When Fox released their fine ALIEN LEGACY COLLECTION on DVD, I thought that it would be their final word on the subject until the advent of a high definition optical disc format. However, Fox has pulled another rabbit out of their hats by releasing the ALIEN QUADRILOGY- a supplement rich package, which offers new versions of three of the film’s, including the new fresh from theatrical release director’s cut of Ridley Scott’s ALIEN. Unquestionably, ALIEN is one of the most influential science fiction/horror movies of all time. Although ALIEN has much in common with such genre films as IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE, Ridley Scott’s vision makes this film an unrelenting, claustrophobic nightmare. As for the director’s cut of the film- I find that the tighter pacing and minor additions work to the advantage of the material, but I am still very much enamored with the original theatrical cut of the film.
The plot of ALIEN centers on what happens to the crew of the commercial mining spacecraft Nostromo, when its return voyage to Earth is interrupted by the ships computer, after it detects a transmission of unknown origin. Setting down on an unexplored world, the crew discovers a derelict alien spacecraft and the fossilized remains of its long dead pilot. Also on board the ship, is another compartment, which is filled with large leathery objects that resemble eggs. Unfortunately, one of the objects burst open, thus releasing some sort of parasite that attaches itself to the face of one of the crewmembers.
Returning their fallen comrade to the Nostromo’s infirmary, the other members of the crew try to dislodge the parasite. However, the alien creature eventually dies on its own, but not before it impregnates the crewmember with another phase of its life cycle- one which comes bursting out of the poor afflicted individual’s chest. The rest of the film follows the remaining Nostromo crewmembers as they try to terminate the hostile and rapidly growing alien, before it eliminates them. The cast of ALIEN features a small, but impressive ensemble cast that includes Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has made ALIEN available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. The DVD menus offer the option of watching either the original theatrical version of ALIEN or the new director’s cut. Up front, I have to say that my mouth hung open the entire time I was watching this new DVD, because it looked astonishingly good. Where the previous DVD edition looked merely great, this newly minted and transferred version of ALIEN is utterly spectacular. The image appears virtually pristine, with all of the blemishes and other signs of age having been stripped away from this nearly quarter century old film. Additionally, excessive grain has been cleaned up as well; leaving a crisp, beautifully defined image that isn’t marred by imperfections. Colors appear better than they have in the past, with this DVD producing richer hues and more appealing flesh tones. Blacks are pure, whites are totally clean and the contrast is very good. The picture also boasts better shadow detail, although sequences that are intentionally dark and obscured remain that way. Digital compression artifacts are always well concealed.
ALIEN comes with 5.1 channel soundtracks in both the flavors of Dolby Digital and DTS. Considering the film’s age, ALIEN sounds pretty darn terrific in both digital formats. Sound design is very much in keeping with era in which it was released; with the surround channels providing atmospherics over whiz bang sound effects. Still, the track is highly effective- adding to the creepiness and overall claustrophobic tension. Fidelity is also very good for the age of the recordings, as is demonstrated by Jerry Goldsmith’s excellent, but moody score. Dialogue is very nicely rendered, producing excellent intelligibility and a fairly natural timbre for the voices. The bass channel is solid, although it isn’t up to the ground shaking standards of modern tracks. As for the differences between Dolby Digital and DTS, they are not particularly pronounced, but DTS does have a bit more warmth and sonic spaciousness. A Spanish language track is also provided, as are English and Spanish subtitles.
Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as an excellent array of supplemental materials. Supplements specific to ALIEN are spread across the first two discs of the nine-disc ALIEN QUADRILOGY set. Disc one includes a Ridley Scott introduction to the director’s cut, as well as a brand new audio commentary featuring Scott, as well as actors Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton and John Hurt, plus writers Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett. Since Scott’s solo commentary from ALIEN LEGACY COLLECTION isn’t included here, one may have good reason to hold on to the original set. Other disc one supplements includes the ability to watch the director’s cut with the new material identified, as well as checking out said footage independently of the film.
On the second disc, one will find the bulk of the supplemental programming. There are nine separate featurettes, which when combined together through the play all option, total up into an impressive three plus hour opus entitled The Beast Within: The Making of Alien. These nine programs are primarily comprised of new interview footage with both the cast and crew of the film, as well as some glimpses behind-the-scenes and some bits of footage from the movie. The Beast Within: The Making of Alien is an excellent program that leaves practically no stone unturned, looking at all aspects of the film in extensive detail. One of the highlights is a multi-angle look at the film’s unforgettable chest-burster sequence. The second disc also includes roughly fifteen minutes of deleted scenes that did not make it into either the original theatrical version or director’s cut of ALIEN. Other materials on disc two include a first draft screenplay, plus extensive still galleries of storyboards, production photos, notes, drawings, director’s sketches and other artwork.
ALIEN is an unforgettable science fiction/horror that has lost none of its impact in the nearly twenty-five years since it was released. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has done a truly spectacular job of rejuvenating the film for its release as part of their ALIEN QUADRILOGY-- ALIEN looks far better than it has ever looked in any home presentation and sounds great to boot. On top of that, the supplemental materials produced for the ALIEN QUADRILOGY release are truly impressive, which makes them something that every fan is going to want to spend a whole lot of time reviewing. Just for ALIEN alone, the ALIEN QUADRILOGY is a must have DVD. Absolutely recommended.
The nine-disc ALIEN QUADRILOGY featuring ALIEN, ALIENS, ALIEN3 & ALIEN RESURRECTION, plus all the supplemental material is available for an SRP of $99.98.
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