Plot: What’s it about?
Alien was a landmark motion picture, one which has remained one of the top sci/fi movies, even well over two decades later. The sequel, Aliens broke from the mold and focused on wild action sequences, but still found great success. These two films are held up as genre classics, films which continue to dazzle audiences, even after many, many viewing sessions. When the time came for a third sequel, the studio clashed with the creative team over numerous ideas, which resulted in a compromised motion picture. The theatrical version wasn’t even close to the director’s vision, which meant Alien 3 was a confusing, muddled movie. A fourth film was still released however, though Alien Resurrection never sparked much interest. Fox released a box set some time back of all four Alien films, but now they have gone back and created The Alien Quadrilogy, a nine disc collection that presents the definitive DVD release of these pictures. All four films have two discs of content, such as both theatrical and extended cuts of the movies, not to mention a tidal wave of bonus materials sure to keep fans busy for months. A ninth disc includes even more supplements, bringing the total to over forty-five hours of added content. This is simply a new benchmark in DVD, so even if you’re only a casual fan, this release is not to be missed. I have included a brief synopsis for each film below, just in case you haven’t seen them.
1. Alien- After responding to a distress call in deep space, the crew of the Nostromo, a space cruising vessel, is going to learn to mind their business, if they can survive that is. The signal came from a ship docked on a remote planet, which appears to be void of human or any other type of life. The crew lands on the planet, and takes to foot patrol to investigate the seemingly abandon ship. Just as things begin to take a turn for the worse, the Nostromo’s computer translates the distress call, which is more of a warning that call for help. But that information is learned too late, as the crew has stumbled upon a nest, which houses some strange, and as they will soon find out, deadly creatures. One of the crew members is attacking by a small creature which clings to the face, and the others take the crew member back to their ship to try to remove the creature. This is a notion the crew will regret, as the creature begins a total attack on the crew, leaving a wake of death and destruction behind. No efforts seem to work against it, so how will the crew escape the lethal animal before it’s too late?
2. Aliens- Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has survived the recent ordeal, and has been picked up by a probe ship. When questioned about the events that led to her hypersleep, Ripley tells the tale of the alien and the destruction it brought with it. Of course, no one believes her, and in fact a mining colony is now located on the same planet as the alien attack. But all is not well in the mining colony, as contact has been lost, and a search and rescue mission is called for. Despite the danger involved, Ripley opts to join the mission, along with a shock troopers, who will lay waste to anything standing in the way of this project. As we know, there are more than miners on the planet, and things don’t look good for the crew as they hone in on their destination. No matter how cocky they are and no matter powerful their weaponry is, the odds rest comfortably against them on this effort. Ripley was able to escape with her life the first time she encountered the alien, but with more than one looming around, can she survive again?
3. Alien 3- Lt. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is back once again, this time having just crash landed on a desolate landscape, the sole survivor aboard her vessel. While it may not seem as though life exists on such a wasteland of a planet, the truth is people live here, just not anyone important. The planet, Fiorina 161, is not much more than a roaming grounds for criminals who once served time in a maximum security prison housed there. Ripley believes she was not the only living thing aboard the vessel when it crashed, but that an alien was also present. Of course, she’s right, and she soon discovers this when that damn alien begins to wipe out the cons in short fashion. Alone in an unfamiliar place with no traditional weaponry, Ripley sees the need to unite the remaining criminals, and forge a force against the creature. But things could never be that simple, and Ripley finds out she has more in common with this alien that she thinks. Can Ripley deal with her newfound knowledge, or will she seek out a method ridding the world of the alien and herself?
4. Alien Resurrection- While Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) went on to a better place in her last adventure, there’s always the chance to bring people back. No, I don’t mean voodoo or some satanic ritual, I mean technology, everyone knows it can solve any problems, right? As such, using the most advanced techniques, a clone is created, and we have a new Ripley, it’s just that simple. Now, this clone looks like Ripley, but other than that they seem very different, which could be because of the alien genes present in the clone. This clone resides on a ship crammed full of scientists and experiments, including some other clones we might recognize. That’s right, these dumb bastards cloned aliens, so that they could be controlled and used as military weapons. Of course, the scientists fuck up, and the nasty aliens escape, leaving only brutalized corpses behind. Even as a clone, Ripley hates the little shits, so she teams up with a band of smugglers who recently came aboard, in an effort to keep the aliens from infesting any further. Can Ripley and this motley crew manage to overcome the aliens, or will the entire galaxy be crawling with the aliens?
Video: How does it look?
Alien is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The previous edition of Alien looked damn good, but this new version is a revelation, pure and simple. This new transfer is so good, Alien looks like it was produced last week. The print has been cleaned up, which removed almost all the unwanted grain and by turn, that eliminated moments of softness. I didn’t see even a single nick or piece of debris either, so Fox has gone the extra mile to make Alien look pristine. I noticed the colors have been enhanced also, so hues that once looked soft now have a vivid presence, which really adds to the visuals. Thanks to the reduced softness, contrast is smooth and refined, which means the dark visuals can really shine here. This is the kind of excellent treatment Alien deserves, so I am sure fans will be thrilled to no end.
Aliens is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This movie has been given a nice polish also, so it looks much better than previous releases. The first thing you’ll notice is how clean and refined the image is, thanks to the removal of a lot of unwanted grain. Some grain remains behind, but that is the nature of the stock used. The visuals have more shine now, to be sure and softness is never a problem with this new edition. The black levels are also improved, as the grain really had an impact on the contrast. Now black levels look sharp and consistent, so the film’s dark visuals have more punch this time around. I also found colors to be richer and more effective, so this is one overhaul that paid immense dividends. Fox should be commended for their work here, as Aliens has never looked this good on home video.
Alien 3 is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. I didn’t notice much of a difference here, but some minor enhancements are evident. This movie is about as dark as they come, the visuals almost drown in the darkness, although that is the intention. With a movie that relies so much on darkness, it would be easy for a below par transfer to murk up things too much, and obscure what little detail is evident. Lucky for us, this transfer is up to snuff, and the visuals sharp, retaining all original detail and image. While colors lives only through earthen tones and dark greens, these hues appear as they were intended, and flesh tones remain natural throughout. This isn’t as much of an obvious improvement as the previous two installments, but some minor flaws have been fixed, so fans should be pleased.
Alien Resurrection is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is the most recent film in the series, so only minor improvements can be seen. The main enhancement is the absence of edge enhancement, which was a light concern in the previous edition. This film uses darker tones, much like the others in the series, but also features more color than the previous ones. The hints of red, blue, and other colors appear muted, but this serves the intentional visual effect. Other than those sparks of color, earthen and metallic tones dominate, and both look crisp and error free here. The shadows are sharp and well defined, and detail is perfect, even in the darkest places. Not even a trace of compression trouble emerges, this is a perfect transfer.
Audio: How does it sound?
All four movies, in all eight cuts have Dolby Digital 5.1 options, so no matter which version of which movie you choose, the audio is top notch. The films have different approaches to audio, such as Alien’s atmospheric tension or Aliens’ over the top action, but no matter what the design, it all sounds superb in this release. I can’t be certain, but I believe the Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks the same ones found on the old Alien Legacy release, though the alternate cuts have new soundtracks, of course. Alien 3’s extended cut has some audio woes however, as available materials weren’t great and as such, we have to tinker with the volume. But the price is a small one, to get to see a closer version of the film to the original vision. To add to the fun, both versions of Alien and Alien Resurrection have brand new DTS soundtracks to boot. Ah…Alien is DTS…what a great time to be alive, right? As expected, DTS provides additional refinement and presence, so its too bad not all the movies were given the nod. You can also listen to a Spanish soundtrack on all movies, as well as enable English or Spanish subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This is a nine disc collection, with over forty-five hours of bonus materials, so let’s break this down movie by movie, shall we? Up first is Alien, which kicks off with a brand new audio commentary track. This is a crowded session, with director Ridley Scott, star Sigourney Weaver, and seven other cast and crew members. The session turns out to be decent, but there isn’t enough focus and that allows the track to wander at times. I prefer Scott’s previous commentary track, which sadly isn’t present on this release. The second disc houses The Beast Within, a collection of nine behind the scenes featurettes. These pieces run from several minutes to half an hour, each focused on a different section of the production. I loved the multi-angle look at the infamous chestburster scene, so it was a personal highlight. I would have rather had one in depth documentary, but the nature of royalties dictates as such, which is why all four films have numerous brief pieces, instead of one, extensive documentary. At least Fox has included a “play all” option, which solves that problem to an extent, so not all is lost. The extras for Alien also include fifteen minutes of deleted scenes, plus archival materials such as storyboards, Scott’s production notes, a wealth of still photos, conceptual artwork, promotional materials, and some footage of the film’s debut, quite an assortment of extras, to be sure.
Aliens is next, so we’ll start off with an audio commentary track once again. James Cameron sits down in this session, which is reason enough for fans to be thrilled, but he isn’t alone in this track, not even close. He is joined by producer Gale Anne Hurd, f/x genius Stan Winston, and nine other cast and crew members. That is a lot of people for one session, but the track is smooth and never jumps off course. Cameron takes the lead and shares a lot of insight, while the others chime in with cool tidbits of their own. On the second Aliens disc, we have another extensive array of featurettes that total over two hours of content. You’ll see how Cameron came up with the concept, how the special effects teams pulled off the wicked visuals, and how the public reacted to this great sequel, plus all the stops in between. If there is a question you have about how Aliens was made, more than likely, the answer is somewhere in this release. We’re not done however, as we also have Cameron’s full treatment on Aliens, continuity photos, promotional materials, extensive production photos, and footage from the film’s premiere.
Now we’ve come to the third film in the series, but don’t expect a daring look at the controversial production, as you won’t find one here. David Fincher didn’t participate in this release, so his presence is missed, but at least some worthwhile stuff is found here. An audio commentary is up first, as actor Paul McGann and several crew members recall the production. This is the highlight of the extras, as the folks seem candid and honest about the film’s lack of direction. Of course, no one gets too nasty or points fingers, but at least some kind of information about the troubled production is out there. The abundance of behind the scenes featurettes is welcome, but I wanted more insight into the sordid details of the production. You do get to see Weaver’s head get shaved, as well as some other worthwhile content, but all of these featurettes gloss over the troubled aspects. Even so, there are some great interviews, including an excellent one with Weaver, as well as informative behind the scenes materials. You can also check out a ton of production photos, two galleries of conceptual artwork, and a multi-angle look at Ripley’s bodyscan.
Ok, we’re in the home stretch now, as the fourth and final film is in the crosshairs. Jean-Pierre Jeunet leads the audio commentary track, which also includes assorted members of the cast & crew, so there’s a lot of folks involved. The session offers a nice mixture of technical data and humorous stories, so it is well worth a listen. One Step Beyond is another massive selection of behind the scenes featurettes, with well over two hours of materials to peruse. Joss Whedon is present and talks about his role in the production, you can browse some special effects test reels, and even view some footage on the creation of the score. You’ll have to log some hours to get through it all, but this is a comprehensive look behind the scenes. The archive section includes Whedon’s complete treatment, a selection of conceptual artwork, rehearsals, scene dissections, and of course, a virtual treasure trove of production photos.
But we’re not done yet, as the extra special ninth disc is up and if you can believe it, even more goodies can be found here. Alien Evolution is an hour long documentary that scans the entire series, but by this time, you’ve heard a lot of this information. Even so, the approach is good and this is still worth a watch. The material isn’t recycled by any means, but if you’ve sat through the previous discs, then you’re already an expert of sorts. Aliens in the Basement is a look at Bob Burns’ collection of all kinds of Alien related memorabilia. This is a decent piece and at only sixteen minutes, it never gets dull. You can also watch a new Q&A session with Scott, who discusses his movie and the recent director’s cut release. A vintage featurette on Alien is too brief to be fun, while an “advance” promotional piece on Alien 3 is a real hoot. All of the text based material on Alien and Aliens is present also, so you can now retire those laserdiscs once and for all. Alien has two television spots and teaser & theatrical trailers, Aliens has a television spots, teaser trailer, two US theatrical trailers, and an international theatrical trailer, Alien 3 has seven television spots and five theatrical trailers, and Alien Resurrection has four television spots and teaser & theatrical trailers.