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Alien (20th Anniversary Edition Box Set) | DVD | (15/05/2000)
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This deluxe five-disc package shows off not only the merits of the films on offer but the wide possibilities of the DVD medium. Even if you're among the many that only rate two or three of the Alien films, this is still an essential purchase. (The jury is still out on the interesting-but-muddy Alien 3, directed by David Fincher--who went on to make Seven and Fight Club--while Alien: Resurrection by Jean-Pierre Jeunet of Delicatessen fame is the nearest the series has come to an ordinary movie.) Although more than 20 years old, Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) has hardly dated. It's a film of suspense and terror rather than action and excitement, as disturbing (if illogical) as ever, thanks to Swiss-artist HR Giger's visionary monster design, rooted by a clutch of interesting Anglo-American actors (Sigourney Weaver, Yaphet Kotto, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Skerritt). Weaver, making her career breakthrough here, slowly emerges from the pack as the survivor, but the sequel, Aliens (1986), really puts her acting skills (for which she was Oscar-nominated) centre-screen, as the maternal warrior-woman whose compassion makes her fitter to survive than the gung-ho space marines. Titanic director James Cameron's action chops are demonstrated best in the series' duel between Ripley and the "bad mother" alien queen. Watched back-to-back, even the less-satisfying later films work as developments of Weaver's Ripley character, as she becomes a tired martyr in Alien 3 (1992) and is reborn as a part-alien clone in Alien: Resurrection (1997). In this box set, all four films are presented in widescreen aspect ratios derived from pristine prints allowing you to discern more in the shadows than you get in even the best video editions. The imaginatively designed interactive menus flash the logos and computer codes of Weyland-Yutani (the evil corporation in the films) helping you to "access transmission". The digital English soundtrack can be augmented with optional subtitles in English, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Portuguese, Hebrew, Polish, Czech, Hungarian and Icelandic (impress your friends by reeling off the Hebrew for "Get away from her, you bitch"). Alien has an informative audio commentary by Ridley Scott (whose obsession with detail, see for example his recent Gladiator, suits him perfectly to the task of talking you through his typically hyper-designed films). Also included are deleted scenes and outtakes (such as the until-now-legendary sequence showing the ship's captain in a cocoon, plus a few clearer looks at the original beastie), several trailers, tons of production paintings and stills, the storyboard, an alternate music track and the original score in isolation. The sequels all have trailers, but the extras diminish with each disc. The "Director's Cut" included on Aliens (17 crucial minutes longer than the original theatrical release, which means you find out Ripley's first name is Ellen) has an interview with Cameron and some backstage footage. Alien 3 contains a "making of" documentary that actually covers all three films, while Alien: Resurrection only has a brief making-of "featurette" (oddly, neither Alien 3's director Fincher nor Resurrection's Jean-Pierre Jeunet are interviewed, and Jeunet isn't even mentioned). An extra fifth disc, free with the set, contains "The Alien Legacy", an hour-long documentary on the making of the first film, concentrating on the script, design, effects, production and direction. --Kim Newman