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Review: Alien Quadrilogy Box Set (1979 – 1997)

Alien Quadrilogy Box Set (1979 – 1997)

Directed by: Ridley Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Premise: The Alien saga is the story of Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and her struggle with an insect-like alien species that spreads like a parasite.

What Works: Although often categorized as science fiction films, the Alien series is a major landmark in the horror genre. Each film adds its own unique component to the story and presents a narrative that is engaging on a variety of levels. The original film is essentially a haunted house picture in space and the film set a precedent for style and technique that is still imitated today. Alien has a number of ground breaking innovations, among them H.R. Giger’s art design, the blue collar characters, and making a woman the lead protagonist in a genre often dominated by males. Aliens, the follow up directed by James Cameron, is the rare sequel that surpasses the original film. Borrowing from the war genre, Aliens finds ways to increase the frights and take the characters and the dramatic action to a higher level. Alien 3 is a very somber picture but one that has a very artful and cerebral approach that has largely gone unappreciated by critics. While some saw the film as nihilistic, the picture pushes out into spiritual areas and although its conclusion is challenging for audiences it is also an ending that is filled with symbolism about the nature of evil and it is a logical progression for Ripley’s character. Alien: Resurrection pulls the psychosexual elements of the series out of the closet and place them front and center. At the same time it draws on contemporary science fiction conventions, which themselves are drawn largely from the western genre, making it an interesting confection of action and existential philosophy.

What Doesn’t: Each film has two versions, the theatrical cut and a longer extended cut. While the extended versions of Aliens and Alien 3 are a far superior to the original versions, the additions to Alien and Alien: Resurrection come off more as a gimmick than genuine artistic endeavors. However, since both versions of the films are available in this set, the changes are ultimately incidental.

DVD Extras: This is one of the best-assembled DVD packages ever. Each film has two discs, one with the theatrical and extended versions of the film and the other with extras including comprehensive documentaries on the making of the series. The documentaries are surprisingly candid and the filmmakers include criticism of the shortcomings of their work and the other films in the series. Also included are commentary tracks, deleted scenes, photo galleries, sample treatments, trailers, and DVD-ROM features.

Bottom Line: The Alien series is essential viewing for fans of the horror and science fiction genres, but it is that rare breed of film that appeals beyond fans of these genres because its episodes are so well made.

Episode: #114 (October 29, 2006)