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I feel as if all I have been doing lately is apologising for short and late reviews, but unfortunately they have been unavoidable due to the amount of lead time we’ve been given. Nowhere is this truer than with this long-awaited boxed set, which was requested back in August and sent to us the day after its retail release. Unfortunately this means that the review is going to be considerably less comprehensive than I would have liked, so I’ll try to concentrate on the important technical aspects rather than waffle on about the films in silly detail. If you're interested in this set you’ve probably already seen them anyway.

 Alien Anthology

Features


Alien
In the not too distant future the crew of the mining ship Nostromo is ordered to land on a hostile planetoid in order to investigate a mysterious distress signal. After discovering a derelict spaceship one of the group is attacked a parasite that 'impregnates' him with an alien embryo. Before long the creature bursts forth from his chest and matures at a staggering rate, stalking the remaining crew-members until only one woman—Ellen Ripley—remains.

In addition to Ridley Scott’s original theatrical cut the disc also contains the ‘Director’s Cut’ by way of seamless branching. While this cut contains approximately five minutes of additional footage Scott has made many subtle cuts for pacing, the end result of which is a movie that actually runs a few minute shorter than the theatrical version. It’s also worth noting that this is not a true ‘Director’s Cut’, as the decision to market it as such was made by Fox, not Ridley Scott.

 Alien Anthology
Aliens
Fifty-seven years after the events of the first film, a salvage crew recovers the sole survivor of the Nostromo incident. Ripley, who has been in stasis for the duration of her trip, is horrified to learn that everyone and everything she knew is gone and is tormented by nightmarish images in her sleep. Although less than enthusiastic when her employers request that she return to LV-426 she agrees in order to get her flight status reinstated. In the intervening years over fifty families have colonised the planet, but now that contact has been lost with the outpost a team of hard-as-nails Colonial Marines are being sent to investigate. Ripley tags along as an advisor, but when the team encounters an entire hive of alien beasts she must overcome her fears to rally the troops and save the day.

This disc contains both the original theatrical cut and the special edition of the film. The theatrical version omits a number of scenes that add depth to the characters, specifically that of Ripley and her motivation for saving Newt, the young girl orphaned by the aliens. Also missing are a couple of action sequences involving automated gun turrets. While not strictly necessary to further the plot, they do serve to highlight the aliens' intelligence and they also look pretty cool! Overall I’d have to say that I prefer the special edition to the theatrical cut, as it’s a more rounded film (and it’s also Cameron’s preferred version).

 Alien Anthology
Alien 3
The third instalment in the series sees the escape pod carrying Ripley, Hicks, Newt and Bishop crash-land on an inhospitable word known as Fiorina ‘Fury’ 161. The inhabitants of the planet—a group of maximum-security prisoners serving life terms—discover the wreckage and recover Ripley and the lifeless bodies of her companions. After a brief period of convalescence Ripley has not only to contend with the loss of her friends, but the harsh conditions on the penal word and an unwanted alien stowaway. Trapped on the planet with only rudimentary weapons Ripley and the convicts come up with a desperate plan to try and capture the beast, but there’s more going on than even Ripley first suspects.

As with the old 'Quadrilogy' set this release includes both the theatrical and assembly cuts of Alien 3. While not a true director’s cut (such a thing does not exist), a number of scenes have been axed and an additional thirty minutes of footage reinstated. This creates a ‘bastard’ cut; a sort of cross between the theatrical version and what director David Fincher might have originally intended. While interesting I wouldn’t say that this version is necessarily better than the theatrical cut as it still has a lot of problems. The pacing is off and there is generally very little suspense or horror (although gore levels are beefed up a bit).

 Alien Anthology
Alien: Resurrection
Set around two hundred years after Ripley’s apparent death on Fiorina 161, military scientists operating outside of regulated space have succeeded in cloning the late lieutenant. Their purpose for doing this is simple: they want the alien queen that Ripley is carrying within her. After they successfully extract the beast they begin to breed an army of warriors, but they didn’t count on some unexpected side effects of the cloning process resulting in a merging of characteristics between alien and human. Of course the aliens soon escape and it’s left to Ripley—and a bunch of shady mercenaries caught up in the proceedings—to try and stop the alien menace spreading to Earth.

The special edition of Alien Resurrection includes a number of subtle changes (and a few no so subtle ones). The main differences are the alternate opening and closing sequences which, it has to be said, are more of a curiosity than anything else. The opening is little more than an extended effects shot, while the much talked about Earth epilogue was a little anticlimactic for my liking. Still, while it’s obviously a flawed piece director Jean-Pierre Jeunet injects some much-needed pace into the series after the pedestrian third instalment. Alien Resurrection also has a comedic tone to it—albeit a very black one—with some impressive alien effects to boot. Unfortunately there are several plot points that conspire against it.

 Alien Anthology
It’s tough to say which of the films is my favourite. As with most people it comes down to a choice between the masterful original and Cameron’s gungho sequel. If I’m being honest I’d have to say that I can’t really chose between them, so I’m not going to. I’ll just enjoy them for what they are—two of the best examples of horror or sci-fi to be found. While I don’t loathe the remaining sequels quite as much as some people, I will concede that they’re vastly inferior to the first two films. However, the inclusion of the special edition versions of Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection should help to reinvigorate weary fans.

Video


The first two films in the franchise have been given the full restoration treatment, with their transfers supervised by their respective directors. Alien has been given a brand new 2.35:1 (1080/24p AVC) transfer with a very satisfying level of detail (accepting that Alien was a little soft to begin with) and some wonderful colour reproduction within the confines of the film’s rather limited palette. In fact, the colours have really been brought to the fore in this release, causing me to notice things I’d never seen before. Simply put, it blows all previous DVD releases away and gives a lot of modern films a run for their money as well. However, there are a few minor things that are probably worth mentioning. Some scenes exhibit signs of grain reduction, but it’s really not excessive. The framing is also different from all other home releases, with slightly less information on the sides, while geometry also looks altered. It’s quite subtle and I doubt anyone would notice without studying stills. On the whole this is a great effort and it’s likely to be the best looking version of the film most people will see until the next HD format comes along.

 Alien Anthology
Let’s move on to what is, for me, the most important film in the set from a visual standpoint. Previous releases of Aliens have been very grainy due to an unavoidable side-effect of the original cinematographic process. Prior to the release of this Blu-ray there was a worrying interview with Cameron in which he stated that they’d gone back to the film and removed all the grain. Many chose to take this literally, but I was cautiously optimistic. This uncharacteristic optimism has paid off, because there is still plenty of grain to be found in Aliens’ 1.85:1 (1080/24p AVC) transfer, it’s just not as heavy as before. Some of this is probably due to the enhanced resolution afforded by Blu-ray as much as digital scrubbing, but unlike some recent DNR nightmares the grain reduction has been applied very carefully resulting in an image that is still very detailed and film-like (save one or two shots). Colours have also been tinkered with, which is sure to annoy the purists, but I was never a fan of the old purple-tinted transfers and I like the new colour timing. It’s true that I’m generally against unnecessary tampering and revisionist filmmaking, but when a director of the quality of James Cameron says that this is the way his film is supposed to look I can’t really complain, especially when the end result is this good.

 Alien Anthology
Unlike the first two films in the set Alien 3 doesn’t benefit from a completely new master. However, that’s not to say that it looks bad, because there’s much to enjoy about the 2.35:1 (1080/24p AVC) image. Although somewhat softer than the previous two films, detail is still a considerable step up from the most recent DVD and there’s an extremely fine layer of unobtrusive grain throughout. The film doesn’t have the most colourful palette in the world, but the greys and browns of the various sterile prison environments and subterranean caverns all look fine. There doesn’t appear to be any particularly obvious digital tinkering, with no apparent edge enhancement of egregious DNR. On the negative side you will see the occasional film artefact. They’re not terribly distracting and are most obvious on effects elements, but it is unfortunate that they weren’t removed. These artefacts are one of the more obvious indicators that Alien 3 hasn’t received the care and attention lavished on the first two films, but that’s hardly surprising given its troubled history and critical standing. Even so, this is still probably the best looking version of the film we’re going to see for some time.

 Alien Anthology
Although it’s the newest film in the collection, Alien: Resurrection’s 2.35:1 (1080/24p AVC) transfer still only clinches third place for video honours. There’s a fine layer of grain visible at all times, and like all of the films in the set compression is much better than the DVD release. The palette is even more subdued than part three, featuring an abundance of earthen tones with the occasional splash of colour here and there. (Even the redesigned aliens take on a brownish appearance). Detail is surprisingly good for the most part and definitely superior to Alien 3, but then the film was shot Super35 rather than anamorphic so that’s to be expected. The image looks nice and clean throughout and there are no particularly obvious digital artefacts to report. To be perfectly honest early reports about the quality of this transfer certainly didn’t lead me to believe that it would be as impressive as it is, but I’m always glad to be pleasantly surprised.
 
 Alien Anthology

Audio


I’m not a huge audiophile, so this section will be much shorter than the video appraisal. With that said, there’s not a lot to choose between the soundtracks in the quality stakes as each film has been furnished with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack that sounds fabulous. Each film is tonally different, with the creepy, sparse sound design of Alien standing in stark contrast to the bombastic effects of Aliens. Going back to Alien for a moment, it’s full of tiny atmospheric touches that really help to transport you to the claustrophobic confines of the Nostromo. I was also extremely surprised by how powerful the bass was during landing on LV-426; it made my dog get up and move away from the sub! Dialogue sounds a little more artificial than the newer films, but it’s well-prioritised and clear. Aliens is generally more of the same, with the howling wind and torrential rain as the marines prepare to enter the colony setting the mood. There’s obviously a lot more action in this track, with pulse rifles, flamethrowers, smart guns and screeching aliens the main culprits. Both films also include their original theatrical mixes in Dolby Digital 4.1 (theatrical versions only).

 Alien Anthology
Alien 3 is not quite as remarkable as the earlier films. The most impressive aspect of the mix is probably the score, which is responsible for most of the tension. There are one or two moments where things get a bit lively—usually when the alien is on screen—but the third film always had the most sparse sound design. For me the most exciting news is that members of the cast were brought back into the studio to re-record lines of dialogue that were incomprehensible in the 2003 release of the assembly cut. This helps tremendously, removing what was the principal barrier to the enjoyment of the expanded version. Alien: Resurrection is more impressive, with a wider variety of effects to play with thanks to the more action-oriented set-up. While the score dominates the mix there are numerous other effects peppered throughout the film, such as Father’s omnipresent voice, weapons fire and alien screeches (to name but a few). Dialogue is rendered clearly throughout and bass also packs a wallop when needed, with Christie’s guns and the various explosions all sticking in the mind.

 Alien Anthology

Extras


Unfortunately this section of the review is the main casualty of receiving the set so late. Covering over sixty hours of bonus content would require more time than I have, so I’ll just say that you be hard pressed to find a more comprehensive collection on any format. Each feature disc includes audio commentaries and (sometimes multiple) isolated theatrical scores. The two remaining discs include a host of documentaries that cover every conceivable stage of production, including the uncut version of the making of Alien 3 entitled ‘Wreckage and Rage’. Each documentary is accompanied by ‘enhancement pods’, which branch off to further footage and bump the runtime up to silly levels. Two different cuts of the ‘Alien Evolution’ documentary are also to be found, along with the ‘Alien Saga’ piece. You’ll also find screen tests, deleted scenes, storyboards, still galleries, a script for the abandoned Korean 3D attraction, parodies ( Family Guy and Spaceballs) and much, much more. Each release features a new MU-TH-UR Mode, which is basically a clever way of accessing the bonus content. When activated it grants the viewer access to a range of features, such as branching video sections, text-based information and similar. The MU-TH-UR mode is available for all four films and some of the bonus material. If you’re interested in reading a more detailed account of the supplements you might want to check out the links section at the bottom of the page for my review of the old Quadrilogy. A good portion of the material found in this set is also present in that release, although obviously the MU-TH-UR mode isn’t available and a few of the documentaries are shorter. I should also mention the discs’ menus, which are all well-designed and themed accordingly. The only negative is that most of the material is only standard-definition, but that's unavoidable as it was originally filmed as such.

 Alien Anthology

Overall


There’s not much to say about this release other than “it’s awesome”. Fox has taken all the best bits of the DVD boxed set and enhanced them with new and innovative bonus content, while simultaneously providing exactly what Blu-ray fans were hoping for—great looking high-definition versions of the film with fantastic soundtracks. The fact that most UK retailers are selling the Anthology for less than forty pounds also represents astounding value for money when you consider that the DVD boxed set came along considerably later in that format’s life-cycle and cost close to fifty pounds (if you were Internet savvy). They’ve even fixed the dodgy name this time around, going with one that, you know, actually exists. That alone makes it worthy of buying in my eyes! Seriously though, if you’re even vaguely interested in the films this is an essential purchase. Just make sure you have plenty of time on your hands to wade through all of the bonus material, because for once it’s actually worth the time it takes.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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