Before I begin my review of the ALIEN QUADRILOGY, first let me give you a primer so you'll understand what kind of fan I am of these movies: I consider Ridley Scott's ALIEN and James Cameron's ALIENS two of my favorite films ever, and Scott's work perhaps the most important horror film since the early days of cinema-making. When I heard that Fox was making a new edition of the four ALIEN films, with new unseen material not included in the preexisting ALIEN LEGACY DVD box set, it sounded like something that I wouldn't be interested in owning. The LEGACY set that I have includes the deleted scenes from the first two films, and apart from owning the theatrical editions of the latter two ALIEN films, I wouldn't be interested in spending a hundred dollars of my money for something my skeptical nature assumed to be a cash grab.
So now that you know what kind of jaded and cynical bastard I am, here I sit today and offer you these words: do not walk to your favorite video store and buy the ALIEN QUADRILOGY; instead, stop reading this review, run out this very minute, get in your car and buy it now, today. If you don't have the money, find whomever you need to before Christmas and grovel for this set to be under your tree. If you have the bucks, don't wait for Christmas, buy it right now.
Even with the rising advent of DVDs loaded with extended director's cuts or two or three-disc sets jam packed with extra material, the people behind the production of these things are practically anonymous. That's why it's important that you know the name of the producer responsible for the making of the QUADRILOGY, a fellow by the name of Charles de Lauzirika. Lauzirika and his team have put together an ALIEN box set for the fans who have loved these cinematic nightmares since they first graced the movie screen. Every ounce of this set oozes attention to detail, to delivering the highest quality experience that these films deserve. In short, these guys deserve to win goddamn awards for the QUAD. The set marks a new benchmark for excellence that will be felt by every other DVD producer that works on a franchise compilation from now on, period.
Yes, I know I'm gushing, but the QUADRILOGY is that friggin' good.
Now, the review: I've broken it up into four sections. The first, which will run on the site today, handles the ALIEN discs. The second part of my review covers ALIENS, followed by ALIEN 3 and then ALIEN RESURRECTION discs, with the bonus ninth disc of supplemental material also covered. Got it? Good.
1. The one that started it all: ALIEN.
As is the case with all ALIEN films on the QUADRILOGY, the original theatrical cut of the ALIEN film as well as its expanded (in this case the 2003 DIRECTOR'S CUT) edition are included together. The difference between ALIEN and the DIRECTOR'S CUT amounts to director Ridley Scott choosing to shave and trim some scenes and include ones he chose to edit from the original 1979 film; ultimately, out of all the expanded ALIEN films, Scott's DIRECTOR'S CUT of ALIEN has the least amount of new material. He simply doesn't need it: the original film still remains one of the most shocking, scary films of all-time.
For brevity's sake I'll assume by now you know the stories of these four films (if not, the IMDb awaits you). For the DIRECTOR'S CUT and the original film, Scott and Lauzirika digitally remastered the film. The result is a clarity for ALIEN that really and truly sets a benchmark for what DVD technology can deliver to the home audience. Much of ALIEN is filled with dark shadows and since there is one full disc devoted to solely the presentation of the movie, there's no compression artifacting happening at all. From the shadowy hallways of the Nostromo to the spooky interiors of the Space Jockey's ship, this film is simply amazing to look at. If you look at the clarity and color of such classic moments as the pullback showing the Nostromo explorers finding the fossilized Jockey, or Ripley's peeking around a hallway corner as Mother counts down to her imminent destruction, the movie is simply flawless to watch. On a widescreen LCD or plasma screen, this remastered edition of ALIEN would be heaven to see.
I'm going to be honest and say I didn't get the time to review the commentary for any of the ALIEN films, and my reasons are that there is simply so much of the bonus material on the second discs and honestly, once I realized how amazing this set is, I don't want to rush through these commentaries. It would be like slamming down a soda instead of savoring a fine wine for your dinner. But there is a commentary for ALIEN featuring Scott, writer Dan O'Bannon, Exec Producer Ron Shusett, Editor Terry Rawlings and actors Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton and John Hurt (why Yaphet Kotto isn't included is unknown but chances are he was asked; everything except the kitchen sink is in here.) If you own the ALIEN special edition DVD offered from Fox a couple of years ago, then you're already familiar with a commentary by Scott. Guess what? This is new.
Disc two is the ALIEN supplemental material. I'm going to warn you now: book time off from friends and family. Explaining it all would be a waste of bandwidth; you can go visit Amazon and see a list of all the material that's included on every one of the supplemental discs. What I want to tell you is that, quite simply, the supplemental material for all these films exceeded my expectations. There is a treasure trove of never-before-seen footage of Scott making the film and of H.R. Giger designing the sets and his creatures. There are new interviews with the actors reminiscing about the production, their expectations, reservations, grievances and the unexpected benefits arising from starring in the film. Similarly, the same interviews are conducted and presented for most of the principal players working behind the scenes, such as the casting director remembering what it was like searching for the talent; the editor discussing his cut of the film; and Scott recalling his work on the movie from start to finish. Surprisingly, and again to the credit of producer Charles de Lauzirika, the interviews and their presentations offer the viewer answers to unresolved (and sometimes previously unknown) questions about the making of ALIEN. Watching it all (and believe me, it's addictive), the most important impression I'm left with now more than ever is that the making of ALIEN shows what can happen right for a mainstream film that gets made by committee. ALIEN is greater than the sum of its parts because everyone involved with its creation gave precisely the right amount of creativity needed, and the right decisions to changes in the script, or casting, or production design were made. You watch these interviews and realize that O'Bannon didn't have a classic script to start with but that he had the makings of it; ALIEN became a classic movie just as much thanks to producer David Giler, Fox Chairman Alan Ladd and their sometimes corporate decisions just as much as the wherewithal of Ridley Scott knowing when to stand his ground and ignore the studio's recommendations, or the contributions of Giger.
The supplemental material is broken up into three sections: pre-production, production and post-production. Inside each section there are anywhere from 9 to 12 featurettes each running somewhere between ten to forty minutes in length. For example, there is over an hour of new interviews just for the production section alone on ALIEN and that's not counting the multi-angle scene breakdown of the Chestburster scene or photo galleries or the final draft of O'Bannon's screenplay or the art galleries or poster designs or...you get the idea by now, right? Like I said, make plans. Book your vacation. Say goodbye to your friends, family and EVERQUEST for a couple of weeks.
Certain featurettes, such as "Future Tense" which examines the score to ALIEN, or "Outward Bound: Visual Effects" will probably appeal more to die-hard ALIEN fans or those interested in the filmmaking process than the creature design shorts. Nevertheless, they were all utterly fascinating to watch and resulted in many late nights spent glued to my screen. For a shoot that took place over 20 years old, much of this material (such as Sigourney Weaver's original screen test for the part of Ripley, or the footage of the original actor hired to play Kane) is brand new and virtually unheard of to be included in any DVD of a movie older than when the format was first invented six years ago. The mind boggles as to what kind of box set the ALIEN QUAD team could make if they got their hands on Paramount's STAR TREK franchise. If only...
Aficionados of ALIEN's deleted scenes will appreciate that the infamous "Cocoon" scene and the others found on the original ALIEN laserdisc and DVD are included on the QUAD. The one scene that is missing in its original presentation is the moment when the crew listens to the prerecorded message the Space Jockey made. For the DIRECTOR'S CUT, Scott chose to re-edit the sound effect of the Jockey and it's completely different in the newer version from what is heard on the earlier version. Personally, I prefer the eerie, unsettling sounds that the first Jockey made. If I heard that coming from the ship's speakers no damn way I'd be setting foot on that planet.
Fox will be releasing a stand-alone two-disc set of ALIEN next month, and for that reason I've chosen to review each film and bonus material. ALIEN gets my highest recommendation and deserves to be among the very elite of DVD titles such as the LORD OF THE RINGS Extended Editions. For a film considered by many to be among the very best science fiction or horror experience ever made, ALIEN has finally gotten the five-star treatment it deserves. This edition should be in every DVD owner's collection.