In the world of sequels, there are very few times that a follow-up film can live up to the promise of the original. There are even fewer times that a sequel actually surpasses the film that spawned it. Here is where I enter murky waters. Is ALIENS a better film than ALIEN? To say yes, would have some sci-fi aficionados accusing me of heresy. In fact, as far as science fiction films go, ALIEN is one of the true classics of the genre that I personally hold in the highest regard. That being said, there is still the matter of where ALIENS stands as a film sequel. Without hesitation I have to say that ALIENS is a killer movie that is perfectly designed for mass consumption. There is a brilliance in ALIENS that is fully attributable to writer/director James Cameron. From the get go, Cameron knows exactly what the audience has seen in ALIEN, so he doesn't fall into the predictable trap of trying to repeat "the formula" as do so many other Hollywood sequels. Instead of a making another claustrophobic exercise in science fiction/horror, Cameron has made ALIENS a slam-dunk science fiction/action movie that totally blows away the audience.
Where ALIEN was an ensemble piece, ALIENS is a star vehicle for Sigourney Weaver, who proved herself the most capable female hero the silver screen has ever seen. In fact, Weavers return to the role of Ellen Ripley proved so impressive, that she garnered an Academy Award nomination for performance (completely unprecedented for a sci-fi/action movie). ALIENS opens with deep space salvage team finding the shuttle that escaped the destruction of the Nostromo, along with its only surviving crewmember still in suspended animation. Ellen Ripley returns to earth, only to discover that fifty-seven years has passed since her encounter with the alien. Not only has her daughter grown old and died during her absence, the ordeal on the Nostromo has left her an emotional wreck.
To make matters worse, Ripleys employer doesnt believe her tale about the alien and holds her responsible for the destruction of the Nostromo. When she asks them to check the planet where the Nostromo first encountered the alien, she discovers to her horror that a colony of terraformers has been living on the planet for years. Stripped of her flight certification, Ripley is forced to take a meaningless job handling freight until a company representative approaches her with a proposition. It seems that 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 doesnt want any part of the mission, but if she is ever to overcome the damage to her psyche, she will have to face her greatest fear head on.
When the marines arrive on the planet, the colony is disserted except for a small girl who has managed to stay alive by hiding in the ventilation system. When the aliens finally make their appearance, things erupt into an all out war. Utilizing their state-of-the-art firepower, the marines are able to neutralize some of the aliens, but not without suffering their own casualties. Ripley is forced to take charge of the situation and face down an enemy that she knows all too well. In addition to Sigourney Weaver, ALIENS features the talents of 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.
Aside from the fact that the DVD edition ALIENS includes the 16:9 anamorphic enhancement, the most exciting thing about this disc is that 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has chosen to utilize the longer directors cut for this release. Restoring seventeen minutes of excised footage, the directors cut fleshes out the story quite a bit, plus it enhances Sigourney Weavers already outstanding performance. As many of you are well aware, the Laserdisc release of the directors cut of ALIENS was a visual disappointment. Fortunately, the THX certified DVD drastically improves many of that discs shortcomings. This superior transfer has significantly minimized the excessive level of film grain, which was the biggest problem on the Laserdisc. Sure, film grain is still somewhat visible in this new video incarnation, but it is not the objectionable mess that distressed so many Laserdisc collectors.
ALIENS has been framed at its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, without any significant loss at the extreme edges. The image is sharp and detailed, with good color reproduction and respectable saturation. Flesh tones are a bit pale at times, but for the most part, they appear natural. The blue lighting that Jim Cameron likes to use to represent night is reproduced perfectly on the DVD. Additionally, there is one sequence that utilizes red lighting; which was problematic on the Laserdisc. However, there isnt a hint of chroma noise or distortion anywhere on the DVD, including the red sequence. The black level on this DVD is superb and the contrast is also very pleasing to the eye. Digital compression artifacts are a non-issue, thanks to the use of dual layer technology, along with top of the line DVD authoring.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel re-mixed soundtrack is far better than the films vintage 1986 Dolby Surround track. The Laserdisc was anemic sounding in comparison to the DVD. Of course, no one is going to confuse this mix for that of a new movie, but it is still rather impressive. Most of the soundtracks power resides on the forward soundstage, with the surrounds providing the kind of ambience and fill that is common on a mid-eighties track. There is good channel separation in the front and the dialogue is clean and clear. Bass reproduction is pretty good and James Horners infamous Oscar nominated score sounds better than I remember it. A matrixed English Dolby Surround soundtrack has been encoded onto the DVD, along with English and Spanish subtitles.
The interactive menus are very well designed, with a nifty interface that offers both sound and full motion video. Of course, the standard scene and language selection features are available through the menus, plus one can also access the DVDs supplements. Extras include an interview with James Cameron from 1986, behind-the-scenes footage, theatrical trailers for all four films in the series, plus a photo gallery.
ALIENS is a great movie that looks and sounds great on DVD. The fact that this disc offers the directors cut of ALIENS is reason enough to acquire the DVD. Recommended.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has released ALIENS on DVD for $29.95 or as part of The Alien Legacy collection, a four film box set for $109.95.
reviews are Copyright © 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied
or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.