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The first of the quadrilogy, Alien, started it with the story of the commercial spaceship Nostromo, which is heading for home when it begins receiving a repetitious signal from a nearby planet and is obliged to investigate. On landing, Kane (John Hurt) is attacked by an alien that attaches itself to his helmet and the scouting party returns to the Nostromo, where the octopus-like alien quickly asserts itself as an indestructible life-form adapting to its environment. Any environment. The crew is killed off (not always by the alien) until only Third Officer Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is left to defend the Nostromo and try to save herself – and the ships’ cat, Jones. The three sequels follow Ripley into a variety of extraordinary adventures, through planetary war (Aliens), to a prison escape movie (Alien 3) and ultimately her Resurrection – along with the alien queen inside her.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Since it’s unlikely that anyone would buy this box set for the bonus materials, the first thing to note is the superb quality of the films themselves in this immaculately produced package. Considering it’s been 25 years since the first one was made, the digital wizardry that went into remastering the pictures and the crisping of the sound on all four films is remarkable.

But the second thing to note is that the volume of bonus materials is matched (overall) by the quality. I don’t mean technical quality of production, but the editorial quality. For example, the bonus stuff for Alien 3 (which you can choose to ‘play all’ and just sit back) begins not with the usual self congratulatory celebration some DVDs carry, but a self flagellation by the core creatives for what they didn’t manage to achieve. It goes on to a profoundly honest and detailed deconstruction of how and why the project was so ill conceived.

There is Renny Harlin, who was going to direct. There is Vincent Ward who wrote a wild screenplay just to get out of Australia to Hollywood – and was going to direct. How he was fired. Why he was glad he was. And how nobody envied David Fincher when he came on board as the director to make the film.

The studio doesn’t come out looking brilliant, but the truth sets you free, doesn’t it, guys? In short, this is a fascinating post mortem, and one that puts the whole filmmaking process in perspective: as one studio exec puts it, the film was originally seen as not so much a movie as a ‘release date’ to capitalise on the success of Alien and Aliens. But as Ward points out, whereas Alien had little to lose with a then small star, Alien 3 had everything to lose. So did Fox; this was the movie Fox was banking on for the year.

This in itself is rare, and elevates the box set to something above average. There is history, cinematic trivia by the truckload, insights and revelations galore in this box set – and the films. Whatever the troubles with Alien 3, it’s still a powerful film, as are all four, each in their own way. Each director uses elements of the original, though, the one that set the benchmark.

Better than most of today’s big budget sci-fi/horror films, Alien became a classic the moment it was released. (My definition of a classic is one that you are happy to see many times over – it is of lasting value and interest.) The reasons are many, but primarily it’s the screenplay and the direction. Performances are always important, but there are films with great performances that simply don’t work. An acting workshop isn’t necessarily good cinema. Alien is a genre film at its best: the structure is clean, the dialogue sparse, the characters two dimensional (which is all we need) and the threat is made real.

It was a hard act to follow, but James Cameron did it. The last two are les successful. In the end, by the end, Resurrection might have been called Desperation. Having killed Ripley is no obstacle when DNA is recyclable. The few good things that French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, City of Lost Children) brings to this otherwise American enterprise is a European eye, with his trademark close ups and navel level camera angles. He also uses two of his favourite actors, Dominique Pinon and Ron Perlman, who would not have appeared otherwise – and they are welcome. But when it comes to the overall emotional impact of the film, I’m reduced to praising the effects, no matter who good Weaver looks in the part. This is partly because she has more of a relationship with the aliens (and they’re not what you’d call sympathetic) than with any human. Actually, I got more emotional vibes from Pinon’s crippled character and his pragmatic, idiosyncratic manner than anything else.

The box set gives us an opportunity to re-assess the films, but it also puts them in creative context – and that is its biggest bonus.

Published December 11, 2003

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(US, 1979 - 1997)

CAST: Sigourney Weaver (all four) and others

DIRECTOR: Alien - Ridley Scott; Aliens – James Cameron; Alien 3 - David Fincher; Alien Resurrection – Jean-Pierre Jeunet

SCRIPT: various


PRESENTATION: 16:9 enhanced

SPECIAL FEATURES: The Box Set comprises 9 discs, with over 40 hours of extras, including both the original theatrical release version and the extended version of all four films. Highlights include audio commentaries by Ridley Scott, James Cameron, and Jean Pierre Jeunet, as well as a deconstruction of the creative and commercial misadventures on Alien3. Disc 9 includes interviews with Ridley Scott and James Cameron.

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: December 10, 2003

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