Aliens: Special Edition (2 disc) (1986)

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Released 12-Jan-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction Main Menu Introduction
Menu Audio
THX Optimizer
THX Trailer
Introduction-Special Edition: James Cameron (Director)
Audio Commentary-Special Edition: Cast And Crew
Featurette-Making Of-Superior Firepower
Notes-Original Treatment
Featurette-Building Better Worlds,PreparingFor Battle,This Time Its War
Gallery-The Art Of Aliens, Cast Portrait Gallery, Production Gallery
Multiple Angles-Previsualizations
Gallery-Continuity Polaroids, Weapons And Vehicles
Featurette-The Risk Always Lives, Bug Hunt, Beauty And The Bitch
Gallery-Stan Winston's Workshop, Visual Effects
Featurette-Two Orphans, The Final Countdown, The Power Of Real Tech
Featurette-Aliens Unleashed
Gallery-Film Finish And Release
Easter Egg-A Boy and his Power Loader
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1986
Running Time 148:05
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (79:47)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Version Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By James Cameron
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Sigourney Weaver
Carrie Henn
Michael Biehn
Lance Henriksen
Paul Reiser
Bill Paxton
William Hope
Jenette Goldstein
Al Matthews
Mark Rolston
Ricco Ross
Colette Hiller
Daniel Kash
Case ?
RPI $31.95 Music James Horner


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (96Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
Danish
Dutch
Finnish
Icelandic
Norwegian
Swedish
Dutch Audio Commentary
English Audio Commentary
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

this time it's war

    Alien was an intimidating film for which to write a sequel. Trying to write a new horror movie to follow that one would have been a truly daunting exercise, and one almost certain to fail — I'm so very glad that they didn't even try. I think James Cameron's idea, to write the sequel as a different genre of film, was inspired. Aliens is an excellent action / science fiction film with elements of horror — basically a superb thriller. Perhaps the closest film to this is Starship Troopers, but that film is filled with political satire — this one is a straightforward rollercoaster ride of adrenaline.

    Aliens is easier to watch than Alien. That's probably because you can watch it — it's happening to other people; with Alien it's more as though you're experiencing it. That's not to denigrate either film, it's more a consequence of the difference in genres — both films are excellent examples of their respective genres.

    I don't know if I need to explain the plot — you have probably seen this film more than once in the seventeen years since its first release. But just in case: this story picks up where the last one left off — Ripley adrift in the shuttle. She is picked up by a salvage team, but rather later than she expected. The planetoid (LV426) on which Ripley's team found the alien has been colonised, but they have just lost contact with the colony (there's a reason for the apparent coincidence that we learn later). Ripley is talked into accompanying the squad of Colonial Marines who are sent to investigate. Can we guess what they find?

    Aliens has been released on DVD before. The previous version was part of the Alien Legacy box set, and only featured the Director's Cut. This disc is part of the Alien Quadrilogy release, and offers both the original theatrical cut (131:03) and the extended Director's cut (148:05 — that's a lot more!) — I really like having the option to choose between these. Both versions are on the same disc — I believe they have been organised using seamless branching. The only extra on this movie disc is the commentary. There's another disc filled (and I mean filled) with extras — this version has far more extras than the previous one. And some of those extras explore the truth behind the rumours we'd heard about conflict during the making of this movie — that's very interesting.

    If you have the Alien Legacy version of this film, do you need this new one? That depends. If you are interested in owning both the original theatrical version and the new special version, then this is your only choice. Note that there is quite a difference between the two versions — I, like most people, strongly prefer the longer version, but that's the one that's on the original disc, so if you have the Legacy disc, you already have it. The other big reason to get this new version is that it has a lot more extras, including a commentary.

    What am I going to do? I am definitely going to spend the money for the Alien Quadrilogy box when it comes out, even though I own a copy of Alien Legacy. On the other hand, if you only want the first two movies (you won't be alone in that!), you can get them separately. Either way, this new version offers substantially more than the previous one.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    This DVD is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and is 16x9 enhanced. That's the expected aspect ratio, and the one in which it was made. Jim Cameron explains in the commentary that he has a strong dislike of anamorphic filming (for good technical reasons), and he was talked out of using Super 35 at the time, but he regrets the fact that this film is 1.85:1 while all the other Alien films are 2.35:1 — if he were making it again, he'd probably use Super 35, because he thinks that the 2.35:1 aspect ratio suits these films.

    The movie is alone on this disc, except for the commentary (and they kept that down to 96kbps). That means that they don't have to compress the movie as much, and so can make the transfer really good. It shows.

    The picture is clear, and as sharp as the source material allows — Cameron discusses, in the commentary, the film stock that was available at the time, and how Kodak was switching the emulsions; that, plus using spherical optics and the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, which uses less of the negative's frame area, meant that this film is unavoidably grainy. The film grain is acceptable, ranging from very light on well-lit scenes, to medium on darker ones. Shadow detail is very good, but not perfect, mainly because of grain. There's no low-level noise.

    Colour is well-rendered — the dull colours of the military and the industrial world are shown perfectly. There are lots of cold blue, black, grey, and white in the sets. There are no colour-related artefacts.

    There are a few visible film artefacts, such as a water drop at 26:24, but none of them are troubling. You'll see things, like at 16:12, when there's a light flash at the top of screen that looks like it might be a hair, but if you frame-by-frame it, it's actually a flash; it looks like there are more artefacts than are really present.

    There is some aliasing, but only on background objects, and only on pans (it looks rather obvious in the hanger on a non-progressive system, but almost unnoticeable on a progressive one). There no significant moiré, and no shimmer. There are no MPEG artefacts.

    The language menu shows subtitles in five languages, plus English for the Hearing Impaired. I watched the English. They are quite accurate, with some abbreviations; they are well-timed, and easy to read. I didn't spot any errors. Strangely, there are Dutch subtitles for the soundtrack, and the commentary, just like on the Alien disc, but they are not listed on the menu.

    The movie disc is single sided and dual layered, formatted RSDL. The layer change is at 79:47 in the Director's Cut, or 68:03 in the Theatrical Cut, at a cut between scenes — it is superb in the Director's Cut, next to invisible, and I would not have found it without technical assistance; it's a bit more visible in the theatrical cut, but still good. The extras disc is also single-sided and dual layered, but I didn't see a layer change in any of the pieces.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are two audio tracks, both in English, on the movie disc. The first is the soundtrack, provided in Dolby Digital 5.1 at 448kbps. The other is the audio commentary, provided in Dolby Digital 2.0 (surround encoded) at 96kbps. I listened to both tracks, and listened to the soundtrack on both versions of the film.

    The dialogue is clear and easy to understand, mostly, although there's a touch of distortion on the dialogue at 90:47 and 144:58, but I'm convinced that's in the source material. There are no obvious lapses in audio sync, although Ferro (Colette Hiller) looks very slightly off at 28:25.

    The score, from James Horner, is really good, although he spends a lot of the time in his extras complaining about how he didn't have enough time to do a proper job. I really like it, including the military touches.

    The surrounds are not particularly noticeable (nothing much in the way of rear directional sound), but they provide some very good ambience. The subwoofer is used intermittently, but cuts loose in the battle scenes.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Now this is what you call extras! The movie disc has only the commentary, with all the other extras on the second disc. That was a smart decision.

Menu

    The menu has good transitions, but it's not animated. There's music behind it. It is simple and easy to use, themed with controls from Weyland Yutani (note that James Cameron added the "d' to the first word).

Commentary — Cast and Crew

    This commentary features a lot of the people who worked on this film:

    It's sad that Sigourney Weaver couldn't make it, but she does appear in quite a few of the featurettes, so we do get to hear from her.

    This is a surprisingly good commentary — usually a commentary with a cast of thousands is a complete disaster. They have clearly recorded groups of the commentators separately (sometimes different groups will repeat information), but it has been edited together with considerable skill, including ensuring that any screen-specific comments are heard at the appropriate spot. Note that they are commenting on the director's cut of the film, and the commentary can only be heard when you are watching the director's cut — it isn't even an option when you're looking at the theatrical cut (very cute!). This commentary is in English, and is available either in sound (Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded, 96kbps), or as subtitles — I like that, because it means you can read the commentary and listen to the original soundtrack (or vice versa). Note that the commentary is also subtitled in Dutch (just as on Alien), but there's no menu item to select this subtitle track — odd.

    We hear quite a bit from James Cameron on how he very deliberately made a link between Alien and this film. We also hear hints of how he is less than impressed with what the makers of Alien 3 did with the characters he gifted them, and his amusement that Sigourney Weaver managed to extort a large salary from the producers because they hadn't made a deal with her before committing themselves to a script that was centred on Ripley.

    Thoroughly recommended.

Disc 2

    This disc is titled Superior Firepower: the making of Aliens. Very cool. You can select all the extras individually, from three menus labelled Pre-Production, Production, and Post-Production, or you can choose Navigation Options, and play all the featurettes together (the total runs 184:36), or look at all the photos, or all the artwork. These are interesting and useful alternatives.

    Note that none of the extras on this disc are 16x9 enhanced. They are all presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1.

PRE-PRODUCTION

Featurette: 57 Years Later — Continuing the Story (11:04)

    The story of the start of this project. James Cameron tells how he got started on this, and we hear from David Giler and Gale Anne Hurd (who was married to Cameron at the time).

Original Treatment

    This is interesting stuff. Although it starts with a menu entry labelled Introduction, it leaps straight into the treatment. This is 158 pages of story, and is the basis on which the project was begun.

Featurette: Building Better Worlds — From Concept to Construction (13:31)

    The conceptual artists involved, Ron Cobb and Syd Mead, and the production designer Peter Lamont get to talk about the development of elements in this story.

Gallery: The Art of Aliens — Conceptual Art Portfolios

    Strangely, when you continue past the 6th page of the Aliens portfolio you end up on the Navigation Options menu — I think that's a bug in the menus

Previsualistion — a multi-angle videomatic (3:16)

    This piece has two angles (with or without the finished footage), and you can view it with or without commentary from Pat McClung, the miniature effects supervisor. These are fragments from several shots. The original is quite crude, but outlines the planned action so well that it closely matches the finished piece.

Featurette: Preparing for Battle — Casting and Characterisation (17:05)

    A discussion of the casting of all the main parts. This is really interesting, because it includes footage both from promotional material shot at the time (1986), and from new interviews shot now (2003) — it's interesting to see how people have changed. Carrie Henn (Newt) has changed the most, unsurprisingly, although Jenette Goldstein is quite different. There's also discussion of the military training they gave to the actors playing Colonial Marines. Michael Biehn missed that, because he was called in after James Remar had to leave — similar to the way that John Hurt had to replace Jon Finch in the first film.

Gallery: Cast Portrait Gallery — Photo Archive

    This is 75 photos of the cast.

PRODUCTION

Featurette: This Time It's War — Pinewood Studios 1985 (19:43)

    There is some dancing around the subject, and a variety of versions of the story, but this does get into the conflicts on-set, including the firing of the first AD, and the departure of the original cinematographer. One of the most generous versions attributes the troubles to a culture clash between the American style of working 12 or more hours in a day, and the English standards of 8 hours a day, including tea breaks. This is quite interesting.

Gallery: Production Gallery — Photo Archive

    These are photos, some colour, some black-and-white, taken by set photographer Bob Penn, divided into nine sections:

Gallery: Continuity Polaroids

    Diana Dill, the script supervisor, took a large number of Polaroid photos of the production as part of ensuring continuity. This is a gallery of 251 of them.

Featurette: The Risk Always Lives — Weapons and Action (15:16)

    This is a look at how they cooked up the future weapons, including the pulse rifle (Thompson submachine gun + pump-action shotgun) and the smart gun (that cool weapon wielded by Vasquez and Drake — using a Spandau MG42 machine gun and motorcycle parts mounted on a Steadicam harness). It was amusing that the pistol they used was an existing weapon (Heckler and Koch VP70), that has since been discontinued.

    It's interesting to learn that Sigourney Weaver is adamantly anti-gun, and was dismayed to discover that Ripley would be handling and firing weapons.

    By the way, the title of this section is the English translation of a quote that was painted on Vasquez's armour in Spanish — Jenette Goldstein found it in a volume of poetry.

Gallery: Weapons and Vehicles — Photo Archive

    There are 69 photos here. The very cool APC turns out to be an airport tug (used for moving jumbo jets, 747s).

Featurette: Bug Hunt — Creature Design (16:28)

    James Cameron explains that this movie's emphasis is less on horror, and more on terror, and that was reflected in the redesign of some of the creatures. The secrets of making the face-huggers move are well-worth seeing.

Featurette: Beauty and the B**** — Power Loader vs Queen Alien (22:30)

    This is one featurette that you really should see — it's fascinating, including footage of the first test Queen Alien (garbage bags!). There's also an anecdote about a joke played on Sigourney involving a balloon.

Gallery: Stan Winston's Workshop — Photo Archive

    60 photos of work at the workshop of the master monster maker.

Featurette: Two Orphans — Sigourney Weaver and Carrie Henn (13:51)

    A look at the relationship that developed between these two.

POST-PRODUCTION

Featurette: Final Countdown — Music, Editing and Sound (15:34)

    A lot of this featurette is spent on the conflict between composer James Horner and the producer and director. Much of what he says sounds logical, and it makes you wonder if Cameron and Hurd should have been more reasonable about respecting the time for music (in other places, both of them boast about how they finished on time...). I really like the fact that these featurettes aren't afraid to explore the conflicts — they are much more realistic than the "we all love each other" of a conventional making of.

Featurette: The Power of Real Tech — Visual Effects (27:53)

    The Skotaks talking about the visual effects, and how the studio execs seeing the early footage didn't recognise some of the visual effects — they complained about the huge and expensive sets.

Gallery: Visual Effects Gallery — Photo Archive

    250 photos of visual effects elements.

Featurette: Aliens Unleashed — Reaction to the Film (11:41)

    At the time, it was unheard-of that the female lead in a horror / SF / action movie might be nominated for the Best Actress Oscar — Sigourney Weaver was (but lost to Marlee Matlin in Children of a Lesser God). In all, the film was nominated for seven Oscars, but it only won two, for sound effects and visual effects (not surprising it won those).

Gallery: Film Finish and Release — Photo Archive

    Divided into three sections:

Easter Egg: A Boy and His Power Loader (9:39)

    This is fun! This is the true story of how Van Ling got a job working for James Cameron. He was a film school graduate, looking for work, calling the production office every month. He built a power loader costume for Halloween in response to a bet. His effort was so impressive that he got a job — Gale Anne Hurd described it as the most impressive resume she'd seen. Strongly recommend you watch this.

    You invoke this by (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) bringing up the Post-Production menu, highlighting the first item, and pressing Left, which illuminates an icon on the top line. Then press Enter.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 release of this set has just taken place; the Region 4 will be out by the 10th of December. You will be able to buy this 2-disc edition either separately (from January 2004), or as part of the Alien Quadrilogy, and you'll get the same thing — the only difference is that the Quadrilogy includes an exclusive ninth disc.

    The Region 1 version of these two discs has a couple of features that aren't on the Region 4, and that's a shame, because they are nice to have:

    The comparison between the 2 disc Alien Quadrilogy version and the 1-disc Alien Legacy version of this film is much more one-sided than the one for Alien:

    The 2-disc Region 4 edition is missing:

    The 1-disc Region 4 edition is missing:

    I don't have the Region 4 version of the Alien Legacy set, so I can't tell you which of the two has the greater number of photos and artwork, but I rather suspect that the 2-disc version wins on this count; certainly the 2-disc version is much better organised, with the stills grouped into (lots of) related galleries.

    This looks pretty one-sided to me, so I'll be happy to buy the Quadrilogy version — I don't think I'll be watching the Legacy version of this movie again.

Summary

    A brilliant action / science fiction film, with plenty of horror seasoning. It has been presented extremely well on DVD.

    The video quality is very good, even with the film grain.

    The audio quality is excellent.

    The extras are plentiful, and better, they are interesting — this is a superb extras package.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Monday, December 01, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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Comments (Add)
release date query - G. Rock REPLY POSTED
Quadrilogy / single disc release dates - Anonymous
Or you could... - Charlie & Tex
Theatrical versus director's cut - Anonymous REPLY POSTED
R1 slightly better. - Cobretti
Theatrical Runtime Mistake - DarkEye (This bio says: Death to DNR!)
RE:Theatrical versus director's cut - - Anonymous
Theatrical So much Better - Damien (biotech is godzilla)
Bit of a coincedence - Damien (biotech is godzilla) REPLY POSTED
Theatrical not-so much better, and not so much of a coincidence - X
No,The theatrical is far superior IMO - Damien (biotech is godzilla)
Credits - Anonymous
Blu-ray - Ted F (If you're bored you can read my bio)
Blu-ray - Ted F (If you're bored you can read my bio)
Blu-Ray - Le Messor