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Default Aliens: Special Edition




Reviewer: Styx
Review Date: March 7, 2000

Released by: Fox
Release date: 6/1/1999
MSRP: $29.98 (OOP)
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes



In 1986 James Cameron directed the sequel to Ridley Scott's original masterpiece Alien. Taking on more of an action feel, Aliens is chock full of pulse gun blasting action as a group of elite space marines must take on not one but a virtual army of aliens. Sigourney Weaver reprises her role as Lt. Ripley, a role in which she'd go on to win a best actress Academy Award. 20th Century Fox Home Video released Aliens along with the other films in the series in June of 1999, here's a look at Aliens.

The Story

inline Image Fifty-seven years after Ellen Ripley's (Sigourney Weaver) ordeal aboard the late commercial towing ship "The Nostromo", her escape shuttle is discovered adrift by a salvage team in deep space. Both Ripley and her cat Jones were in hypersleep and they both survived through the decades without aging a day. While recuperating she is greeted by Burke (Paul Reiser), a representative of "The Company", who explains that she has been in hypersleep for 57 years. Awakened in a new time, Ripley must now not only cope with the traumatic experience she had on the Nostromo, but the 57 years she's missed out on. Burke also informs Ripley she'll have to attend a hearing with company execs that are looking into the matter of the destruction of the Nostromo, which was an "expensive piece of hardware".

inline Image No one is willing to believe Ripley's story of the derelict ship on LV-426 and the alien she encountered so the company deems her unfit to hold an ICC license as a Commercial Flight Officer. Ripley also discovers that LV-426 has since been colonized by a group of Terraformers. Before long contact with the colony on LV-426 is lost and Burke, along with Lieutenant Gorman (William Hope) pays Ripley a visit in hopes of convincing her to go with them as an "advisor" along with a team of marines. Reluctant at first, Ripley finally decides to go after still being plagued by reoccurring nightmares of her encounter with the alien and the events that took place on the Nostromo.

inline Image When the marines arrive on LV-426 they discover the colony abandoned and in ruins. The marines secure the area and Ripley and the rest of the crew enter the installation. The marines finally do pick-up a signal, which turns out to be a filthy little girl nicknamed "Newt" (Carrie Henn), a lone survivor who has been hiding out in the air ducts. Accessing the central computer, Hudson (Bill Paxton) attempts to locate the colonists by the trackers that were surgically implanted in them. They pick up the signals and move to investigate. What they find is none other than an alien hive and all the colonists cocooned. When one of the colonists is disturbed the aliens awaken and take the marines by surprise. After being slaughtered by the aliens and losing about half their men the marines retreat.

inline Image Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn), the highest ranking marine left alive, decides to take Ripley's advice and nuke the site from orbit. The marines request to be picked up by plane but unfortunately, in route to the marine's location the ship's pilots are killed by an alien and the ship crashes. More good news, Bishop (Lance Henriksen), the Marine's synthetic also discovers that the reactor to the installation is overloading and an explosion is eminent. Now it's a race against time for Ripley and the marines to escape the planet and defend themselves against an army of warrior aliens and their angry Queen.

inline Image James Cameron's take on the original Alien is excellent, if not inspired. Straying away from a more suspense/horror type film, Cameron opted to infuse the sequel with pulse pounding action and a host of impressive new gadgets, weaponry and vehicles. Best of all in this sequel we are introduced to the mother of all aliens, the Queen Alien. In what is probably one of the greatest confrontations in the history of cinema (okay maybe a bit of exaggeration there), Ripley goes head to head with the Queen using a powerloader. This sequence is intense but at the same time hilarious as Ripley continually whacks the Queen upside her head. It's definitely one of my favorite moments from the film.

Although Aliens is more action over suspense the film still has its moments. When the marines first arrive at the colony and find it in ruins while looking for survivors there is a sense of impending doom. Also aiding this is one of the cooler inventions of the film and probably one of the most recognized, the "motion scanner". Whenever in close proximity to a moving object the motion scanner emits a "beep" and as the object gets closer the beeps go off at a faster pace. This is a great tool to build suspense as the aliens relentlessly seek out the marine survivors throughout the film. Contained on this DVD is James Cameron's Director's Cut of Aliens.

inline Image With or without the additional footage, Aliens is still a great film, but there are some noticeable differences between the Director's Cut and the Theatrical Cut. For the most part both versions are the same and they feel like the same movie, but there are some significant scenes added in the Director's Cut that were edited out of the Theatrical Cut. Most notable are the scenes at the colony on LV-426 before contact is lost. We see the colonists at work and the children playing in the corridors, we also see Newt's parents, who happen to be the ones who discover the derelict ship and set in motion the chain of events that most likely destroyed the colony. In the theatrical cut all those scenes were omitted in favor of moving the film along.

I feel that having those scenes edited out made the film lose an important element. Because we never see the colonists we don't develop any relation with them so when the marines do arrive and find the aftermath we really don't feel anything for those people. It's also a whole lot creepier when we see the installation in shambles and what was once a bustling facility now shattered and destroyed. The rest of the added footage is not nearly as significant, basically some added scenes of the marines arriving on LV-426 as well as some scenes with the century guns in which the aliens try to get by them to get to the survivors.

I've always loved Aliens and I think it's one of the best science fiction/action films of all time (forget Starship Troopers). The acting, especially from Weaver (who won many awards or her portrayal of Ripley) is also top notch and keeps this film from falling into the mindless action film category. Though the original will always be my favorite, Aliens comes pretty damn close to outdoing it, and for a sequel that's saying a lot.

Image Quality

inline Image 20th Century Fox Home Video presents Aliens widescreen at 1.85:1 in a 16x9 enhanced THX mastered transfer. All things considered, this is an excellent transfer from the folks at Fox and being anamorphic it is a rarity for the studio. Having only a previous THX mastered widescreen VHS as a basis for comparison, this DVD was very enlightening. From reports I've heard from folks who have the CAV Laserdisc box set, Aliens apparently has always been notoriously grainy. Well the good news is the transfer on the Aliens DVD is pretty damn good. There is still a fair amount of grain in some scenes, but overall the image and clarity are very pleasing as well as the detail. The dull color palette of blues, browns, and grays look very good with nice saturation.

The occasional appearance of brighter colors such, as reds are vibrant and solid. There are a few shots that appeared a bit soft but overall the transfer remains sharp and detailed, especially in the brighter lit interiors. The print used for the transfer was in excellent shape and I noted no instances of scratches or specks, which is impressive. James Cameron shot Aliens using grainy film stock to heighten the mood and reinforce the documentary feel that accompanies the film. So, unfortunately, until HD-DVD comes along this is probably the best Aliens will look on current home video formats. Don't get me wrong, I think this is a good transfer, but it's definitely a noticeable step down from the rest of the DVDs in the "Alien Legacy".

Sound

Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 the audio to Aliens is pretty good, but not impressive. The score sounds great, but at times feels a bit muffled and the surrounds did not present an overall thrilling sound experience to match the action on screen. The front channels get the most workout, but during the many action sequences the surrounds do get fairly aggressive. Dialogue remained clear throughout the film, even during the frantic action sequences with guns blazing and panicky marines yelling. This is a pretty good 5.1 mix but nothing that will knock your socks off.


Supplemental Material

inline Image The DVD of Aliens is not on par with the original in terms of supplements, but the disc still features some extras worth noting. First and foremost are the excellent animated menus, which are among my favorites. The Main Menu consists of a first person view walking down a corridor similar in theme to the film complete with sound clips. Second is an interview with James Cameron, which was conducted by Don Shay of Cinefex magazine at the time of Aliens release. In the interview Cameron tackles such topics as creating a sequel to a film like Alien and his approach to the story. He also talks about Ripley's inner motivation for returning to the planet after what she's been through the first time.

inline Image Cameron also discusses the parallels between the events in Aliens and what happened in Vietnam. It's not a very long interview, only a couple minutes, but it's pretty good, though no interview is a substitute for a commentary. Also included on the Aliens disc are little behind the scenes bits. Among them are a look at the miniature sets of the colony and the atmosphere processor and also the functionality of the "Face Huggers" and how they moved. There's also footage of sculpting the "Chestburster" and footage of testing out the Queen's movement...interesting stuff.

Finally we have four trailers, one for each of the Alien films and extensive photo galleries of the different creatures, ships and the cast and crew. A nice set of supplements and considering the length of the film, it would have been difficult to add anything else without compromising quality.

Final Thoughts

Fox's DVD release of Aliens is pretty much top draw. All the DVDs flaws are really due to source materials. In retrospect, it's a shame Fox didn't utilize DVD's "branching" feature to allow both the original theatrical cut and the extended director's cut on the same disc. Still, you'll not find a better presentation of Aliens than on this DVD plus it has some supplements to give some added value. Aliens is available separately or as part as the Alien Legacy box set.

Rating

Image Quality - B+
Sound - B+
Supplements - B

Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Rated R
  • 1 Disc
  • 34 Chapter Stops
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1

Supplements
  • Interview with Director James Cameron
  • Behind the Scenes Footage
  • Extensive Still Galleries
  • 8-page Collectable Booklet

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