Alien Anthology (Alien / Aliens / Alien 3 / Alien: Resurrection) [Blu-ray]
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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 dics 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!
Review of Alien
A landmark of science fiction and horror, Alien arrived in 1979 between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back as a stylishly malevolent alternative to George Lucas's space fantasy. Partially inspired by 1958's It! The Terror from Beyond Space, this instant classic set a tone of its own, offering richly detailed sets, ominous atmosphere, relentless suspense, and a flawless ensemble cast as the crew of the space freighter Nostromo, who fall prey to a vicious creature (designed by Swiss artist H.R. Giger) that had gestated inside one of the ill-fated crew members. In a star-making role, Sigourney Weaver excels as sole survivor Ripley, becoming the screen's most popular heroine in a lucrative movie franchise. To measure the film's success, one need only recall the many images that have been burned into our collective psyche, including the "facehugger," the "chestburster," and Ripley's climactic encounter with the full-grown monster. Impeccably directed by Ridley Scott, Alien is one of the cinema's most unforgettable nightmares. --Jeff Shannon
Review of Aliens
Aliens is one of the few cases of a sequel that far surpassed the original. Sigourney Weaver returns as Ripley, who awakens on Earth only to discover that she has been hibernating in space so long that everyone she knows is dead. Then she is talked into traveling (along with a squad of Marines) to a planet under assault by the same aliens that nearly killed her. Once she gets there, she finds a lost little girl who triggers her maternal instincts--and she discovers that the company has once again double-crossed her, in hopes of capturing one of the aliens to study as a military weapon. Directed and written by James Cameron, this is one of the most intensely exciting (not to mention intensely frightening) action films ever, with a large ensemble cast that includes Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Paul Reiser, and Michael Biehn. Weaver defined the action woman in this film and walked away with an Oscar nomination for her trouble. --Marshall Fine
Review of Alien 3
The least successful film in this series was directed by stylemaster (and content-underachiever) David Fincher. Ripley, the only survivor of her past mission, awakens on a prison planet in the far corners of the solar system. As she tries to recover, she realizes that not only has an alien gotten loose on the planet, the alien has implanted one of its own within her. As she battles the prison authorities (and is aided by the prisoners) in trying to kill the alien, she must also cope with a distinctly shortened lifespan that awaits her. But the striking imagery makes for muddled action and the script confuses it further. The ending looks startling but it takes a long time--and a not particularly satisfying journey--to get there. --Marshall Fine
Review of Alien Resurrection
Perhaps these films are like the Star Trek movies: The even-numbered episodes are the best ones. Certainly this film (directed by French stylist Jean-Pierre Jeunet) is an improvement over Alien 3, with a script that breathes exciting new life into the franchise. This chapter is set even further in the future, where scientists on a space colony have cloned both the alien and Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), who died in Alien 3; in doing so, however, they've mixed alien DNA with Ripley's human chromosomes, which gives Ripley surprising power (and a bad attitude). A band of smugglers comes aboard only to discover the new race of aliens--and when the multi-mouthed melonheads get loose, no place is safe. But, on the plus side, they have Ripley as a guide to help them get out. Winona Ryder is on hand as the smugglers' most unlikely crew member (with a secret of her own), but this one is Sigourney's all the way. --Marshall Fine
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In either case, I already got my hands on the Alien Anthology set, and I thought that Alien fans who are still trying to decide whether it's worth the upgrade before next week's proper street date might want to know the following:
(Note: This review assumes that most of you have already seen the films, and there may be some very mild spoilers.)
[UPDATE: I've added LOTS more detail about the extras, including the extended Alien 3 doc. Find this under PROS section (3). In PROS section (1) I've also answered some questions from another customer.]
[UPDATE 4: More specifics on why the 3rd and 4th films' picture quality won't wow you as much as the first 2 films'. Under Cons section (1)]
[UPDATE 6: I've found more new extras on disc 6, including new deleted scenes from Aliens. Details in PROS section (3).]
1) All four films look very good on bluray, and much better than the earlier DVDs, with the first two films looking the best. Alien almost looks brand new. Aliens still looks its age (sometimes), but it enjoys the single biggest improvement in picture quality in the jump from DVD to bluray that I have ever seen for a classic film (or pretty much any film for that matter). While there are still plenty of shots that still look soft or a bit grainy by today's standards, the entire film looks sharper than ever and the grain is far less distracting. Some sequences, like the marines' initial investigation of the abandoned colony, almost look like they could have been shot this year. The color quality and detail visible on the panning shot from the planet to Ripley's orbital hospital room at the beginning of the film totally blew my mind. Detail and texture are excellent throughout and I saw no signs that DNR had been overused. After experiencing Aliens on bluray, I wonder how I was ever able to tolerate the picture quality on the DVD.
[UPDATE: The Theatrical and Director's cuts of Alien both look equally great. It's my understanding that Ridley Scott made some minor alterations to things like contrast, etc. in the Director's cut, but I frankly didn't notice any difference between the two. I haven't watched the Theatrical cut of Aliens in years, as I much prefer the Extended version, so I may not remember which all scenes were added for the latter. However, I did not notice any correlation between picture quality and whether a scene was in the Theatrical cut or added in later, so I assume that they all come from the same source and are of more-or-less equal quality. If I have a chance to look at it again soon and do notice any differences, I'll post another update.]
[UPDATE 2: I've watched the first 25 minutes of the Theatrical cut of Aliens and can confirm that the picture quality is identical to the Special Edition. In other words, it will cause longtime Aliens fans' jaws to drop off right before they become temporarily blinded by its awe-inspiring glory. This is truly the greatest film restoration I've ever seen prepared for the transition from DVD to bluray. Because of the film stock used, I didn't think it would ever be possible for the film to look this good.]
2) All four films also sound greatly improved compared to the DVD. This is especially true for Alien 3. Dialogue which was hard to make out on the DVD is now much clearer and easier to understand. I did notice some audio sync issues with some of the third film's dialogue, but I think these are misalignments which were already present on previous DVD releases, and may therefore be inherent to the original film.
3) The new extras are extensive and excellent. Within the first couple minutes of sampling the new enhancement pods on disc 5, I learned a couple of tidbits I had been unaware of before. These are a wonderful extension of the already superb making-of documentaries. The MU-TH-UR interactive mode is easy to use and will probably prove helpful to those who are only interested in seeing certain parts of the behind-the-scenes material, but I haven't used it much. I've only sampled a couple minutes of the trivia track portion of this feature (titled "Datastream"), but so far it appears as though it will mostly be a re-hash of material you can find in disc 5's documentaries. The set also includes ALL of the extras from EVERY previous release of these films, as promised (at least as far as I can tell), in addition to the extended Alien Evolution and Alien 3 documentaries.
[UPDATE: The extended Alien 3 documentary includes significantly more footage of Fincher directing on the set (lenghtier character discussions with the actors, etc.) and more detail on the schism between him and the studio that I don't remember seeing on the Quadrilogy DVD. At one point during filming you see Fincher get on a microphone and say, "I can't believe Fox is the number one studio because they're all such a bunch of morons." Interestingly, while some of the new footage does reflect poorly on the studio, I think it also makes it easier to understand why some people had trouble working with Fincher. I personally find this longer cut much more interesting, but it hardly feels like an entirely new, revelatory version. Still, if you love a good behind-the-scenes documentary, the extended cut of "Wreckage and Rage: The Making of Alien 3" may help justify the upgrade to bluray.
By my estimate, disc 5 contains around 17 hours of documentaries, including an hour to an hour-and-a-half of new enhancement pods for each individual film (these are mostly extended interviews and production footage). I couldn't even tell you how many hours of content are on disc 6. So it's understandable, due to space limitations, that some of this material still appears to be in standard def. Although it's in SD, most of it has been enhanced so your bluray player will upconvert it (sometimes beautifully so) to fill a widescreen TV. I find the text slides on the still galleries of concept art on disc 6 (which ARE in FULL HD) much easier to read now. In disc 5's docs, most film clips, production artwork and photos, and many interviews will now fill the screen, while other interview clips appear pillarboxed with new imagery to the right and left instead of black bars (similar to the "Disneyview" feature on the Snow White and Pinocchio blurays, though mostly much less distracting than those were). It all looks good enough that I don't think many people will be too disappointed that some of these extras are still in SD.
BOTTOM LINE: The extras, both new and old, are a substantial improvement over the Quadrilogy DVD set (at least IMHO, your mileage may vary). I doubt many people will feel shortchanged here.]
[UPDATE 6: I've found more new extras on disc 6. There are some deleted scenes from Aliens, at least one of which - featuring Burke in a cocoon - I don't think I've seen before. The Patch and Logos image gallery will be appreciated by folks who love all the costuming/set dressing details. There's a video reproduction of a ride called "Aliens: Ride At The Speed of Fright" which is notable for two things: it's REALLY cheesy, and it features a very young Jeffrey Combs (I think this part is new - I don't remember seeing it on the DVD). The Parodies section is just some Alien-related clips from Spaceballs and Family Guy. You'll also want to keep an eye out for Easter Eggs on this disc.]
4) The set has a couple of impressive surprises that weren't mentioned in any of the studio press releases I've seen. Disc Unbound is an automatic feature: when you eject any disc from this set, the Weyland-Yutani logo will pop up on screen. You can then insert any other disc from the set and you'll go straight to the main menu - it will skip over all the studio logos and FBI Warning screens, making an Alien marathon slightly faster and less annoying.
I was aware that this set would include isolated score tracks for all four films (as well as alternate score tracks for the first two), but was unaware that you can also access each piece of music in any order from an index which includes even more unused music. I'm not certain, but I think I may have even spotted a couple of Bonus alternate tracks for Aliens that weren't even on the Deluxe Edition soundtrack CD.
5) For those who are hard of hearing, all 4 films and even the extras on discs 5 and 6 include subtitles in around 15 languages, including English and Spanish. Even the audio commentaries have subtitles in multiple languages! Each film also has multiple language audio tracks, though it appears that only the English receives a lossless one.
6) The packaging is the most elegantly beautiful I've ever seen for a bluray set. Inside the slipcase is a hardcover book with each disc held securely within its own page. These pages include photos from each film, as well as some basic info like plot synopses and director's credits. There's also a booklet and insert tucked in the back which explain how MU-TH-UR mode and Disc Unbound work, and list the content on each disc. It also has a note from Ridley Scott filled with tantalizing hints about what to expect in his upcoming prequel. Everyone will be happy to know that the package is very compact and will fit perfectly next to your other blurays. It's the same size as the Close Encounters of the Third Kind bluray, except that the spine is a little thicker since it holds more discs.
The menu screens are also beautifully designed. The menu for each film features a Weyland-Yutani computer interface with a continuous stream of 3D diagrams and info on various vehicles, weapons, and creatures from each film. It also shows a spacechart indicating the name and location of the planet where each film takes place. Many fans will want to watch the menus play a few times just to take in all the information and detail. The menus are also quick and easy to navigate, and most video features on discs 5 and 6 include a "Play All" option. On disc 5, for example, you can either play all segments of the documentray for each film separately, or you can simply choose to play all 4 documentaries at once.
As beautiful as the packaging is, it does have a couple of minor problems, which brings me to...
1) The 3rd and 4th films don't look quite as spectacular as the first two. They still look far better than the DVDs, and I think the vast majority of people will be perfectly pleased with them. For example, the underwater sequence in Resurrection looks more beautiful than ever. In the shot where the alien drags the docking pilot back into the flooded kitchen, I could now clearly see a single hair floating across the foreground, a detail I had never noticed before during the dozens of times I had watched this movie on DVD. The text of the electronic Bible from the extended chapel scene is also much easier to read now. Nevertheless, you can tell that slightly less work went into the last two films, and some of the hardcore videophiles may be very slightly disappointed by the results after they see how magnificent the first two films now look.
[UPDATE: In my honest opinion, Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection only look less impressive in comparison to the first two films. I didn't notice any signs of DNR or any other technical issues at all. It's my understanding that the first, third and fourth films each had new HD remasters done for the 2003 Quadrilogy DVD set. (If I recall correctly, I think that James Cameron chose not to do a new remaster of Aliens at that time because he felt the one they had was already about as good as they could make the movie look with the technology available circa 2003 - this is probably again due to the film stock they shot Aliens on.)
Skip ahead 7 years to today. Now Alien has been given ANOTHER NEW HD remaster using the most up-to-date technology, and it looks outstanding. Not only does it ALMOST look, for the most part, like a film that could have been shot in 2010, I think the picture quality on the bluray is often as sharp or sharper and better-looking than some films that really did come out this year (like Predators). It's also nearly comparable to, at times dare I say maybe even better than the picture quality on Ridley Scott's Robin Hood, in my opinion (at least when you take Alien's age into consideration). Aliens has also received a brand NEW HD remaster - probably its first in over a decade. I was too young to see it in the theater, but I imagine Cameron is probably telling the truth when he claims that it looks better than it originally did in the theater. I didn't believe it could ever look as good as it does on bluray because of how bad it looked on DVD and because of what Cameron and others have said about the weaknesses of the film they shot it on.
Alien 3 and Resurrection, it's my understanding, have NOT received NEW HD remasters circa 2010. So basically, this is the first time that you're seeing the full quality of the HD remasters that were done for the 2003 Quadrilogy set (which obviously could not show them in HD). They still look very good, and much better than the DVD. Sometimes they have better detail and look sharper than Alien and Aliens do, but technologies for film restoration have obviously improved a great deal in 7 years, and for the most part I think that the first two films now look better (i.e. sharper, etc.) than the last two, at least with regard to expectation. Think of it this way: we typically expect newer movies to look better on bluray than older ones do. So when you see how near-perfect (excellent detail, depth, contrast, deep blacks, no distracting grain, etc.) Alien now looks, then see how the picture quality on Aliens (while certainly not "perfect") far exceeds anything you would expect for a film photographed on such problematic material, you then expect the picture quality on the last two films to knock it out of the ballpark and surprise you to an equal or greater degree. Since they don't SURPRISE you (they only look NEARLY Just As GOOD as the first two films - even though their remasters were done 7 years ago, they were still done very well), many people who actually understand a bit about film restoration will clearly see a difference and wish Fox had spent the money to do a more recent 2010 remaster of the last two films as well, so they would look EVERY BIT As Good or better than the first two films, as we would expect them to. Meanwhile, I think that most people in a more general audience will only see a difference in comparison to the first two films, if they see any difference in the picture quality at all. Many (maybe not all) of those people will probably be completely satisfied with the fact that all 4 movies look far, FAR better than they did on DVD.
Of course, it's possible I'm misinformed and that further restoration was done more recently on the last two films, and just wasn't as extensive as that done on the first two. But either way, the end effect is the same. In other words, you'll look at Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection and say, "These look really good, way better than the DVD." You won't have the same reaction to them that you'll probably have to the first two movies, which is, "HOLY C%@P!!!! HOW DID THEY MAKE MOVIES THIS OLD LOOK THIS GOOD!!! AND HOW DID I EVER MANAGE TO WATCH THE SECOND MOVIE ON DVD WHEN IT COULD HAVE LOOKED THIS MUCH BETTER??!!!!!"]
2) The packaging requires you to slide the discs sideways out from their pages. While the discs are held quite securely, I found that they are very easy to pull out after a little practice. As long as you're careful I don't think there's much need to worry about damaging the discs. Another issue is how tightly the book holding the discs fits into the outer slipcover. The best way to get it out is to hold the set on its side and gently shake it a couple of times till you can grab the book's edge and pull it the rest of the way out. Personally, I don't find these issues all that bothersome, but I know some people will probably find it more frustrating. Those who dislike non-standard book-style packaging may want to wait for the individual releases of each film in the hopes that they'll have more standard packaging.
(NOTE: Anyone who wants to bypass the issue of removing the outer slipcase after you open the set for the first time could just set the book containing the discs, minus outer slipcase, on the shelf with their other blurays - the packaging seems pretty sturdy and I think the discs would still be well-protected.)
(NOTE: The Alien Anthology booklet does not replicate all of the text from the booklet included in the Quadrilogy DVD set, so obsessive completists may want to remove the Quadrilogy booklet if you're going to sell or give away your DVDs. Unfortunately, the Quadrilogy booklet is too large to fit inside the bluray package.)
THE BOTTOM LINE:
If you don't want all four movies, are allergic to non-standard packaging, or just can't afford the steep price tag, you may want to wait for the inevitable but as-yet-unannounced individual bluray releases. (Just keep in mind that the extras for all four films have been condensed onto 2 bluray discs for this set. At this point in time there's no way to know whether you'll get all of the new extras if you wait for the individual releases.) Otherwise, this set is an absolute must-have. While the last two films don't look quite as good as the first two, they still look pretty great, and this set has exceeded all of my other expectations (which were very high). The picture quality on Aliens especially knocked my socks off. The new extras are substantial, and the quality of the entire presentation sets a new standard for future bluray releases. As a lifelong fan of these films I felt like the Alien Quadrilogy DVD set was a dream-come-true. The Alien Anthology bluray set makes me feel like all my dreams were inadequate.
Just to be clear, I am not associated in any way with any Hollywood studio or any newspaper, magazine or website which reviews films or DVDs/blurays. I've never written a product review before, and am only doing so now because I appear to have gotten this item early. I'm just a lover of movies, blurays, and the Alien franchise who got extremely lucky and got the set a week early thanks to my local retailer.
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