Alien Anthology Disc 05 - Making the Alien Anthology Review
The following review is for a Supplemental Materials disc and not a fully remastered and presented feature or short, so I will forgo the usual review structure of Content/Presentation/Extras, as it is all extras. Likewise I will not be providing any Audio or Video ratings for this content because it has all manner of sources and presentation foibles as no-one sane of mind would be willing to spend lots of time and money making an old video interview look a million dollars, so I will leave these fields blank in the rating box.
If you've been following my individual disc reviews of the Alien Anthology Blu-ray Set then you will have noticed that each Feature Film Disc has been relatively light on extras. This is purely a ploy on the part of the BD producers to keep a healthy bit rate for each film's HD presentations; slap in Disc 05 of this set, entitled: MAKING THE ALIEN ANTHOLOGY, and you are going to be confronted with what the MU-TH-UR Mode manual proudly proclaims is "over 12-hours of candid, in-depth documentaries with nearly five hours of additional video Enhancement Pods created exclusively for this collection". Translation: This is the disc that houses all those great Making-Of documentaries that Charles de Lauzrika and his team put together for the 2003 Alien Quadrilogy DVD Boxset, and if you've already seen all that then here's a whole bunch of archive material you haven't seen before.
While almost all the new BD-Exclusive Extra Footage is consigned to the Enhancement Pods section, there has been some changes to the Making-Of documentaries for Alien 3 due to complications in 2003 when Fox apparently got some last minute jitters about how much of the documentary discussed the creative restrictions placed on David Fincher by the studio. Around half an hour of footage was supposedly chopped for the final Quadrilogy release, and it seems time heals all wounds because Fox finally gave Charles de Lauzrika the go-ahead to include the full footage for this release.
Please Note: There is an awful lot of material to get through here, so if you just want to know what content is new and exclusive to the Alien Anthology Collection then look for the text that is written in blue!!
Menus and MU-TH-UR ModeThe menus for the Supplemental Materials use the same Weyland-Yutani interface theme as the Feature Film discs, but visually it's more about business and less about fancy graphics. From the main menu you will find four individual Extra Features menus for each film, a Set Up menu (which is just a list of player-generated subtitles), the MU-TH-UR Mode menu, and a PLAY ALL FEATURETTES option if you're feeling particularly brave.
The pièce de résistance is the DATASEARCH section, which is a sort of A-Z video glossary featuring names and terminology from the entire Alien franchise in alphabetical order. Choose a term and it will bring up links to all video footage on the disc pertaining to that term.
Not even the Supplemental Materials are free from the MU-TH-UR Mode, although it is tweaked slightly for extra content because the AUDITORY and DATASTREAM categories are now dropped in favour of a single VISUAL section that works exactly the same way it does on the Feature Film discs. The one change to the VISUAL function is that now you not only use it to create DATA TAGS for relevant content on Disc 06, you also use it to jump directly to relevant content elsewhere on the current disc.
For example you may be watching a clip of the alien creature looking all slimy and the VISUAL box will display a link to the Enhancement Pod segment where Creature Effects maestro: Alec Gillis discusses the "Art of Slime". Select this and three options will pop up: PLAY NOW, DATA TAG, and DELETE DATA TAG. Choose PLAY NOW to jump directly to the clip and back again once it has finished, or choose the latter two options to add/remove that clip to/from your list of bookmarks.
Each Supplemental Materials disc also allows you to play/delete stored DATA TAGS that link to relevant content on the disc in question, simply go into the MU-TH-UR Mode menus and you will see three options that are self-explanatory: VIEW DATA TAG LIST, PLAY ALL DATA TAGS, and DELETE ALL DATA TAGS.
The Beast Within: Making AlienAn almost 3-hour (177mins:41secs) retrospective documentary on the making of the seminal first film, which is a little unoriginally structured but still excellently put together in the way it is edited and segmented to focus on a particular aspect of the production directly. Those segments are nine individually titled sections that you can choose to play all-together as one documentary or delve into separately, so I'll provide an individual run-through here. Remember all these documentaries are taken from a seven-year old DVD release, so understandably they are shown in 480i resolution at 1.78:1 (with the interview footage cropped slightly from their original 4:3 recording) and with English 2.0 Dolby Digital audio.
Star Beast: Developing the Story (18mins:14secs)
The story of how Alien came about, with creators Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett recalling the how O'Bannon had the idea of a horror sci-fi with a real depiction of an Alien after working on Dark Star with John Carpenter and Ron Cobb, then eventually worked out a story treatment together with Shusett. Shortly after, O'Bannon got sidetracked by an offer from Alejandro Jodorowsky to go to France and work on a film adaptation of Dune, which proved another significant time in Alien's inception because that's how O'Bannon was introduced to H.R. Giger and his work.
We then learn how they came up with the final title: Alien and how the script was picked up by the Science Fictionally-naive partnership of Walter Hill, David Giler and Gordon Carroll, who kept pitching it to Fox until it eventually got green-lit after the success of Star Wars, but they also tried to rewrite the script a bunch of times because the only aspect of O'Bannon/Shusett's work they actually liked was the Chestburster sequence. The feature is edited together quite nicely to get a strong domino effect from the story of conception to the tussle between O'Bannon and Hill/Giler/Carroll to keep his original vision intact. O'Bannon in particular doesn't hold back about that time and clearly still held a lot of resentment, whereas Shusett seems a much more amiable figure who is very diplomatic in his accounts.
The Visuallists: Direction and Design (16m:41s)
Giler and Carroll had a real problem finding a director who would take the script on, but discovered Ridley Scott after seeing The Duellists at Cannes, and the rest is history! Now we get to hear more from Ridley's side about his influences coming into the project as someone who wasn't really all that knowledgeable on Sci-Fi but had a strong idea on how to storyboard the movie (with plenty of footage of Ridley's boards), then putting together and working through ideas with the conceptual artist team of Ron Cobb and H.R. Giger, which obviously ended up being the perfect blend of scientific precision on Cobb's end and Giger's surrealistic dark sexuality.
Truckers in Space: Casting (14:54)
Some really great anecdotes here from how O'Bannon & Shusett wrote the script as all male but without any real references to gender so the roles could be adapted for women, what they didn't count on was the idea from Fox to make Ripley a woman after Giler & Hill recognised that the studio was making a few films with female leads at the time. We hear all about the audition of Sigourney Weaver and how the director/producers knew pretty much immediately she was the one, then the focus shifts to casting every other role, including the details on Jon Finch being originally cast as Kane, only to fall ill on set after a couple of days filming and having to pull out. All the actors have input in this segment with the exception of Yaphet Kotto and Ian Holm.
Fear of the Unknown: Shepperton Studios, 1978 (24m:03s)
Tales from the production at Shepperton by mostly key members of the crew and the actors, edited together to give a really intensive account of the various triumphs and frustrations. Mainly it's triumphs, but we do learn that Scott received significant pressure from studio executives who were constantly complaining about what they perceived to be a lack of actual filming on the set. Scott and the actors talk about his directing process and how he focussed on shooting the film and left the performers to their own devices for the most part, which created a sense of uncertainty among the actors in their approach - although there is an amusing tale of Yaphet Kotto hounding the director with ideas. Veronica Cartwright sort of dominates the actors' side of things with very vivid reminiscences of the mild tensions between the actors on set as they got into their roles and various complications that stemmed from the spacesuits and smoke that Scott loved to bathe everything in.
The Darkest Reaches: Nostromo and Alien Planet (17m:28s)
The design and effects work on Alien at the time and even today were in a league of their own, and that was mostly down to a collection of really talented teams in each pivotal department. This feature looks at the two main teams, the primary one being Production Designer: Michael Seymour and Art Directors: Roger Christian and Leslie Dilley, who worked on Ron Cobb's beautifully engineered and functional designs for the Nostromo and put together the Alien Planet exterior. This left Giger to work with his team on the Alien Ship interior.
Giger's work as justly been celebrated by pretty much everyone who has watched the film over the years, so it's easy to overlook the more subtle design work done on the Earth-based technology by Cobb and Christian/Dilley. This feature will really give you an appreciation for that work and the exceptional sets they built, which were all joined together and fully lit with practical lighting so once the actors and crew were on set they were basically inside an entire ship! Ron Cobb also takes us through the more subtle details of his designs, like the space symbols in the background of many scenes that give the feel of a corporate run vessel, so you'll be given a good idea of new things to look out for the next time you revisit the film.
The Eighth Passenger: Creature Design (31m:35s)
The longest segment of the documentary is given to the conception and application of H.R. Giger's designs, including tales from other crew members on how he cast something of a Peter Lorre figure on set despite him obviously being a very affable guy in person (he does come across really well in his interviews). The subject starts off on the Alien Eggs and Facehugger, with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage showing these creature in normal lighting on the set or in the studio, and they still look very authentic and believable.
The main bulk of the segment is devoted to the full definitive story of how the Chestburster scene was pulled off, which immediately dispels the myth that the cast had no idea about what the scene entailed. Hurt points out that rather obviously all the performers had read the full working script enough times by that point in the production, but most of them didn't have a full idea how the special effect would work. You can certainly see in the behind-the-scenes footage that they had no idea Scott had asked the FX guys to set up a rig that would literally splatter the whole set with blood! There's some hilarious footage of poor Veronica Carthwright's reaction to being geysered by the stuff, which you only get a brief glimpse of in the finished film but here is shown in full with a camera fixed right on her, and she actually dived and fell backwards trying to get out of the line of fire. She clearly has no hard feelings though as both herself and Weaver are noticeably enthusiastic when discussing the shooting of that scene.
The segment concludes with a look at the creature design, with input from Carlo Rambaldi, who was brought in by Carroll to design the mechanics of the alien head after other effects teams were having trouble with it. He shows us some of the original blueprints of the mechanisms that animated this huge head. If you ever felt disappointed that they didn't show enough of the creature in the original film then you'll get a real good look at it here, with extensive footage of the various screen tests and general behind-the-scenes shots revealing how a couple of the iconic alien kills were set up.
Future Tense: Editing and Music (16m:28s)
Terry Rawlings chimes in on the practicalities of editing the film and the specific approach needed, but it's Jerry Goldsmith and his lingering dissatisfaction with the final score track that drives this segment. Apparently Rawlings put together a temp track that comprised largely of cues from Goldsmith's earlier works - which is obviously not unusual practice in the movie business - but Goldsmith and Scott couldn't see eye-to-eye on how to score the finished film and parts of the temp track were chosen over the final recorded score submitted by Goldsmith. It's not massively informative on the compositions themselves, but it does tell a curious story if you're interested in the creative process of film scoring.
Outward Bound: Visual Effects (18m:52s)
Apparently the original plan to save time on the film's production was to let the Visual Effects team shoot the sequences that were completely made up of visual effects, ie: all the model work mostly, but Ridley being Ridley meant he personally oversaw the visual works as well. It doesn't seem to have bothered Visual Effects Supervisor: Brian Johnson much as he mentions it was good to work directly with the director for once, but both he and Supervising Model Maker: Martin Bower are quick to point out how demanding Scott was as taskmaster because he's always changing and evolving his ideas.
A Nightmare Fulfilled: Reaction to the Film (19m:22s)
We hear that the first test screening was botched after the theatre screening the film had faulty audio equipment, which led to an indifferent response from the audience, so it's a good job they had another preview in Dallas a few days later that was glitch-free and completely terrified the viewers. This prompts a rundown of recollections from most of the cast and crew already featured in this documentary on the film's huge cinematic success and the responses from watching it in theatres with a paying audience for the first time. The most heart-warming of these is Dan O'Bannon's recollection of nearly refusing to turn up to one of the first general performances because bad memories of Dark Star's original theatrical run still haunted him. He was drawn in by the length of the queue for tickets and sat alongside Shusett watching the audience go absolutely wild for the film, which is a nice point to sort of conclude the documentary on, as it's quite clear from watching The Beast Within that nobody cared more about the project or journeyed with it as long as he did.
Enhancement PodsThis section may not be as exhaustive or structured as the The Beast Within documentary, but there's still a fair bit of material here with almost thirty relatively-brief snippets that can be watched all-at-once in a 79m:43s wedge, or individually one at a time. It's quite obvious why a lot of this footage was left out to keep the runtime down, but there are some nuggets of information that any Alien aficionado worth their salt will get a kick out of hearing about.
Note: Unlike the main documentaries, the interview footage in all Enhancement Pods on this disc are shown in 4:3 with menu-themed borders down the sides. The original audio is also shown in English 5.1 Dolby Digital, but the quality sound quality is more or less the same.
Conceiving the Alien Lifecycle (03m:06s)
Dan O'Bannon goes into a bit more detail on how he conceived and fleshed out the idea of the alien lifecycle, with the initial inspiration coming from an image in a comic that depicted a guy in a spacesuit with an alien worm-like creature emerging from his chest. Another interesting snippet in here is a clip from a scene that shows an alien mural of the alien creature's lifecycle.
The Influence of Jodorowsky's 'Dune' (02m:06s)
Art Designer: Sylvain Despretz, who was Conceptual Artist for Alien Resurrection, talks about the influence of Alejandro Jodorowsky in being one of the first filmmakers in the 70s who attempted to make a science-fiction film by getting a team of creative designers and writers in a room together to pick each other's brains, which of course led to O'Bannon and Giger's fateful meeting.
O'Bannon Working with Shusett (03m:15s)
Archive footage of a much younger and weightier O'Bannon talking about his idea for a film called Gremlins (pre-Dante) about creatures on a World War Two fighter plane, which switched paths when Shusett talked him into changing this idea to spacemen picking up an alien interloper.
Ridley Scott's Epiphany (02m:28s)
More old archive footage, this time of Scott talking about being offered Alien after The Duellists. This is mostly just Ridley elaborating on his thought process behind eventually accepting the gig.
Jon Finch Sets the Record Straight (01m:49s)
Ridley describes Finch's exit from the set due to ill-health brought on by diabetes in The Beast Within, however it seems that Finch was interviewed for the documentary but didn't make it into the final cut, because here is revealing that he had a bronchial attack after three days filming and ended up in hospital for two weeks.
Finding the Right Ripley (03m:05s)
Gordon Carroll reveals that Meryl Streep arrived at an allotted audition for the lead role directly before Sigourney Weaver, but he told her to come back at a later date because she had lost a long-term lover just a day or two beforehand. We then see Weaver on the set of Alien 3 recollecting her first impressions of the character before Joss Whedon chimes in on women as action leads.
Actors as Props (01m:15s)
Michael Seymour telling a story of Ridley Scott completely forgetting about the actors while preparing to shoot a particular scene.
Sigourney Weaver Learns the Ropes (00m:58s)
Sigourney was primarily a stage actor before Alien and this was her first major role in a film production, so she talks here about having to completely learn the ropes during the shoot.
The Functional Art of Ron Cobb (01m:25s)
Sylvain Despretz talks about the work of Ron Cobb and the supreme functionality of his designs.
Dailies: Parker and Brett Ad-Lib (07m:59s)
This is raw footage showing a number of takes of the scene where Parker and Brett are working on repairs after landing on Acheron, shot from two angles so there are two frames on-screen. Its kinda fun watching Kotto launching himself into each take and making radical changes at times, while Stanton just sits back and takes it easy in each take.
That Used Future Look (04m:11s)
Michael Seymour and Scott on coming up with a plan to make the technology in the film look used and suitably freighter-esque. O'Bannon is also edited into this talking about having similar concerns when working on Dark Star.
Bolaji Badejo Alien Movement Tests (05m:20s)
Badejo was the extremely tall and skinny man in the alien suit for most of the pivotal creature scenes, here we see a good chunk of his body movement tests, performed on set in just the headpiece and underpants.
Discovering Bolaji Badejo (01m:57s)
Associate Producer Ivor Powell on being tasked with finding someone the right size to play the alien creature, which ended when someone at a casting agency discovered Badejo in a pub.
Giger on Giger (02m:11s)
Giger, struggling with his English a little, gives a brief rundown of his upbringing in Switzerland and being asked to do Alien.
The Disturbing Brilliance of H.R. Giger (05m:45s)
Input from various people who worked on the Alien sequels on the topic of Mr. Giger, providing us with another welcome opportunity to view clips of his designs.
James Cameron Dissects 'Alien' (02m:10s)
Cameron chats about the original creature design and how successfully Alien plays on basic phobias.
Cocoon of Love (03m:15s)
Archive footage of Tom Skerritt talking about the infamous cocoon scene that was eventually inserted back into the film for the 2003 Director's Cut, which also ties in to the early idea that there was a prior affair between Dallas and Ripley. Scott then talks about why they discarded that suggestion of any romance.
Jerry Goldsmith Recalls 'Alien' (02m:49s)
Goldsmith focuses less on criticism here and more on the process of writing the score and how impressed he was by the imagery in the film, but markedly unimpressed by the characters.
Goldsmith on Silence (03m:07s)
Goldsmith again on the overuse of score in contemporary cinema and how he's fought with directors in the past to let a scene play out without music.
The Pros and Cons of Temp Tracks (02m:27s)
More on the dispute between Scott and Goldsmith over the final score and the decision to use cues from the temp track.
Same-Sex Relationships in Space (01m:24s)
Scott on that early suggestion of a romance between Dallas and Ripley, however he also theorises on how interesting the hint of a relationship between Lambert and Ripley might have been.
Toy Birds of Destruction (00m:59s)
Archive footage of Scott on the memorable nodding bird seen in the film's opening and originally intended to feature as the countdown to the Nostromo explosion at the end.
Oscar Night Memories (01m:39s)
Brian Johnson on winning the Oscar for Best Effects, Visual Effects in 1980 for his work on Alien.
Test Footage: Nostromo on Forklift (00m:51s)
There's talk in The Beast Within about the Nostromo model being so large they had to move it via forklift for the establishing space shots, here we see the forklift in action.
End of a Genre (02m:25s)
Dan O'Bannon on how Alien said pretty much everything left to say in the science-fiction horror genre. Not sure I agree entirely with that but he does have a point on how Alien filled a lot of gaps in the genre.
First Impressions (05m:39s)
Recollections of seeing Alien for the first time by actors and crew members from the various Alien sequels.
O'Bannon's Fight for Credit (05m:56s)
O'Bannon discusses in The Beast Within how Walter Hill and David Giler wrote a number of failed re-writes of his script, but the story about how they tried to take the final screenwriter credit from was not told - UNTIL NOW!! OK it's not really a scoop but it's always fun to hear about a good old-fashioned Hollywood tussle. Basically O'Bannon had to contact his union and fight legally to get the final credit, and to his surprise he was granted sole credit.
Superior Firepower: Making AliensAliens quite famously had a more conflicted and convoluted production than the first film because James Cameron was completely pushing the boat out on the type of Visual and Creature Effects work that was going to be produced on a reasonably moderate (by 1980s standards) $18million budget. His hard-working, high-demanding nature was also received badly by a British crew that were chiefly in-house Pinewood Studios staff, and not the kind of hungrily motivated people Cameron was used to working with.
This 184m:59s documentary doesn't shy away from those tensions and throughout developing the timeline of Aliens' production there is a small on-going thread of the frustrations the American staff got from the quaint British practices. On the other hand we also get a very thorough impression of Cameron as a true genius filmmaker who could totally envision all the technical elements of a scene before shooting it, so he was always one step ahead of everyone on set in realising exactly what he wanted and how to get it, which clearly added to his frustrations as he waited for everyone else to catch up. It's a fascinating story in itself, but there's plenty more to enjoy from and its dissection of all the levels-upon-levels of Visual Effects work for the film, tech-heads will certainly be in their element.
57 Years Later: Continuing the Story (11min:06secs)
The conception, with David Giler explaining that he and Hill and came up with a basic story idea for a sequel that they wanted to make with Fox, but for various reasons the project never became solid until they got James Cameron and his then-wife and producer: Gale Anne Hurd involved. Cameron wrote a first draft that was little more than an opening act but Fox were so enthusiastic about it they made him an offer to wait and see if The Terminator would be a hit, and if so he would be signed up pronto, and they kept their word. The next part was getti