OK, Blu-ray technology, now I get it.
Initially a skeptic that Blu-ray was a marked improvement over DVD, I’m a convert after stripping the shrink wrap off 20th Century Fox’s “Alien Anthology” box set, containing all the films in the franchise (at least those without “vs. Predator” also in the title). Moments after placing the 1977 classic “Alien” into my player, I was amazed at how crisper-than-crisp it looked. If not for the haircuts, I would’ve sworn it was filmed, like, yesterday.
That doesn’t mean my teenage son, new to the series, enjoyed it. Director Ridley Scott’s purposeful pacing was too slow for his tastes, and he gave up shortly after the iconic chest-burster scene, wholly unimpressed. Whereas today’s generation of moviegoers — or downloaders, as the case may be (but not at my house, in case the FBI is reading) — are all about instant gratification and wall-to-wall whiz-bang-wham, I still appreciate the slow-burn build of suspense, and the film delivers plenty, even upon repeated viewings.
Amazingly, James Cameron’s 1986 sequel, “Aliens,” is even better, taking the sci-fi story to an amped-up platform of action, not to mention giving Sigourney Weaver the role of a lifetime. I think this excessively satisfying work succeeds on so many levels that it gets even better with age, and is the kind of techno-wonder that Blu-ray was made to spotlight.
David Fincher’s “Alien 3″ was much-maligned upon its release in 1992, but I’ve always liked it. Yes, it’s dark in tone, but that’s what makes it as different from its predecessor as that entry was from the original. Blu-ray helps elevate this prison-planet picture visually so it doesn’t look as murky as it did on other media, the silver screen included. Five years later, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Alien Resurrection” was met with indifference, but while the weakest of the bunch, it’s far from being bad. No surprise, it also looks terrific here, and possibly the flashiest.
Viewers have the option of watching each film either as it was presented in theaters, or in its special edition. Among the latter, Fincher’s is the one to watch, considering how much studio interference the then-new helmer found himself up against. The four films also come with multiparticipant commentaries, deleted scenes and isolated score tracks.
In most cases, that would account for enough special features. Here, however, you get two more entire discs’ worth, One contains individual documentaries on each movie’s making, from story to release, while the other contains loads “ and I do mean loads “ of more production material, including trailers and TV spots, storyboards, still photos, conceptual art and other assorted featurettes. It includes the full-length docs “The Alien Saga,” “The Alien Legacy” and “Alien Evolution,” not to mention covers of the comic book adaptations and even clips of parodies from “Spaceballs” and “Family Guy.” In space, no one can hear you squeal in delight.
The sheer amount of supplements is exhausting and overwhelming. You literally could spend several days working your way through it all. If one turns on the box’s “MU-TH-UR Mode,” couch potatoes can access a wealth of scene-specific audio, visual and textual material that also allows you to branch between discs. If you have the time and desire to know “Alien” to its cellular levels, it’s well worth the tryout.
Pass off, trade in, sell or trash all your previous DVDs of the franchise. (VHS? Burn.) “Alien Anthology” is not only definitive (well, until Scott’s prequels come out), but a Blu-ray benchmark. —Rod Lott