A world of `Alien' on 9 discs

New on DVD

Movies: on screen, DVD/ Video

December 11, 2003|By Terry Lawson | Terry Lawson,KNIGHT RIDDER / TRIBUNE

Full disclosure: I have not watched in their entirety all nine - that's right, nine - discs of Alien Quadrilogy, which would have taken a workweek plus overtime: There's something like 45 hours of previously unseen material here. I still may do so, however, sometime before I retire to some other planet.

Ridley Scott's 1979 Alien is one of the best horror movies of the past half-century; James Cameron's 1986 sequel, Aliens, is one of the best action movies of the past quarter-century (and, to my mind, still his best movie, especially in the extended cut); the third and fourth installments, 1992's Alien3 and 1997's Alien Resurrection, were serious, if ultimately failed attempts to maintain the integrity of the series, as opposed to cash-ins like the coming Alien Vs. Predator.

The films have been boxed before, way back in the DVD format's infancy - all of three years ago - as the four-disc Alien Legacy. But this super-sized upgrade is a fan's dream box or, should we say, nightmare box.

Each film gets the two-disc treatment (and will be available separately early next year). Disc 1 contains the original film and this year's "Director's Cut" rerelease including a newly pieced-together commentary by Scott and cast members. (Owners of the original box might want to hold off taking theirs to eBay because Scott's original solo commentary was far more interesting.)

Disc 2 is composed primarily of production footage and interviews, including on-set film of the mysterious artist H.R. Giger, who designed the title character and other elements. There are also, believe it or not, some extended scenes not seen in any previous incarnation.

Disc 3 contains James Cameron's scorching follow-up and the even better 154-minute cut first seen on TV, with an intro and commentary by Cameron, his producer and ex-wife Gale Ann Hurd, and assorted cast and crew, including the ever-underrated Bill Paxton. ("I ain't goin' in there.")

It is one of the most entertaining commentaries ever created for a DVD, containing as much wit as insight. Disc 4's featurettes are broken into pre-production, production and post-production segments that will make you feel like you lived through the two-year process.

The fifth disc may appeal mostly to the truly Alienated, in that it couples David Fincher's bleak, seemingly conclusive prison saga Alien3 with a new cut that's a half-hour longer, but, alas, no better. Fincher is pointedly absent, with the film editor, director of photography, designers and others providing the blow-by blow. The sixth disc may be most notable for the footage of Sigourney Weaver's head being shaved.

Discs 7 and 8 are devoted to Resurrection, the fabulist vision of French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie) which brought Weaver's Ripley back from the dead but brought no new life to the franchise.

The original cut is coupled with a new version that is 10 minutes longer, and the DVD designers have been good enough to notify us when we're seeing the additional footage; otherwise, we would have never noticed. Either way, we begin to suspect that the gifted and loquacious Jeunet had never seen the previous films, despite a new interview in which he goes on about his disappointment in failing to please the Alien faithful. The best of the extras here is a dissection of the film's great underwater scene, which did nothing to advance the movie but sure looked spectacular.

If you want disc 9, which contains a round-up doc, a Q&A with Scott filmed this year and all the text originally included on the now-collectible laser-disc box, you have to buy the whole box set.

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