, and explosive in each paragraph. Let me keep it simple for you. The quadrilogy's audio presentation on Blu-ray is fantastic. (Worthy of the italics, even!) Alien, which is more of an outright horror film than the later, action-heavy sequels, starts the set off right with creepy, unsettling sound design. The deep hush of space contrasts against the hissing pneumatics inside the Nostromo, skittering noises dart through the rears, chains clank, water drips, and sirens peel ominously. As a kind of foundation, the LFE channel frequently outputs an atmospheric, chest-vibrating throb. (The low-end power and clarity across all four films is impressive, especially anytime a spaceship passes by on screen.) When we get to James Cameron's bigger-faster-louder-more sequel, the dread-instilling audio of the first film is overtaken by an all-out sonic onslaught, with gunfire peppering the rear speakers and massive rippling explosions. The sentry gun sequence—in the 2003 extended cut—is especially brutal. The theatrics are toned down somewhat for David Fincher's darker Alien 3, but fans will be glad to know that the audio problems previously present on the restored workprint version have been fixed here, as Sigourney Weaver and others returned to provide additional ADR. Alien Resurrection taps back into the action-heroics vibe, with gunshots galore and some effective cross-channel movements, like when the evac pod explodes. Dialogue is effortlessly balanced across all four films, and the scores—by Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Elliot Goldenthal, and John Frizzell, respectively—sound as clear and dynamically full as you'd hope. Crank up your receiver, sit back, and enjoy!
Alien Anthology Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Get ready for the most thorough, encyclopedic, exhaustive collection of Alien-related supplements imaginable. If you're familiar with the Alien Quadrilogy DVD release, you'll find all of that material ported over here—Easter eggs, too—along with brand-new "Enhancement Pods" that feature almost five hours of additional material exclusive to this new Blu-ray set, including more behind-the-scenes footage, raw dailies, and interviews. The LaserDisc supplements are here as well, and—David Fincher fans take note—Wreckage and Rage: The Making of Alien 3 has been restored to its original run time. (For the 2003 DVD release, 20th Century Fox controversially cut out sections about Fincher's struggles with studio intervention.) All told, there are over 60 hours of special features and an unbelievable 12,000 images, from storyboards and sketches to production stills and cast portrait galleries. The sheer amount of material is overwhelming—literally, it would take days to view it all—but Fox has put together an easy-to-navigate menu system that makes accessing the bonus features a breeze. Which brings us to the following:
MU-TH-UR Mode is the Alien Anthology's interactive BD-Java-powered "experience." If you turn the mode on while watching the films, an interface appears, partially covering the left side of the frame. From here, you can switch between audio stream content (commentaries and isolated scores) and view the "Weyland-Yutani Datastream," a glorified trivia track of compiled production notes, anecdotes, and film facts. The main purpose of MU-TH-UR Mode, however, is the "data tags." I'll explain. As you view the films, you'll see a list of special features—pertaining to the specific scene you're watching—appear on the MU-TH-UR interface. Clicking on a feature creates a "data tag," which can be recalled when you boot up discs five or six, where most of the supplementary materials or stored. Basically, it's a way of personalizing and keeping track of what special features you want to watch. While the interface is indeed slick, there are two problems here: 1.) If you're like me, when you watch a film you like to, you know, watch the fim, not keep track of a list of bonus materials, and 2.) Most fans will want to hit up all of the supplementary materials eventually, making MU-TH-UR Mode seem a bit redundant. The menu system for discs five and six is extremely intuitive, and viewers will have no trouble casually browsing or looking for something specific. There's even an alphabetical "Datasearch" option, which lets you look up bonus material by topic and then choose from detailed sublists describing all available content. Still, MU-TH-UR Mode is there for those interested. Now, let's get on to the real show, what's on the discs themselves:
Disc One: Alien
The Beast Within: Making Alien (SD)
The packaging is exceptionally sturdy and very sleek, starting with the thick cardboard slipcover that holds the set together. Inside, you'll find what I can only describe as a dense cardboard book, with a heavy duty cover and 11 pages made from 2-3 mm cardboard stock. As you can see from the photos, each disc slides into a semi-circular slit in its respective page; the fit is snug, but the discs are easy to remove and replace, so I don't foresee any damage from accidental scratching. The pages between each film are adorned with artwork and the back page has a folder for the "MU-TH-UR Mode Viewer's Guide." Fingerprints show up easily on the glossy black slipcover, but otherwise, I have no complaints. The discs are safely housed, the case has a satisfying heft, and the art design is simple and iconic. Overall, this is one of the most well-constructed multi-film Blu-ray box sets we've gotten yet.
If you're having an Alien Anthology marathon, you'll definitely appreciate this feature, as it drastically cuts down on the load time between discs. Here's what the included leaflet says:
"Navigating the multi-disc experience of the Alien Anthology is made even faster with a revolutionary, seamless "unbound" experience that bridges your viewing between discs. Upon ejecting any disc in the anthology, a Weyland-Yutani corporate logo will appear if your player supports this feature. You may then insert another Alien Anthology disc in the set to continue your experience right away. You will bypass the standard logos and disclaimers and jump right back into the action with the Alien Anthology disc you've just inserted. To terminate your Alien Anthology experience, just press STOP on your remote to clear the screen and return to the player's menu, or you may choose to shut down your player."
Alien Anthology Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Are you as tired of reading as I am of writing? If you've made it this far, you know what to do next—go out and buy Alien Anthology! That's really all there is left to say. This is an amazing collection that improves on the nigh-perfect Alien Quadrilogy DVD release in every way, and is well-deserving of our highest recommendations!
Alien Anthology Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Amazon Gold Box Deal of the Day: Alien Anthology Blu-ray - November 1, 2013
Amazon's Blu-ray Gold Box Deal of the Day affects Alien Anthology, which includes Alien (1979), Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992), and Alien: Resurrection (1997). The Blu-ray box set is available, today only, for a total of $19.99 (a 72% markdown from its SPR).
• Amazon Gold Box Deal of the Day: Alien Anthology (Expired) - November 14, 2012
Amazon's Blu-ray Gold Box Deal of the Day affects the Alien Anthology. This box set bundles together four films from Twentieth Century Fox's popular Alien franchise, excluding the Alien vs. Predator titles and Prometheus. Through today only, Amazon is offering ...
• Gold Box Deal of the Day: Alien Anthology (Expired) - May 30, 2012
Amazon's Blu-ray Gold Box Deal of the Day affects the Alien Anthology. This box set bundles together the four films in Twentieth Century Fox's popular Alien franchise, excluding the Alien vs. Predator titles. Through today only, Amazon is offering the Blu-ray ...
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