Saturday, January 1, 2011

"Aliens" (1986/1992) - Alien Anthology, Disc 2

Starring Sigourney Weaver, Micheal Biehn and Paul Riser
Written and directed by James Cameron

Now, I've already reviewed "Aliens" for this blog so I'll keep this particular post to discussing the merits of the 1992 special edition version of the film and its presentation on Blu-Ray disc as part of the massive Alien Anthology set.

The special edition includes some 17 minutes of footage not seen in the original theatrical release.  It affects the pacing of the film somewhat, but not negatively, if you ask me.  The film feels fuller, and more complete, though it was hardly sparse to begin with.  There's new footage that makes Ripley's relationship with Newt more satisfying.  We learn that Ripley's daughter died of old age while Ripley was drifting through space in hypersleep, which makes it all the more clear that Newt becomes her surrogate daughter.

We also learn that Burke sent a transmission to the colonists on LV-426, asking them to check out Ripley's claims of a derelict alien spacecraft.  The surveyors sent out into the wilderness to search for it are Newt's parents, and we encounter Newt much earlier in this version of the film.  It makes he appearance later seem a bit less random.

Also new to the film is a short sequence in which the Marines set up several motion-activated sentry guns as a first line of defense against the alien hordes.  This is a tense few moments as they watch the amount of ammunition in each gun count down toward zero, and yet the aliens keep coming.

Overall, the special edition is a bit longer, a bit slower, but also a bit denser.  The new footage is mostly pretty great, and I think improves the picture quite a bit.

On Blu-Ray, "Aliens" looks pretty exceptional.  It perhaps doesn't look quite as good as "Alien," but that's a fault of the original production rather than the disc.  It's a bit grainier, a teeny bit softer, but on the whole, a fantastic presentation.  The film has never looked this good.

Now, you'll often see shots that you think look terrible, until you realize that's just how the shot is focused.  For example, in one of the scenes where Ripley and the Marines are planning their defenses in the colony Operations room, you'll think, "My god, that looks soft and not HD at all!"  However, notice that there's a big difference in focus between the foreground and background characters.  So in one particular shot, Ripley looks sharp, but Vazquez, standing only a couple of feet away from her, does not.  It's not something I ever noticed on VHS or DVD, but definitely saw it a number of times watching this Blu-Ray edition.  Check out these comparison screenshots to see some of the differences the Blu-Ray makes over the DVD version.

On the audio front, the DTS track here is pretty excellent, too.  Even with all the chaos, I never lost one of Hudson's hilarious exclamations and all the gunshots and explosions ring loud.  The low end is pretty impressive, with lots of rumbling bass, too.  Entry into the atmosphere of LV-426, or the massive thermo-nuclear detonation at the end will get your house shaking.

The disc, as with disc 1, has an audio commentary.  I don't usually listen to audio commentaries, but I will probably listen to this one at some point.  There are also two, count'em, two isolated score tracks.  If you're a fan of James Horner's score for "Aliens," and I am, despite Horner's tendency to reuse his own music, this is a good listen.  The score is big and bombastic and has some highly recognizable moments.  But it's also pretty much the same score that Horner has delivered over and over again over the course of his career.  Just try not to listen to this score and not hear themes and motifs he'd used earlier in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan."

Anyway, "Aliens" is one of my favorite movies.  It's just an exceptional piece of filmmaking with great characters, a great story and awesome effects and action.  This Blu-Ray disc is the best presentation I've seen for it yet.

See Also:
"Alien," - Alien Anthology Disc 1
"Alien 3"
"Alien: Resurrection"