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review added: 5/20/99



Aliens: Special Edition
The Alien Legacy Collection - 1986 (1999) - 20th Century Fox

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

THX-certifiedEnhanced for 16x9 TVs

Aliens: Special Edition
The Alien Legacy 20th Anniversary Edition
Film Rating: A-
Director James Cameron takes a slightly different approach to creating alien terror in this film - sheer sensory assault. The result is a very different effect than the original film creates, but it works extremely well in its own way. There's no doubt about it - these bugs are bad-ass, baby!

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/C
Very good anamorphic widescreen picture (with some occasional graininess), fair Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, and lots more nifty extras to play with.

Overall Rating: B-
This disc isn't quite as cool as the original Alien DVD, but it's damn fine in and of itself. The quality is generally very good, and it's just a blast to have Cameron's longer director's cut of this film on DVD. Highly recommended.

Specs and Features

154 mins (longer director's cut), R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch in chapter 13 at 1:04:09), Amaray keep case packaging, interview with director James Cameron, 4 theatrical trailers (1 for each film in the series), 8 behind the-scenes video clips, 1 hidden Easter Egg, art & photo gallery, THX certified, film-themed menu screens with animation and sound effects, scene access (34 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: English & Spanish, Close Captioned

Review

"This time... its war."

More than a half a century after the events in the original Alien, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver - the sole survivor of the Nostromo) is rescued from deep freeze, in her drifting escape shuttle. Upon returning to Earth, she's made to face the wrath of a Company that is none too pleased with her having destroyed an expensive space tug and its precious cargo. No one will believe her story, about how the Nostromo landed on an uncharted planet and encountered a deadly alien lifeform, which killed the rest of her crew. Ripley is told, to her horror, that the planet she claims to have landed on has been settled by terraforming colonists for years... and no one there has ever reported encountering aliens like the ones she describes.

Alas, poor Ripley is black-listed, and finds herself doing menial work in civilian life, all the while suffering nightmares from her experience. That is until contact is lost with the colonists on the very same planet, and the Company suddenly needs her help. An executive named Burke (played by Paul Reiser, pre-Mad About You), makes her an offer - the Company will reinstate her commission if she agrees to go back to the planet, to advise a squad of Colonial Marines, which is being sent to determine what happened to the colonists. Hoping that a little alien ass-kicking will cure her post-traumatic stress, Ripley agrees to return. The result, of course, is more than two hours of sheer terror, in which the bugs always seem to have the upper hand.

By the time Aliens came to the theaters, the creature in the original film had really gotten under my skin (pardon the pun), so I was primed and ready for some major thrills and chills. Thus, Aliens goes down for me as the only film in which I ever literally jumped out of my seat, sending a full bucket of popcorn flying. Cameron's script works surprisingly well, creating great tension and lots of full-on action. There are some fun performances here, by actors that would later become fairly well known, among them Bill Paxton, Lance Henrickson, Michael Biehn and the aforementioned Paul Reiser (whose mid-80s haircut is the only thing that really dates this film). The creatures appear far more bug-like in this movie, which again plays on a very deep-rooted, unconscious fear of insects that many people harbor. I was astounded to learn that all of the mayhem was created with just six alien costumes (not counting the Queen) - the impression is that hundreds of the creatures are on the attack at once. And with the Queen itself, Cameron manages to break new ground, showing us the final stage of the creature's life-cycle, unseen in the original Alien. The concepts and designs seen here are very true to, and respectful of, the work of the original film's artists. Whether you like Cameron's approach or not, this is great production design. Aliens isn't better than the original - far from it. It's just different. And it really works.

This new DVD version of Aliens isn't quite as good as the Alien disc either, but it packs quite a wallop nonetheless. This film also boasts a new THX-certified, high definition transfer, and is also in anamorphic widescreen. But the print used here, which includes some 17 minutes of added footage, isn't quite as good. There are moments of distracting graininess - brief but they're there. Still, the widescreen picture looks by and large very good, and just the fact that you get the longer director's cut on DVD in 16x9 and high-def, makes it very, very easy to forgive a few minor print problems. I had forgotten just how much impact the added footage has on the overall film - you see the terraforming colony full of life, before things go bad, and that makes it much more spooky when the place is seen deserted later. We also get to see the derelict from the original film again, and see the first of the colonists infected with a face hugger, among other things.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound on this disc isn't quite as good as it could have been. The remixed audio is somewhat flat sounding, with a strong bias to the front hemisphere of the soundstage. The bass is good and deep at least, and the dialogue is clear, with composer James Horner's thrilling score nicely presented. Still, this isn't overly-immersive surround sound - while there is some good use of the rear channels, there's not nearly as much as I would have liked.

The disc does deliver some very nice extras, although again, not quite as much as the Alien DVD. You get a 12 minute interview with James Cameron, 4 theatrical trailers (one for each film in the Alien series), a series of brief, behind-the-scenes video clips showing the various miniatures and creature armatures being tested, and a gallery of hundreds of production photos, posters, storyboards and drawings. The Alien Legacy animation plays when you pop in the disc, and then takes you into the main menu, which is fully animated with sound effects. The idea behind the menus, is that you're looking at the video feed from the cameras mounted on the soldiers' helmets, as they explore the colony. Each menu page shows the screen from a different character in the film, and you can see their name, vitals, and their motion tracker display on the bottom of the screen. And if you look at the video itself, you'll see the words "MAIN MENU" on the wall of the corridor when you're on the main menu page, and so forth. Very cool. There's also one hidden Easter Egg - a page of disc production credits - and a nice booklet included.

Bottom line

The Aliens: Special Edition DVD is special indeed. Fans of the film will have a blast with the disc, and the quality presented here, despite a few minor issues, is definitely the best that has yet been available on any home video format. And if you've never seen the director's cut, you don't know what you're missing. As with the original Alien DVD, the Aliens disc is available singly, or in The Alien Legacy DVD collection of all four of the series' films. Buy it either way you so choose, and you'll definitely enjoy it!

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


Aliens: Special Edition


The Alien Legacy


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