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Alien Anthology (1979/1986/1992/1997) Print E-mail
Monday, 08 November 2010
ImageThe "Alien" saga is one of those anthologies that rings a bell and makes you believe that it is one of the best out there.  Someone may remember the whole series while others just remember bits and pieces with no real regard as to which piece came from which one of the films.  However, like with most all anthologies, the quality of the films decrease as the series progresses.

There are a few exceptions to the above however.  In my opinion the second film is better than the first and the fourth film is better than the third, but only marginally with the latter.

The first "Alien" film was released in 1979 and is considered by most to the best of the series.  For me, personally, the film was a bit redundant within itself.  However, in terms of a sci-fi, this film is a milestone.  Along with "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind," it brought alien sci-fi out of the B-movie range and into the mainstream.

In the first film we are introduced to the crew of the Nostromo, a space vessel that is on its way back to Earth carrying mineral ore.  The crew is in hyper sleep, or cryo-genetically frozen.  A computer, known as MU-TH-UR, a seemingly tribute to HAL of "2001: A Space Odyssey," is programmed to monitor space travel for the crew.  When a foreign transmission is received by the vessel, MU-TH-UR awakens the crew, who believe for a short while that they have reached home, when in fact they are only about half way there.

According to rules and regulations, the crew is obligated to find the source of the transmission.  The signal is coming from planet LV-426.  Exploration by part of the crew on the planet leads to one of the members becoming infected with an alien creature.  At this point riffs begin to grow among the crew members.  All seems well once the creature departs from the face of the crew member.  But it doesn't take long before the alien transforms into another stage, leading to the infamous chest-bursting scene.  It doesn't take long for the alien to grow into a full-size creature that will wreck havoc on humans for many films to come.
The alien picks off crew members one by one.  It isn't graphic, but the tension build up is what makes the sequences work.  Less is more for director Ridley Scott.

Seven years after the release of the first film, James Cameron takes the reigns for the sequel.  1986's "Aliens" multiplies the alien creatures and brings more havoc to the screen while lessen the tension factor.  The film continues 57 years after Ripley puts herself back into hyper-sleep.  She is rescued and immediately retained by the Company, the ones responsible for the finding and release of the alien creature.  Having lost contact with a research team on LV-426, the Company asks Ripley to return to the planet with military to find the team.  Ripley already knows the real reason they are returning but goes along to help ease her nightmares.

Once the military team reaches the planet they find evidence of the alien creature and the desertion of the research base, bar one little girl, Newt or Rebecca.  A bond between Ripley and the girl forms almost instantaneously.  It doesn't take a genius to know where this is heading.  Anytime there is a group of humans and at least one alien on the loose, there is going to be bloodshed.

"Alien 3" is the blacksheep of the anthology.  It is hated by most fans of the saga.  It had numerous setbacks that kept it from any type of cohesion.  The script was never finished before shooting, which already tells that there was no one set creative idea or motivation behind the film.  This is evident in the film as there are so many mini plots that never really come together.  Director David Fincher quit the project before the film was ever finished in editing.

In the third installment, Ripley crash lands on Fury 161, home to a prison colony.  Her pod, along with the other survivors of the second film were automatically ejected from the mothership due to detection of and alien object.  Ripley is the only one to survive the crash, which just kills fans of the film.  Of course it is the only way the film could start, as the girl who was supposed to be in hyper-sleep would have aged quite a bit between the second and third films, as there was a six-year turnaround between the two films.

In the penal colony Ripley befriends the chief medical officer, while the warden refuses to hear anything that Ripley has to say.  The penal colony consists of no weapons and a male-only society that hasn't seen a woman in many many years.  The prisoners have semi-found religion, but it doesn't make them any less masochistic.  While the third film doesn't exactly recycle the plot of the first two films, especially given circumstances such as Ripley's impregnation and the transformation of the alien creature as it is mixed with canine.  Still, the film fails to inspire suspense.

"Alien 3" ends with a "how could they possibly make a fourth film?"  However, the powers at be sought its creation, hiring Joss Whedon to write the script.  In "Alien Resurrection," humans just don't learn.  Still trying to harvest the alien creature for a weapon, a group of rogue military and science officers use DNA from Fury 161 to clone Ripley, some 200 years later.  And it just so happens that be cloning Ripley it also clones the alien creature that was gestating inside her.  The cloned Ripley has newfound powers, as she is now somewhat mixed with the alien creature, resulting in acid blood and others.

That is really enough about the movies.  If you are considering this Blu-ray release you want to know about the video and audio qualities.

The 20th anniversary DVD edition of the saga resulted in some of the worst video quality.  Particularly with the original film.  I am happy to report that all four films have superb transfers, albeit falling off a bit from film to film.  Beginning with the original film, the video quality is outstanding.  You will think that your DVD version was transferred from a multi-generational VHS tape.  The original film has been sourced from a 4k transfer.  Film grain remains intact and stable throughout the film, providing excellent textures.  Details and clarity are increased a 100 fold versus the DVD.  Ship constructs are heavily detailed, as are the close-ups of the alien itself.  Colors are accurate, holding true to the original intention, bleak.  However, when color does come into play it is strong and unwavering.  Just take a look at the blue light used when discovering the alien nest.  Black levels are excellent.  They leave shadow delineation as best as it can be, never swallowing details.  There is no crushing and contrast is perfect.  This transfer results in a perfect 5/5.

The second film was of some controversy several months ago when it was announced that it had been "de-noised."  Fans feared that it was going to be digitally scrubbed of all noise.  Luckily, the film grain remains for the most.  Some noise reduction has been applied due to the original negatives.  While there is a scene here and there that appears slightly soft, the overall detail is impressive.  Black levels are also not quite as consistent as with the first film.  Still, shadow delineation remains strong.  Both the first and second films retain excellent filmic video quality.

While the third and fourth films have good video quality they don't live up to their own potential.  It is clear that not much effort went into restoring the final two films.  Softness creeps up more often in these two and black levels fluctuate quite a bit.  Still, they are leaps and bounds better than the standard DVD releases.  They won't leave you stunned, but they are more than adequate for an alien anthology marathon.

While 5/5 goes to the first film, the second gets 4.5/5 and the final two films get 4/5 each.

Just as with the video quality, the audio qualities of the four films have also been substantially improved.  Once again, the SD DVD release of the original film had some of the worst audio I have ever heard on a major theatrical release.  ADR was incomprehensibly bad.  Sync and duplicated lines were readily apparent.  Dialogue consistently was buried behind loud production noises.  Thankfully, all that has been rectified with the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track.  The original 4.0 (4.1) track, a LCRS mix is also included in Dolby Digital format.  However, there is no reason not to listen to the DTS-HD 5.1 audio track.  The other three films also follow suit, with DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio tracks.  The LFE is nicely used throughout the films.  Dialogue suffers in the second and third films with some lines still buried amidst effects.  Music is strongest in the first two films by the two best composers, Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner.  Rear speaker activity comes and goes in terms of discreetness.  However, the rear speakers are always engaged with enveloping ambience.  Frequency response is better than I would have thought.  However, there are some frequency phasing issues that are simply the result of the original surround mixes.  The audio tracks are consistent to the point where if you sat and watched all four films in a row, it would almost sound like one long film.  Individual scores are as follows: 4.5/5, 4.5/5, 4/5, 4.5/5.

Now we come to the longest section ever…the special features.  It is going to be impossible for me to go into detail about every single one of the bonus materials.  There are roughly 60 hours of extra materials.  This collection fits "definitive" more than any other film collection.  A few notes.  This is a 6-disc Blu-ray set.  Four for the films and two for bonus materials.  Each of the film discs contain both the theatrical version and the director's cut or special edition.  The housing for the discs is a hardshell book that is comprised of cardboard stock card with slips for the discs.  This book is housed in a fairly thick hard case.

All bonus materials from the previously released quadrilogy have been included on this Blu-ray release.  MU-TH-UR mode allows the user to mark special features as you watch the film that you want to watch when you move on to discs five and six.  This is a neat feature but I don't see much use for it given the excellent layout of discs five and six.

Disc 1 includes: theatrical version, 2003 director's cut, 2003 director audio commentary, original theatrical director audio commentary, deleted scenes and two isolated score tracks.

Disc 2 includes: theatrical version, 1991 special edition, two isolated scores, an audio commentary and deleted scenes.

Disc 3 includes: theatrical version, 2001 workprint version, theatrical version audio commentary, one isolated score audio track and a bundle of deleted scenes.

Disc 4 includes: theatrical version, 2003 special edition, audio commentary, one isolated score audio track and deleted scenes.

Disc 5 (Making the Anthology) includes: "The Beast Within: Making 'Alien'" comprised of nine segments, "'Alien' Enhancement Pods" comprised of 27 featurettes totaling about 80 minutes, "Superior Firepower: Making 'Aliens'" comprised of 11 featurettes, "'Aliens' Enhancement Pods" comprised of 25 segments totaling about 60 minutes, "Wreckage And Rage: Making 'Alien 3'" comprising of 11 featurettes, "'Alien 3' Enhancement Pods" comprising of 29 segments totaling about 75 minutes, "One Step Beyond: Making 'Alien Resurrection'" comprised of 10 segments, "'Alien Resurrection' Enhancement Pods" comprising of 26 segments totaling about 75 minutes.

Disc 6 (The Anthology Archives) includes: three sections for each film.  There is a pre-production, a production and a post-production/aftermath section.  Each section contains about a half dozen featurettes.  One final section of the disc includes a couple feature length television documentaries, still galleries and some promo material.

Needless, this collection includes everything you could possibly want to know about the alien saga.  No stone left unturned here.  Fans can spend a good week going through these bonus materials.  Extensive and exhaustive are the best descriptors.

It goes without saying that this anthology is a must for all Blu-ray and sci-fi fans.  Beyond highly recommended.

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