The Nerds discuss the work of director, writer, and undersea explorer James Cameron.
Hey there dear readers, Kevin Sutorius here. I come to you today with a new series, entitled Best o’ Boxes, covering some of my favorite and well-made box sets of movies and tv shows. Since there are a lot of box sets, I want to share with you the ones that make a difference.
For this first edition, I’m covering the Alien Anthology (which does not include Prometheus) on Blu ray. Although this set came out in 2010, this is a box set worth talking about, even today.
Before I jump into the review, I wanted to share something to give you a little perspective: It slightly bothers me when I hear people complain that it makes no sense to buy old movies on blu ray because “they’re not shot in HD.” When old movies (made before HD or digital cameras) are released on blu ray, they all go through a remastering process of some kind, and some are done MUCH BETTER than others. Alien, Aliens, Lawrence of Arabia, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jurassic Park, and Jaws are some of the best examples of how remastering can improve and enhance old movies. Now with that small tangent aside, here we go.
The Alien Anthology set includes remastered editions of:
•Alien (1979) theatrical release and Director’s Cut (2003)
•Aliens (1986) theatrical release and Special Edition (1991)
•Alien3 (1992) theatrical release and Special Edition (2003)
•Alien Resurrection (1997) theatrical release and Special Edition (2003)
•Special Features include: Audio commentaries (for all movie versions), deleted scenes, featurettes, archival documentaries, test footage, and more.
I obtained the Special Edition DVDs of Alien and Aliens when they came out in the early 2000s and had seen both versions of each film more than once. Most of the special features that came with those two movies are included in this set, but there are a lot more this time around. I only rented Alien3 and Alien Resurrection and watched the theatrical editions a couple times. I wasn’t really able to connect to such different entries to the Alien franchise.
The set comes designed like a book, with glossy card stock paper and a strong binding to keep the collection together. The collection sits comfortably in a cardboard sleeve to contain it and the size fits relatively well next to other blu rays. 20th Century Fox has been outputting the same design/layout like the Alien Anthology set with their other saga collections like the Star Wars Saga (which will DEFINITELY be covered soon) and the recently released Die Hard 25th Anniversary Collection.
The presentation of this movie in both versions is flawless (a vast improvement compared to its DVD predecessor). Expertly remastered in both picture and sound, this is truly an immersive experience, and nothing like you’ve experienced before. The picture contains no artifacts nor any flaws of any kind throughout both editions; the color levels are excellent and the color black is used to perfection with even tones and texture.
My father was one of the VERY FEW who got to
see this in a theater in 1979 San Francisco, with the first public THX sound system. This was a time when THX was still in the testing stages and Alien was their first film. He told me of the immersive and suspenseful experience he had, watching the movie with something close to 2.1 stereo surround sound. The story he told me about experiencing Alien then is akin to my experience of watching this on blu ray. The THX-certified 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound is perfect for any home theater setup and the picture quality is astounding. The atmosphere of the Nostromo is exemplified by the sound, which creates a very haunted and deserted ship. With subtle creaking sound effects coming through the rear speakers, it really sells the loneliness of space. Why, even the Xenomorph’s purr is so well done, it’s quite bone-chilling and goosebump-inducing.
Now you can’t compare an old remastered movie, that was shot on film, with something more modern like Prometheus (since that was shot digitally), but the benefit here with Alien is that it doesn’t really feel like a movie that was made in 1979; it feels more like a low-budget movie and I love that. I myself enjoy the Director’s Cut because it adds more elements and plot points to really connect you to the characters and the awful situation they’re in.
Score: Presentation-5 out of 5 / Movie-5 out of 5
Like Alien, this presentation in both versions is also flawless. There is some part of me that thinks Ridley Scott supervised the remastering of Alien and James Cameron supervised the remastering of Aliens because they seem like they would and both of these films helped shape both of their careers, but I have found no evidence of the sort. The THX-certified 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound is glorious, really enhancing the atmosphere of LV-426 and the abandoned colony there. The most notable sound that is better enhanced with this edition is the sound of the pulse rifle whenever if fires. The howl and screech that gun makes is really amplified to the point where it seems loud enough, like you’re actually firing the weapon yourself. The color tone is consists of mostly blue accents throughout the film, much like Alien was accented by the color black. The color range, although subdued, is still exemplary. Again, much like Alien, the visuals and special effects are really well preserved with this remastering, and still really holds up to today. Alien andAliens are two different genres of story, but they compliment each other so well, that is seems like Aliens is a natural progression in terms of story and action. I also prefer the special edition because it sets up and expands the Alien universe so well, that I was actually intrigued to learn more and more about what was going on in their world.
Score: Presentation-5 out of 5 / Movie-5 out of 5
Now then, onto what many claim to be the unworthy successor, to put it politely. There is one thing to note about this film: David Fincher, the director, was so turned off by the experience while shooting that he quit and abandoned the film altogether, thus forcing 20th Century Fox to edit the movie the way they wanted from the footage Fincher shot. That aside, onto the review of the presentation…
The first two movies of the franchise have very definitive color palates, Alienbeing black and Aliens being blue. Alien3 really has a warm and soft palate, with colors in the range of tan, beige, brown, and orange. Most notably, the end scene in the refinery really sells the orange color with true clarity and saturation, but sadly, it’s the only scene with real color range. The whole movie is supposed to evoke the imagery and environment of Alien in terms of an abandoned area, but there isn’t much dark and foreboding scenery like the Nostromo had.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, although not THX certified, still works really well, selling the point that the characters are in a prison, with a mix of both subtle and, sometimes, loud echoes coming from all the speakers. When it comes to the special effects, the film did suffer from subpar imagery compared to the previous two, but the remastering does help improve the visuals. Unfortunately, the film’s effects don’t really hold up today as well as the previous two. In terms of natural progression with the story and franchise, I see what the studio wanted, but I don’t think it’s what the franchise needed. Instead of having a story expanding the Alien universe & mythology, like Aliens did, the story was really contained, only really advancing in the last five minutes, which seemed forced. I didn’t really notice much difference between the theatrical and special editions of the movie, so I can’t comment on that. However, I will say that I am a sucker for director’s cut/special editions/expanded editions to see what the film could’ve offered.
Score: Presentation-4 out of 5 / Movie-2.5 out of 5
Oh my… this movie. If I ever get to meet Joss Whedon, I want to have a conversation with him on what story he set out to tell and what the studio forced him to change. I really love the concept but I think the execution was a little lackluster. It was what the franchise needed, like I mentioned earlier, but it seemed to play more on the politics rather than the overall story.
When it comes to this fourth entry, it really presents and plays on an industrial color palate. For example, there are more shades of grey (no, not 50) than the oranges, yellows, and greens. The picture is quite good, considering they had better film cameras to shoot with compared to Alien3. Plus, for the first time in the saga, the special effects were enhanced with CGI and it shows, although this was one of the first films to have creature-based computer animated images, apart from Jurassic Park obviously. Apart from the CGI, which doesn’t hold up as well as the effects from the first two films, the physical effects are still quite impressive and the visual presentation helps sell the texture of the creatures without applying a huge level of gloss on screen.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, like Alien3, does not get the THX certification, but is solid all around. The echoes of the various ships and containers really helps create the environment and the Xenomorphs finally seem to have more than two sounds than a growl and a purr. Again, like Alien3, I don’t remember there being a big difference between the theatrical release and the special edition, so I can’t really comment on the preferred version, but I am a sucker for special editions, whether it was the director’s choice or the studio’s.
Score: Presentation-4 out of 5 / Movie-2.0 out of 5
According to the packaging, I have spent about 20 out of the possible 60+ hours with the all the documentaries, and all the featurettes of all four films. While the featurettes were on the DVD releases of all four films, the documentaries are all new. Each one clocks in about 2 to 3 hours long and they’re all fascinating. To hear from all the directors (except Fincher), major producers, and writers was very engaging for an Alien fan like me. The presentation mixes with standard definition footage from all four films and high definition of the interviewees, while the audio is a standard 2.0 track, with clips from the movies in remastered form added in between behind-the-scenes footage every now and then. As someone who loves special features, 20th Century Fox went all out and made some great additions to an already impressive box set.
Score: Presentation-5 out of 5
This collection is a great one. Although 2 out of the 4 movies are not nearly as good, the special features should win you over with the plethora of knowledge and interesting production stories that shaped one of the most well-known sci-fi franchises of all time. I spent about $40 when I bought it, and now, amazon.com is selling it for $33.90 (as of July 16th). If you have a PS3 or a blu ray player, along with a nice HDTV and surround sound system, this is a solid collection to share with fellow movie fans, friends, or family to experience terror because, “In space, no one can hear you scream.”
Score: Presentation-4 out of 5 / Collection: 4 out of 5 / Recommended!!