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The Alien Quadrilogy
1979-2003 (2003) - 20th Century Fox

review by Bill Hunt, Editor of The Digital Bits

Back to Disc FiveOn to Disc Seven

Disc Six - The Making of Alien³

Extras Rating: B

Pre-Production - Development: Concluding the Story featurette (17 mins), Tales of the Wooden Planet: Vincent Ward's Vision featurette (13 mins), conceptual artwork gallery (organized by subject), Pre-Production: Part III featurette (11 mins), storyboard gallery (organized by scene), conceptual artwork gallery (organized by subject), Xeno-Erotic: H.R. Giger's Re-Design featurette (10 mins), Production - Production: Part I featurette (18 mins), production photo gallery, furnace construction time-lapse sequence (4 mins), Adaptive Organism: Creature Design featurette (20 mins), A.D.I.'s Workshop photo gallery, EEV Bioscan multi-angle video (2 mins - 6 angles with audio commentary by Alec Gillis), Production: Part II featurette (14 mins), Production: Part III featurette (8 mins), Post-Production - Optical Fury: Visual Effects featurette (23 mins), Music, Editing and Sound featurette (15 mins), visual effects photo gallery, Post-Mortem: Reaction to the Film featurette (8 mins), special shoot photo gallery, Easter egg: DVD production credits, animated film-themed menus with sound effects, separate "play/view all" option for featurettes, artwork and photos, languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none

Okay... so here's the part Alien³ fans have all been waiting for. Are the supplemental materials created for the film on this disc good? Yes. So good in fact that if this were any other film, this bonus disc would rate an A. Why the B then? Well... because unfortunately, this is Alien³ we're talking about. This is a production with a troubled history, that has long needed to be revealed for what it was, and with a fan base that has waited a long time to hear and see that truth. Unfortunately, however, much of what fans really wanted to hear and see has been left out here.

The documentary on Disc Six, now simply titled The Making of Alien³, was originally called Wreckage and Rape: The Making of Alien³. More than thirty minutes of material that was produced for this documentary was cut at the last minute. You might be wondering what difference thirty minutes could make in a three hour documentary. A big difference. Gone now is much of the honesty and truth about the hell director David Fincher went through on the production. Among the footage lost were actual moments with Fincher on the set, where you saw his frustration and anger. You saw his struggles with producers. You heard from Sigourney and the other cast and crew members talking about the problems, and what a raw deal Fincher got. You even heard from the film's producers and Fox executives talking about what went wrong. Simply put, this disc was about as good a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Alien³ as you could ever hope to get, short of Fincher returning to address the production himself (and he WAS asked to do so, but declined). Unfortunately, what you get now, while it still does contain some of the above (including material that you've never seen before), it sort of teases the stuff you really want to know, then glosses by it.

As with the other supplement discs, the material here can be navigated individually, or through separate "play all" options for the video material, the art galleries and the photo galleries. The disc is again divided into Pre-Production, Production and Post-Production sections. Running through all three sections are a series of 11 featurettes that together form the larger documentary. All the featurettes are all in full frame, while the galleries are anamorphic.

Once again, there's an Easter egg in the Navigation Options page for this disc - more DVD production credits. It's in exactly the same place as Discs Two and Four, accessed with the same procedure. Once you've entered the page, use the number pad on your remote to enter the U.S. theatrical release date for Alien³ (it's 5-22-92). There is one interesting thing to be found here. Notice the name of the person credited with making this documentary? It's Fredrick Garvin... an alias (much like the infamous Alan Smithee) that Quadrilogy DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika used when he decided to take his own name off this documentary after it was cut by the studio. You SNL fans should get the tongue-in-cheek reference.

Disc Six starts with the Pre-Production section, which begins with Development: Concluding the Story. In the opening comments of the featurette, we get a hint that what we're about to see if going to be full of honesty and revelations which don't ultimately appear. The featurette looks at how everyone approached doing another sequel, the various concepts of the story, and the different directors who were involved. We get a new interview with director Renny Harlin, who talks about his plan for the film and the contribution he made to the project. We learn about the many writers involved early on, including William Gibson and David Twohy, and the different drafts of the script. We even get a funny moment with actor Michael Biehn, who talks about his disappointment that he wasn't asked to come back. Harlin ultimately left the project because he felt that the direction the film was going would be too similar to what had been done before. And then Vincent Ward was hired.

In Tales of the Wooden Planet: Vincent Ward's Vision, we learn of Ward's plan to set the third film on a sort of Gothic planet of technophobic monks in space, built out of wood. It's an interesting concept... not one most fans of the Alien films would probably have liked... but interesting nonetheless. We actually get to see drawings and conceptual artwork for this vision. Everyone involved in the project discusses this vision, and their varying opinions of it. Of course, it ends with Ward's frustration at resistance to his ideas... and the director ultimately leaving the project. Unfortunately, the struggle for this vision led almost to the beginning of filming. Once he was gone, the production schedule was set... and everyone hated the script they'd been left with.

This section is illustrated with a gallery of production conceptual artwork, broken into three sections - EEV, Arceon: The Wooden Planet and Alien Mutations. There's a lot of material here that has never seen the light of day until now, particularly in the section on the planet itself. There's also some very weird images of alien horse, sheep and human infant hybrids. You really get a sense of just how off the beaten path this film might have taken the Alien franchise.

Unfortunately, rather than postponing the production of Alien³ when the problems became apparent, Fox decided instead to plunge ahead. In the generically named Pre-Production: Part III (which tells you that this is the first piece to have had significant material cut at the last minute), we learn how David Fincher came to the project. Once again, the opening promises a lot more honesty than we actually get. There are images of Fincher on the set. Everyone talks glowingly about the director and having been impressed with his previous work. Sigourney talks about her first impressions of him, and how she loved his idea that her character would be bald in the film. We learn that he wanted a more industrial (and less wooden) look to the planet, and that he wanted to make it a prison. His changes were exciting to everyone... except that shooting had to begin almost immediately and most of the production money had already been spent, leaving him with nearly completed sets, a half-written script, and few options. There is cool footage of the creature work that was being done at the time, and some interesting anecdotes (particularly again involving actor Michael Biehn).

At this point, the Pre-Production section is fleshed out a little further with an archive of storyboards for the film, broken up by the major scenes and sequences, along with a conceptual art portfolio showing sketches for the interior and exterior of the new planet settings (showing the design changes suggested by Fincher).

By far the best part of this section is a piece that is largely untouched from its original version, called Xeno-Erotic: H.R. Giger's Re-Design. Here, we get to see the quirky artist in his studio, describing his designs for the new aliens seen in the film. There's a ton of drawings and artwork, and great interview clips with Giger and some of the other production members. Hearing Giger talk about the alien's various death "kisses" is both creepy and a delight for the fans. He's even got drawings that he enthusiastically shows you. No kidding.

The Production section is the most heavily cut of the three. The blandly named Production: Part I featurette once again starts with this sort of heavy, dramatic tone that suggests great things to come, but doesn't really pay off due to the stuff that was removed. We see interesting footage of the shooting on set and we get a sense of the weariness of everyone involved - how grueling it all was. There are a couple of frank moments here, including Fincher having a bit of a dispute with producer Ezra Swerdlow over the shooting of a particular scene. There's also a nice section where we learn that the original cinematographer, Jordan Cronenweth (whom Fincher had enormous respect for), had to leave the project for health reasons, thus adding to the difficulties. In short, we hear from almost everyone involved in the production taking about why it was beset by so many problems. And that's the problem. Everyone gets a voice here to talk about Fincher's work... except Fincher himself.

Next up in this section is a gallery of production photos broken into sections, and a brief time-lapse video of the furnace set being constructed on the Bond soundstage at Pinewood.
Then there's the Adaptive Organism: Creature Design featurette. One of my biggest problems with Alien³ has always been it's take on the alien creatures. It's not that the designs were problematic, but rather that their realization on screen was visibly weak. Still, this featurette will show you how it was all done, with lots of fascinating behind-the-scenes footage and even personal video shot by Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff, Jr. and other members of their effects team. Included here is discussion of the "super" facehugger concept, along with up close footage of the design for it (which wasn't seen in the theatrical cut, and is only barely seen in the new version of the film). We also see more of the creation of the ox-burster scene and other interesting moments. There's even ridiculous-looking test footage of a dog dressed in an alien suit that was to have been used for one scene.

At this point, we get to see more of this creature work through a gallery of photos taken during the production at the A.D.I. workshop, as well as a multi-angle segment showing how the EEV bioscan video was created.

Production: Part II continues from the previous featurette, chronicling how the production just sort of ground to a halt at one point during filming. The idea was that the studio closed down the production so that Fincher could do his first edit of the film, thereby allowing everyone to see what additional scenes needed to be shot to make the story work on screen. New interview clips with editor Terry Rawlings in particular are welcome here. The result was that Fincher turned in a three-hour first cut that no one liked. We hear from lots of production crew as they chime in with their reactions to this early screening. Fincher and Rawlings then created a list of the things they felt needed to be shot to fix the film... except that the studio had their own ideas about this, and every decision was made at the end of an argument, including how the film would ultimately end. In a very funny moment in this featurette, a couple of sound editors describe the theatrical ending (mandated by the producers and the studio) as "the penis that popped out of her stomach."

The final piece in this section is called Production: Part III. Here, we see Fincher talking with the actors about their performances on set, and the actors talking about how great he was to work with, both in new and vintage interviews. There are a couple of frank moments where we see Fincher's frustration during shooting. We learn from producer David Giler about the arguments with Fincher over how certain characters were being portrayed. Actor Paul McGann describes how that the studio and the producers were keeping constant watch on every step the director made by having suits on the set, sometimes second-guessing his decisions.

This is the featurette where the cuts made by Fox are the most unfortunate and damaging to the whole. For example, in the final version of this piece on the disc, there's a shot where you see Fincher sitting in the director's chair in a blue shirt and wearing an Alien III hat, obviously looking very frustrated. He looks at the camera for a moment... then we cut to something else. In the original edit, Fincher then reached up for a boom mic above his head, and said something to the effect that it's hard to believe Fox is the number one studio because they're all a bunch of morons. It's the really, brutally honest and frank moments like this one that have been cut from this disc unfortunately. Again, everyone else gets to say what they think in interviews except Fincher himself, and everyone makes an obvious attempt to justify their opinion or position at the time. Since Fincher declined to do new interviews, the plan was to let him speak for himself using vintage material. But you won't find much of that now. I can only assume that Fox didn't want Fincher to come off looking badly. But as a result of the changes Fox made to this documentary, lots of former Fox execs and producers now get the final word on Alien³, while Fincher gets no word. And fans of Fincher in particular aren't going to like that much.

The final section on the disc, Post-Production, deals primarily with the visual effects, sound and music work. Optical Fury: Visual Effects takes you behind-the-scenes on the model work, and how some of the alien creature effects were optically achieved. There's a ton of footage showing how this was done. In order to make the alien seem scarier, the creature team tried to take the man out of the rubber suit, so to speak, instead using miniature puppets that could move in ways that humans couldn't (unfortunately, this wasn't entirely successful - too often the creature looks like a puppet on film). Music, Editing and Sound addresses, well... the music, editing and sound. No surprises here. There's a visual effects photo gallery, as well as a gallery of promotional shoot photos done to help the marketing of the film. And finally, the conclusion to the documentary, Post-Mortem: Reaction to the Film, deals with the ultimate release of Alien³ and its place in the franchise as a whole.

So that's Disc Six - a somewhat frustrating experience to be sure. Undeniably, there's still plenty of great material here, including the Vincent Ward conceptual art, the interview clips with Giger, cool behind-the-scenes footage and the like. But after watching this disc, you really can tell that the very best bits were taken out. Left unedited, this supplement disc would absolutely have been the best of the lot in the Quadrilogy set. As it is, it's very solid but may disappoint some fans of Fincher and this film in particular. I'm still hopeful that Fox will rectify their mistakes with this DVD somehow, by releasing the disc that could (and should) have been.

With that, let's move on to the much-maligned, ugly-stepchild of the Alien films, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Alien Resurrection...

On to Disc Seven

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