Alien (1979) – Dir. Ridley Scott.
In preparation for the release of ‘Alien Covenant’ in May, I’ve decided to revisit the Alien series via the rather beautiful Blu-ray Anthology box set that was released in 2010.
This review is not about said box set, but I do feel the need to express how incredibly well put together this package is. Easily one of the best in my collection! However, each film and the content from each will be reviewed separately, rather than as a mammoth post!
‘Alien’ is just a fucking pure class act of a film! Every time I watch it, I fall a little more in love with it in some respect. One of my favourite aspects is how the film sets up John Hurt’s character as the lead and barely even acknowledges Sigourney Weaver’s ‘Ripley’ for the first 30 minutes or so…only for her to go on to be the all out hero of the piece. Such an amazing touch! Not to mention all the techniques employed to keep costs down without impacting the scale of the finished product. As well as being an incredible film, this was also a huge feat in filmmaking.
The film opens as the 7 member crew of a spaceship called Nostromo awakens from stasis. Discovering they have been woken earlier than expected, it soon comes to light that the spaceship woke them after receiving a distress signal from a nearby planet. Obligated by protocol to investigate, they land and find an abandoned alien ship. Whilst exploring, one of the crew finds signs of life, and without realising, the horror os about to begin for our crew…
It has to be said, that given the age of the film (38 years), it looks beautiful. Granted there a few moments of grain, particularly noticeable in places as it mainly uses quite a dark palette for the duration, but the clean up on the whole is fantastic! This is mainly evident in the design of the ship and when the Alien finally makes an on-screen appearance, you really get the idea that this is the format that film was made for.
The audio has been cleaned up as well and in particular the isolated score track really highlights the beauty of Jerry Goldsmith’s understated musical accompaniment. The ships engines give a real kick to the bass and there are plenty of screams and scare moments to warrant cranking up the volume for this disc.
Special features wise; fans are treated to some really insightful, interesting documentaries and featurettes – most of which are dated however, not much new content has been added specifically for this release unfortunately, but with over 60 hours of bonus features (over the whole box set) there is more than enough to keep any fan happy.
• 1979 Theatrical Version – The original masterpiece.
• 2003 Director’s Cut (with Ridley Scott Introduction) – A few edits and alternate scenes in places, the most noticeable being the cocoon scene. For the most part, might as well stick with the theatrical versions.
• Audio Commentary by Director Ridley Scott, Writer Dan O’Bannon, Executive Producer Ronald Shusett, Editor Terry Rawlings, Actors Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton and John Hurt – Not yet viewed
• Audio Commentary (for Theatrical Cut only) by Ridley Scott – Not yet viewed
• Final Theatrical Isolated Score by Jerry Goldsmith –
• Composer’s Original Isolated Score by Jerry Goldsmith –
• Deleted and Extended Scenes –
• MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience with Weyland-Yutani Datastream – To be honest, I didn’t really utilise this or feel the need to as I was making my way through all the features for this review.
Disc 5 (first special features disc of the box set):
The Beast Within: Making ALIEN
• Star Beast: Developing the Story (18 mins) – This kicks things off nicely with interviews largely with Dan O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett, the two creators of Alien. Quite clearly there is/was some bad blood between just who is responsible for the ‘Alien’ we know and love today, as the above creators found themselves with Walter Hill & David Giler coming in to do re-writes and taking a lot of credit for what makes it great. An interesting watch!
• The Visualists: Direction and Design (16 mins) – Discussions about how Ridley Scott came to be hired for the project & how Dan O’Bannon originally thought he would direct it (which he credits is the reason his script has the characters so poorly written, so he could just deal with it as he directed the project.) My favourite part of these features is noticing how much of a bitter individual O’Bannon seems to be about certain aspects – I can imagine he was difficult to work with! And of course, our first look at H.R Giger – the phenomenal artist behind the design of the film, and how he was discovered and brought onboard.
• Truckers in Space: Casting (14 mins) – A look at the casting process; including interviews with Mary Selway, the UK casting director, and each of the cast members on their recollection of their auditions. I find the casting process one of the most interesting aspects of film making, so really enjoyed this one, otherwise, it may not appeal to all. Pretty standard anecdotes – although a very brief look at Jon Finch on set as Kane is interesting, if not a little sad for the man himself, who fell ill and had to pull out of the role, making way for John Hurt to step in.
• Fear of the Unknown: Shepperton Studios, 1978 (24 mins) – A decent behind the scenes piece, filmed when shooting got underway. Great for getting a scale of the set they used, and the working environment in which they worked. Another really enjoyable feature.
• The Darkest Reaches: Nostromo and Alien Planet (17 mins) – I found this one a bit less interesting, which seems odd considering it should have been one of the more interesting features in my opinion, given that it’s partly about the heart of the movie, The Nostromo. There are some cool concept drawings along the way, but the interviews were a little dull.
• The Eighth Passenger: Creature Design (31 mins) – The longer of the features, but thankfully, a lot of revolves around H.R Giger, the designer of the film. Such an interesting character and his art is incredibly beautiful/disturbing (even to himself!) It’s fascinating to see how they brought his intimidatingly complex art to life and the tricks they employed to keep costs down at the same time. The behind the scenes footage of Bolaji Badejo
• Future Tense: Editing and Music (16 mins) – I wasn’t really into this one either to be honest. It runs for a little too long. It is cool to hear from Jerry Goldsmith about how he was tasked with watching the movie for the first time, before scoring it and how it terrified him, but generally – nothing groundbreaking to be found here.
• Outward Bound: Visual Effects (18 mins) – Some interesting points around the design and building of the Nostromo in this feature, but again, perhaps runs a little longer than it needed to.
• A Nightmare Fulfilled: Reaction to the Film (19 mins) – Similarly to ‘The Exorcist’, there are a lot of stories here about members of the public fainting, vomiting and running from screenings. It makes me kind of sad that we live in such a de-sensitised time now – it would be incredible to see that kind of mayhem! This is a nice feature in which cast and crew recount their memories from original screenings – some cool little anecdotes. Again, Dan O’Bannon provides a very dramatic retelling of his own experience. Not sure if I love or hate this guy!
• Enhancement Pods (79 mins) – A collection of 27 mini-featurettes that vary in content. From further interview segments, to test footage – there are some really cool bits buried in here, but the list is too extensive to continue listing them individually as I did above and a lot of them are incredibly short and even in some cases – pointless (namely those which feature the self-indulgent and frankly, irritating as fuck, Dan O’Bannon!) So, some of the highlights worth watching are; ‘O’Bannon Working With Shusett‘, ‘Jon Finch Sets The Record Straight‘, ‘Dailies: Parker & Brett Ad-Lib‘, ‘The Disturbing Brilliance of H.R Giger‘, ‘James Cameron Dissects Alien.‘
Disc 6 (Second special feature disc of the box set):
Much of this disc is full of galleries for promo materials and artwork. There is some beautiful work on display; including many Giger designs, but to go into detail for each gallery would be far too much! As such, I’ve added little bits of info for several stand-out pieces, but for the most part, I’ll let you discover the galleries for yourselves!
• First Draft Screenplay by Dan O’Bannon – Admittedly, it would’ve been so much better to get a hard copy of the script, rather than having to toggle with your remote control to make your way through it. Never the less, a cool opportunity to see the script in its original form.
• Ridleygrams: Original Thumbnails and Notes
• Storyboard Archive
• The Art of Alien: Conceptual Art Portfolio
• Sigourney Weaver Screen Tests with Select Director Commentary – Not really as exciting as I’d hoped. Was hoping to maybe see her taking direction and/or giving a slightly different take on the character than the one we eventually saw in the final product. But for the most part, it was much the same with less production value.
• Cast Portrait Gallery
• The Chestbuster: Multi-Angle Sequence with Commentary – Probably the most interesting feature on this disc. An opportunity to see the famous scene from different angles focussing on various reactions. Really enjoyed this one!
• Video Graphics Gallery
• Production Image Galleries
• Continuity Polaroids
• The Sets of Alien
• H.R. Giger’s Workshop Gallery
Post-Production and Aftermath:
• Additional Deleted Scenes – Unsurprisingly, nothing really noteworthy features here.
• Image & Poster Galleries
• Experience in Terror – A short and sweet, behind-the-scenes promo that was released as part of the films marketing.
• Special Collector’s Edition LaserDisc Archive – An odd one, but it seemed to be many of the above listed galleries and videos, just in the original format that it was listed as on laser Disc. Kind of pointless.
• The Alien Legacy (66 mins) – By this point, having seen everything on the previous bonus feature disc, much of this is repeated information, albeit some of it from different interviews – but very much the same stories. Very few new bits of information crop up throughout the hour long duration.
• American Cinematheque: Ridley Scott Q&A (15 mins) – A Q&A screening with Ridley Scott. Weirdly loved the start of this seeing how the audience reacted to the action on-screen as it unfolded. but the main point of this feature is of course the q&a. Not the most thrilling of exchanges captured on film, but a few decent anecdotes from the director. Didn’t notice the date until Ridley Scott briefly addresses it as he wraps up the interview…September 14th 2001, a few days after the Twin Tower attacks. The happiness this screening clearly brings these people goes to show the power of cinema as a form of escapism.
• Trailers & TV Spots – I do enjoy viewing marketing material on films, particularly trailers. I love the theatrical trailer for this film. No dialogue, just footage cut from the film edited to an unnerving alarm soundtrack. Sets the mood perfectly and gives nothing away! Trailers these days could take note…
Phew! Needless to say, this is one of the most extensive releases to date – rivalled (and probably surpassed now) only by the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy from New Line Cinema/Peter Jackson.
It is an absolute treasure trove and there are some great stories shared which shed new light and provide a new level of enjoyment for viewers. I have yet to watch the obvious crowd pleasers, which are the commentary tracks, but want to crack on with the rest of quadrilogy, and have quite a task on my hands if the extensive nature of this material is anything to go by.
An incredible release for one of the greatest films ever made. 100% worth the purchase and time investment!