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Review - The Alien Quadrilogy (DVD-2003)
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The Alien Quadrilogy (DVD-2003)

Twentieth Century Fox Home Video

Reviewed by Dennis Kwiatkowski

 

It strives to be the granddaddy of all DVD releases in an era where Special Edition DVDs become more impressive with each subsequent release.  It is an instance where size indeed matters.  The Alien Quadrilogy is a massive 9-disc special edition set encompassing all four of the Alien films.

 

Not only the theatrical versions of the films, but also special expanded-editions of each film.  And lots, I mean lots of behind the scenes stuff—documentaries, commnetaries, featurettes, trailers, screenplays and extras.  Would you believe 45 hours of additional material?  In fact, there are three hours worth of fascinating documentaries for each of the four films and that doesn’t scratch the surface of the extras.

 

That it was put together in only a year is an achievement of which documentarian Charles de Lauzirika can be proud. It is an interesting mix of old and new material—mostly new, seen for the first time and derived from literally hundreds of boxes of archival materials and dailies from the various productions.  As Lauzirika puts it, “I didn’t want to use anything we had previously released and I wanted to cover every topic.” In addition Lauzirika coaxed cast and crew from the various films to participate in the project which would also offer restored versions of each of the films. Ridley Scott, the director of the first Alien film, said that he would only get involved in the project if it would be the ultimate restoration and if it would be done right.  He got his wish. 

 

Now let us briefly consider the four films:

 

The first film is Alien, perhaps the most atmospheric and unsettling of the films.  Earlier this year—a special edition of Alien containing a couple of extra scenes was released in theatres. It was simply meant to renew interest in the film and the impending release of this DVD set.  Its director, Ridley Scott prefers the original.  No matter, it is an interesting and worthy version of the film and, on this Special DVD set, the viewer gets to choose between that version and the original theatrical version from 1979.

 

The second film in the series, Alien was directed by no less than James Cameron (of Terminator and Titanic fame).  It is action packed and a tour de force.  Many consider it to be the best of the four films.  Again, there are two versions of the film, the original from 1986 as well as the expanded edition.  And, for director Cameron, the expanded edition is the one which is the definitive one—the ride he intended viewers to take.  It was cut only for reasons of time theatrically.  The Aliens film also includes a thoroughly fascinating commentary by Cameron—the first he has done for it and well worth the wait.

 

The third film of the series is the controversial Alien 3, which takes place in a penal colony.  It was the most problematic of the productions (although those who worked under Cameron’s Kubrick-like search for perfection on Aliens might disagree).  Alien 3 had script problems and production problems.  It was directed by David Fincher who was never quite satisfied with the finished film. Fincher declined to participate in this special DVD set,  so Alien 3 is represented by the original theatrical release, and also by the working cut Fincher assembled in 1991 prior to editing.  The working cut is 30 minutes longer than the theatrical version and provides an interesting comparison, though it comes with its own set of problems. Behind the scenes documentary material gives the viewer insight into the problems involved in making this film.  For many, the series began going downhill with Alien 3 and never recovered.  Others find the film to be a worthy successor to the first two films.  But almost all agree that it was a mistake to have killed off certain cast members at the very start of the film—characters the audience had identified with.  It was like a betrayal of trust, to say nothing of the basic structural premise of the films themselves.

 

The fourth film in the series, Alien 4: Resurrection directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet was not well-received as it followed the already controversial Alien 3.  Yet, again, the documentaries provide fascinating insight as to the objectives of the filmmakers.  And, as documentarian Lauzirika aptly points out about the Alien films: “It’s a variation on a theme each time out.  You have a specific, unique, visually stunning director who takes a slice of the Alien universe and they do what they want with it.  It’s different each time.”

 

Commenting on the decision to include alternate versions of all the films, documentarian Lauzirika’s reasoning is: why not?--especially if you can present both versions of each film and allow the viewer to choose.  This idea is sound and not without precedent.  Great composers such as Mahler and Bruckner have offered revised and differing versions of their own symphonies, for example. 

 

This DVD set is overwhelming in the amount of material offered. A ninth disc offers material that would not fit on the jam packed previous eight discs.  However, the set is intended to be watched slowly. Alien and its extras, one weekend, for example, Aliens the next, and so on.  As to the look and sound of the discs, the restored film transfers are just superb and an improvement over previous editions.

 

The Alien Quadrilogy, all nine discs’ worth, constitutes a stupendous presentation achievement and is intended to be the ultimate Alien set. Whatever your feelings about the merits of each individual film, it is both an important release historically and, perhaps more importantly for the viewer, an undeniably rich cinematic experience well worth investigating!

 

2003 Dennis Kwiatkowski/Celluloid Dreams

 

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