ALIENS is one of those rare film sequels that not only lived up to the promise of the film that spawned it, it actually managed to surpass the original in certain ways. But then again, comparing ALIEN to ALIENS is something akin to comparing apples to oranges- both are fruit, but different in very many key ways. Where ALIEN was a claustrophobic exercise in terror, ALIENS is a slam-bang action movie set inside the same science fiction universe. Therefore, any comparison of the two probably isnít relevant, since they take such a decidedly different tact to the material. Certainly, action fans are going to be more impressed ALIENS than they were with ALIEN, since there is virtually no action in the first film. On the other hand, horror aficionados are certain to revel in the unsettling, monster movie atmosphere of ALIEN, which was ultimately designed to scare the crud out of an audience.
The brilliance of ALIENS lies in what writer/director James Cameron brings to the table for this movie sequel. Stirring up the pot, Cameron plays on the audiencesí expectations of what a single alien could do- then multiplies it by hundreds of the nearly unstoppable creatures. Of course, to make it interesting, and somewhat fair to the human protagonists of the story, he throws in some state-of-the-art firepower, which revs up the filmís action level quite considerably. ALIENS opens with a deep space salvage craft discovering the shuttle pod containing Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver)- the sole survivor of the Nostromoís deadly encounter with a hostile alien creature. Although in suspended animation for fifty-seven years, Ripley finds things on Earth have changed very little- with the corporate types not believing her story about the alien and blaming her for the destruction of a very expensive company asset- namely the Nostromo.
Ripley also learns that in the years that she has been gone, a colony of terraformers has been established on the world where the Nostromo first discovered a derelict spaceship containing the alien. Stripped of her flight certification by the company, Ripley is forced to take a job as a freight handler, until a company representative comes to her with a proposition. As it turns out, the company has lost contact with their terraforming colony, so they want Ripley to serve as an advisor to the platoon of space marines that they are sending on a rescue mission. At first, Ripley doesnít want any part of the mission, but if she is ever to overcome the nightmares that continue to plague her, she will have to face down an enemy that she knows all too well. The cast of ALIENS also features Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Carrie Henn, William Hope, Jenette Goldstein, Al Matthews, Mark Rolston, Ricco Ross, Colette Hiller, Daniel Kash, Cynthia Scott, Tip Tipping, Trevor Steedman and Paul Maxwell.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has made ALIENS available on DVD in a 1.85:1 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 cut of ALIENS or the special edition version, which made it premiere on Laserdisc some years ago and reappeared on the ALIEN LEGACY COLLECTION. The previous DVD release was a marked improvement over the Laserdisc edition that preceded it, and the ALIEN QUADRILOGY version of ALIENS adds additional improvements to the overall look of the film on video.
The current presentation sports an image that appears cleaner and slightly better defined than its predecessor, plus the noticeable grain structure appears further lessened this time around. Colors are rendered at a fairly realistic level of saturation, without any signs or noise or smearing. Blacks appear quite accurate and the whites are totally stable. Contrast is very good, as is the shadow detail. The darkest scene still have a fairly noticeable grain structure, but this is due to the original film stocks used to photograph ALIENS and is not a fault in the transfer. Digital compression artifacts are always well concealed.
ALIENS comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack would appear to be the same as the previous release. Because the original sound design of a 1986 vintage, the forward soundstage tends to dominate the mix. There is very good channel separation across the front for the filmís numerous action scene sound effects, as well as for reproducing James Hornerís excellent Oscar nominated score. Surround usage isnít particularly aggressive, but the rear channels do add ambient enchantment and musical fill much of the time. Dialogue is always completely understandable and reasonably natural sounding. The bass channel is very good for the era of the original recordings, but certainly not up to current levels. 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 ALIENS are spread across the second two discs of the nine-disc ALIEN QUADRILOGY set. Disc three- the movie disc, features an excellent running audio commentary with include James Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd, Stan Winston, Robert Skotak, Dennis Skotak, Pat McClung, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, Christopher Henn and Carrie Henn. This is another terrific commentary filled with production detail and entertaining anecdotes- thus making it a must listen for fans. Other disc three supplements includes the ability to watch the special edition cut of ALIENS with the additional material identified, as well as checking out said footage independently of the film. There is also a brief James Cameron introduction to the special edition version of ALIENS.
On disc four of the set, one will find the bulk of the supplemental programming related to ALIENS. There are eleven separate featurettes contained on the disc, which when combined together through the play all option, create another impressive three plus hour documentary entitled Superior Firepower: The Making of Aliens. Featuring new interviews with James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd, as well as members of the cast and crew, this is an outstanding and highly detailed look at the pre- production, production and post-production of one of the best science fiction/action movies of all time. One of the highlights of this extensive look at ALIENS is section devoted to the films climatic battle featuring the power loader versus the Alien Queen. While it seems I am just glancing over this eleven part documentary, believe me I am not trying to sell it short- watching it is far more interesting and enjoyable than reading about it a review. If you love ALIENS, then Superior Firepower: The Making of Aliens really is must see TV. Other materials on disc four include a Cameronís original treatment screenplay, plus extensive still galleries of production photos, continuity Polaroids, directorís sketches and other conceptual artwork.
For my money, ALIENS is one of the most thrilling science fiction movies ever made. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has done a great job with the presentation of ALIENS for its release as part of the ALIEN QUADRILOGY- the movie looks better than it has in past home incarnations and sounds just fine. Again, the supplemental materials produced for this leg of the ALIEN QUADRILOGY are outstanding and worth all the time than fans will spend reviewing them. Based upon what Fox has delivered for both ALIEN and ALIENS, their ALIEN QUADRILOGY is 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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