Ridley Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher, Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Director: Ridley Scott
Coming off the tail of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Ridley Scott’s Alien made space scary again instead of a fanboy fantasy of Jedis and mashed potatoes. It is a claustrophobic and paced (even the opening title seem to take minutes to develop onscreen) picture, shrouded in shadows to hide the alien (designed by Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger, who won the Best Visual Effects Oscar for his work), just as the deep blue ocean concealed the shark in Jaws.
The film is set almost entirely aboard the spacecraft Nostromo, returning to Earth with its crew of seven in stasis. They’re soon to be awoken by the hideous, slimy creature, who stalks and terminates everyone except Lieutenant Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the strong heroine who outlasts the crew (including John Hurt and Harry Dean Stanton), even in just her underwear.
From all of this, down to Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay, Derek Vanlint’s cinematography and the tagline (“In space, no one can hear you scream”), Alien is a masterpiece, a fully effective landmark of the horror genre.
Aliens (1986): *** 1/2
Director: James Cameron
After a 57-year hyper sleep, Ripley is recruited by a group of Marines (equipped with big ass rifles and horrendous tough-guy dialogue [“You want a piece of this?!”]) who, aboard the spacecraft Sulaco, head to LV-426 to wipe out the alien colony.
Weaver is at her best here, juggling the roles of traumatized headhunter and mother figure to an adolescent named Newt (Carrie Henn in her first and only role), who otherwise serves little purpose, but at least doesn’t suffer from Short Round Syndrome. (Paul Reiser and Bill Paxton are notably embarrassing, though.)
Though the best moments in the Alien anthology come from the horror aspect, Cameron’s action flick is impressive in its own right (though there aren’t as many intense moments as James Horner’s score suggests) and Aliens succeeds as a standalone achievement, cited by some as their favorite in the series.
Alien 3 (1992): **
Director: David Fincher
It’s generally a bad, bad sign if the story of a film’s production is better than the actual movie. With Alien 3, screenwriter and director credits bounced around like mad until series producers Walter Hill and David Giler took to the script and commercial/music video director David Fincher signed on as director. As documented tales go, production began without a finished screenplay and post-production saw no aid from Fincher. All of this shows on the screen.
Alien 3 sets itself on a prison planet shortly after the events in Aliens. It’s here that Ripley discovers there was an alien in the pod of the now-defunct Sulaco. Of course. This sets up the film to preserve everything Cameron introduced into the series (including the horrendous acting), as well as add the slasher element
Alien 3 had too much hype to live up to and, backed by its troubled production, had no chance but to be not just a disappointment, but a colossal failure.
Alien Resurrection (1997): * 1/2
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Jean-Pierre Jeaunet’s $75 million addition to the Alien series is nothing more than--in his words--a “big toy.”
Two hundred years after the events of Alien 3, Ripley (who sacrificed herself in the previous installment) has been cloned and has had her DNA mixed with the Alien, allowing her to have extraordinary scents and the ability to school Ron Perlman in basketball.
Alien Resurrection has a lot of running and gunplay and blood and slime, all of which developed into trademarks of the series. But this time around, those hallmarks combined with a boneyard of lame ideas (Ripley as one-dimensional clone; Winona Ryder as one-dimensional android; creatures onscreen far too often to be a threat) make this fourth installment more of an accidental parody than a fitting conclusion.
Of course, there is a wealth of new material as well. On disc five, there is nearly five hours of "Enhancement Pods," which delve deeper than ever into the series. These are absolute selling points and perhaps the best part about this release. Obviously, which Alien entry is your favorite will determine which set of these documentaries are the most fascinating to you. Just as apparent, much of the behind-the-scenes material for the worst entries (Alien 3, Alien Resurrection) will be a no-brainer for haters to skip over. But speaking as a dismisser of the final two films, some of the special features (see below) are great sources of production tales.
For this reviewer, the best additions (whether rehashed or new) include: Wreckage and Rage, which includes Fincher-related footage that was removed from the Alien Quadrilogy set; the high-definition image galleries of over 12,000 photos; the (recycled) commentaries; the post-production/aftermath portions of each film that truthfully chronicles both the good and bad; and Aliens in the Basement, a short documentary on a die hard fan's collection.
Each disc contains an interactive feature called MU-TH-UR MODE, an interface that takes over 60 hours of bonus material and 12,000+ images and “follows the action and organizes your preferences (using Data Tags) across all six discs of the Alien Anthology set.” Overall, it’s a bit excessive, as discs five and six (which house a majority of the special features) are very easy to navigate.
Disc One (Alien):
- 1979 Theatrical Version; 2003 Director’s Cut (with Ridley Scott introduction)
- 2003 audio commentary with director Ridley Scott, writer Dan O'Bannon, executive producer Ronald Shusett, editor Terry Rawlings, and actors Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skeritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, and John Hurt
- 1999 audio commentary by Ridley Scott (Theatrical Version only)
- Final theatrical isolated score by Jerry Goldsmith (Theatrical Version only)
- Composer’s original isolated score by Jerry Goldsmith (Theatrical Version only)
- Deleted and extended scenes
- Deleted scene footage marker (“An on-screen prompt will appear throughout the film to help you identify footage originally from the theatrical release”)
Disc Two (Aliens):
- 1986 Theatrical Version; 1990 Special Edition (with James Cameron introduction)
- 2003 audio commentary with 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, and actors Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, Carrie Henn, and Christopher Henn
- Final theatrical isolated score by James Horner (Theatrical Version only)
- Composer’s original isolated score by James Horner (Theatrical Version only)
- Deleted and extended scenes
Disc Three (Alien 3):
- 1992 Theatrical Version; 2003 Special Edition (Restored Workprint Version)
- Audio commentary cinematographer Alex Thomson, editor Terry Rawlings, Alien effects designers Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr., visual effects producer Richard Edlund, and actors Paul McGann and Lance Henriksen
- Final theatrical isolated score by Elliot Goldenthal (Theatrical Version only)
- Deleted and extended scenes
Disc Four (Alien Resurrection):
- 1997 Theatrical Version; 2003 Special Edition (with Jean-Pierre Jeunet introduction)
- Audio commentary by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, editor Herve Schneid, Alien effects creators Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr., visual effects supervisor Pitof, conceptual artist Sylvain Despretz, and actors Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon, and Leland Orser
- Final theatrical isolated score by John Frizzell (Theatrical version only)
- Deleted and extended scenes
Disc Five (Making the Alien Anthology):
Created exclusively for this are the Enhancement Pods, which allow viewers “to go deeper into the Alien Anthology history with nearly five hours of…behind-the-scenes footage, raw dailies and interview outtakes for all four films.”
The Beast Within: Making Alien: Included are nine segments, which can be viewed separately or as a whole. They are: “Star Beast: Developing the Story” (18:41); “The Visualists: Direction and Design” (16:41); “Truckers in Space: Casting” (14:54); “Fear of the Unknown: Shepperton Studios, 1978” (24:03); “The Darkest Reaches: Nostromo and Alien Planet” (17:28); “The Eighth Passenger: Creature Design” (31:35); “Future Tense: Editing and Music” (16:28); “Outward Bound: Visual Effects” (18:52); “A Nightmare Fulfilled: Reaction to the Film” (19:22).
Alien Enhancement Pods (1:19:43): Included are 27 segments, which can be viewed separately or as a whole. They are: “Conceiving the Alien Lifestyle”; “The Influence of Jodorowsky's Dune”; “O’Bannon Working with Shusett”; “Ridley Scott’s Epiphany”; “Jon Finch Sets the Record Straight”; “Finding the Right Ripley”; “Actors as Props”; Sigourney Weaver Learns the Ropes”; “The Functional Art of Ron Cobb”; “Dailies: Parker and Brett Ad-Lib”; “That Used Future Look”; “Bolaji Badejo Alien Movement Tests”; “Discovering Bolaji Badejo”; “Giger on Giger”; “The Distrubing Brilliance of H.R. Giger”; “James Cameron Dissects Alien”; “Jerry Goldsmith Recalls Alien”; “Goldsmith on Silence”; “The Pros and Cons of Temp Tracks”; “Same-Sex Relationships in Space”; “Toy Birds of Destruction”; “Oscar Night Memories”; “Test Footage: Nostromo on Forklift”; “End of a Genre”; “First Impressions”; “O'Bannon's Fight for Credit.”
Superior Firepower: Making Aliens: Included are 11 segments, which can be viewed separately or as a whole. They are: “57 Years Later: Continuing the Story” (11:05); “Building Better Worlds: From Concept to Construction” (13:29); “Preparing for Battle: Casting and Characterization” (17:00); “This Time It's War: Pinewood Studios, 1985” (19:39); “The Risk Always Lives: Weapons and Action” (15:12); “Bug Hunt: Creature Design” (16:23); “Two Orphans: Sigourney Weaver and Carrie Henn” (13:48); “Beauty and the Bitch: Power Loader vs. Queen Alien” (22:25); “The Final Countdown: Music, Editing, and Sound” (15:31) “The Power of Real Tech: Visual Effects” (27:47); “Aliens Unleashed: Reaction to the Film” (12:33).
Aliens Enhancement Pods (58:31): Included are 25 segments, which can be viewed separately or as a whole. They are: “Without Sigourney Weaver”; “Origins of Acheron”; “Building Hadley's Hope”; “Cameron's Design Philosophy”; “Finding an Unused Power Plant”; “Cameron's Military Interests”; “Working with Sigourney Weaver”; “The Importance of Being Bishop”; “Paul Reiser on Carter Burke”; “The Paxton/Cameron Connection”; “Becoming Vasquez”; “On Set: Infiltrating the Colony”; “Props: Personal Light Unit”; “Simon Atherton Talks Weapons”; “Prasing Stan Winston”; “Test Footage: Chestburster”; “Fighting the Facehugger”; “Test Footage: Facehugger”; “Stan Winston's Challenge”; “Test Footage: Queen Alien”; “Stan Winston's Legacy”; “Cameron's Cutting Edge”; “Sigourney Weaver's Triumph”; “Re-Enlisting with Cameron”; “From Producer to Stunt Double.”
Wreckage and Rage: Making Alien 3: Included are 11 segments, which can be viewed separately or as a whole. They are: “Development Hell: Concluding the Story” (17:42); “Tales of the Wooden Planet: Vincent Ward's Vision” (13:11); “Stasis Interrupted: David Fincher's Vision” (14:12); “Xeno-Erotic: H.R. Giger's Redesign” (10:20); “The Color of Blood: Pinewood Studios, 1991” (23:42); “Adaptive Organism: Creature Design” (20:58); “The Downward Spiral: Creative Differences” (14:55); “Optical Fury: Visual Effects” (24:04); “Where the Sun Burns Cold: Fox Studios, L.A. 1992” (17:33); “Requiem for a Scream: Music, Editing, and Sound” (14:53); “Post-Mortem: Reaction to the Film” (8:24).
Alien 3 Enhancement Pods (1:14:03): Included are 29 segments, which can be viewed separately or as a whole. They are: “Renny Harlin Quits”; “Explaining the Wooden Planet”; “Ezra Swerdlow's Concerns”; “Intimidating Baldies”; “Roaming the Fury 161 Set”; “The Art of Storyboarding”; “Hicks' Alternative Future”; “Costuming for Character”; “On Set: Filming the Alien's POV”; “Head Casting with Charles Dutton”; “On Set: Filming the Oxburster”; “Sausage-Motivated Alien Whippet”; “Fincher's Alienation”; “Lance Henriksen Returns in Style”; “Sucking Up to Fincher”; “Detailing the EEV Miniature”; “Matte Painting Memories”; “How to Make Alien Acid Saliva”; “The Sulaco's Cameo”; “The Weaver Wagger”; “Bald Cap Blues”; “Bragging Rights”; “Stealing Sigourney's Top”; “Creating Alien Sounds from Scratch”; “Dangerous Location Recording”; “Painful Low End Frequencies”; “The Power of Silence”; “Ripley's Evolution”; “Mixed Reactions.”
One Step Beyond: Making Alien Resurrection: Included are 10 segments, which can be viewed separately or as a whole. They are: “From the Ashes: Reviving the Story” (10:10); “French Twist: Direction and Design” (26:08); “Under the Skin: Casting and Characterization” (12:45); “Death from Below: Fox Studios, Los Angeles, 1996” (31:36); “In the Zone: The Basketball Scene” (6:43); “Unnatural Mutation: Creature Design” (26:21); “Genetic Composition: Music” (13:10); “Virtual Aliens: Computer Generated Imagery” (9:53); “A Matter of Scale: Miniature Photography” (22:50); “Critical Juncture: Reaction to the Film” (14:28).
Alien Resurrection Enhancement Pods (1:15:17): Included here are 26 segments, which can be viewed separately or as a whole. They are: “Costuming the Betty Crew”; “Intentionally Uncomfortable Costumes”; “Creating Ripley's New Look”; “Downsizing the Design”; “Dueling Design Sensibilities”; “Breaking the Language Barrier”; “The Storyboard Bible”; “Preparing for Action”; “Winona Ryder Answers the Call”; “Surviving the Shoot”; “Swimming with Aliens”; “The Art of Slime”; “The Cloning Process”; “Considering Giger's Legacy”; “Newborn Dick Removal”; “The Evolution of the Alien”; “Designing the Newborn”; “Becoming a Film Composer”; “The Burden of Temp Music”; “Animating Underwater Aliens”; “VFX: Knifing Ripley's Hand”; “VFX: Shooting Miniature”; “Abandoning the Bug Opening”; “Ending After Ending After Ending”; “Remembering the Premiere”; “Future Franchise Directions.”
Disc Six (The Alien Anthology Archives):
Alien Pre-Production: Development (“First draft screenplay by Dan O’Bannon“); Pre-Visualization (“Ridleygrams: Original Thumbnails and Notes”; “Storyboard Archive”); Conceptual Art (“The Art of Alien: Concept Art Portfolio”); Casting (“Sigourney Weaver Screen Tests”; “Cast Portrait Gallery”)
Alien Production: Footage (“The Chestburster: Multi-Angle Sequence”; “Video Graphics Gallery”); Photography (“Production Image Galleries”; “Continuity Polaroids”; The Sets of Alien”; “H.R. Giger’s Workshop”)
Alien Post-Production and Aftermath: Footage (“Additional Deleted Scenes”); Photography (“Image Galleries”); Miscellaneous (“Experience in Terror”; “Laserdisc Archives”; “The Alien Legacy”; “American Cinematheque: Ridley Scott Q&A”; “Trailers and TV Spots”)
Aliens Pre-Production: Development (“Original Treatment by James Cameron”); Footage (“Pre-Visualizations: Multi-Angle Videomatics”; “Storyboard Archive”); Conceptual Art (“The Art of Aliens”); Casting (“Cast Portrait Gallery”)
Aliens Production: Photography (“Production Image Galleries”; “Continuity Polaroids”; “Weapons and Vehicles”; “Stan Winston’s Workshop”); Footage (“Colonial Marine Helmet Cameras”; “Video Graphics Gallery”; “Weyland-Yutani Inquest: Nostromo Dossiers”)
Aliens Post-Production and Aftemath: Footage (“Deleted Scene: Burke Cocooned”; “Deleted Scene Montage”); Photography (“Image Galleries”); Miscellaneous (“Laserdisc Archives”; “Main Title Exploration”; “Aliens: Ride the Speed of Fright”; “Trailers and TV Spots”)
Alien 3 Pre-Production: Pre-Visualization (“Storyboard Archive”); Conceptual Art (“The Art of Arceon”; “The Art of Fiorina”)
Alien 3 Production: Footage (“Furnace Construction: Time-Lapse Sequence”; “EEV Bioscan: Multi-Angle Vignette”); Photography (“Production Image Galleries”; “A.D.I.’s Workshop”)
Alien 3 Post-Production and Aftermath: Photography (“Visual Effects Gallery”; Special Shoot: Promotional Photo Archive”); Miscellaneous (“Alien 3 Advance Featurette”; “Making of Alien 3”; “Trailers and TV Spots”)
Alien Resurrection Pre-Production: Development (“First Draft Screenplay by Joss Whedon”); Footage (“Test Footage: A.D.I. Creature Shop”; “Test Footage: Costumes, Hair and Makeup”; “Pre-Visualizations: Multi-Angle Rehearsals”); Pre-Visualization (“Storyboard Archive”); Conceptual Art (“The Marc Caro Portfolio: Character Designs”; “The Art of Resurrection”)
Alien Resurrection Production: Photography (“Production Image Galleries; “A.D.I.’s Workshop”)
Alien Resurrection Post-Production and Aftermath: Photography (“Visual Effects Gallery”; “Special Shoot: Promotional Photo Archive”); Miscellaneous (“HBO First Look: The Making of Alien Resurrection”; “Alien Resurrection Promotional Featurette”; “Trailers and TV Spots”)
Anthology: “Alien Evolution (2001 Original TV Version”); “Alien Evolution (2003 Alien Re-Edit”; “The Alien Saga”; “Aliens 3D Attraction”; “Aliens in the Basement: The Bob Burns Collection”; “Parodies”; “Dark Horse Still Gallery”; “Patches and Logos Gallery”; “Credits”