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ALIEN ANTHOLOGY
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Sigourney Weaver
Directors:  Ridley Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher, Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Audio:  DTS HD 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1 (Aliens Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1)
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  See Review
Length:  477 Minutes
Release Date:  October 26, 2010

IN SPACE, NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM.

Alien ****

When Star Wars first came on the scene, it wasn't long before all of the studios were trying to find their own winning science fiction formula for the big screen. Ironically, one of the best to spring from the wake of that legendary film came from the same studio, 20th Century Fox. By bringing together director Ridley Scott, writer Dan O'Bannon, and conceptual artist H. R. Giger, they managed to create something new and different from the other movies in the genre: Alien.

There was nothing adventurous about it. It was light on action. There were no high tech battles with futuristic weaponry. Really all it had was a premise. A mining ship with seven passengers returning to earth picks up an unwelcome visitor.

First off, the Alien is one of the most fantastic creations to come out of either science fiction or horror. It's black, slimy, with powerful metallic jaws, and it oozes and bleeds acid. It's fast, powerful, and horrifyingly lethal. It's not easy to kill.

Secondly, Scott's filmmaking makes for maximum impact with the creature. Like in Spielberg's Jaws, we don't even get a look at the alien for the first 45 minutes or so of the film. Scott uses this time for brilliant set up, and to begin to play on many psychological fears: fear of darkness, fear of the unknown, claustrophobia, isolation, and so on. The audience is already quite tense before the monster appears, and are more than ready to scream when it finally does.

I have to mention also what fantastic sets and lighting are incorporated in the picture. Scott lovingly films the interiors of the ship Nostromo, and uses his camera to give us a quiet, eerie tour of the vessel prior to meeting the crew. One gets the sense that much of the camerawork and editing was more inspired by 2001 than Star Wars. Light and shadows, along with some nice smoke and fog effects add to the dismal and unnerving atmosphere.

In 2003, Ridley Scott revisited his film to do a little cutting and pasting.  The resulting film is no better or worse than what we originally saw, so it may just be a matter of preference among fans.  The new version includes a scene where Ripley sees Dallas cocooned, as well as a few other small bits added here and a few stretches tightened there.

The overall result of these elements is a tense, imaginative and thoroughly satisfying movie experience. It's no wonder a sequel was merited...

Aliens ****

How do you go about topping an original and popular sci-fi movie like Alien? Well, for starters, you bring in James Cameron to write and direct. Cameron's philosophy has always been bigger is better, and more bang for your buck, and his approach to the sequel film Aliens delivers action and thrills galore.

Ripley is back, discovered adrift after 57 years of hibernation to find that nobody believes her story about the vicious monster that killed off the rest of the crew of the Nostromo. That is, until a colony established on the planet where they discovered the aliens' eggs disappears. Reluctantly, Ripley agrees to serve as an advisor and accompany a loud, rude, gung ho troop of Marines on a mission to wipe out the deadly predators.

It doesn't take long for the arrogant soldiers to realize they're in over their heads, and if you thought the single creature was brutal in the first film, wait until director Cameron unleashes a colony of them, complete with a queen, which is bigger and worse than any foe Ripley had yet encountered.

Unlike the first movie, which relied heavily on style, deliberate pacing and much set up, this film is all about one action sequence after another. More gunfire, more explosions, more bloodshed...in short, bigger and louder than its predecessor. And it works. This is a thrilling movie going experience.

Weaver is a terrific actress, and with a meatier role for Ripley this time around, she actually garnered an Oscar nomination for her work. She is backed up by a terrific Henriksen as the new android crew member Bishop, Paul Reiser in a non-comic role, and a hysterical Bill Paxton in one of my favorite performances by him ("Game over, man! Game over!").

This disc includes both the theatrical version and the later director's cut, supervised and approved by Cameron, which contains an addition 17 minutes of footage, including scenes of the lively settlement on the planet early on to contrast with the eerily barren and quiet ruins the team later explores.  Seamless branching lets you enjoy whichever version you choose, but I actually prefer the longer one...it's quite impressive how the movie is capable of gripping you for over two and a half hours.

Alien 3 **1/2

She's not done yet. Ripley, our favorite perpetual lone survivor, returns to do battle again with the big ugly beast that seems to have it in for her.

Alien 3 seems to have reversed gears from its predecessor Aliens in a few ways. Once again, there is only one creature to deal with. And like the first film, there is a lot of time spent in build up before the terror really begins. Trouble is, there's nothing to build up to. Unlike the original, we already know what the creature looks like and what it will do, so the time spent leading up to the unveiling in this movie is a little less suspenseful and a little more patience wearing.

The story is intriguing, however. After a face hugger kills her companions, Ripley crash lands on a planet used as a high security prison for men with double Y chromosomes. They are the worst criminals, all murderers and rapists, driven by a rage created by too much testosterone. The only calming effect is a kind of religion they have adopted, under the leadership of Charles S. Dutton.

Problem is, an alien has come back with her, and she and the men are sitting ducks, especially with no weapons to fight with. The situation worsens when Ripley learns she is now a host to a queen. Can she be saved?

Once the action gets going, it's mostly satisfying. Director Fincher's cameras move at breakneck speed and often take on the point of view of the creature.

The creature itself, however, is a bit of a disappointment. It was created mostly by use of an intricate marionette against blue screen backgrounds, and it shows. Rarely ever does it look convincing, and this saps some of the action sequences of their potential power.

All in all, it's an OK movie, but a let down after the first two films in the series. There are things to like about it, though, particularly Weaver, who shines as always. It's easy to understand why she wanted to make this movie. Charles S. Dutton is a fine actor, and his presence is welcome, though his character is painfully underdeveloped.

If you loved the first two movies, you should give it a try. It's a worthy enough diversion for one evening's entertainment.

Alien Resurrection *

There is a legitimate danger inherent in every successful film series that the temptation will be to push it one movie too far, and release an entry that is so terrible, it might leave a bad taste in the audience's mouth for the whole series. It seemed that the Alien films might have escaped that fate, when our heroine Ripley  plunged to her death at the end of the third movie. After all, an Alien movie without Weaver would be as ill advised as one without the creature.

Guess what? They're both back. Ripley...believe it or not.

Some two hundred years after the events of the last film, a team of scientists have cloned Ripley. Why? Because "the company" throughout all of the movies has desperately wanted to breed the creatures as a biological weapon. Ripley had died with a queen embryo inside her. You may well ask, even if they had a sample of Ripley's DNA and could clone her, how they could possibly also duplicate the foreign entity growing inside her, but you won't get an answer.

The clone is a success, and they have their queen. Now all they need is an illegal cargo of human hosts, which is provided by a motley renegade crew led by Call (Ryder). For some reason, they leave Ripley alive, even though they have what they wanted for her.

Well, I'm sure you guessed that they lose containment of the aliens, and much violence and mayhem ensues. You expect that from the series. What's disappointing is just how silly the film is, from start to finish. I can't understand what made Weaver decide to do this film. Ripley is not herself anymore, and instead of the strong, real heroine we have followed through the films, she becomes a goofy, unemotional, one note character that we can no longer identify with. The writers also gave her some of the creature's attributes, like physical strength and sense of smell (though it's hard not to cringe watching her sniff the crew members). Watching her toy with a basketball is pure farce.

The crew is a failure as well. I think director Jeunet thought he could recreate the funny and enjoyable bunch from Aliens, but what he came up with was a ridiculous and flat mix of uninteresting characters that never inspire us to care about their fates. Even Ryder is nothing more in this movie than a lifeless doe eyed presence.

Even the legendary look of the films is kind of lost here. There is nothing much interesting to look at in this movie, save for one cool underwater sequence. Even the space scenes in this movie look unrealistic, like matte paintings.

This may be the last entry in this series, and it's a shame it has to end this way. This is just poor filmmaking, nothing more, nothing less.

Video ****

I think I've officially seen every home video incarnation of the Alien movies, and I have to say...this Blu-ray release is all I hoped for and more.  For such a dark series, there's never been a better way to experience it than these impeccably good high definition transfers.  From the deepest blacks of space to the intricate details of the ships, to all the action and spectacle, watching all of them was a pleasure.   

Audio ****

DTS HD is just what was needed to really open up the horror and action of these films.  The uncompressed audio tracks are explosively dynamic, with clear dialogue and terrific multi-channel effects throughout.  If I had to pick one that really highlighted the audio, it would be Aliens.  That film just flat out delivers from the quiet, suspenseful moments to the full throttle battle scenes.  But overall, the series' sounds have never been so full, so rich and so immersive.

Features ****

Six discs' worth of extras?  Hot damn.

The first four contain the respective movies, and Alien and Aliens both include the original theatrical releases and the later-released special editions.  All the movies contain commentary tracks and isolated scores, and all have a unique MUTHR interface.  It uses picture-in-picture, but also keeps a list on the left side of the screen that allows YOU to choose what you want when you want while watching the movie.  You get extra bits of info, or audio tracks...you can even mark your favorite scenes as you go.

The fifth disc is "Making the Alien Anthology", and it's a collection of all the making-of documentaries that accompany each film, along with some new 'pods' that add a bit of extra pieces here and there.

The last disc contains all the marketing goodies, from photos and posters to more TV and theatrical trailers and radio spots than you could really count.  Oh, and every time you finish a disc and eject it, you'll be left with a 'corporate' logo on your video screen.  Nice touch!

Lastly, I have to mention the packaging...it's a big hardcover book with info and photos, and the discs themselves are actually parts of the pages.  A beautiful package!

Summary:

Maybe no one can hear you scream in space, but they sure can hear you in your living room.  The Alien Anthology is officially one of THE best Blu-ray box sets yet released:  well-packaged, incredibly restored, and hours and hours of fun and informative extras. 

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