Alien Quadrilogy DVD Review

by AVForums
Movies & TV Review

Alien Quadrilogy DVD Review
SRP: £99.98

Picture

Alien

In reviewing this disc I had to keep reminding myself that this print is almost a quarter of a century old. Minor amounts of grain are present but this is not intrusive and is seen mainly in long shots. Close ups show excellent amounts of detail in skin texture and accurate skin tones from the bleached pallor of John Hurt to the chocolate browns of Yaphet Kotto. The dark shadows in long corridors have no blocking or smearing, and a well balanced monitor will pick up essential detail, however Scott purposefully ensures that the deepest shadows are left for a fertile imagination to fill in the details. The dynamic range of your screen will be well tested as several scenes for example the “waking from sleep” scene, and Kane's “Pass me the Rennies” scene, are bathed in a stark, bright, white light. The encoding is good enough to ensure that colours and skin tones don't washout and retain high levels of detail. If you have spent the last 10 years watching Alien on VHS or broadcast T.V you will respect the effort that has gone into the restoration job. As part of the review I was provided with the R1 versions of the Quadrilogy box set and so it seemed sensible to perform a side by side comparison. For all you eager beavers who imported via one of our sponsors I can assure you the picture quality on the R1 version was identical to the R2, I could see no discernable disparity, and would be happy to own either. Score :8

Aliens

Aliens shot in 1985 and released in 1986. This print has been restored and is THX approved. It is reproduced in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, which I prefer as this just about fills the screen on 16:9 monitors/plasmas/projectors. Cameron uses a grainy film stock with lighting pushed to the blue end of the spectrum, and hand held camerawork. This produces a distinctive look to the film, giving it a grittiness and documentary like appearance. This is obviously reflected in the print. The colour palette reflects the industrial feel of Scott's 1979 classic, giving a cold, desolate, atmosphere. Picture quality therefore does not shine by modern standards however this is the intended approach, and as such is imperative to the realism of the piece. The darkness is all around in almost every shot, but levels of detail, although not outstanding, are good enough to portray the unease as the Marines search the base for survivors, or battle through the air-conditioning to escape an alien onslaught. James Cameron explains in the audio commentary that the grain is due to his choice of Kodak film stock, and his dislike of 2.35:1 anamorphic ratio, a decision he now regrets. Suffice to say you will not be complaining about it while watching the movie, and as with Alien, it is as good as I have seen this film produced.

Comparison was made with the R2 disc I had available at the same time as preparing the review and as with Alien the picture quality was as good as I have seen this print, which is to say not brilliant by modern standards for reasons outlined above, but certainly on a par with the R2 counterpart. I could not separate them on a 92” screen. Score :7

Alien³

Gorgeous. The film was shot in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen as was Alien, and is presented here in the same format. As explained earlier Fincher has a great eye. He loves the dark, just watch his other far better movies to realise this, and he knows how to light it. Scenes in the ventilation tunnels lit with striking golden hues are breathtaking. The transfer shows every subtle shade in smooth transition. He also likes close ups and splashes them liberally around. Detail is high; every hair on the back of Ripley's neck is perceptible, every pore on the doctors skin visible. An excellent transfer with no artefacts to disturb your viewing pleasure.

As with the other discs in the series I spent a pointless Saturday afternoon trying to distinguish between the R1 and R2 versions of the movies. Non exist, they both look splendid and I would be happy to own either. Score :8

Alien Resurrection

Here we go again. Long dark corridors, backlighting, flickering shadows. Presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen this THX approved picture is first class. The picture is very dark and an excellent job has been done to retain detail and prevent edge enhancement and shimmering along the long straight edges of the metallic corridors. Colours are muted and so too are skin tones. Unlike the third movie which gave us warm golden brown lighting, we are back to cold blues and greys again in this palatte. Picture quality is about the best in the series with only a few of the underwater CGI shots of the aliens letting the side down, as a soft edge starts to creep into the image. Let me warn you though, if your display is not well calibrated those blacks will swamp your picture like treacle. Better get your AVIA disc out before watching this one.

No surprise if you have read the other reviews in this series, but this reviewer could not see any perceptible difference in the PQ between the R1 or R2 of the movie. Go for the set that gets you the best VFM. Score :8

Sound

Alien

The disc is presented with both Dolby Digital 5.1, and DTS Audio. Movies like this demand atmosphere. The tone is brooding danger punctuated with blind terror and the sound mix is prominent in the production of layers of ambiance. From the howling wind on the planets surface to the grumbling roar of the landing craft the auditory spectrum is reproduced cleanly and with beautiful presence. Effects steering is purposeful and had me turning in my chair as wind chimes tinkled from the surrounds or gusts of air blew from front to rear soundstage. One disappointment is an element of fogginess in the off camera voices, causing me to check my speaker calibration. While screen based dialogue is clear, off camera spoken word is often muffled or hollow.

Jerry Goldsmiths orchestration is a classic in understatement. Go on, how many of you can hum the theme from Alien.... thought so. Yet the long periods of silence are punctuated by a score that subconsciously builds as the pace of the movie quickens in the final third. The urge to butter over the on screen action with layers of driving drums or taught strings has been resisted, and this enhances the reality of the struggle of the crew to survive.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 is a fine example of how a restoration should be performed then. If however you demand the best then switch to DTS. The improvement is staggering! That foggy indistinct off camera dialogue track is replaced by one that is crystal clear. The soundstage widens seeming to extend beyond the walls of your room. The bass develops a richness and warmth, and sinks a notch or two into the bargain. I couldn't get over the difference, and I happily played the movie through again flicking between the DD and DTS tracks with the audio button on my remote. Goldsmith's orchestration is given new life. The atmosphere is heightened. It brought me close to tears. If you have friends who are dubious about the benefits of a DTS v DD track, or indeed if you have the same doubts yourself, you owe it to yourself to listen to these two. I am a believer.

The R1 disc has all the same features as the R2, except you can listen to the directors commentary track on both the directors cut AND the theatrical cut of the R1 and only the theatrical cut on R2, otherwise as with the picture quality and excellent soundtrack from either region with DTS taking the honours as best on both R1 & R2. Score :9

Aliens

Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 the sound mix throughout is very good to excellent. The movie calls for a forceful low end while maintaining clear mid tones for dialogue. It partly succeeds. There are areas of the film where the low end does overwhelm the dialogue; this is mainly due to the dialogue channels being balanced at a lower level than the effects. We all love low-end grunt but I also like to hear what is being said in the louder scenes. Atmospheric effects are formidable. The dull click, click, click of the motion tracker around the surrounds, the scuttling of the face huggers as they hunt Ripley and Newt in the infirmary. They are spot on and send the hairs up on your neck. Gunshots and explosions are effective but don't have the impact of a modern release, for example S.W.A.T. These should be fast and loud with force and depth, but this is never fully realised. Subwoofers will be effective in the fly past scenes of the Solako, the huge craft used by the Marines to travel to the planet. Not teeth rattling but enough to “feel” rather than hear.

Sound quality is identical between the two regions and does not provide sufficient reason to chose one over the other. Score :7

Alien³

Sound is Dolby Digital 5.1 and on the whole is very good. Half way through the film the convicts are trying to flush the alien out by painting the tunnels with flammable, explosive, toxic waste. When it explodes we are treated to two minutes of beautifully tight focussed blasts that hit you like a chestbuster. Very gratifying. Atmosphere is well generated through the rear speakers. Echoing tunnels, beeping computers, crackle of the prison intercom all work well and are convincing. What is less convincing is the dialogue channel. In many areas this is appallingly balanced and seems to have bleed from the right and left channels into it. This is most noticeable in some of the added scenes, for example where Ripley and the inmates discuss the option of waiting for the rescue ship to arrive before facing the alien. It is possible that this is looped dialogue that was mixed for this DVD, but a poor job was done.

There really does seem to have bee a poor looping job done because the same sound frailties exist in both regions of the movie. This is a shame because it would have provided a good reason to go for this version, but alas it is not the case. I am beginning to think I was sent two R2 versions by mistake! Score :6

Alien Resurrection

We are presented with a choice between Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 as with Alien. Like the mix there the DD track is very good. A clean, focussed presentation with distinct dialogue, well placed effects, and plenty of atmosphere. Gunshots and explosions are crisp and well rounded. An excellent effort.

Although not quite as obvious as with Alien the DTS track once again proves to be the definitive article. It simply deepens and widens the sound. The dynamic range is remarkable, and those of you with the set up to do it justice will be rewarded with forceful low end, and transparent distinct dialogue.

Special mention goes to John Frizzell's score which has some beautiful haunting melodies, and wonderful orchestration. Sounds great on that DTS track.

Do you want to try to find a new way of saying identical to the R2 release. If they were twins they would be Siamese. Score :9

Extras

Alien

Where to begin. Disc one contains two cuts of the movie - the theatrical cut and the directors cut - and a feature commentary by director Ridley Scott, writers Dan O'Bannon and Ron Shusett, editor Terry Rawlings, and key actors Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton and John Hurt. Scott always has interesting things to say on his commentaries; from the concept of the title sequence to the casting of his actors and the lighting and building of the sets. The actors provide a more chatty track and the tracks are edited together. I like this idea. It removes much of the boring or repetitive stories, and provides a degree of continuity. One thing I would say is that many of the recollections are repeated in the subsequent documentaries.

This superb box set contains a separate extras disc for each movie. Plenty of extras on offer then, but more does not always mean better. It would take pages and pages to talk about what is on offer on this disc, needless to say almost anyone who was involved in the look, feel, sound or production of the movie has been interviewed. The extras are broken down into pre-production, production, and post-production sections allowing a degree of rationality in the viewing of the collection. I will highlight a few of my favourites but everything on this disc is worth a watch or read.

Pre-production includes many excellent featurettes from all the major players involved in the movies development. “Star Beast” talks with Dan O'Bannon and the producers Giler and Carroll. It deals with the recollections the men have about the fight for control of the script development from O'Bannon's original concept - a rewrite of his previous comedy sci-fi Dark Star. O'Bannon talks openly about his problems during script development and how they were solved. He has a particular gripe about the changes the produces made to the characters names, feeling this was a ploy to take a writing credit away from him, and his character names were perfectly fine. Well Dan, you still have your writing credit and I've got to say your character names sucked (Brousard, Faust, Melkonis....give me a break). Walter Hill, co-producer also introduced a seventh character to the plot, Ash the synthetic. O'Bannon, angry at the addition, asked why? “Subtext” was the reply. It turned out to be pretty important to the subtext and was an excellent decision.

First Draft is written recollections on script development from O'Bannon covering his influences and the accusations of plagiarism he received following the movies theatrical release. His original screenplay follows, and is a fascinating contrast to the finished film. The Visualists talks to Scott and monster designer H.R.Giger, who we learn took narcotics to help him cope with the fear he had of the creatures he developed in his own mind. The rest of the pre-production section deals with conceptual art, the casting of the movie, including the original casting of John Finch in the role now made famous by John Hurt. Unfortunately for Finch he developed diabetes! Sigourney Weaver's screen test footage is available with optional commentary by Ridley Scott. All are excellent and worthy of your time.

The production section of the disc includes photo galleries of the production design, sets, creature design and H.R.Giger's workshop. Most interesting is the multi-angle sequence with audio commentary by Scott of the chestburster scene. I knew if I waited long enough I would find a use for the multi-angle button! Also worthy of mention is the “Fear of The Unknown” featurette. Interesting snippets such as Scott keeping the actors in the dark over the design of the alien so as to get realistic reactions from his actors and the use of his own children in long shots so that the scenery looked bigger.

Post production includes featurettes on the sound development, seven deleted scenes and visual effects. Photo archives of the premiere and the documentary “A Nightmare Fulfilled” - which discusses the reaction of audiences to the movie - fill out a commendable collection. You are left wanting for nothing with the extras they are outstanding.

Region one provided identical extras. Score :9

Aliens

Aliens is as amply endowed with extras as Alien itself. The fun begins with the commentary track. This is an edit between James Cameron, producer Gale Anne Hurd, special effects wizard Stan Winston, and a group effort by several of the key actors Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henrikson, and Jenette Goldstein. The observations of Cameron, Hurd and Winston are mostly technical or artistic. The actors' recollections are more of their shared experiences in working with each other and with Jim Cameron. They are intercut together but it is clear they were not recorded together. Nevertheless this works well, preventing a situation where people are talking over each other or confusing the flow of the reminiscences.

As with the other disc 2 offerings in the Quadrilogy Box Set the extras are offered in sections labelled pre-production, production and post-production. The outstanding piece in the pre-production segment is “Superior Firepower” a first-class making of featurette, followed by Cameron's original screenplay. “Preparing for Battle” cuts footage of the actors being interviewed on set with comments filmed especially for this special edition documentary.

Production section is dominated by the “This Time Its War” feature - which tells of the struggle the American cast and Canadian director had working with the British crew and their particular foibles such as tea-breaks. Extensive photo archive exist of the actors, costumes and Stan Winston's creature effect workshop. The documentary sections are all brilliant and informative, but you will probably skip quickly through the design photos and continuity polaroid.

Post-production details the addition of music and sound effects followed by a featurette on the audience reaction to the movie on it's release in 1986.

Extras are as exhaustive as the R2 disc and no difference could be found. You get the same deal either side of the pond. For some reason the feature audio commentary is available on both cuts of the movie in the R1 release, and theatrical cut of the R2 release. Score :9

Alien³

Your probably getting the picture by now. Disc one contains two cuts of the movie, a theatrical release and a special edition; although I notice it is not labelled a directors cut. Both features are accompanied by commentary tracks, which are mixed from separate recordings to provide a lucid, flowing, and pertinent dialogue. This works really well and is a feature I would like to see incorporated more on commentary tracks, which all too often become boring inane ramblings. Providing the insight this time are cinematographer Alex Thompson, editor Terry Rawlings, alien effects designers Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. and actors Paul McGann and Lance Henrikson. It is significant that the director and lead actors are not involved, and it would have been very interesting to have the views of Fincher and Weaver now the dust has settled. Nevertheless the commentary track is informative stuff with Paul McGann particularly insightful. He clearly struck up a bit of a relationship with Fincher and defends the movie bravely, although not always convincingly.

A behind the scenes documentary on the making of Alien 3 is divided into 10-15 minute featurettes and spread over the pre-production, production and post-production sections of disc 2. This is where to look if you want to find out why the movie underachieved. The interviews reveal that at one point any writer who could hold a pen was asked to re-write the script. Several directors were approached and Renny Harlin spent a year prepping a movie that dealt with the alien planet, before deciding he could not think of a scenario that wasn't just a rehash of the previous stories. With a release date already announced and no script, Vincent Ward (What Dreams May Come) pitched an idea and was most of the way through pre-production before being sacked. With all this going on it was amazing that Fincher managed to get anything on celluloid. I really began to feel sorry for the actors and crew. Their honesty in discussing this in the making of documentary is more worthy than the movie itself.

As with the other movies the featurettes are fleshed out with an eclectic mix of storyboards, production photos, and conceptual art portfolios.

As with the other discs in the series the R1 version allows you to hear the feature commentary on both versions of the film , but only the theatrical releases of the R2 box set. Score :7

Alien Resurrection

As with the other three disc one contains two cuts of the movie a theatrical cut and a special edition. Jean-Paul Jeunet introduces them, and states that the special edition is not the director's cut, because the director's cut was the version that was released. I could see little of significant difference on a cursory examination. A new title sequence, and perhaps of most significance, an ending where Ripley actually sets foot on Earth. Nice to have the option though.

Disc 2 contains the bulk of the extras. The making of documentary “One Step Beyond” is again divided into chapters and spread across the pre-production, production, and post-production sections of the disc. All these documentaries have been exemplary, and this one is no exception. Interviews with the French director and design team reveal their confusion and delight at being asked to do the job. Their fear that any day they may get sacked, and they were just going to give the studio exactly what they asked for. The difficulties of filming the set piece underwater scenes are covered in exhaustive detail with the “talent” and crew happy to have completed the scenes without anyone dying! The continued development of the alien creature and the move into C.G.I are also very interesting. It does give away all the secrets, and can reduce the impact of the movie when you see the guy in the suit taking a whiff of oxygen and then trying to swim after the actors in the flooded kitchen before sinking like a stone to the bottom of the pool, and being rescued by a scuba diver.

Finally many photo galleries are to be found, although I must admit that by now I was skimming through these pretty quickly, and I expect you will too. Still another great and watchable package.

The extras on offer in the R1 package blow away the R2. No ...Sorry...they are in fact the same. Score :7

Supplemental Disc

As if the wondrous contents of the eight preceding discs were not enough, Fox have hunted around a bit more and managed to fill a ninth disc with even more goodies for us Alien fans. Split into a section for each film, they are in fact, rather disappointing.

The 15 minute interview with Ridley was filmed after a showing of the movie at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The good Mr Scott mumbles answers to questions that have been asked a million times, and if you have watched the extras presented earlier you will already know the answers anyway. “Alien Evolution” is an excellent documentary produced by Mark Kermode and runs for over an hour. Once again however it has all the same people telling all the same stories as on the Alien disc two. “Aliens in the Basement” talks to Bob Burns, an excitable, rotund chap who has managed to wangle all of Fox's alien props from the movies and has built an extension to his house to put them all in. Mildly diverting for its 15 minute running length.

The rest of the disc is a series of trailers and teaser trailers, and the laser disc content from the Alien and Aliens LD's. Why these could not have been included in the main extras disc for each movie is a bit of a mystery, I cannot believe it was due to space restrictions. Don't get me wrong, it's great Fox have been so thorough, but I doubt a separate disc was really necessary.

Alien

This is a masterful release of a masterpiece. The print is the best quality I have seen of Alien and is THX approved, the DD sound is very good, the DTS is astounding, and the extras are exhaustive, but all are worthy and add immensely to your enjoyment. You will not find a better release of Alien than this. If you have never thought to add this movie to your collection, then do so now. If you already have a copy, get this anyway. You will not be disappointed. Score :9

Aliens

James Cameron's expansion of the alien mythology to an invading army and subsequent man vs. aliens battle was an inspired direction to take the franchise. Once again excellent acting from reliable character actors, and beautiful production design of the grimy industrial future combine with a great story and single-minded direction to produce a gritty, rip-roaring, sci-fi action movie that struck a chord with the movie-going public, and box office gold. This DVD should be on the shelf of every self respecting movie fan. Geddit. Score :9

Alien³

Beautifully shot and an excellent encoding, but with a flawed dialogue track, this DVD does not excel. The movie itself collapses under the weight of public expectation. The story was written by committee, and acted by 25 bald C list actors running around endless confusing corridors. You didn't care who got killed or why, you just hoped it would all be over soon. Sorry, I really tried to be kinder to this movie and this DVD, but it was the runt of the litter. Score :6

Alien Resurrection

This is the third best alien movie but that's not saying much. Get over the contrived beginning (let's face it, it could have been worse, they could have said Alien 3 was all just a dream) and the stupid introduction of sentimentality to the ending, and you have a reasonable action flick, that is well shot, lit, acted and orchestrated. It is presented with an excellent THX approved print and a rollicking DTS soundtrack, plus as is now the norm in the quadrilogy, an honest and fascinating making of documentary, and plenty of piccies to browse at your leisure. One thumb up. Score :8

Scores

Movie

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8

Picture Quality

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8

Sound Quality

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8

Extras

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9

Overall

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9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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