Aliens

Aliens (1986) – Dir. James Cameron.

aliensOne of the best (if not the best) sequels ever made – and to hold that title for over 30 years is no mean feat!

This chapter finds Ripley (Weaver) being found drifting through space in the shuttle from the end of the first movie. She is horrified to discover that she has been in stasis for 57 years and in that time, LV-426 – the planet that doomed the original mission has been colonised. The Weyland-Yutani company blames her for the loss of such an expensive ship and discredits her story about the Alien. After losing contact with the colony, Ripley is asked to act as an advisor for a military team sent in to check out the situation…

There is a clear tonal shift with this sequel. Scotts 1979 film being a Sci-fi thriller and this one shifting more toward Sci-fi action. It would have been so easy for this to lose the overall feel of the first film, but Cameron manages to ensure there is a cohesiveness that allows a complete change of pace whilst still managing to make them feel like very similar entities.

For the most part, the atmosphere used in the original is replaced here with all out action. The result is just as incredible and fascinating as its predecessor. Some of the macho macho bullshit from the marines comes off as a little cheesy now, but doesn’t deter from the enjoyment of the film.

The picture quality on this blu-ray is fucking insane! Honestly, if I was watching this for the first time, i would never guess this was filmed in the 80’s. Even the darker scenes suffer minimal grain and detail is immaculately restored.

My only complaint would be that the sound quality can be a little jumpy – dialogue being at a decent level, only for some of the action to then punch in a little too loud in comparison. Definitely one to test the sound system though!

As it is part of the quadrilogy box set, the same level of extensive special features applies to this film as well. So, let’s crack on with the goodies!

Special Features:

Disc 2 (of the box set):

• 1986 Theatrical Version – In this case, the original theatrical version is widely considered the inferior cut of the film. However, with several story lines trimmed, this makes for one hell of a pacey ride!
• 1991 Special Edition with James Cameron Introduction  New and extended scenes providing additional character development, and in some cases whole new perspectives (namely Ripley’s dead daughter which adds a whole poignancy to her and Newts relationship.) A fantastic alternate version which runs about 15 minutes longer than the theatrical – providing a more story driven plot.
• Audio Commentary by Director James Cameron, Producer Gale Anne Hurd, Alien Effects Creator Stan Winston, Visual Effects Supervisors Robert Skotak and Dennis Skotak, Miniature Effects Supervisor Pat McClung, Actors Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, Carrie Henn and Christopher Henn
• Final Theatrical Isolated Score by James Horner – Not yet viewed.
• Composer’s Original Isolated Score by James Horner – Not yet viewed.
• Deleted and Extended Scenes – These are just scenes which have been restored into the ‘special edition’ cut. Might as well just watch that version as a whole, rather than the individual scenes out of context.

Disc 5:

Superior Firepower: Making ALIENS
• 57 Years Later: Continuing the Story (11 mins)  A very short but informative opener for the Aliens bonus content. Just a few anecdotes about how the story came about and how they got Sigourney Weaver back as Ripley. Nothing groundbreaking!
• Building Better Worlds: From Concept to Construction (13 mins) – Another short  feature, this time about art design. Some interesting stories about overcoming budget constraints but otherwise, again – a fairly tame featurette compared to what was on the ‘Alien’ section.
• Preparing for Battle: Casting and Characterisation (17 mins) – A slightly more interesting feature about the task of finding the actors to fill the roles of the marines and other roles in the film. Includes on-set interviews from 1986 and more up-to-date reflections on the casting process, which inadvertently gives us a cool ‘now & then’ look at each of them. Especially sad to see Bill Paxton, given his recent passing. As well as casting, it also offers insight on the training that the core cast went through in order to become an elite military team.
• This Time It’s War: Pinewood Studios, 1985 (19 mins) – A more meaty feature around the filming of the movie at Pinewood. I didn’t realise that James Remar was originally cast as Hicks, but was soon replaced by Biehn after a week or so of filming (a cool fact, but probably would’ve been more suited in the casting featurette. Some interesting stories about conflicts on set between the British crew and (at the time) a young up and upcoming director from Canada. It seems that a lot of people went into the project not thinking it was going to be as good as the original. There also seems to be a lot of bad words about the 1st A.D on set, who sounds like he was a bit of a dick to some of the cast. There is even bad blood about tea breaks on set, so it would seem the clash of different work ethics caused some issues. 
• The Risk Always Lives: Weapons and Action (15 mins) – A look at original artwork and designs for the weaponry in the film. A cool look at some of the screen-tests for the guns, to see which provided the best flashes when shot. Sigourney was actually against the use of guns on the film at the time, as she was an anti-gun activist. The person who cut this feature has a poke at her I think cutting from an on-set interview where she says she hates the ‘macho’ feeling having just fired a weapon, to then cut straight to a more modern clip where she admits to getting a rush out of the experience of firing weapons on set. Oops. A few mishaps with the APC and near death experiences coupled with the conflicts detailed above makes it sound like quite a troubled shoot at times!
• Bug Hunt: Creature Design (16 mins) – Members of the design team talk through the modifications to the creatures and puppetry used to bring them to life. Some cool little bits of information within this one!
• Beauty and the Bitch: Power Loader vs. Queen Alien (22 mins) – A look at the development of the queen and the execution of one of the best loved scenes from the movie. Not the best feature on the disc, in fact, in my opinion – it’s one of the weaker behind-the-scenes.
• Two Orphans: Sigourney Weaver and Carrie Henn (13 mins) – I thought this one would explore the relationship between he two actors on set more, but in reality, it is just the two of them recounting specific experiences from filming individually. Would have been nice to see them sat together considering their characters in the film share a lot of time.
• The Power of Real Tech: Visual Effects (27 mins) – This clocks in as the longest behind the scenes on the disc. Visual effect techniques always make for decent special features, especially on sci-fi films, so there is some decent info in this piece. Maybe it runs a little longer than it needs to and I found myself losing interest once or twice throughout. 
• Aliens Unleashed: Reaction to the Film (12 mins) – Cast & crew discussing the first time they got to see the film in theatres. I always love these types of  featurettes, it’s nice to see everyone reminiscing about seeing the fruits of their labour for the first time, and having audiences react to their work. 
• The Final Countdown: Music, Editing and Sound (15 mins) – One of my favourites on the disc, offering insight to the troublesome post-production on the shoot, which led to the film just about being ready for the set release date! 

• Enhancement Pods (58 mins, collectively.) – Again, the enhancement pods are an extensive list in themselves, so it would be exhaustive to list and detail each instalment. Note worthy are the following: 

Disc 6:

Again, as I mentioned on the ‘Alien’ post, Disc 6 is mostly composed of image galleries, which are best viewed rather than me attempt to describe the in’s and out’s of them all. There’s are some video elements though, which I’ll comment on below…

Pre-Production:
• Original Treatment by James Cameron – As with the first film, we get a digital copy of the script.
• Pre-Visualizations: Multi-Angle Videomatics with Commentary
• Storyboard Archive
• The Art of Aliens: Image Galleries
• Cast Portrait Gallery

Production:
• Production Image Galleries
• Continuity Polaroids
• Weapons and Vehicles
• Stan Winston’s Workshop
• Colonial Marine Helmet Cameras (5 mins) – Nothing special, just some footage from the perspective of the marines during the mission. I expected it to be quite a cool, unique feature, but was ultimately disappointed. Little to no dialogue or sound, just the fuzzy picture as seen at points during the film.
• Video Graphics Gallery (4 mins) – All the digital imagery created that was used as on-screen footage throughout the film. So, computer read-outs, navigation tools and motion sensors on the weapons. Not missing much if you skip it, most of it is nonsense anyway, designed as background tech.
• Weyland-Yutani Inquest: Nostromo Dossiers (3 mins) – Similar to the above, but detailing the information of the crew from the Nostromo ship in the first film. Worth a few pauses if you want to learn more about the character bios. Most interestingly was the inclusion on Lamberts profile about her being a “female (unnatural.)” It further clarifies this in her remarks section where is comments “Subject is Despin Convert at birth (male to female.)” I’d never heard this before – a fascinating, if a little unnecessary reveal! Also, on Ripley’s file, it states she requested leave to spend time raising her child, but it was agreed she must first do the Nostromo mission and then she’d be allowed to spend more time with her daughter. Adds that little more tragedy to the character.

Post-Production and Aftermath:
• Deleted Scene: Burke Cocooned (1 min) – Apparently one of the most sought after deleted scenes of the whole anthology! Burke’s fate is revealed in this very short scene. Not a great deal of a send off – I’m sure audiences would have preferred a grizzly chestburster demise, which is probably why they left it as it was in the film.
• Deleted Scene Montage (4 mins) – A bunch of extra footage that wasn’t included in either version of the film. Image quality here is great considering it is completely unused footage! But mostly just consists of the trimmed ends discarded for clear reasons. They add very little to the experience.
• Image Galleries
• Special Collector’s Edition LaserDisc Archive
• Main Title Exploration (3 mins) – Quite an interesting little one here. Alternate versions of the opening titles for the film. Some are pretty decent, others are reminiscent of an early version of Windows Movie Maker…
• Aliens: Ride at the Speed of Fright (8 mins) – Footage from a simulator ride from 1996. Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator) makes an appearance giving his usual dramatic style of performance! The first four minutes serve as an introduction video, setting the story and then the final four are what would have been the simulator itself. To be honest, compared to the Star Wars efforts, this looks like it would have been quite a shit ride!
• Trailers & TV Spots – The trailers for this aren’t quite as intriguing as the original, but that didn’t matter at the time as it had enough buzz about it without trailers! 

Yet again, the second film in this 4-film box set is just a marvel. The film itself and the quality in which it is presented is worth the RRP alone. The bonus content on this disc isn’t quite as in-depth as with the first film but still a few decent revelations about the filming experience and general feel on set. I didn’t realise it was such a troubled production, so it was really interesting to hear about the differences between the American and British crew members.

Comparing the quality of these two releases within the box set, I’d have to say I personally favour the ‘Alien’ content. The films themselves are for the most part on par in terms of quality. Scott goes down the eery, atmospheric route, whilst Cameron touches upon building tension, but for the most part, the fun of ‘Aliens’ is that it goes balls-to-the-wall with the action. A complete change of direction and both just an brilliant as each other.

What pits the original over this release is the bonus content. Whilst ‘Alien’ has two or three feature-length documentaries, ‘Aliens’ is mostly complimented by various shorter featurettes. On the plus side, in comparison to the originals’ bonus content, there is a lot less repetition in terms of stories and archival footage. So whilst there may not be as many minutes racked up – every feature has new information and doesn’t lead to any wasted time.

So, overall, another great release which contributes to an impressive collection!!!

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