Alien Anthology Disc 04 - Alien Resurrection Review
DVD Times put together a comprehensive feature on the Alien Quadrilogy DVD Box Set back in 2003, including excellent individual write ups on every film in the series. To hasten our coverage of the Alien Anthology Blu-ray Set I have decided to reproduce portions of those individual reviews and focus solely on the disc contents.
First up is Mike Sutton's full film review of Alien Resurrection. You can read his Quadrilogy review in its entirety here.
Alien Resurrection is a mess but it’s a rather likeable mess. Considering that there was no reason to make it and even less reason to expect anything from it, the results aren’t all that bad. Like Alien 3, it never even begins to work as a horror film and, this time, it’s not much of a science fiction film either, but as an absurdist black comedy with plentiful gore and some nice ideas it has some merit.
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS EXTENSIVE SPOILERS FOR THE FILM.
The basic plot is tenuously linked to Alien 3 through the device of using a blood sample taken from Ellen Ripley in that film being used to clone her - and, crucially, clone the alien that was gestating within her at the time. This rather desperate narrative device allows Sigourney Weaver return to the role that she created, and she seems to relish the chance to make Ripley more ambivalent than before - after all, she's half alien now. Irritatingly, having established this, the film then virtually ignores it and turns into a standard chase through the spaceship. I’m not at all sure about this use of the Ripley character. There’s a beautifully elegant character arc going through the first three films, from innocence to courageous survival to warrior to protector to grieving mother to heroic martyr. This epilogue to the character doesn’t add anything of any real interest and it might even have been a better film without her being in it – although that’s a heresy which I won’t make worse by going into more detail.
Actually, the set-up is quite intriguing. The film takes place on the USS Auriga, a scientific research ship captained by General Perez (a hammy Dan Hedaya) and carrying scientist Brad Dourif - a specialist on alien behaviour - and the great J.E.Freeman - a representative of the Company and therefore, unsurprisingly, a bad guy. The plan is for aliens to be intensively bred and sent back to Earth to be used by Weyland-Yutani as a biological weapon. In order to create the aliens, a group of travellers have been hijacked while in hypersleep by a pirate ship called "The Betty" captained by Michael Wincott and his gang of social outcasts. Among them are Ron Perlman and Dominique Pinon - both of them veterans of earlier films by Jean-Pierre Jeunet - and Call, a dogsbody played by Winona Ryder.
Inevitably, the aliens escape from captivity, in a well conceived scene of unpleasantness which is, for once, not gratuitous, and begin roaming the ship looking for victims. This is all somewhat over-familiar stuff, but given a spin by Jeunet's characteristic sick comedy. So when Dan Hedaya has his skull smashed by an alien, he reaches inside and picks out a piece of his brains. Much delight seems to have been gained from putting Pinon's foul mouthed, wheelchair bound character through as much misery as possible, and he spends much of the chase scenes being carried in a variety of undignified positions. Jeunet shows a wit and energy that distinguish what would otherwise be a derivative monster movie, and at his best creates scenes which are genuinely original. You’ve never seen anything quite as weird as the moment when Brad Dourif tries to kiss an alien and then trains it like some interstellar Barbara Woodhouse.
There's a real fairy tale quality to some of the set-pieces, notably the awesomely effective chase through the flooded kitchen, a scene which features some outstanding underwater photography. It may be gilding the lily to reveal that aliens are adept swimmers, but they look wonderfully elegant gliding through the water. The scene is then capped with an effectively tense confrontation on a ladder. However, the best moment is reserved for the chest-bursting scene, which is staged with some kind of sadistic genius. This is no ordinary chest-burster, but a truly heartless masterstroke of vicious comedy and it manages to provide a suitably spectacular exit for the particularly unpleasant J.E.Freeman.
What on earth can the executives at Fox have made of this film when it was delivered to them ? Giving the project to Jean-Pierre Jeunet was always going to be risky, especially since he brought in some of his favourite actors and insisted on the presence of Pitof, his regular visual effects collaborator. But this film is so damned strange, so determinedly quirky, that it’s unlike anything else in the “Alien” series. Perhaps that’s an inevitable consequence of joining two very different sensibilities; Hollywood money machine and French arthouse fantasist. This kind of cross-pollination isn’t unique – Francois Truffaut’s bizarre Fahrenheit 451 for example ended up as something similarly unsatisfying which fell between two stools and never quite found an identity, while still being a beautiful and strange film. It could also be pointed out that in choosing Ridley Scott to helm Alien, Fox were also taking on an arthouse filmmaker to get a different take on the SF-Horror genre – certainly, The Duellists isn’t what you’d call commercial. But Jeunet is an interesting case. There’s nothing in Delicatessen or The City of Lost Children to suggest a temperament likely to respond well to compromise, or an artist without an entirely clear vision.
Actually, for about an hour and twenty minutes, the film works pretty well. It's simplistic compared to Fincher's underrated Alien 3, but the production design is splendid. It harks back to the ‘used spaceship’ look of Alien and this is strengthened by a deliberately dark lighting scheme. Darius Khondji's cinematography is gorgeous. He makes marvellous use of the blacks and steely blues and his work during the underwater sequence and the subsequent chase up the ladder is quite magnificent. John Frizell's music score features lots of references back to Jerry Goldsmith's excellent music for the original film, but works quite well in its own right. The physical effects by, among others, Jeunet's regular collaborator Pitof, are very good. Lots and lots of gore, notably a fine moment when an unfortunate bit player has his arm quick-frozen and broken off. This is an interesting decision. The film becomes so gory that it loses any shock value early on and it certainly isn’t frightening. The gore overload begins to look like desperation. The large number of CGI effects are not as good as the physical ones, sadly, and, as usual, look exactly like computer animations. Compare them to the effects in the first two movies, and there's a lack of physical reality which makes the aliens considerably less convincing. Having said that, there’s nothing quite as embarrassing as the stick puppet alien used in Alien 3, so it’s a matter of preference.
The performances range from adequate to very good. Dominique Pinon and the always entertaining Ron Perlman make an engaging double act of grotesques, and it's always nice to see Dourif and Freeman. Both actors go way over the top but I’m not sure they have much choice considering the script they’re working with. Sigourney Weaver is less impressive in this film than in the others, and her big emotional moment is in a misjudged "serious" scene where she discovers a room full of failed genetic experiments and destroys it in righteous indignation. The liberal indignation expressed here takes you right out of the film and I’m not at all sure why a clone with mixed human and alien blood would feel such humane concern for the victims of experimentation, especially when so much time has been taken to establish her cold-bloodedness in the opening scenes. However, she works hard, as does Winona Ryder - although the revelations concerning Ryder's character are more likely to make the audience yawn than excite them.
For the first three quarters of the film, there's much to enjoy, but suddenly, at about the eighty minute mark, everything begins to go wrong. After Ripley falls down into the alien Queen - and that's not a mistake - and the chestburster scene is over, we get one of the lamest endings it is possible to imagine. “The Queen is in pain !” declares Ripley, and who can blame her ? A combination of lazy plotting – we’re plummeting towards Earth, surprise, surprise - and ludicrous special effects turn the conclusion into one big walking white flag. Without revealing too much, just think of a combination of Fraggle Rock, the ending of Goldfinger and the self-consciously excessive gore of Braindead, and you might begin to get an idea of how truly idiotic it is. Even given that the ending was presumably designed by a committee to try to please everyone - and, as usual, ended up pleasing no-one - it is hard to understand how the filmmakers could have worked on it without collapsing in hysterical laughter. On a conceptual level, it’s reasonably logical – although you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise if you listen to the nonsense being spouted by Brad Dourif – but it simply doesn’t work on screen. Towards the end of the film, Ripley begins to cry and so does the audience.
Still, ending apart, this is a fairly respectable effort and not nearly as bad as it could have been. I just wish that the talented Jeunet had provided more weirdness than he did - he must have been relieved to go back to the more familiar world of Amelie. Joss Whedon's script is efficient, but not much more, and the attempts at verbal humour are not as effective as the visual gags - I especially liked the futuristic method of pouring a scotch on the rocks. As a conclusion to the ‘Quadrilogy’ it’s all rather lame but taken as a film in its own right then it provides sufficient entertainment to be worth a look.
As for the Director's Cut, the changes are relatively minor and largely consist of a few extended scenes here and there. The key additions are a new opening, which is a joy for fans of Jeunet's French work and an instantly recognisable bit of humour, and an extended conclusion which offers a very pretty image - oddly reminiscent of Planet of the Apes for some reason - but otherwise not entirely satisfactory.
PresentationI can't say I was as impressed with how the final film in the Alien Anthology looks in comparison to the strong presentations of the older films in this set. Don't get me wrong: Alien Resurrection still looks pretty presentable, it just doesn't hold up so well when projected up on a 100"+ screen. My main issue is that blacks look clipped; obviously Alien Resurrection is meant to look high contrast and murky, but this transfer looks hard-edged and murky beyond belief, with many shots exhibiting very poor shadow detail.
Outside of those shadows, detail levels look solid; wide shots can appear a little soft but Jeunet likes his close ups and they hold up well. Grain-wise there's a moderate layer of sharp grain that can make an impression, but never displeasingly so. Colour saturation is harder to gauge, Alien Resurrection has that bronze hue that makes the colours look somewhat understated and harder to appreciate, but I think in general the saturation is pretty accurate and some scenes do look very colourful. Skin tones can vary wildly and look somewhat pallid, then yellowy, then flush, you name it, it all depends on the scene.
There's less overall footage spread across the BD50 disc via branching, so the 1080p AVC transfer has the highest average bit rate in the Anthology Set for both edits of the main feature, at just under 30Mbps. As a result there are very little compression foibles to complain about, although a little noise and banding do creep into the image at times.
Overall I feel this is a case of old HD master syndrome, with the transfer feeling like it was struck at a time when that harsher look was more prevalent. I can't help but feel that a new 4K scan & shoeshine would yield a presentation that would look less harsh, have better shadow detail, maybe a little more fine detail, and have slightly richer saturation. Mind you, personally I don't think the film is worth the effort!
At least the audio feels more refined. This was the first Alien film to be recorded and presented in full surround so there's only a sole English 5.1 DTS HD-MA track doing the honours for the original soundtrack, which certainly has some life left in it as the audio is crisp and clear and only fractionally muffled in one or two places. Dynamics are strong and bass is a little loose at times but remains authoritative when the action kicks off, with gunshots sounding particularly boomy. Dialogue can reveal the film's age in a couple of scenes where it sounds a little subdued and worn, but it's mostly clean and always audible throughout. Rounding up the audio options are four lossy foreign language dubs: Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 DTS, German 5.1 DTS and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital.
This is a European release so you've got a healthy choice of optional subtitles for the main feature: English (For the Deaf and Hard of Hearing), Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Norwegian, and finally Swedish.
Menus and MU-TH-UR ModeAs a general rule I view the lavish interactive menus that the big studios insist on using for their big title releases a chore rather than a bonus, partly because my BD player is no spring chicken and takes five years to load up most menu screens, but also because half the time the more features a menu system has the more irritating the implementation (I've grown weary of U-Control and Maximum Movie Mode). For the Alien Anthology 20th Century Fox have configured a menu system that finally gets it right, offering all the functionality and attractive design that the BD format allows for.
The menu designs themselves are similar to the Quadrilogy DVD in offering an animated futuristic Weyland-Yutani interface that displays images, stats, and info on the various things that appear in the film. At the bottom is a simple row of choices for each section of the BD. One final great touch is that each disc loads a Weyland-Yutani logo screen into your player's memory which is displayed when you eject them, and if you put another disc from the set in your player then this screen will segue straight into the new disc's main menu, thus skipping the usual copyright screens.
Fox has been hyping the new interactive menu system developed for this release, called the "MU-TH-UR Mode" (In case you're wondering MU-TH-UR is apparently the correct way to write the name of The Nostromo's central computer, which the characters refer to as "mother" in the film, so I assume that's how it should be pronounced), and you can see why as the whole system is very thoughtfully designed. There's an individual booklet and video tutorial on each disc explaining what the MU-TH-UR Mode is and how to use it, but it's fairly straightforward: Activating it brings up an interface comprising of four boxes: three down the left hand side categorised as AUDITORY, VISUAL, DATASTREAM, and one small box in the top right corner called DATA TAGS. Here's a rundown:
This box allows you to flit between the audio commentaries and isolated scores present on the disc. The cool thing about the interface for this is that it displays real-time written info on what's currently occurring in each track. So you'll know if there's no score playing at that specific time in the film or what topic Jeunet and the cast are discussing on the commentary track.
This can be a little confusing at first if you've not read the booklet or skipped the tutorial as contrary to its name it doesn't feature any actual pop-up video footage from the film disc. Its function is basically to prompt you to select bookmarks of video footage or image scans relevant to the specific scene playing at the time. So for instance while the opening titles play you will see an option like this in the VISUAL box:
VID: J.E. Freeman on Sigourney Breaking Out of the Cuffs
If you choose this option then it will be added to the DATA TAGS box on the right as a bookmark that will take you immediately to the relevant video clip when you insert the relevant Bonus Disc. This is obviously a feature aimed at casual viewers who don't intend to sit through all the content on the Bonus Discs and just want specific information on specific scenes from the film. VISUAL allows them to compile a bookmarks checklist that will cut right to the chase.
Or the Weyland-Yutani Datastream to be precise. This box offers concise notes on the history and production of Alien Resurrection, including brief biographies for key players, anecdotes, and all manner of informative snippets.
ExtrasMore or less the same options as on the Alien 3 disc here:
2003 Audio Commentary by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and the Cast and Crew
Again originally recorded for the Quadrilogy DVD Box Set, we are back to the format of having a central director commentary with various cast and crew members having recorded separate commentaries that are edited around Jeunet's - although the French filmmaker doesn't dominate this track the way Scott and Cameron did theirs. It's a jolly and informative track taking us through most of the tricks used to create the effects. My only gripe is that Ron Perlman's commentary isn't featured enough!
Final Theatrical Isolated Score - 5.1 Dolby Digital (1997 Theatrical Version Only)
You can choose to watch the film with John Frizzell's final post-production score playing over it or pull up an index of the score. To bring this index up you need to select the Isolated Score in the menu to bring up a pop-up that gives you the option of turning said score ON or OFF. Choose neither and instead scroll left or right until a third option appears: COMPLETE MUSIC INDEX, which will bring up the playlist. From this sub-menu you can then choose to play each cue individually, all-at-once, or randomly shuffled.
Deleted Scenes Index (1997 Theatrical Version Only)
This option in the menus for the Theatrical Version will pull up a list giving you the option to watch either individually or all-together the Deleted Scenes that were used to create the alternate cut of the 2003 Special Edition.
Deleted Footage Marker (2003 Director's Cut Only)
If you activate this feature you'll get an on screen-prompt that will let you know when you are watching one of the deleted scenes that were inserted back into this cut.
This option will take you to Fox Home Entertainment's online features thingy where you can either download or stream an Anthology BD trailer or a clip of Sigourney Weaver's Screen Test.