“It’s the teeth,” says James Cameron, explaining the enduring appeal of Hollywood’s hottest Xenomorph in one handy soundbite. “A predator rendered down to its simplest. It’s the last glimpse that you have in life if you get eaten.”
Welcome to Alien Anthology, the dental records of one of cinema’s most fascinating franchises.
The 2003 nine-disc Alien Quadrilogy, with its alternative cuts, commentaries and documentaries, felt definitive, but here Fox augments that nucleus with an extensive trawl of earlier editions and studio archives.
Storyboards, early script drafts, Sigourney Weaver’s screen tests; in total, 60 hours’ worth. It’s exhaustive, but easy to navigate thanks to the interactive MU-TH-UR feature.
Optional inserts can be watched or saved, and everything is cross-reffed so you can search by character to create your own bespoke experience. And that’s without the forensic HD recreation of the films themselves.
Ridley Scott and James Cameron have supervised their respective transfers and, while David Fincher is understandably AWOL, the (superior) assembly cut of Alien3 has been overhauled with a new sound mix that upgrades archival curio to definitive take.
Individually, the results are breathtaking: the ultra-textured Alien is practically a demo of Blu-ray’s ability to pick out the minutest details. But it’s the cumulative effect of the films that impresses.
Despite spanning decades and directorial visions, this is a single gory story, a genre-straddling epic about one woman’s war against aliens and the baser instincts of her own species.
Alien remains a remarkable wellspring for everything that followed, its fearsome set of gnashers aligning much like the title in the famous credits sequence.
It’s at once post-Star Wars blockbuster, with ad-man director Scott more interested in dressing the set than rehearsing his actors, and subversive B-movie (HR Giger’s freakazoid creature design).
The still-electrifying narrative subversion intertwines sci-fi slasher with Freudian psycho-drama. Never mind being eaten, the greater fear here is the loss of identity.
In HD, what shines through is the crew’s personalisation of their clinical living quarters and the oily murk of the alien’s stomping grounds. The genius of Aliens is to ignore all that subtlety.
Subtext is front-and-centre, Ripley given a surrogate child to care for, her opponent the formidable alien Queen. Freed from ambiguity, Cameron goes for it with ballsy action and oh-so-quotable characters.
While high-def doesn’t especially enrich Cameron’s utilitarian Blu-steel palette, the crispness confirms his never-bettered narrative grip. Cameron did the most important job, confirming there were teeth behind Alien’s teeth – but saddling the threequel with impossible expectations.
Alien3 has by far the series’ most enthralling Making Of, as incisive ideas get capped and whitened. But the reinvigorated workprint cut is nearly its predecessors’ equal in visionary boldness. There, arguably, it should have ended.
Viewed in sequence, Alien: Resurrection delivers the smart prospect of a cloned Ripley. But as stand-alone movie, it lacks predatory guile, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s direction a mix of splatter and whimsy.
A decent Ripley movie but a middling Alien entry, it’s a warning to Scott’s forthcoming prequels. It isn’t the heroine who defines the alien. It’s the teeth.