New on Blu-ray: The Alien Anthology

Acid-spewing aliens have never looked more gorgeous than they do on Blu-ray. From 20th Century Fox comes the “Alien Anthology”, a gorgeous set that comes packaged inside a hardcover “book” case, and features all four installments in the “Alien” franchise (for now, at least, or until Ridley Scott gets those “Alien” prequels into theaters) along with bonus “Making the Alien Anthology” and “The Alien Anthology Archives” discs. Can you say, “Holy Mu-th-ur”?

Brace yourself for a whole new breed of Blu-ray: Four powerful films…eight thrilling versions…in dazzling, terrifying, high-def clarity with the purest digital sound on the planet. Two bonus discs and over 65 hours of archival and never-before-seen content, including the totally immersive MU-TH-UR mode feature, makes this definitive Alien collection!

Alien (1979)

One of the first movie scripts I ever read was for Ridley Scott’s “Alien”. It is one of the best examples of less being more, and also the best example of a director making more out of less. If you ever doubted Scott’s genius, then you haven’t seen how he translated Walter Hill’s very spartan script into the atmospheric masterpiece that is “Alien”.

Essentially a haunted house movie set in space, “Alien” took the “Jaws” approach with its monster, showing as little as possible but still managing to scare the hell out of you. The alien has since lost much of its mojo (especially after James Cameron’s gunfest aka “Aliens”), but it was one potent and bad mofo back in the day, and Scott knew how to ratchet up the fear quotient until it was almost unbearable.

In many ways, “Alien” was as seminal a film as Scott’s “Blade Runner”, in that it defined a lot of the perimeters of the genre for decades to come. In that respect, Scott’s “Alien” and James Cameron’s follow-up, “Aliens” probably marks the two most imitated films of all time. The fact that they both belong in the same series is no coincidence.

Special Features: The disc comes with two versions, the 1979 Theatrical Version and the 2003 Director’s Cut. The original cut features an audio commentary by director Ridley Scott made in 1999, while the 2003 Director’s Cut features a “new” (well, way back in 2003, anyway) commentary by Scott and the cast and crew, including Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, and Veronica Cartwright, and others. There are also six and a half minutes of additional footage in the deleted and extended scenes section.

Aliens (1986)

Although most people remember James Cameron’s “Aliens” as a powerhouse action movie that went balls-out, they forget that the film is all build-up for the first hour or so. Indeed, hardly anything violent even happens in the film until around the hour mark, when all hell breaks loose and the aliens attack. But when they attack, oh my did they attack.

It’s hard to believe that “Aliens” was one of Cameron’s earlier films, and one of the very first movies he ever attempted along with “The Terminator”, which came out in the same year. A fantastic, balls-to-the-wall action movie that didn’t spend a whole lot trying to scare you, “Aliens” instead went for the jugular in terms of adrenaline thrills. Oh sure, there are a moment or two when you can’t help but feel a thin sliver of fear climb up your spine, especially when the little buggers close in from all sides, but in its purest sense, “Aliens” is a war movie set in space.

The film certainly proved to be massively popular, and launched Sigourney Weaver’s career even further into the stratosphere. Cameron himself would go on to do bigger and better things in the realm of computer graphics, but “Aliens” remains one of his best, practical effects works. Not bad for someone who started his career doing props and sets for Roger Corman.

Special Features: The disc comes with two versions, the 1986 Theatrical Version and the 1990 Special Edition. There are over 20 minutes of deleted and extended footage; half takes place before the Marines land on the planet, and were obviously snipped for pacing. The later deleted scenes include the automated sentry guns, which are just cool. There is a full-length audio commentary with James Cameron and some of the cast and crew, including actors Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, and Carrie Henn (Newt).

Alien 3 (1992)

Hey, I know what would put us back on top — let’s take away the guns! Ooookay.

Taking the guns out of the franchise was supposedly the idea of star Sigourney Weaver (who was anti-gun at the time), and on paper it probably made a lot of sense, especially after James Cameron’s “Aliens” just six years earlier. How do you top “Aliens”? Easy: you go back to the original movie because, frankly, you’re not going to top Cameron’s sequel in terms of alien action. (“Alien: Resurrection” would test out that theory.)

Besides stripping itself of firepower, “Alien 3” shaved Sigourney Weaver’s head and set the whole shebang on a prison planet. The alien was supposedly potent again, though the movie was populated with a bunch of people you didn’t really care if they got eaten or not. The script also made the crucial sin of killing off Hicks and Newt while they were asleep. What a fucking joke.

On the bright side, “Alien 3” has the distinction of marking the feature-film debut of one David Fincher, who would go on to do wonderous things.

While unquestionably stylish and “different” from the first two movies, “Alien 3” reminds you of that saying about the genie being out of the bottle. It was foolish to try to go back in time to recapture the menace of the first movie in the aftermath of “Aliens.” In a lot of ways, Fincher and company, like their characters in the movie, were trapped in a no-win situation. Still, the results were interesting, in a train wreck sort of way.

Special Features: The disc comes with two versions, the 1992 Theatrical Version and 2003 Special Edition. There is a full length commentary from the cast and crew, including actors Paul McGann and Lance Henriksen, among others. The disc boasts nearly 50 minutes of deleted and extended scenes, though unfortunately none of it tells us why the filmmakers decided to fucking kill off Newt and Hicks before the damn movie even began. But I digress.

Alien: Resurrection (1997)

Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Resurrection” was a direct response to the failure of David Fincher’s “Alien 3”. Unlike that movie, which wanted to regress, “Resurrection” decided to move forward. The guns were back, and so were the hordes of aliens. Jeunet also added a distinctively European flair to the series, along with, er, a new kind of “relationship” between Ripley and her nemesis that have yet to be replicated, or indeed, no one has cared to touch since.

“Resurrection” also boasts an early screenwriting credit by one Joss Whedon, not to mention the curious casting of little indie darling (and pre-klepto scandals) Winona Ryder as an alien fighter. A Sarah Connor-bulked up Sigourney Weaver returns once again to battle the alien infestation, this time set onboard a military space station. A bunch of forgettable mercenaries, including Ron Perlman, provided the cannon fodder.

“Resurrection” wasn’t completely successful, but it does have plenty of fans — or at least, more than Fincher’s entry. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet certainly brought a lot of visual flair to the film, and the film is reminiscent more of James Cameron’s shoot’em up, with plenty of firepower and some last-minute revelations to spice things up. The film ends with a cliffhanger that paved the way for a follow-up sequel that never came.

Special Features: It comes with two versions, the 1997 Theatrical Version and a 1999 Special Edition. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet does a full-length audio commentary with the cast and crew, including Ron Perlman, among others. Deleted and extended scenes total around 12 minutes of additional footage.

The Rest:

The packaging is excellent. Small and compact, yet quality stuff that should stand the test of time. The anthology includes two extra discs, “Making the Alien Anthology” and “The Alien Anthology Archives”, both of which are chock full of goodies from the franchise. Honesty, if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll be spending days and days on these two discs alone. There are enough behind-the-scenes stuff here to choke a stable full of horses, and then some.

I already own pretty much every movie in the franchise on stand-alone DVDs before the Anthology came out, but to see them on Blu-ray is just outstanding. Add in all the additional footages, and I’m in acid-spewing alien heaven. If you love the series, this is a must-buy.

“The Alien Anthology” is currently available on Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox.