Alien Anthology review (6-disc Blu-ray)

Over three decades after you first screamed, the mothership has truly landed with this ultimate Blu-ray collection. The stunning new Alien Anthology Blu-ray box set brings together the four classic Alien films plus an extra two discs of bonus material which includes footage that has never been seen before.

One of the most successful and terrifying film series of all time has been reinvigorated for an intense high-definition experience, and all four Alien films look absolutley stunning. The release also marks the debut of MU-TH-UR Mode, which Fox calls "a fully interactive companion that takes the extensive materials in the Alien Anthology and puts them in the user’s hand – connecting fans to special features on all six discs and instantly providing an index of all available Alien content" ... in English, that means what while watching any of the four films, you can "tag" certain moments of interest (ie, the chest-bursting scene in the original) and later watch any related bonus material, which will most likely be on a separate disc.

But before we embark on a full rundown of the stunning features package, here's a quick refresher on the films themselves ...

Alien (1979) In the distant future, a mining ship in deep space lands on a mysterious planet after receiving a distress signal, though what they discover is far from just distressing, as a deadly being of unknown origin boards their vessel and begins to rip right through the crew. Ridley Scott's Alien is both a suspense and sci-fi horror masterpiece. Alien is the film that gave birth to Sigourney Weaver's iconic Ripley character, the hard-as-nails protagonist who leads the way in the search and destroy mission against the creature. The cast also rather excellently features John Hurt, Lance Henriksen and Ian Holm. You could sum it up as Jaws in space as the alien itself isn't seen too much until the end, but its creepy presence is felt throughout the whole film. Alien is gory, frightening and claustrophobic, and it's one of the best films ever made. And if you're super-rich, this may put you off that Virgin Galactic space flight you were thinking of investing in.

Aliens (1986) Set 57 years after the groundbreaking first instalment, a team of Marines – plus Ripley, the sole survivor of the alien attack on the Nostromo – return to the planet LV-426 to see what has happened to colonists sent there 50 years earlier. They arrive to find the place deserted ... except for lots and lots of acid-drooling aliens. Cue lots of hardcore action, firefights and bloody deaths. It's a tossup between this and Terminator 2: Judgement Day as James Cameron's best film. From a sedate start with Ripley drifting in space, Aliens builds into one of the most intense experiences ever committed to celluloid. It's got a fabulous (mostly male) cast – among them Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, Paul Reiser, Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein – but it's Weaver's film all the way. From wary victim warning the company not to go near the planet, to kick-arse fighter to the woman who plays surrogate mother to the sole survivor that they find – a little girl called Newt (Carrie Henn) – Weaver is nothing short of utterly watchable and totally believable in the role with which she has become synonymous. If you've never seen Aliens before, watch and enjoy – but prepare to be wrung out when the final credits roll.

Alien³ (1992) And so it was up to the directorial talents of David Fincher to helm the film that made the Alien series a trilogy, and up to the predominantly British cast that ranges from Ralph Brown to Pete Postlethwaite to sell it. With Sigourney Weaver returning as a rather bald Ripley, queen of the action divas, she spends the film not in space, but on a planet that acts solely as a prison. And yes, there's an alien on it, too. Joining forces with the prisoners, Ripley makes a desperate attempt to survive, as you might expect. I can't count just how many rungs it is down on the ladder of greatness from the first two instalments, but if you're watching the Special Extended Edition, also known as the Assembly Cut, you're in for a good time, and that's why we give Alien³ three stars, even though it's not actually a final cut. If you're watching the theatrical version, which is quite a lot shorter and misses out some juicy scenes, the film just gets two for a disposable sequel. Regardless, it's definitely not Fincher's best work, though with its grungy and grimy atmosphere, very much feels like one of his movies.

Alien: Resurrection (1997) We'll probably get a lot of flak for liking this as much as we do, but it's a perfectly good sci-fi film. As long as you don't directly compare it to the previous work of Scott and Cameron then you're in for a good time. Alien: Resurrection brings plenty of new and exciting ideas to the franchise and takes the seek and destroy action back up into the depths of space aboard a freight ship. The Ripley in the fourth Alien is a clone, so you continually get that inescapable feeling that she isn't THE Ripley, but she still kicks plenty of hide nonetheless as she tag teams with a cast that includes Ron Perlman, Winona Ryder, Amelie's Dominique Pinon, and CSI's Gary Dourdan, to take out a multitude of aliens. Alien: Resurrection is wrapped up in plenty of action, a highly intense scene atop a ladder hundreds of feet high, and a pretty funny speech gag that involves Ripley and a fork.

All four films look simply dazzling, particularly the first two. The remastering has produced ultra-sharp images with lush colour and glossy blacks. The sound, too, has been spruced up substantially – this is truly the closest that you'll get to a cinema experience at home. The set contains six discs. Each film has its own disc, which contains two versions of each movie (the original theatrical versioon, plus a director's cut or special edition) along with audio commentaries. The other two discs contain more than 60 hours of extra features, including every piece of bonus material ever released on all the previous Alien collections (the full list is below, after the image of the laid-out box set) – and some of it NEVER released before. This truly is an amazing collection, and a must-have for all true fans of the Alien films.

Alien Anthology Blu-ray 6-disc Box Set

ALIEN ANTHOLOGY BLU-RAY

EXTRAS ★★★★★DISC ONE: ALIEN• 1979 Theatrical Version• 2003 Director’s Cut with Ridley Scott Introduction• Audio Commentary by Director Ridley Scott, Writer Dan O’Bannon, Executive Producer Ronald Shusett, Editor Terry Rawlings, Actors Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton and John Hurt• Audio Commentary (for Theatrical Cut only) by Ridley Scott• Final Theatrical Isolated Score by Jerry Goldsmith• Composer’s Original Isolated Score by Jerry Goldsmith• Deleted and Extended Scenes• MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience with Weyland-Yutani DatastreamDISC TWO: ALIENS• 1986 Theatrical Version• 1991 Special Edition with James Cameron Introduction• Audio Commentary by Director James Cameron, Producer Gale Anne Hurd, Alien Effects Creator Stan Winston, Visual Effects Supervisors Robert Skotak and Dennis Skotak, Miniature Effects Supervisor Pat McClung, Actors Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, Carrie Henn and Christopher Henn• Final Theatrical Isolated Score by James Horner• Composer’s Original Isolated Score by James Horner• Deleted and Extended Scenes• MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience with Weyland-Yutani DatastreamDISC THREE: ALIEN³• 1992 Theatrical Version• 2003 Special Edition (Restored Workprint Version)• Audio Commentary by Cinematographer Alex Thomson, B.S.C., Editor Terry Rawlings, Alien Effects Designers Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr., Visual Effects Producer Richard Edlund, A.S.C., Actors Paul McGann and Lance Henriksen• Final Theatrical Isolated Score by Elliot Goldenthal• Deleted and Extended Scenes• MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience with Weyland-Yutani DatastreamDISC FOUR: ALIEN RESURRECTION• 1997 Theatrical Version• 2003 Special Edition with Jean-Pierre Jeunet Introduction• Audio Commentary by Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Editor Hervé Schneid, A.C.E., Alien Effects Creators Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr., Visual Effects Supervisor Pitof, Conceptual Artist Sylvain Despretz, Actors Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon and Leland Orser• Final Theatrical Isolated Score by John Frizzell• Deleted and Extended Scenes• MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience with Weyland-Yutani DatastreamDISC FIVE: MAKING THE ANTHOLOGYIn addition to over 12 hours of candid, in-depth documentaries, you now have the ability to go even deeper into Alien Anthology history with nearly five hours of additional video Enhancement Pods created exclusively for this collection, presenting behind-the-scenes footage, raw dailies and interview outtakes from all four films. At topical points in the documentaries, you may access these pods to enhance your experience, or watch them on their own from the separate Enhancement Pod index.The Beast Within: Making ALIEN• Star Beast: Developing the Story• The Visualists: Direction and Design• Truckers in Space: Casting• Fear of the Unknown: Shepperton Studios, 1978• The Darkest Reaches: Nostromo and Alien Planet• The Eighth Passenger: Creature Design• Future Tense: Editing and Music• Outward Bound: Visual Effects• A Nightmare Fulfilled: Reaction to the Film• Enhancement PodsSuperior Firepower: Making ALIENS• 57 Years Later: Continuing the Story• Building Better Worlds: From Concept to Construction• Preparing for Battle: Casting and Characterization• This Time It’s War: Pinewood Studios, 1985• The Risk Always Lives: Weapons and Action• Bug Hunt: Creature Design• Beauty and the Bitch: Power Loader vs. Queen Alien• Two Orphans: Sigourney Weaver and Carrie Henn • The Final Countdown: Music, Editing and Sound• The Power of Real Tech: Visual Effects• Aliens Unleashed: Reaction to the Film• Enhancement PodsWreckage and Rage: Making ALIEN³• Development Hell: Concluding the Story• Tales of the Wooden Planet: Vincent Ward’s Vision• Stasis Interrupted: David Fincher’s Vision• Xeno-Erotic: H.R. Giger’s Redesign• The Color of Blood: Pinewood Studios, 1991• Adaptive Organism: Creature Design• The Downward Spiral: Creative Differences• Where the Sun Burns Cold: Fox Studios, L.A. 1992• Optical Fury: Visual Effects• Requiem for a Scream: Music, Editing and Sound• Post-Mortem: Reaction to the Film• Enhancement PodsOne Step Beyond: Making ALIEN RESURRECTION• From the Ashes: Reviving the Story• French Twist: Direction and Design• Under the Skin: Casting and Characterization• Death from Below: Fox Studios, Los Angeles, 1996• In the Zone: The Basketball Scene• Unnatural Mutation: Creature Design• Genetic Composition: Music• Virtual Aliens: Computer Generated Imagery• A Matter of Scale: Miniature Photography• Critical Juncture: Reaction to the Film• Enhancement Pods• MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience to Access and Control Enhancement PodsDISC SIX: THE ANTHOLOGY ARCHIVESALIEN• Pre-Production• First Draft Screenplay by Dan O’Bannon• Ridleygrams: Original Thumbnails and Notes• Storyboard Archive• The Art of Alien: Conceptual Art Portfolio• Sigourney Weaver Screen Tests with Select Director Commentary• Cast Portrait Gallery• Production• The Chestbuster: Multi-Angle Sequence with Commentary• Video Graphics Gallery• Production Image Galleries• Continuity Polaroids• The Sets of Alien• H.R. Giger’s Workshop Gallery• Post-Production and Aftermath• Additional Deleted Scenes• Image & Poster Galleries• Experience in Terror• Special Collector’s Edition LaserDisc Archive• The Alien Legacy• American Cinematheque: Ridley Scott Q&A• Trailers & TV SpotsALIENS• Pre-Production• Original Treatment by James Cameron• Pre-Visualizations: Multi-Angle Videomatics with Commentary• Storyboard Archive• The Art of Aliens: Image Galleries• Cast Portrait Gallery• Production• Production Image Galleries• Continuity Polaroids• Weapons and Vehicles• Stan Winston’s Workshop• Colonial Marine Helmet Cameras• Video Graphics Gallery• Weyland-Yutani Inquest: Nostromo Dossiers• Post-Production and Aftermath• Deleted Scene: Burke Cocooned• Deleted Scene Montage• Image Galleries• Special Collector’s Edition LaserDisc Archive• Main Title Exploration• Aliens: Ride at the Speed of Fright• Trailers & TV SpotsALIEN³• Pre-Production• Storyboard Archive• The Art of Arceon• The Art of Fiorina• Production• Furnace Construction: Time-Lapse Sequence• EEV Bioscan: Multi-Angle Vignette with Commentary• Production Image Galleries• A.D.I.’s Workshop• Post-Production and Aftermath• Visual Effects Gallery• Special Shoot: Promotional Photo Archive• Alien3 Advance Featurette• The Making of Alien3 Promotional Featurette• Trailers & TV SpotsALIEN RESURRECTION• Pre-Production• First Draft Screenplay by Joss Whedon• Test Footage: A.D.I. Creature Shop with Commentary• Test Footage: Costumes, Hair and Makeup• Pre-Visualizations: Multi-Angle Rehearsals• Storyboard Archive• The Marc Caro Portfolio: Character Designs• The Art of Resurrection: Image Galleries• Production• Production Image Galleries• A.D.I.’s Workshop• Post-Production and Aftermath• Visual Effects Gallery• Special Shoot: Promotional Photo Archive• HBO First Look: The Making of Alien Resurrection• Alien Resurrection Promotional Featurette• Trailers & TV SpotsANTHOLOGY• Two Versions of Alien Evolution• The Alien Saga• Patches and Logos Gallery• Aliens 3D Attraction Scripts and Gallery• Aliens in the Basement: The Bob Burns Collection• Parodies• Dark Horse Cover Gallery• Patches and Logos Gallery• MU-TH-UR Mode Interactive Experience

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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