Alien (1979) was so perfect it didn't need fixing, and Ridley Scott's 2003 Director's Cut is fiddling for the sake of it. Watch once then return to the majestic, perfectly paced original. Conversely the Special Edition of James Cameron's Aliens (1986) is the definitive version, though it's nice finally to have the theatrical cut on DVD for comparison. Most interesting is the alternative Alien3 (1992). This isn't a "director's cut"--David Fincher refused to have any involvement with this release--but a 1991 work-print that runs 29 minutes longer than the theatrical version, and has now been restored, remastered and finished-off with (unfortunately) cheap new CGI. Still, it's truly fascinating, offering a different insight into a flawed masterpiece. The expanded opening is visually breathtaking, the central firestorm is much longer, and a subplot involving Paul McGann's character adds considerable depth to the story. The ending is also subtly but significantly different. Alien Resurrection (1997) was always a mess with a handful of brilliant scenes, and the Special Edition just makes it eight minutes longer.
On the DVD: Alien Quadrilogy offers all films except Alien3 with DTS soundtracks, the latter having still fine Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation. All four films sound fantastic, with much low-level detail revealed for the first time. Each is anamorphically enhanced at the correct original aspect ratio, and the prints and transfers are superlative. Every film offers a commentary that lends insight into the creative process--though the Scott-only commentary and isolated music score from the first Alien DVD release are missing here--and there are subtitles for hard of hearing both for the films and the commentaries.
Each movie is complemented by a separate disc packed with hours of seriously detailed documentaries (all presented at 4:3 with clips letterboxed), thousands of photos, production stills and storyboards, giving a level of inside information for the dedicated buff only surpassed by the Lord of the Rings extended DVD sets. A ninth DVD compiles miscellaneous material, including a Channel 4 hour-long documentary and even all the extras from the old Alien laserdisc. Exhaustive hardly begins to describe the Alien Quadrilogy, a set which establishes the new DVD benchmark for retrospective releases and which looks unlikely to be surpassed for some time. --Gary S Dalkin
An additional four discs containing new, detailed commentaries, interviews, multi-angle anamatics, pre-production, production and post production featurettes, 252 pages of Stan Winstons fascinating workshop, screenplays and intriguing easter eggs. The final bonus disc contains rare still archives, theatrical and television trailers, interviews and fascinating special effects footage.
The 9 DVDs comprise both the original theatrical releases and extended director's cuts of all 4 movies. Audio and visuals have been tweaked to a noticeable degree to optimise home enjoyment. If you don't already possess a surround-sound system - buy one now!
The documentary disks accompanying each movie are crammed full of fascinating material - storyboards, backstage candid shots and tons of insightful and amusing interviews with the directors, producers, actors etc. One of the highlights for me being the Aliens 3 supplemental disk, which recounts the amazing story of the abortive "wooden monastery" first draft and the huge problems that beset the third installment. I wonder if one of the proposed taglines for another draft of Alien 3 - "On Earth *everyone* can hear you scream" may yet be used for a 5th movie? Also, seeing the legendary H.R. Giger at work in his bone-filled mausoleum of a studio was truly captivating.
Everyone is familiar with the movies themselves, so just a few brief words will suffice on each;
Alien: a sublime and seminal blend of intelligent sci-fi and gothic horror. Totally blew me away when I first saw it in '78 and it can still shock and grab you by the guts today. I prefer the theatrical release, as the extended version lacks a little pace in the denouement due to superfluous scenes - 10/10.
Aliens: Not quite the stunning claustrophobic impact of the first movie, but the breathless action easily compensates. Go for the special edition here for the more meaningful intro and the poignant scene where Ripley finds out about her daughter - 10/10.
Alien 3: Director's cut is *FAR* superior here - why the abbatoir scene and the nascent "bambi" alien were cut from the theatrical version is truly baffling. The strongest characterisation and human interest of the entire series, although the ending appears somewhat rushed and is not entirely satisfactory - 8/10.
Alien Resurrection: Generally held to be the weakest of the series (I agree), Jeunet dilutes the alien impact with some whimsical direction and downright annoying characterisation. In places Alien 4 descends, disappointingly, into black comedy. Cult actor Ron Perlman is great though and the alien effects are excellent. Stick with the slicker theatrical version - 6/10.
So, whilst I am not a great fan of the 4th installment, this collection, especially now at this bargain price, undeniably represents excellent value for money and is an indispensible purchase for the serious sci-fi fan. The Alien Quadrilogy is what DVD systems were made for!
This new box set sees the re-release of the first four films of the series. I say ‘first four’ as next year will see the release of the long-awaited Alien vs. Predator film, to be followed (if successful) by Alien ‘5’. Box sets by nature are tricky things – when buying one it’s always useful to be aware that the studio will most likely release another box set in years to come with yet more bonus features added – as is true in this case. For those of you who bought the Alien Legacy box set – my sympathy – as the new Alien Quadrilogy appears to have it all…
So what’s new?
Well, this time we have the directors cut of Alien – clocking in at 40 seconds shorter than the original, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you were getting less value for money than the ‘79 release. However, Scott’s new cut works well – giving a nip and tuck here and there – trimming off some of the fat so to speak. For those of you who found some of the slower moments of the original hard to sit through – the new version should provide some welcome relief as whilst the air of tension and suspense is still maintained – the pace of the film is quicker. It is also worth noting that the new version also incorporates the much vaunted Dallas cocoon sequence – available only as a deleted scene on previous DVD editions. Whether it works in the final cut is a matter of personal opinion, but for this reviewer – whilst intrigued to see it, my belief is that if wasn’t deemed good enough to make the initial print – then there’s no reason it should really be in the new one. Hard-core fans of the series will no doubt be glad to see its reinsertion though.
The other big new addition is David Finchers work print of Alien 3. Whilst many films have scenes re-shot or removed from the final print – it is interesting to see how much was actually removed from Alien 3 – to put it mildly – there’s quite a bit. In some places it merely fleshes out the story – perhaps giving an image or a sound to an obvious suggestion in the original cut, but in others it gives an entertaining twist on the plot of the film – perhaps most notable of all is the revelation that in the original script the Alien was to be spawned from an Ox – indeed much of the footage was shot with prosthetics, but it was only when the director realised how difficult an ox was to train that they abandoned the concept and re-shot the footage with a dog instead.
In addition to this, Aliens & Alien Resurrection are both faithfully reproduced here – both have bonus features on the additional discs unseen before, but little that’s new is brought to the table. The films themselves are superb pieces of fiction – fascinating on many levels and equally gruesome. Alien and Alien 3 are both masterpieces of suspense and storytelling, Aliens is every action film fans wet dream and Resurrection, whilst by no means the best of the series, is certainly a vastly entertaining film.
Whether or not this box-set is either definitive or a ‘must buy’ remains to be seen, but for fans who have yet to buy any of the movies on DVD I recommend this highly. For those of us with the Alien Legacy box set – my advice is to wait – these editions will almost inevitably be re-released along with any or all of the newer instalments in the years to come.
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