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Alien Quadrilogy
Reviewed by Kevin Pezzano, © 2004

Format: Movie
By:   Ridley Scott, James Cameron, etc.
Genre:   Science Fiction/Horror
Released:   December 2003
Review Date:   January 08, 2004
Audience Rating:   Films rated 'R'

"Hey, I just realized how little I'm in this!" - Lance "Bishop" Henriksen, from the "Aliens" commentary track.

I know one of the golden rules of reviewing is that you should shy away from hyperbolic statements like "This is the best DVD boxed set ever" and "I don't think I've ever seen anything as cool as this in my entire life!" Well, Alien Quadrilogy is the best DVD boxed set ever, and I don't think I've ever seen anything as cool as this in my entire life.

All four "Alien" movies. Two separate versions of each film. A separate disc for each installment packed with interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, concept art, and all sorts of making-of goodies. Full commentary tracks for all versions, done by the directors, stars, and even the production staff of each film. An entire ninth DVD containing yet another documentary, archives of old laserdisc version extras, and pretty much every trailer and TV spot ever made for an "Alien" picture. This box oozes fanboy goodness like an alien warrior dripping with slime.

The extras themselves are pretty much the definition of "exhaustive". There were times while watching this that I realized I had just sat through an hour of actor interviews about the characters they played and paging through production art galleries and footage of the set design and construction, and realized that I was barely a third of the way through the features focusing on just ONE of the four movies. These aren't cheap little puff-pieces, either; while the joys and brilliance of this movie series is made explicitly plain, no punches are pulled when it comes to the pain and dissatisfaction that sometime accompanied the production of these films.

This is made blatantly clear in the extras for "Alien 3" (not a shocking revelation, I know). Every wart and speedbump in the production is laid bare for the audience to see, from the initial, failed (but way cool and intriguingly gothic) concept of Ripley landing on a wooden space station and having to deal with repressed monks as well as the alien creature, to the struggle of neophyte director David Fincher to bring his unique vision to the screen despite studio interference and the utter lack of a finished script, to the unhappy reaction of everyone from the fans to James Cameron himself. And the "special edition," which adds a half hour of new footage to the film, including an extended opening and a COMPLETELY different chestburster scene, goes a long way towards redeeming "Alien 3" in my eyes (even if it doesn't quite manage it completely).

That brings us to the inclusion of the "alternate" versions of each movie contained in this set. Sometimes the "alternate" take works, like in the vastly superior expanded edition of "Aliens" and the aforementioned "Alien 3". But for the original "Alien" and "Alien Resurrection," it just seems pointless and unnecessary. Still, the fact that the original theatrical versions were included alongside the "enhanced" versions makes up for that. George Lucas, take note. And there's a full-length commentary for each version of all the films.

And with a single exception, these are brilliant commentaries. Unlike the lame "two production guys and a second-tier costar" type of commentary track found on discs like "The Matrix," the audio tracks found here feature people you want to hear from. Especially the one for "Aliens", which not only has James Cameron himself talking about the making of his film, but Lance "Bishop" Henriksen, Jeannette "Vasquez" Goldstein, Michael "Hicks" Biehn, and the inimical Bill "Hudson" Paxton reminiscing together over a few beers. It's the sort of commentary track that makes you wish you were there in the room while they recorded it, it's that much fun.

The other tracks have equally big guns doing them, with Ridley Scott and Sigourney Weaver accompanying the actors for Kane, Lambert, Brett, and Dallas for the first movie, and the very French and very amusing director of "Resurrection" offering his comments alongside Ron Perlman and the two guys who created the alien effects (and even wore the alien suit) for the last three films. The only misstep is the commentary for "Alien 3": apparently Fincher is too good now to do a commentary for his very first feature film, so we're left with the cinematographer and Lance Henriksen again, who was in the movie for all of five minutes and whose comments seem to consist of little more than "That iron staircase in the set background? I bought that from the movie and shipped it home."

Still, the other goodies for "Alien 3" make up for the anemic commentary, and it's really the only misstep in this entire nine-disc set. I did experience some problems with the alternate versions, since the discs don't contain two separate films, but rather use the "alternate camera angle" mode of your DVD player to simply insert the new footage or remove it, depending on what version you're watching. My crappy imported Taiwanese knockoff player couldn't quite handle the transitions right, but it was still fully watchable. Just a warning to all of you with Wal-Mart DVD players, that's all. And hey, it's all digitally mastered in THX, so I can live with a few scene repeats.

The "Alien Quadrilogy" boxed set is an Absolute Must Buy for anyone with even a marginal interest in the "Alien" films. There's never been a better presentation of these movies, nor a more COMPLETE look at all things "Alien". The effects, the scripts, the story concepts, the production, the actors, the trials, the tribulations, and a hell of a lot more than I can describe in a single review are crammed on these DVDs. It'll leave you feeling like your heart is pounding right out of your chest with thrilled excitement.

At least, I HOPE that's just my heart....

I say we take off and nuke Anime Editor Kevin Pezzano from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

 
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