“Get away from her, you BITCH!” The classic line issued by Ripley at the Mother Alien in the second instalment of the series, which I have adopted as my own to direct at anyone who asks to borrow, touches or even looks the wrong way at my sparkling, new Alien Anthology Blu-Ray six disc box set.
To say that it was the cream of my Blu-Ray collection would be quite accurate. It would be equally accurate to say that the makers of this set have raised the bar for all that follow, not least because of the innovative, revolutionary navigational system (MU-TH-UR mode) but mostly for the flawless quality of the transfers and quantity of extra material that I defy you to get through in anything less than a series of extended viewing sessions that will no doubt leave you in need of a spell in suspended hibernation to recover from.
Welcome aboard the Nostromo. It is over thirty years since Ridley Scott took the two most successful movies of the seventies – Jaws and Star Wars – and merged them together to form an alien genre product, neither science fiction nor horror; the best way to describe it is as a haunted house movie set in a spaceship – ‘Jaws in Space’ as Steven Spielberg dubbed it.
The story of an intergalactic mining vessel that responds to an SOS signal from a supposedly uninhabited planet only to return from their investigation harbouring an alien inside the body of one of its crew is still as an enduring and terrifying watch today as it was said to be when released in 1979, and certainly, from a personal point of view, is as affecting and suspenseful as when I first viewed it as a tot in the 80’s.
Once the alien bursts forth from the chest of crewmember Kane (John Hurt) in one of cinemas most iconic scenes, it goes about running amuck of the ship and slaying each crew member one by one, growing considerably in size with each kill, until just one crew member remains – Ripley. Her ultimately victorious struggle with the unstoppable monster which sees her blow it into outer space would prove such an effective and thrilling climax that its successors would struggle to top and ultimately end up merely reworking time after time.
It launched relatively unknown and too oft labelled ‘androgynous’ actress Sigourney Weaver into a fully-fledged star and sex symbol. Despite being surrounded by seasoned actors who all turn in performances worthy of distinction in their own right, Weaver, much like her character, wins the day with a performance worthy of its place in the annals of Hollywood; I don’t feel it would be any exaggeration to call her the first and best female action hero.
The movie is a masterclass in suspense and horror on a relative budget in respect to other science fiction movies of the day and certainly in comparison with its sequels. It is also perhaps one of the few films that is bettered by its directors cut, overseen of course by the king of the directors cut, Mr. Ridley Scott. It’s the only directors cut that I can think of that comes in shorter than the studio release – 6 minutes shorter actually – and is a tighter, more satisfying film with many scenes cut by ten to fifteen seconds to quicken the pace; and the addition of several scenes including a discussion between the whole crew before the enter the planet regarding their wages and a satisfying conclusion for the character of Dallas, make it a far superior product.
“They mostly hunt at night. Mostly”. ‘They’, being aliens. James Cameron, hot off the back of directing The Terminator, took over the franchise, pluralizing the monster – effectively upping the anti a thousand fold, like most good sequels do – and changed the genre from a suspense horror to a full blown action thrill, much more suited to his personal oeuvre. The result is a sequel that stands alongside a scant few that could be considered to be better than the original – The Godfather Part 2, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, also directed by Cameron, being the other worthy ones.
Sigourney Weaver returns as Ripley with considerably shorter hair and substantially more muscle mass to reluctantly guide a crack squad of elite galactic marines on a mission to save colonists who unwittingly set up a base on the planet Ripley landed on in the first movie – yes the one that the Nostromo crew picked the original alien up from, that had a thousand other alien eggs on!
Ripley’s fears prove to be accurate; the colony is overrun by aliens, who have laid waste to every colonist, with the exception of a young girl named Newt. The plot quickly descends into a Night of the Living Dead-esque battle for survival, with the small military team battling to fend off the ravenous hoard of aliens whilst making their way through the bowels of the colony to reach an escape vessel.
The action is relentless, the deaths gruesome and gory but besides this there is a heart and soul to this story that transcends the violence and special effects, which for their time were mind-blowing and thanks to Blu-ray allow you to appreciate them to a whole new level. In many respects this is a buddy movie; you care about this team of rough, hotheaded jarheads and root for them to get out alive as if they were your own kin.
Everything that the original Alien had going for it this one has times ten. Plus, much like its predecessor, it features a superb ensemble cast; the marines are a who’s who of 80’s character actors: Michael Biehn was a household name in 1986 thanks to Terminator, while his Terminator co-star Bill Paxton would go on to steal his thunder with numerous high-profile roles in years to come.
Mark Rolston will live on forever infamously for playing Boggs in The Shawshank Redemption and Jenette Goldtein was the Salma Hayek before there was a Salma Hayek. Paul Reiser turns in a perfect performance as the slimy government man and all-round douche bag, but the real star of the team is Lance Henriksen for his role as the android Bishop; he might meet a grizzly end but his character lives on as one of the screens great creatures of artificial intelligence.
Sigourney Weaver cemented her place as a bona fide action hero with another tour de force performance (which she gained an Oscar nomination for), bringing greater depth to the character, showing the vulnerable side to Ripley and exhibiting maternal instincts that nicely mirrored those of her sizable main adversary in this chapter of the sage: The Mother Alien. Bigger and badder than her babies, the sight of this mammoth mother’ pumping out eggs by the boatload was one of the most affecting and lasting sights of my childhood.
The real star of the show is Cameron; he wrote, directed and most importantly made this film his own. Cameron’s ability to blend relentless, high pace action with a developed, intelligent narrative and integrate a heart and soul are staples of his oeuvre that are exhibited throughout this entire piece in a way that he only betters with Terminator 2.
I just wish someone had had the balls to say to him, “get away from her, you bitch” when he wanted to release the directors cut, which unlike Scott’s, is a much longer, far less satisfying view with severe pacing problems.
“This is rumour control. Here are the facts”. Alien 3 (or Alien cubed, if you insist) is a far inferior film to its predecessors. Okay, technically that is an opinion, despite the fact it is widely agreed upon. Although the feauturettes and commentaries go a long way to inform of the evolution of this hotly anticipated sequel, the facts about the convoluted process, which had every recognised director in Hollywood attached at some stage will sadly never fully be revealed.
Eventually David Fincher, who had only directed music videos up until that point, was given the reigns, albeit it under the close scrutiny of studio executives. The dark, smoky, atmospheric visual style that would become a staple of Fincher’s later works are present, as is his intense detail to sound design, but the story lacks conviction, the narrative is muddled and pacing slack.
It’s hard to point the finger at Fincher; one struggles to imagine a more challenging feature film debut than trying to produce something that not only betters but differentiates from the works of messrs Cameron and Scott. You can imagine Fincher hearing on a daily basis, “do it like Cameron, but more edgy”. Or, “think about how Ridley would do it, then times the action by ten”. Failing to somehow make this instalment into a rom-com where Ridley and the Alien fall in love, it would have been impossible for Fincher to achieve what Cameron did.
Ripley returns with yet more muscle and less hair and sporting a buzz cut. The hibernation capsule that was carrying her somehow has crash-landed on a desolate planet, home to the worst of the worst from around the known universe, all heaped together to work this ore refinery. Ripley is quickly put to work, but tensions flare amongst the inmates at seeing a woman for the first time in some years; little do they know that this is not a woman they want to mess with.
However, they soon have more to worry about than getting their rocks off, when the true reason for Ripley’s crash is revealed: an alien stowaway. The plot pretty much mirrors that of Alien, with the creature quickly picking off the inmates. The one great plot innovation involves Ripley’s maternal instincts, which nicely develops from the subplot of Aliens. However, that which she carries would hardly make for the conventional mother-daughter relationship.
Decent support is given from Charles Dance and Charles. S. Dutton and Lance Henriksen makes a brief cameo as Bishop, but the film as a whole lacks the cult supporting character, iconic scene, killer catch phrase or consistent edge-of-the-seat suspense and violence that pervade Alien and Aliens.
“You’re a thing, a construct. They grew you in a fucking lab.” Perhaps this would be too harsh criticism to toss at Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s pass at the franchise, which needed a severe facelift to suit the trend of sci-fi that was called for in the late 90’s and to redeem the series from the dreary, unremarkable Alien 3.
Two hundred years after Alien 3, Ripley is revived by scientists on a spaceship who have managed to isolate the Mother Alien’s DNA from her system and in the process started to breed their own aliens. The ship is boarded by a band of mercenaries and things quickly get out of control with the Aliens escaping and the ship setting off on course for Earth. Fortunately the mercenaries are armed to the hilt and Ripley now is one with the Aliens and boasts the powers of Wonder Woman, sans the tiara and cape and camp get-up.
To its credit the film is successful if looked at simply as a standalone, genre product. It is faultlessly paced, with revelations and twists and turns nicely plotted throughout. The action set pieces are some of the best you will see in an intergalactic film and the special effects department surpassed themselves with the Aliens.
Jeunet, like all the directors did to an extent, makes this film his own. The casting of constant collaborator Dominique Pinon as the comic cripple Vreiss brings many of Jeunet’s French comedic sensibilities to a very Hollywood film. The team of mercenaries are also all great characters, with some wonderful one-liners, with Ron Perlman being the stand out.
Brad Dourif turns in his as-usual pitch perfect creepy, edgy, weirdo, while Winona Ryder, pre-kleptomania, exhibits the skills that once had her lauded as ‘the next great actress’, which have sadly been lacking in all performances since. Sigourney Weaver is faultless as always, though feels comparatively under-worked this time around.
The real shame of the film is its failure to wow you like the first two instalments. There are no lasting scenes or moments that define the film and it is very much a rehashing of the first two instalments: think the action from Aliens, set on the claustrophobic ship from Alien. It is simply a well-made, well-executed film. No more, no less. In some respects a sad way to end the series, but with Ridley Scott on the case, the sage may have a new ending, albeit one that occurs in the past. Hey it worked for George Lucas. Financially if not artistically.
Where to begin… If I told you that I had made my way through every single special feature on these discs, my nose would grow to the length of the credit sequence for Aliens: Directors Cut (FYI: that’s really long!). The quality and sheer quantity is intimidating; I recall the expert who presented the discs saying that attempting to watch every special feature in one weekend would be to active ‘divorce mode’. And with over sixty hours of material I can understand him; I quickly saw four hours of my Saturday disappear and could do nothing about it as I remained glued to the screen, listening to messrs Scott and Cameron discuss their work on the franchise.
These discs contain everything! Director’s commentaries for all 8 versions of the films, numerous feauturettes for all films, many never before seen and a deluge of trailers, TV spots, interviews, exclusive stills and production journals.
The most unique item on these discs is the revolutionary MU-TH-UR mode, which allows viewers the ability to navigate between discs and isolate specific areas of interest and information they want to be taken to on the special features discs (discs 5 and 6).
The best way to explain this program is as a means of flagging up certain scenes while you are watching the film, which you might wonder if there are any interviews or information specific to them. To do this you simply click a button whilst the scene is playing and this is stored at the side of the screen in a colour. When you insert either disc five or six, this flag will appear and show you all the content within the special features that is specific to your request, allowing you to go straight to them rather than spending hours flicking through the 60+ hours of special features to locate them.
It is a truly great innovation that will save you hours of searching to perhaps only find that there is nothing on an area that you find fascinating. It is a little tricky to get the hang of at first and I don’t recommend watching the film in MU-TH-UR mode if you’re watching it with someone who hasn’t seen it before or doesn’t share your fascination for special features. Or someone who won’t care for coloured flags appearing on the left hand side of the screen every five seconds. Other than that this is something that you should expect to become the norm in the future.