ALIENS Blu-ray Review

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The still-amazing ALIENS features stunning audio, terrific video, and a wide variety of well-made supplements.

If ALIENS ranks as the best Science-Fiction horror film of all time, ALIENS has to rank up there among the best Science-Fiction action films.  Gritty, brutal, and engrossing from the moment the title card emerges, it thrilled audiences for its willingness to take bold risks.  Although no one wore a red uniform, everyone was expendable, a thought foreign to most directors at the time.  ALIENS elevated Director James Cameron into super-stardom, but it also legitimized Actress Sigourney Weaver as an A-lister by granting her with a tough, brash character surrounded by memorable lines and incredible action.  Its re-re-packing offers nothing new, begging the question of whether audiences will shell out the current price to get something they already have.

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Stranded 57 years after her encounter with the Xenomorph, Ripley (Weaver) is discovered by a salvage team, her looks unchanged as the cryogenic sleep has left her with no idea of how long she’s been away.  Her employer Weyland-Utani Industries still wants some answers as to the events surrounding the attack, and soon she is dismissed and relegated to her quarters.  But when the long-standing terra-forming colony at LV426 – unaware of the events surrounding ALIEN – is attacked by the same Xenomorphs, Ripley is asked to act as an adviser as a division of Space Marines is dispatched to rescue the colonists.   Unfortunately, the cocky team lead by Sgt. Apone (Al Matthews) is not prepared for the coming onslaught, leaving only the mouthy Hudson (Bill Paxton), Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn), and a few others to survive the final battle with a mass of Alien creatures.  As Ripley and the only survivor of the colony Newt (Carrie Henn) race to the rescue vessel, both face off against the Xenomorph Queen as the colony disappears in a nuclear cloud.

To say ALIENS is a ‘thrillride’ is understating just how incredible an experience it still is after almost 20 years. It’s safe to say that people don’t make films like this anymore, with every scene shot on stages with practical effects and models, lending a measure of reality that today’s green screens simply cannot match.  Sure, CGI and other visual effects save money, but when you hear that directors are moving to a balance between the two, one realizes its importance.  ALIENS set a bar by which every Sci-Fi/Fiction film has used in some way to varying degrees of success: the ‘lived-in’ future, militaries being sent into space, the economic greed of mega-corporations, etc.  Cameron’s script also features some of the best and most quotable lines in film history, including Paxton’s “Game over, man!”  He and Biehn continue to live off their roles, and who can blame them?  If you walked out of the theatrical versions NOT uttering their lines – or at least not enjoying their performances, you would have been laughed into your car.  They’re not Oscar winners – none here are – but Cameron’s script gives everyone something to do, builds their tiny universe up in time to wipe them out, and puts Weaver on a collision course with the Queen at just the right time.

Paul Reiser as the Weiland rep plays creepy quite well, venturing far beyond MAD ABOUT YOU’s rather whimsical comedy, while Lance Henriksen as the ‘artificial person’ Bishop actually emerges as the nice guy/robot, and whose death scene is a huge surprise near film’s end.  Although I wish Composer Jerry Goldsmith could have been retained for the sequel, James Horner turns in a functional and powerful heartbeat that works especially well as the escape ship leaves LV-426.  But this is Cameron’s baby, and both the writer and director excel in every way.  In ALIENS, we see Cameron’s brilliance in mixing themes of  redemption (Ripley) with great dialogue and the greedy corporate structure that is strangely prophetic in its current hunt for power.  The idea that a tough woman could be the rescuer of men was a new concept at the time, something that Cameron has visited time and time again

Much like BLADE RUNNER, Cameron’s third directorial effort has been elevated by the mythos surrounding its production, sadly forwarded by 20th Century Fox’s lack of vision for the film.  Deemed too long by the studio, it was cut to 147 minutes, with Cameron having to fight for every scene that got left in.  This led to fans demanding to see the director’s cut, almost creating the sub-genre overnight, as the updated version arrived on VHS in 1990.   With every scene replaced, the film takes on a deeper story, furthered by the reveal that Ripley had a now-deceased daughter, giving her time with Newt all the more meaning.

ALIEN is a must-see in whatever form you can grab it.  Fox, hoping that audiences desiring only this and ALIEN, have separated the Anthology release, but also have left out Discs 5&6, which leaves huge gaps in the Supplements, which you can read below.  Still, it’s an incredible and enduring adventure that’s never been matched by later installments.

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ALIENS originally arrived in its Anthology set with MPEG-4/AVC transfer that was simply duplicated for the single-disc release.  The result is still gorgeous, with every aspect of 21st Century movie-making technology on display.  Simply put, this transfer is as clean and sharp as any recent film I’ve seen, and certainly better than most library releases.  I remember the DVD print looking sufficiently dirty; not here.  With a 4k transfer from the master print, we can enjoy every aspect of Cameron’s film, perfectly blending the sharpness of his LV-426 sets with just enough grain to give it that cinematic feel.  Destroyed hallways are finely detailed, Marine’s uniforms show tears, and the practical effects of the Sulaco look almost lifelike.  Those few space scenes are gorgeous, while the ‘exterior’ shots of the colony look like our team was really inserted in a far-away territory with hundreds of Xenomorphs behind them.  Color is balanced perfectly, with both human and non-human features enjoying equal attention.  Sweat on Gorman’s brow, blood on the bodies of the colonists, and dirt on Newt’s face show the grittiness of Cameron’s universe.  Individual facial lines and Weaver’s curly hair show off individual strands, especially as the unit is attacked in Chapter 21.  Just like ALIEN, the transfer is so good that one can notice pores on Ripley’s face, while Bishop’s innards look as real as possible for a robot.

It’s hard to argue with the transfer acumen behind ALIENS, excelled by few in Hollywood, resulting in a simply stunning effort.

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ALIENS arrives with a spectacular DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, sounds more like a 7.1, producing a powerful cinematic experience.  It starts in the forward speakers, which highlight a mix of music and sound effects, leaving the center channel to enjoy a completely isolated dialogue track.  Xenomorphs hiss, Horner’s score prances, and Sulaco’s APC and UD4L Cheyenne Dropships roar through every speaker.  Sound effects move effortlessly from left to right, especially Chapter 25 when the Dropship gets taken out.  A final strength of the track lies in the LFE, which pulses, pounds, and thumps with chest-exploding results. Every attack, musical effect, and explosion are all magically captured with ear-bleeding results.  Like ALIEN, Fox has done another extraordinary job with ALIENS, cementing its place among the best restored films.

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Just like its predecessor, ALIENS arrives with some of the best special features ever on one disc.  This is the way a home release is done right, complete with one of the most innovative menus I’ve ever seen.  Everything here is presented in HD:

  • MU-TH-UR Mode: This is an interactive “experience” that can be turned on and off while watching the film.  Essentially, you’re given an interface on both sides of the screen, with four choices.  The interface allows you to do things like listen to the isolated score by Composer Jerry Goldsmith, switch to audio commentaries that are listed below, while at the same time read from the Weyland-Yutani Datastream, which presents story anecdotes, production details, and various trivia from the film.  Due to the location of the interface – which covers a portion of the screen – you’ll want to delve into it after watching both the theatrical and extended cuts.  The one problem here is one of the disc’s most interesting features: the “data tags”.  While engaged in this mode, you can select an item from the ‘Visual’ section as a sort of bookmark.  Under normal circumstances, you could simply select the item and it would pop up in the interface or pause the movie to play it.  However, you have to access it using Discs 5 & 6 of ANTHOLOGY, which are not included in this release. Clicking on the item merely disappears when you try to access it. If anyone out there can provide me with details to access the tags without using the other discs, I would be happy to re-review this portion.  Otherwise, MU-TH-UR Mode is still splendid and will provide you with literally hours of content.
  • 1986 Theatrical Version (2:17:14)
  • 1990 Special Edition (2:34:26): After a 0:34 introduction from Cameron – in which we learn why he prefers this one over the original – we get into my personally-preferred version of Aliens.
  • 2003 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: Cameron and the cast/crew discuss several aspects of the film.  The track is informative, especially those that were added into the Special Edition.  There is also a commentary in the 1996 theatrical version, although what you get is a truncated version that does not discuss any of the deleted scenes.
  • Final Theatrical Isolated Score by James Horner: For both versions, we get a Dolby Digital 5.1 experience, which features no dialogue at all.  It’s not often that we’re gifted with such an amazing feature, so enjoy it.  As each piece begins, we get a title card of Horner’s title.
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes (19:57): This is only available in the 1986 version, as 1990 Special Edition already incorporates the footage.
  • Deleted Scene Footage Marker (1990 version of the film): Selecting this option allows you to see which footage was added, as a small “x” icon appears on the lower right corner of the screen.

Even the menu is extraordinary, filled with neat breakdowns of the Xenomorph and distorted video streams.

Our evaluation copy arrived in a non-slipcase edition Eco-Amaray with no interior artwork.  The cover is new, which might appeal to some of the superfans, but it’s ultimately nothing inventive.  Regardless of these inconsistencies, I’ve decided to award this five stars due to its wealth of features, even if the sacred fifth and sixth discs are not included.   This is probably the packaging we’ll have until the 40th anniversary edition, which under certain conditions might be worth your time.  I’ll explain why below.

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The re-re-repackaging of ALIENS is just as amazing as its brethren ALIEN.  And much like the other releases in this set, one has to ask if interest is still there when a more complete version is available. ALIENS is still an amazing experience, but at current pricing, it’s still cheaper to buy the ANTHOLOGY set, even if ALIEN 3 and RESURRECTION amount to nothing better than throwaways.  There is absolutely no difference between the disc in the standalone case and the one in the box set.  In some cases you can get PROMETHEUS added at only a minor cost.  In every way, Fox’s transfer is solid, from the crystal-clear video to the heart-pounding audio.  The lack of the fifth and six discs is frustrating, which might drive towards a larger investment and hopefully a more enjoyable experience.

ALIENS is rated R for monster violence and language and has runtimes of 137 and 154 minutes.

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About the author

Besides being an ardent burrito eater and an exceptional sleeper, Matt shares in your passion for all things movies and Blu-ray. He also loves special editions and is known to triple-dip on command.