If it's crap ... We'll tell you
ALIEN ANTHOLOGY (Blu-Ray)
The time has finally come, that all the work that is required to upgrade older films to the perfection made possible by blu-ray, has paid off with some truly spectacular releases. Certainly there was no doubt that the "Alien" series was among the first to be sent off to the lab for careful reconstruction. There's no doubt they took their time with it, because this new set is not only a magnificent upgrade to the sound and picture for all four films, but it also adds in OVER 60 HOURS of bonus features. And best of all, it's contained compactly and handsomely in a multi-page hardback book that doesn't require a crowbar to leverage each disc out of its comfortably nestled spot within. Oh, did I mention I'm giving away three of them? Well, I'll get back to that...
Who would have guessed that in 1979, when young filmmaker Ridley Scott released his second feature film, that it would irrevocably change the course of Hollywood, horror, and science fiction forever? Not to mention how it would change young Cyrus, who forever relented on wanting to be an astronaut after an early (and probably inappropriate) viewing of the film. Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, who would become not only the centerpiece of the entire series, but also the standard bearer for all female action stars, started out in the series as a minor officer aboard interstellar mining ship, the Nostromo.
When the ship detects a distress signal of unknown origin, it awakens the scruffy crew early from their hyper-sleep (or whatever) in order to go investigate, as per corporate orders (the corporation...the real bad guy of the series). Unfortunately for them, and the rest of the universe, one of them (John Hurt) gets face-hugged by a strange parasite that rapes his face. Quite literally. Even the craziest of right-wingers wouldn't have protested an abortion for what was gestating inside him. As pretty much every film fan in the world knows by now, the precious little gift of alien life inside him takes a spectacularly bloody and direct exit route, and right at dinner time too. How uncouth. Thus begins what is, for many, the most memorable and intimate interplay between man and monster in film history, one which goes on for four films (discounting the entirely forgettable 'Aliens vs Predator' films, which I, for one, try to pretend never happened).
Scott's initial film was an exercise in suspense and terror, as the one lone xenomorph manages to terrorize and kill off the entire crew of the ship, sans, of course, Ripley. It took home numerous awards, met with (some) glowing critical acclaim, especially in reaction to the memorable design by Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger, and was, despite having no real premiere or fanfare with its release in the US, a sizable hit with audiences. For the record, I have to throw in that I think it's HYSTERICAL that some religious folks burned down the model of the space jockey from the movie, that was displayed in from of the Egyptian theater in Hollywood because they thought it was Satanic. I'm sure Giger was beside himself with joy over that one.
Seven years after the first film's release, a sequel was released to theaters, and one that almost didn't happen. It took James Cameron, fresh off of the success of his first Terminator film, to convince the studio that a follow-up, and one specifically including Ellen Ripley as the lead, was going to be a success. I hope whoever listened to his entreaties got a promotion because "Aliens" became the high-water mark, the bar set high in the sky, for all sci-fi action movies and you know what? It still is. Look way on up there, and you can see it's absolute fucking perfection floating well above any competitors since. Cameron did what Cameron does: he made it balls to the goddamn wall.
All cylinders were firing in his follow-up story with Ripley agreeing to be taken out to a colony as a consultant for the corporation; a colony on the planetoid where the original face-hugger was picked up by her former crew. Surrounded by a burly crew of space marines, including Bill Paxton as the churlish Hudson and Michael Biehn as the more congenial Hicks, she is assured, despite having more than just slight misgivings, that no 'bug hunt' could possibly go wrong when this kind of firepower was muscled up against it. Oops. Considering Ripley's previously unpleasant experience with them, she's surprised to find that Lance Henriksen, who plays the new ship's android Bishop, is one of her best assets, as she tries to organize the frightened marines to get up and off the damned planet and rescue the colony's one survivor, a little girl named Newt (Carrie Henn) as well.
"Aliens" became a monster hit in theaters, both with audiences and critics, even making the cover of "Time" magazine, and assured the viability of a franchise. Unfortunately, when that franchise started back off again in 1992 with "Alien³", the first feature helmed by nascent director David Fincher, things started off on the wrong foot. The production ordered quite a few scripts, including one by cyberpunk author William Gibson, but they had all been rejected by the studio. A last minute fix was cobbled together from elements of several of the submitted stories by the producers. What we ended up with was a film that was an arrogant dismissal of all that the Ripley character had achieved in the previous film and pissed off audiences all over the place.
The movie begins with the people she saved having been killed during their cryo-sleep (or whatever). There was no recovery after that. Even Cameron came out calling it 'a slap in the face' to his film. Note to future filmmakers and producers making sequels to one of the most popular films in history: bad call. In fact, it's a WTF call. Almost worse was the ending, which turned Ripley into a religious martyr in a laughably bad effects sequence, I would imagine there only so Weaver could, arguably, leave the series with dignity. It had the exact opposite effect and the third film is held up by many, including me, as the absolute worst of the series. Even though there's some genuine tension in the claustrophobic sequences in the penal colony that Ripley's escape pod crash landed in, as the singular surviving alien hunts the panicking prisoners down, the entire piece seems like a big step backwards for the story. Hard to believe that Fincher would go on to become the amazing filmmaker he did with films like "Seven", "Fight Club" and "The Social Network", but even he said that he had almost no control over the film due to a constantly interfering studio.
In 1997, Fox decided to give the Ripley formula one last try, grabbing the popular French director of "Delicatessen", Jean-Pierre Jeunet, to come on board with a (heavily altered) script by Joss Whedon, for the last (real) chapter in the story, or at least, the last one yet released. "Alien Resurrection" found a way to bring back Weaver, by having her be a clone of the previous one (wait, didn't she burn to ash?) fused with some of the genetics of the alien queen that was inside her. The military junta that seems to be running things in this future set 200 years after the previous film, want the Queen DNA so they can figure out a way to weaponize it...you'd think they'd have learned by seeing how badly the previous attempts by the 'corporation' in previous films went. But I guess they didn't learn from history as every viewer of the film knows from the get-go that they're going to be doomed to repeat it.
Certainly the concept with part four was deeply flawed, and Winona Ryder as a Pinocchio android who seeks her own humanity and befriends Ripley/Queen was more than just a bit misplaced and irritating. Still, Weaver made her creepy hybrid version of Ripley with enhanced senses/strength, absolutely fascinating to watch, and the crew of mercenaries who deliver illegal cargo to the military ship, are interesting if for nothing else, that they're certainly the forerunners of Whedon's smuggler crew in his show "Firefly". But it's hard to get past that silly alien/human hybrid towards the end. Scratch that, it's pretty much impossible to get past it. Not to mention trying to picture how it even came about/was born...just don't even try to imagine it. It'll ruin your whole day.
"Resurrection" was released to a mixed series of reviews and was the least successful of the series in America (although it performed well in Europe). It was no big surprise that it was the last of the 'official' series, and although Fox followed it up in 2004 with the first "Aliens vs Predator" film, fans generally refused to even acknowledge the two films as canon, so throw-away was the effort put into them. I mean, how do you follow-up the parade of major directors for the first four films with Paul W.S. Anderson? Clearly, the romance had gone out of the relationship between the studio and the franchise. Of course, now they're all saying that Ridley Scott is returning to helm a prequel film, but honestly, with the list of projects 'confirmed' for the 72 year old director, he'd be record-breakingly old to get them all made, so I'll believe it when I see the cameras rolling with him behind them.
But why have I been telling you all this? Like you're not already intimately familiar with the series? Like you're not screaming "GET TO THE PART WHERE I WIN THIS BLU-RAY SET!" Well, hold up a little while longer while I set out one last appetizer course. Each film is here in both a theatrical and director's cut version, has deleted and extended scenes, isolated scores, commentary tracks, and a, erm...I'm just gonna cut-and-paste from the packaging: MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience with Weyland-Yutani Datastream. And it will RAPE your face. No, it won't do that, but it's the latest in a series of impressive sounding features that basically just track related bonus features for the viewer. So, not really face-rapey at all, don't know why I brought it there. The real meat is on those two extra discs, one of which is filled with documentaries for each film, running at over four hours a piece (!), and the second disc which is every last other goddamn thing you could even plausibly imagine adding in, from multiple-angle sequences of the original chest-buster sequence, to Q&As with the directors, to clips parodying the series from "Family Guy". You've got as much chance of getting through EVERYTHING included on this set as Ridley Scott has to live long enough to make his prequel. It might happen, but you're gonna have to be single-minded about it.
Okay, you made it through and here we are...your chance to WIN THIS SIX DISC BLU-RAY SET FOR YOUR VERY OWN! A set that I, Cyrus, has personally touched in an intimate way, packaged, and sent to your home, assuming you live in the United States (I can't afford to send it elsewhere). How do you win, you ask? Send me a link (by using the 'send message' on my profile page on Spill) to where you've promoted this review/giveaway on another site, or your twitter, or a billboard beside a highway, or really anything that seems likely that other folks will indeed see it, by Monday November 8th, and you might very well be one of the three winners. Creativity and effusiveness will both be considered as well as visible placement. Hey, whatareyagonnado, I gotta promote ovah heah! But, for those of you who don't manage to make the cut, you'd do well to go ahead and pick this bad boy up for yourself. It's about as 'definitive' as you can get.
--CLICK HERE TO BUY Alien Anthology [Blu-ray]