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"Alien Anthology" review: Fox's 2010 Blu-ray set is a must-get for Alien fans

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Alien Anthology

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On October 26, 2010, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment released the six-disc Blu-ray set titled “Alien Anthology.” This set contains an enhanced for high-definition version of the “Alien Quadrilogy” DVD set with new packaging, more extra features and a more immersive Alien-watching experience.

Packaging: One of the nice things about the way Fox updated the “Alien” films’ home video release for Blu-ray is the way it redesigned the packaging. The earlier “Alien Quadrllogy’s” fold-out digipack packaging consists of a somewhat flimsy slipcover and a foldout folder which holds all nine discs. In contrast, the “Alien Anthology” Blu-ray set is similar in design to the studio’s “ Star Wars: The Complete Saga” box set.

Like the 2011 “Star Wars” Blu-ray box set, the “Alien Anthology’ package resembles a hardcover book contained in a sturdy cardboard slipcover.

Both sections feature artwork patterned after the late H.R. Giger’s art for the first Alien feature. The slipcover features a view of the Alien creature’s head, while the book which holds the disc has Giger-esque designs on a black-green background. Both covers are labeled with the words “Alien Anthology” rendered in simple white letters which resemble the original 1979 film’s logo.

The “book” part has six Blu-ray disc “sleeves” in which the Blu-rays are stored. There is also an introductory page and an “endpaper” which recreates the movies’ poster credits but not the posters’ artwork.

There are also reproductions of stills from each film as pages in the book, as well as the taglines (“In space no one can hear you scream,” and so forth) and one-sentence summaries of the plots for each installment of the Alien saga.

Content:

Disc One: “Alien” Directed by Ridley Scott: “The terror begins as the crew of the spacetug Nostromo responds to a distress signal from a desolate planet, only to discover a deadly life-form that breeds within human hosts.”

Disc Two:Aliens” Directed by James Cameron: “After drifting through space in hypersleep for 57 years, the only survivor from the first Alien encounter accompanies a team of Colonial Marines back to LV-426..and this time it’s war.”

Disc Three: “Alien 3” Directed by David Fincher: “Ripley crash-lands on Fiorina 161, a bleak wasteland inhabited by former inmates of a maximum security prison, but an Alien was on aboard her craft…and the body count begins to mount."

Disc Four: “Alien Resurrection” Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet: “It’s been 200 years since Ripley made the ultimate sacrifice, but now a group of scientists has cloned her – along with the Alien Queen inside her – hoping to breed the ultimate weapon.”

Disc Five: “Making the Alien Anthology” This is essentially all the behind-the-scenes material found on all the “extra features” DVDs for each of the films, with some new video Enhancement Pods created exclusively for this collection.

Disc Six: “The Alien Anthology Archives” Like the three bonus discs of “Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray” set, the sixth disc of “Alien Anthology” contains featurettes and archival material related to each of the four movies in the “Alien Quadrilogy.”

There are, for instance, readable renditions of early drafts of the scripts for “Alien” and Alien Resurrection, as well as James Cameron’s original treatment for “Aliens.”

There are also tons of still galleries, reproductions of crew patches and other insignia used in the films’ costumes, concept art, plus promotional materials such as theatrical trailers and TV spots.

As in the “Star Wars: The Complete Saga” set’s Disc Nine, the sixth disc of “Alien Anthology” includes a section on parodies.

However, unlike the Star Wars saga’s plethora of Saturday Night Live skits, TV commercial spoofs, and fan-made films, this feature only showcases two very brief comedic riffs from “Spaceballs” and Family Guy.

These two snippets take up less than five minutes’ worth of viewing time and don’t really add anything to the overall viewing experience.

My Take: Even though I don’t own the nine-disc “Alien Quadrilogy,” I do have three of the two-disc DVD sets which were also released by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment in 2003. Essentially, the four “Alien” movies in the 2010 Blu-ray set and most of their related special features are carried over from the Quadrilogy collection and enhanced for high definition playback on Blu-ray players and HDTV sets.

Although the passage of time has made me a bit more tolerant toward the last two movies in the Alien saga, my original opinions about the series still stand. I believe that “Alien” and “Aliens” form a complete and satisfying story arc, while the other two movies aren’t really necessary additions to Ripley’s narrative. If “Alien 3” had not had the severe problems imposed upon director David Fincher by Fox’s need to release the movie by a certain date, that film would have been received a bit better by fans and critics.

Nevertheless, even though Fincher did all he could to make Alien 3 work, it is still a mess, no matter how good some of the visuals or performances may actually be.

About the 2010 “Alien Anthology” set: Because the DVD copy I own of “Alien 3” is a barebones 2004 re-issue and doesn't have the behind-the-scenes material that the Alien Anthology offers, I am now more aware of that film’s troubled history. The section on “Alien 3” in Disc Five contains the Quadrilogy edition’s making-of documentary in its entirety.

Considering that the studio and David Fincher had such a strained relationship during and after the production process of the movie, it’s interesting to note that 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment actually portrays the then-young director sympathetically. Some of the movie’s producers and Fox executives even admit that “Alien 3” was “a release date without an actual movie.”

Both the Quadrilogy and the newer Anthology sets present the four feature films in two versions: the theatrical editions from 1979, 1986, 1992 and 1997, and either Director’s Cuts or Special Extended Editions done for the 2003 DVD re-issue.

In my view, Ridley Scott’s “Alien” is not improved by the 2003 version. The 1979 original release version still works and doesn’t need the reinsertion of a deleted scene at all.

On the other hand, James Cameron’s “Aliens” has a richer storyline in the 1991 Special Edition, even if the additional material not seen in the 1986 original adds quite a bit of running time. “Alien 3” and “Alien Resurrection” are not really improved by their 2003 re-edits, but curious viewers might want to watch those versions at least once.

Thus, the only differences between the Quadrilogy and Anthology sets are – beyond the “extras” and interactive features – the improved sound and image clarity of the Blu-ray format.

The movies look and sound much better, of course, even though I recommend viewing “Alien 3” with subtitles even if you are not hearing impaired; the mostly-British cast tends to speak in sometimes hard-to-make-out accents, which makes some of the dialogue hard to understand.

The biggest complaint that I have about “Alien Anthology” is that the slipcover that holds the “book” is not exactly without its flaws. It’s sturdier than the thin paperboard slipcovers most DVD box sets usually come with, but my set’s was so snug that no matter how much I tried to extricate the book with the Blu-rays in it, the slipcover would not “let go" of its contents.

In sheer frustration, I had to tear the slipcover apart; fortunately, the “book” can be stored in a bookshelf or DVD storage “tower” with shelves.

On the whole, I recommend either the “Alien Quadrilogy” DVD set or its 2010 Blu-ray successor “Alien Anthology” to fans of the Alien saga.

Special Features

Disc 1: ALIEN

* * 1979 Theatrical Version

* * 2003 Director’s Cut with Ridley Scott Introduction

* * Audio Commentary by Director Ridley Scott, Writer Dan O’Bannon, Executive Producer Ronald Shusett, Editor Terry Rawlings, Actors Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton and John Hurt

* * Audio Commentary (for Theatrical Cut only) by Ridley Scott

* * Final Theatrical Isolated Score by Jerry Goldsmith

* * Composer’s Original Isolated Score by Jerry Goldsmith

* * Deleted and Extended Scenes

* * MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience with Weyland-Yutani Datastream

Disc 2: ALIENS

* * 1986 Theatrical Version

* * 1991 Special Edition with James Cameron Introduction

* * Audio Commentary by Director James Cameron, Producer Gale Anne Hurd, Alien Effects Creator Stan Winston, Visual Effects Supervisors Robert Skotak and Dennis Skotak, Miniature Effects Supervisor Pat McClung, Actors Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, Carrie Henn and Christopher Henn

* * Final Theatrical Isolated Score by James Horner

* * Composer’s Original Isolated Score by James Horner

* * Deleted and Extended Scenes

* * MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience with Weyland-Yutani Datastream

Disc 3: ALIEN 3

* * 1992 Theatrical Version

* * 2003 Special Edition (Restored Workprint Version)

* * Audio Commentary by Cinematographer Alex Thomson, B.S.C., Editor Terry Rawlings, Alien Effects Designers Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr., Visual Effects Producer Richard Edlund, A.S.C., Actors Paul McGann and Lance Henriksen

* * Final Theatrical Isolated Score by Elliot Goldenthal

* * Deleted and Extended Scenes

* * MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience with Weyland-Yutani Datastream

Disc 4: ALIEN Resurrection

* * 1997 Theatrical Version

* * 2003 Special Edition with Jean-Pierre Jeunet Introduction

* * Audio Commentary by Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Editor Hervé Schneid, A.C.E., Alien Effects Creators Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr., Visual Effects Supervisor Pitof, Conceptual Artist Sylvain Despretz, Actors Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon and Leland Orser

* * Final Theatrical Isolated Score by John Frizzell

* * Deleted and Extended Scenes

* * MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience with Weyland-Yutani Datastream

Disc 5: Making the Anthology

The Beast Within: Making ALIEN

* * Star Beast: Developing the Story

* * The Visualists: Direction and Design

* * Truckers in Space: Casting

* * Fear of the Unknown: Shepperton Studios, 1978

* * The Darkest Reaches: Nostromo and Alien Planet

* * The Eighth Passenger: Creature Design

* * Future Tense: Editing and Music

* * Outward Bound: Visual Effects

* * A Nightmare Fulfilled: Reaction to the Film

* * Enhancement Pods

Superior Firepower: Making ALIENS

* * 57 Years Later: Continuing the Story

* * Building Better Worlds: From Concept to Construction

* * Preparing for Battle: Casting and Characterization

* * This Time It’s War: Pinewood Studios, 1985

* * The Risk Always Lives: Weapons and Action

* * Bug Hunt: Creature Design

* * Beauty and the B*tch: Power Loader vs. Queen Alien

* * Two Orphans: Sigourney Weaver and Carrie Henn

* * The Final Countdown: Music, Editing and Sound

* * The Power of Real Tech: Visual Effects

* * Aliens Unleashed: Reaction to the Film

* * Enhancement Pods

Wreckage and Rage: Making ALIEN3

* * Development Hell: Concluding the Story

* * Tales of the Wooden Planet: Vincent Ward’s Vision

* * Stasis Interrupted: David Fincher’s Vision

* * Xeno-Erotic: H.R. Giger’s Redesign

* * The Color of Blood: Pinewood Studios, 1991

* * Adaptive Organism: Creature Design

* * The Downward Spiral: Creative Differences

* * Where the Sun Burns Cold: Fox Studios, L.A. 1992

* * Optical Fury: Visual Effects

* * Requiem for a Scream: Music, Editing and Sound

* * Post-Mortem: Reaction to the Film

* * Enhancement Pods

One Step Beyond: Making ALIEN RESURRECTION

* * From the Ashes: Reviving the Story

* * French Twist: Direction and Design

* * Under the Skin: Casting and Characterization

* * Death from Below: Fox Studios, Los Angeles, 1996

* * In the Zone: The Basketball Scene

* * Unnatural Mutation: Creature Design

* * Genetic Composition: Music

* * Virtual Aliens: Computer Generated Imagery

* * A Matter of Scale: Miniature Photography

* * Critical Juncture: Reaction to the Film

* * Enhancement Pods

* * MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience to Access and Control Enhancement Pods

Disc 6: The Anthology Archives

ALIEN

Pre-Production

* * First Draft Screenplay by Dan O’Bannon

* * Ridleygrams: Original Thumbnails and Notes

* * Storyboard Archive

* * The Art of Alien: Conceptual Art Portfolio

* * Sigourney Weaver Screen Tests with Select Director Commentary

* * Cast Portrait Gallery

Production

* * The Chestbuster: Multi-Angle Sequence with Commentary

* * Video Graphics Gallery

* * Production Image Galleries

* * Continuity Polaroids

* * The Sets of Alien

* * H.R. Giger’s Workshop Gallery

Post-Production and Aftermath

* * Additional Deleted Scenes

* * Image & Poster Galleries

* * Experience in Terror

* * Special Collector’s Edition LaserDisc Archive

* * The Alien Legacy

* * American Cinematheque: Ridley Scott Q&A

* * Trailers & TV Spots

ALIENS

Pre-Production

* * Original Treatment by James Cameron

* * Pre-Visualizations: Multi-Angle Videomatics with Commentary

* * Storyboard Archive

* * The Art of Aliens: Image Galleries

* * Cast Portrait Gallery

Production

* * Production Image Galleries

* * Continuity Polaroids

* * Weapons and Vehicles

* * Stan Winston’s Workshop

* * Colonial Marine Helmet Cameras

* * Video Graphics Gallery

* * Weyland-Yutani Inquest: Nostromo Dossiers

Post-Production and Aftermath

* * Deleted Scene: Burke Cocooned

* * Deleted Scene Montage

* * Image Galleries

* * Special Collector’s Edition LaserDisc Archive

* * Main Title Exploration

* * Aliens: Ride at the Speed of Fright

* * Trailers & TV Spots

ALIEN 3

Pre-Production

* * Storyboard Archive

* * The Art of Arceon

* * The Art of Fiorina

Production

* * Furnace Construction: Time-Lapse Sequence

* * EEV Bioscan: Multi-Angle Vignette with Commentary

* * Production Image Galleries

* * A.D.I.’s Workshop

Post-Production and Aftermath

* * Visual Effects Gallery

* * Special Shoot: Promotional Photo Archive

* * Alien 3 Advance Featurette

* * The Making of Alien 3 Promotional Featurette

* * Trailers & TV Spots

ALIEN RESURRECTION

Pre-Production

* * First Draft Screenplay by Joss Whedon

* * Test Footage: A.D.I. Creature Shop with Commentary

* * Test Footage: Costumes, Hair and Makeup

* * Pre-Visualizations: Multi-Angle Rehearsals

* * Storyboard Archive

* * The Marc Caro Portfolio: Character Designs

* * The Art of Resurrection: Image Galleries

Production

* * Production Image Galleries

* * A.D.I.’s Workshop

Post-Production and Aftermath

* * Visual Effects Gallery

* * Special Shoot: Promotional Photo Archive

* * HBO First Look: The Making of Alien Resurrection

* * Alien Resurrection Promotional Featurette

* * Trailers & TV Spots

ANTHOLOGY

* * Two Versions of Alien Evolution

* * The Alien Saga

* * Patches and Logos Gallery

* * Aliens3D Attraction Scripts and Gallery

* * Aliens in the Basement: The Bob Burns Collection

* * Parodies

* * Dark Horse Cover Gallery

* * Patches and Logos Gallery

* * MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience

Audio: English: 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio / Spanish: 5.1 Dolby Digital / French: 5.1DTS

Language: Dubbed: English, French & Spanish / Subtitled: English, French & Spanish

Theatrical Aspect Ratio: Widescreen:

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