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Twenty years after its release ALIEN remains one of the best science fiction scare fests of all time. While the basic plot of ALIEN may appear to be derived from a low budget 1950's science fiction film entitled IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE, it is director Ridley Scott's execution of the story that places this film is light-years ahead of anything else. ALIEN is an oppressive, claustrophobic nightmare that remains as horrifying today as it was in 1979.

The plot of ALIEN follows the crew of the spacecraft Nostromo, a commercial mining vessel returning to Earth with its cargo of mineral ore. Halfway home, the ship's computer system awakens the crew from suspended animation, so they can investigate a transmission of unknown origin. The crew of the Nostromo set down on an unexplored world where they discover an alien spaceship, which appears to be the source of the signal. Entering the alien vessel, they find the fossilized remains of the ship’s pilot, as well as another compartment that contains what appear to be eggs. One of the eggs burst open, releasing some sort of parasite that attaches itself to one of the crewmember’s face.

The others return their fallen comrade to the Nostromo’s infirmary, hoping to find a way to remove the creature. Removing the alien becomes a moot point, when the alien creature detaches itself and dies. Just as things appear to be returning to normal, the next phase of the alien’s life cycle suddenly bursts out of the afflicted crewmember’s chest, then disappears into the dark corridors of the Nostromo. For the rest of the film, the remaining member's of the Nostromo's crew try eliminate 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. Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett’s rich screenplay features sharp well defined characters that are brought to vivid life by the outstanding cast. Since the characters are able to take on a life all their own, the audience readily identifies with them. This makes the character’s plight even more urgent and increases the film’s tension exponentially.

Now we come to the quality of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s THX certified DVD edition of ALIEN. Without a doubt, this DVD is the absolute finest home video incarnation of this classic film. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has outdone themselves with this release. Not only is this DVD spectacular to behold, it also contains the 16:9 anamorphic component for wide screen televisions. The fact that Fox has begun supporting the anamorphic enhancement makes me want to shout hallelujah. I just hope that that the enhancement becomes standard on all their future DVD releases. The Letterboxed transfer almost fully recreates the film’s 2.35:1 theatrical framing, plus it is as sharp and fully detailed as the NTSC system will allow. Even the level of shadow detail contained in this transfer is superb. Color reproduction also proves to be extraordinary on this DVD. Flesh tones are fully realistic, while the rest of the hues offer better saturation than I thought possible for a film from this particular era. Chroma noise is completely absent from the image. Blacks are faithfully recreated and the contrast is very smooth. Reference level DVD authoring, in conjunction with the use of dual layer technology hid all visible traces of digital compression artifacts.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack is very pleasing, but of course the original twenty-year-old sound recordings are a limiting factor. The surround channels provide a lot of ambience, but lack the punch found in new films. The forward soundstage packs a wallop, offering terrific channel separation across the front. Dialogue reproduction is clean, but the timbre of the actor’s voices lacks the immediacy one finds in newer recordings. There are some respectable bass passages in the track, but they don’t have the potency that one would find in a new film. Jerry Goldsmith’s score proves to be the single best recorded element on the soundtrack, reproducing with surprising fidelity. Other soundtrack options include matrixed English and French Dolby Surround. English and Spanish subtitles are available on the DVD.

The interactive menus contain sound, animation and have a fantastic 3-D navigation interface that truly shows off the capabilities of the DVD format. One can access the standard scene and language selection features, as well as the DVD’s extensive supplements through the interactive menu system. A full-length audio commentary with director Ridley Scott is the DVD’s primary supplement. Scott’s talk is required listening for fans, since he provides an entertaining and insightful look at ALIEN. My favorite supplements may be two separate isolated soundtracks that offer edited and unedited versions of Jerry Goldsmith’s marvelous score. Other supplements include ten deleted scenes, two outtakes, four TV spots and two theatrical trailers, DVD-ROM content, plus a still gallery that contains well over 500 production design drawings, behind-the-scenes photos, poster designs, and storyboards.

The arrival of ALIEN signifies that 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is a major player in the DVD arena, capable of producing the finest in cutting edge discs. As a movie, ALIEN is an out and out science fiction classic. As a DVD, ALIEN is a sensational disc. If you have even the slightest interest in ALIEN, then this DVD belongs in you collection. Absolutely recommended.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has released ALIEN on DVD for $29.95 or as part of The Alien Legacy collection, a four film box set for $109.95






The Alien Legacy


DVD reviews are Copyright 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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