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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Horror > Thriller > Action > Alien (1979/Fox DTS DVD set)

Alien (DTS DVD, also from the ALIEN QUADRILOGY)


Disc One   Picture: A-     Sound: A-     Extras: C+     Film: A

Disc Two   Picture: B-     Sound: B-    Content: A-



It is very hard to have a film hold up and survive in the Horror and/or Science Fiction genres, especially with advances in effects (if not in story), but Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) actually gets better with age because of its advances in story and the genres it represents.  Even in the newer cut, it is still impressive.  It has taken years, but worthy DVD (and D-VHS) copies of the film have finally been issued.  Off of the terrific restored materials that were used for the impressive (if controversial) theatrical reissue, the film can be experienced with an impact like nothing since 70mm blow-ups were offered back in 1979!


No special effects needed to be changed, altered or upgraded.  Sure, some of them may be a tad dated, but the model work stands up as some of the greatest in cinema history, putting 99% of current digital effects to date in the dust.  Despite its then low budget, they have even outlasted the original Star Wars trilogy, an honor few films (Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) among that short list) have been able to do.


Of course, we now have that “director’s cut” from the recent theatrical re-release, but it turns out other footage was trimmed here and there from the original theatrical release, while new footage was added in its place.  There is actually a minute less in the running time of the new version’s full length, but Scott has said he just approved this so the film could be restored and considers the original his cut.  His Blade Runner (1982, in all of its cuts, including the 2007 Final Cut) helped establish the idea of reissuing a cut the way the director wanted it, but even that was not totally satisfactory, voice over arguments or otherwise.  Rumors abound of a multi-DVD set of that film and maybe even another cut, but all versions should be made available there, the way they are here.


As it stands, the original is the classic and that is why the footage did not get reinserted into the film in the first place, when it originally appeared on LaserDisc.  Thanks to the interactivity of DVD, you can now see both, looking and sounding great.  The original cut is the more intense and well-paced of the two, with the new cut serving as an interesting alterative of what might have been.  It is also a nice change of pace if you have seen the film a few hundred times, as this critic has.  It also gives us another take on how high a level everyone was working on at the time.  The extras do not enhance the film narratively as much as it expands the cinematic space we are used to seeing.  The sequels have all done this too, of course, but there is nothing like seeing the original having a few more tricks up its sleeve.


To ruin them (that annoying “spoiler” trend) would be wrong, but even describing it is not sufficient to understanding and enjoying what went on here.  You have to see it, you have to experience it, you have to live through it to really understand why it is a classic, like all cinema classics.  Alien has, on many levels, yet to be understood by even the best filmmakers and greatest film scholars, proving the work here is still decades ahead of its time.


The story offers the crew of the Nostromo, awakened when they arrive back to the airspace near earth.  As they get to work, however, they discover they are far from home.  The Company (Weyland-Yutani) has received computer readouts back home that a signal of unknown origin is in the path of the returning ship.  Per their policy, which also “guarantees” the crew a percentage of whatever they discover, they have to investigate where it is coming from.  When they finally decide to do what The Company wants, it will be the one of the greatest mistakes anyone ever made.


The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image is off of an exceptional digital High Definition transfer, with detail, depth, color fidelity, lighting, and shadow detail that makes it demonstration material on almost every level.  When Fox did the first letterboxed release of the film, it was from their heavy LaserDisc boxed set.  At the time, that looked good, but then came an even better single, THX-approved LaserDisc.  This second version offered the film for the first time with a Dolby Digital 5.1 AC-3 mix that made the originals 70mm Dolby magnetic blow-up sound available for the first time, with slight, smart upgrades.  That picture was so much better in fact, that it had qualities over the first DVD of the film, which lost picture detail on the sides and was a shade lighter and even a little more color poor than that



Going back to the original negative, the DVD (D-VHS and soon Blu-ray) now offers the best possible picture, showing off the innovative camerawork by Director of Photography/cinematographer Derek Vanlint in a way few have had access to in years.  This is one of the only films ever to succeed in picking up where 2001: A Space Odyssey left off.  Even before Blade Runner, this was the film that introduced the post-modern look in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror films that has been endlessly ripped-off and imitated (very, very badly in most cases) so often since.  Everyone can finally see what a remarkable film this was visually, and how that look forwards the story and tells us what is really going on.  What a great looking film!


We should also take a moment and give serious credit to H.R. Giger, whose designs made this franchise possible above all else and changed the course of such genre filmmaking forever.  He did not always get this credit later in the series, remarkably, but he is the visionary that dealt with the psychosexual aspects of the other through his art and now it is part of cinema history forever.


Two 5.1 mixes are offered here, including a Dolby mix that is comparable to the old THX LaserDisc mix, and an even better DTS mix that has the kind of rich impact the magnetic Dolby tracks would have had on the 70mm blow-ups.  This was a film meant for the big screen and it has what is still one of the greatest multi-channel sound mixes in film history.  The mix was different than what was on the 35mm release, and in effect, the regular stereo and Pro Logic surround home video versions.  The previous DVD has major problems with the 5.1 mix that made no sense.  This DVD fixes that.  Though some of the sound shows its age, like the recorded dialogue, the sound design is as vital now as it ever was.  Francis Coppola’s Apocalypse Now came out the same year and also had a fine theatrical reissue.  That film is also known for its groundbreaking sound.  Alien is at as high a level!


Another great element that deserves singled out is the stunning score by Jerry Goldsmith.  Despite the fact that he was not totally happy with what degree of control he had and the resulting music, he is one of the greatest composers in cinema history and whatever he did not intend or did not like, those elements have to be among the luckiest accidents in music history!  This music stands out on its own and is one of the most extraordinary scores ever recorded.  Its power and ability to change on a dime could only come from the mind of a superior music literate, and Goldsmith grossly underestimates his stunning achievements here.  He is unhappy that certain pieces were omitted for other music, and that is a more valid complaint.  It may not have fit, but on the extended CD issued a few years ago with those cuts were great, though I have to go with Scott’s final decisions in these matters.  They work better dramatically, and in terms of pacing and suspense.


Then there are the extras.  The only extras on Disc One is an introduction by Scott and a great commentary track with the key cast, crew (Dan O’Bannon, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt and Scott among others), a change from the Scott-only commentary on the first DVD.  Disc Two goes above and beyond the call of anything we have seen before, being one of the best supplement DVDs to date and will stay that way for a very long time.  The story of the making of this film turns out to be as phenomenal as the film itself, more amazing since this does not include extras on the Quadrilogy bonus DVD.  The following list shows the goodies:

… Nine brand new documentaries:

1)     Star Beast - On developing the Alien story

2)     The Visualists -­ The direction and design of the film

3)     Truckers In Space -­ Casting the movie

4)     Fear Of The Unknown -­ Behind the scenes at Shepperton Studios in 1978

5)     The Darkest Reaches -­ Developing the Nostromo and Alien planet

6)     The Eight Passenger -­ Creating the Alien

7)     Future Tense - Focusing on the music and editing of Alien

8)     Outward Bound - Peering into the film’s visual effects

9)     A Nightmare Fulfilled -­ Reaction to the film’s opening


… A Multi-Angle Scene Study on the Chestburster sequence with optional
commentary by Ridley Scott and the production team
… Sigourney Weaver’s original screen test with optional commentary by Ridley
… Seven deleted scenes with a deleted footage marker and deleted scene index, all of which is in the new cut.
… The first draft of the screenplay by Dan O’Bannon
… Ridleygrams -­ original thumbnails and sketches by Ridley Scott (if not complete)
… Storyboard Archives
The Art of Alien including a cast portrait gallery, production gallery, the sets of Alien, H.R. Giger’s Workshop, continuity Polaroids and VFX gallery
… The original theatrical posters and stills from the premiere



It is a reminder that great moviemaking can happen in more commercial filmmaking when the studios allow talent to make their films, do not shove digital effects everywhere, all before the artificial caste system developed between “art” and “commercial” filmmaking in the 1980s.  This is also one of the most well-cast films of all time, with extraordinary chemistry and acting found in few.  The film manages to combine key elements of 2001 (among other Kubrick films), Douglas Trumbull’s Silent Running, Tobe Hopper’s first (and the only) Texas Chainsaw Massacre (both 1973), Agatha Christie’s “…and then there were none”, and the other great Science Fiction films that resulted in the wake of 2001, with Scott’s new vision of the future and a remarkable melding of the work of writers O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett and (uncredited on the writing) producers David Giler and Walter Hill.


There are also those who automatically like to jump at you and say that they like Cameron’s sequel Aliens better, but that was not the case back in the mid-1980s, when so many viewers had the privilege of seeing and living through the original theatrical release frenzy of Scott’s original.  I happen to love both films and think they are the closest things to cinematic miracles than can happen in Hollywood moviemaking.  However, Scott’s Alien tends to have more depth, realism, Horror, sexuality, and existentialist dread that Cameron replaced with his awesome take of action and battle scenes that were groundbreaking, but easier to imitate.  Through the years, Cameron’s style has been ripped-off most unsuccessfully in endlessly bad action films, and Titanic proved he was more than just a genre filmmaker if Aliens did not.  Scott’s film is also in widescreen Panavision, which is used to stunning effect, while Cameron’s film is the only one in flat 1.85 X 1, though that one actually looks bigger than Alien Resurrection on many levels.


And finally, there is Sigourney Weaver, one of the greatest actors of her generation and most important female stars of the last quarter century.  Instead of taking up residence in this series and letting the films and herself be played-out, she went on to also do powerful, amazing work in films like Roman Polanski’s Death and the Maiden (1994), Gorillas in the Mist, the underappreciated Copycat, her hilarious turn in Mike Nichols’ Working Girl, and her far more commercial turn in the Ghostbusters films.  When they look back at her career, they will see how vital her work was to moving filmmaking forward for women, and in turn for the audience.  No matter what, all that will also always come back to Alien and that is an achievement and start beyond words.


This edition of Alien is available in the extraordinary nine-DVD Alien Quadrilogy or as its own two-DVD set.  Reviews for the other discs in that boxed set are as follows, with their own weblinks:






Alien 3



Alien Resurrection



Alien Quadrilogy (Bonus DVD)




Plus these versions of Alien vs. Predator sold separately:


PG-13 Widescreen DVD



Unrated Widescreen DVD



Blu-ray with both versions




-     Nicholas Sheffo


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