Click here to learn more about anamorphic widescreen!
Go to the Home Page
Go to The Rumor Mill
Go to Todd Doogan's weekly column
Go to the Reviews Page
Go to the Trivia Contest Page
Go to the Upcoming DVD Artwork Page
Go to the DVD FAQ & Article Archives
Go to our DVD Links Section
Go to the Home Theater Forum for great DVD discussion
Find out how to advertise on The Digital Bits

Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 5/20/99
(updated 7/23/99)




Alien: 20th Anniversary Edition
The Alien Legacy Collection - 1979 (1999) - 20th Century Fox

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

THX-certifiedEnhanced for 16x9 TVs

Alien: 20th Anniversary Edition The Alien Legacy 20th Anniversary Edition Film Rating: A+
Alien is a sci-fi/horror masterpiece. Well written, directed and designed, it has influenced virtually every similar-genre film that followed. And it's one of the most frightening films I've ever seen.

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/B+
Simply gorgeous anamorphic widescreen picture, nicely immersive Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, terrific animated menus, and so many extras that it would take many hours to get through it all.

Overall Rating: A-
The film is a classic, and its presentation on DVD is nothing short of superb. This is by far the most impressive DVD Fox has yet produced, and should rank among the best DVDs released to date. Ultra-cool and not to be missed.

Specs and Features

117 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:03:27, at start of chapter 12), Amaray keep case packaging, full-length audio commentary with director Ridley Scott, 10 deleted scenes, 2 outtakes, 2 isolated audio tracks (original Jerry Goldsmith score, and alternate music with production audio), 2 theatrical trailers, 2 TV spots, 3 hidden Easter Eggs, art & photo gallery, CD-ROM features (PC and Mac) include screen saver and web links, THX certified, film-themed menu screens with 3D animation and sound effects, scene access (20 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English & Spanish, Close Captioned


Important Update: If you purchase Alien as part of the 4-disc Alien Legacy Collection, you get a mail-in coupon for a 5th DVD - an hour-long documentary titled, appropriately, The Alien Legacy. Click here to read a brief review of the disc.


Review

"In space, no one can hear you scream..."

In the distant future, mankind has explored a large region of space, and corporations have found that there is great profit to be made in the endeavor. Among the industries that have developed, is the mining of rare minerals on other planets. The ore is mined, then loaded into great space refineries, which are towed back to Earth, and process the ore during the long return trip. The crew of the space tug Nostromo are in the middle of just such a year-long trip home, when they are suddenly awakened from their hypersleep freezers. It turns out that the ship's computer, called Mother, has detected a distress call coming from a nearby uncharted planet. Company rules are clear in the matter - distress calls must be investigated. So leaving their cargo parked in orbit, the crew of the Nostromo lands on the wasteland world. What they discover, they are completely unprepared for - a derelict alien spacecraft, and a new lifeform so perfectly evolved and deadly, that there may be no way to stop it.

Alien is one of those rare cinematic gems - a movie that influences virtually every film of similar genre that follows it. Directed by Ridley Scott (previously an accomplished commercial director, who made the infamous million-dollar 1984 Apple spot, as well as the acclaimed Blade Runner), this film brought a gritty new realism to science fiction, and made the word "alien" as frightening to movie audiences as Jaws did the word "shark".

Few films have ever scared me as deeply as this one did. I snuck in to see this film in the theater when I was eleven, and had nightmares for months. There is just something about the creature itself, designed by surrealist H.R. Giger, which is fundamentally terrifying in its simplicity. This is an entity with no remorse, and no concept of morality. It's an efficient killing machine with one purpose - to reproduce itself, destroying other living creatures to do so. In many ways, Alien touches the same nerve as Jaws did, within the human psyche. What could be more terrifying than a creature so utterly alien that you can't reason with it, and you aren't equipped to defend yourself from it? How about encountering that creature in a dark, dingy spaceship, where you can't risk killing it, and from which you simply can't escape, all the while watching your crewmates be hunted down one by one?

Alien is also one of those rare films, where all of the elements that go into making a movie come together perfectly. The script, originally written by Dan O'Bannon of Dark Star fame, and rewritten (uncredited) by producers David Giler and Walter Hill, is dark and gritty. The production design (by Ron Cobb, Chris Foss, Jean Giraud, and Giger) is impressive to this day, depicting both an utterly alien environment, and a functional, lived-in feeling spacecraft. The Jerry Goldsmith score (which is available on this disc in its unedited, original version) is minimal and unsettling. Ridley Scott's direction is dark and claustrophobic, creating just the right atmosphere for the terrors to come. And this is one of the most impressive casts ever to appear in a science fiction film, including Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, Tom Skerrit, John Hurt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton and Yaphet Kotto - serious talents all. The acting style is very 1970s naturalistic, with lots of unscripted, "in the moment" exchanges. Scott also plays the actors against each other, creating a really interesting dynamic between these characters. There is a great deal of underlying tension and animosity between the crew members of the Nostromo, that is never fully explained, but which make them seem much more real, as people in a desperate situation. It also helps keep the audience just slightly on edge, making the film that much more powerful.

The new DVD version of this disc is packed with both quality and features. The film has been given a brand new THX-certified, high definition transfer, by the Sony HD Center. It is presented in full anamorphic widescreen, and dozens of man-hours were spent digitally removing tiny flecks of dust, scratches and other print defects - more than 10,000 frames were cleaned up in all. The color timing was also corrected, to be more accurate to Scott and cinematographer Derek Vanlint's original intent (notice that Mother's computer access chamber now appears in more subdued tones, instead of the overly-saturated, yellow-gold hues of previous releases). The result of all this work is spectacular - simply the best home video presentation of this film to date. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is also exemplary, with a deep, clear soundstage, solid bass, and appropriately atmospheric use of the rear channels. Listen to the last few chapters of the film, as warning sirens echo all around. Perhaps best of all, several audio and music cues which had been botched in previous releases have been corrected.

This DVD also provides more extras than you could go through in several hours. To start with, you get 10 deleted scenes, 2 outtakes, 4 TV spots and theatrical trailers, a DVD-ROM screen saver and web links which work on both PCs and Macs, crew bios and production credits. There are three alternate audio tracks available here, including an excellent commentary track by Scott (which has selectable chapter stops - very cool), Jerry Goldsmith's original score to the film, and the film's final, edited score with production audio. That's six hours of alternate audio alone (and you can even switch tracks on the fly while watching the film)! You also get a gallery of well over 500 production design drawings, behind-the-scenes photos, poster designs, and storyboards.

The disc's 3D, animated menus are a blast, moving you around in a simulated maze of chambers and tunnels within the Nostromo, complete with atmospheric sound effects. When you pop the disc in your player, you are treated to an extremely nifty little animated sequence, which takes you into the main menu page. As you choose each option, you fly through a hatch, which opens to reveal the sub menu you selected. When you start playing the movie, you see a cool little Alien Legacy series animation, followed by the THX logo. There are no less than 3 Easter Eggs hidden in the menus - a production credits page, and two VERY cool items that I'm not going to spoil for you here. They'll take some exploring to find, but you'll be glad you did. You even get a nifty booklet, and foil-stamped cover art.

Bottom line

Whether you like first-rate horror, well-conceived science fiction, or just dig the best fun the DVD format has to offer, this disc can't be beat. Alien the film will get under your skin, and Alien the DVD should find a very welcome place in your home video library. The disc is available by itself, or in The Alien Legacy boxed set, with all of the sequels that followed it (a 5th disc, containing a new hour-long documentary, is available by mail only in the set). Everyone involved in making this DVD deserves to pat themselves on the back. I'd like to give a special word of thanks to Charles de Lauzirika, Ridley Scott's creative supervisor on this disc, for all his hard work on behalf of the fans, and for allowing me a look behind-the-scenes. There's no doubt that a great deal of love and care has gone into the production of this DVD, and fans of the film will get to experience every last bit of it. Very well done, indeed.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com

7/23/99 - The Alien Legacy update

The Alien Legacy The Alien Legacy
1999 (1999) - Sharpline Arts (Fox)

Program Rating: B-
All in all, this is a good look into the making of the original Alien. The documentary boasts new interviews with Ridley Scott, Ron Cobb, H. R. Giger, Dan O'Bannon and others. It's a bit talking-heady, and could probably have been trimmed. But if you're interested in a behind-the-scenes look, particularly at the production design, then this is well worth a watch. I'm not sure I'd buy the whole set just to get this disc, but I'm sure glad I have it.

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/-
The shot-on-video quality is generally very good, intercut with film excerpts and older documentary clips. The audio is in stereo, and sounds fine. There are no extras, no chapters, and no main menu - you simply put the disc in your player, and away it goes. On my DVD screener copy, the subtitles defaulted to on - a minor inconvenience. The disc also arrived in a slip-sleeve, of the type that CD-ROMs are often packaged in.

Specs and Features
67 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, slip-sleeve packaging, languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, French and Spanish


Alien: 20th Anniversary Edition


The Alien Legacy


E-mail the Bits!


Don't #!@$ with the Monkey! Site designed for 800 x 600 resolution, using 16M colors and .gif 89a animation.
© 1997-2002 The Digital Bits, Inc., All Rights Reserved.
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com