Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Sigourney Weaver, Lance Henriksen, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Bill Paxton, William Hope, Jenette Goldstein, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Pete Postlethwaite, Winona Ryder, Dominique Pinon, Ron Perlman, Dan Hedaya
Written by: Dan O'Bannon, Ronald Shusett, Walter Hill, James Cameron, Larry Ferguson, David Giler, Joss Whedon
Directed by: Ridley Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher, Jean-Pierre Jeunet
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 480
Date: 19/03/2013
IMDB

Alien Anthology (2010)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Monsters and Mothers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The four Alien films make up arguably the most fascinating science fiction and/or horror series ever made. A different director made each entry in a totally different style, and each one compliments upon, or dismantles, the previous. Sigourney Weaver's Ripley is the throughline, one of the most intriguing female heroes in the history of cinema. She's definitely tough, and a little sexy, but she's not necessarily a cover girl. She's tough out of necessity, not out of an identity choice. Over the course of the four films, she gets a "daughter" and a lover, but her longest-standing relationship is with the alien itself. She knows it and it knows her, better than anyone else.

Ridley Scott's original film opened in 1979, with an emphasis on chilling, shadowy horror. The tagline, "In space no one can hear you scream," entered the cultural zeitgeist. The film is quiet and thoughtful, filled with a raggedy crew of spacemen and women, sparsely populating a huge, shapeless ship, which is cluttered with tubes and corridors like guts and bones. There's very little light on the ship, and the alien can be hiding anywhere, at any time. The centerpiece at the time was the "chestburster," but Scott's moodiness was the real selling point. Alien was part of a trend to take "B" movie ideas and turn them into "A" movies, a la The Godfather and Star Wars; its primary influence seems to have been Mario Bava's Planet of the Vampires (1965). In 2003, a "director's cut" was released in theaters, but it was not as interesting as the original cut.

By 1986, Hollywood had jumped on the bandwagon of sequels and marketing, but thankfully James Cameron decided to take his Aliens in a new direction, providing military muscle, snarky dialogue, and a fast-paced roller-coaster ride. His movie was also the first to place Ripley at the center -- she was part of an ensemble in the first film -- and Cameron emphasized the concept of motherhood, comparing Ripley (with her surrogate child "Newt") with the "mother" alien, the egg-layer. Weaver received a much-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actress (she lost to Marlee Matlin). Cameron later added some footage to make a 154-minute special edition, which surpassed the theatrical version.

Former TV commercial and music video maker David Fincher made his feature directorial debut with Alien 3 (or, literally, Alien³), which was received without much enthusiasm. Fincher had the audacity to kill off Newt in the film's opening minutes, and failed to anticipate the mysterious power that Cameron holds over Hollywood and moviegoers alike. (The general perception was that, since his film was not Aliens, it was not any good.) But it's an amazing film on many levels, switching 180 degrees to a grungy, dreary mood, with a bald Ripley holding court on a remote men's prison planet (where she crash lands). Here she's even more wary and guarded, dealing with the loss of her "child" and with her own "pregnancy." Fincher apparently had troubles with Fox and his preferred cut does not yet exist. (Though a longer, "assembly" cut does exist.)

Finally, for Alien Resurrection (1997), French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet brought his dark, cartoonish brand of kinetic filmmaking to the series, bringing back Ripley 200 years after the previous film and teaming her up with a new band of oddballs (Winona Ryder among them) against the alien. This one was even more despised than Alien 3, but again, it has some incredible moments and a unique flow; it's definitely of a piece with the others. Again, a slightly longer cut was assembled for a 2003 DVD release.

Let's not forget the fifth voice in the Alien series: filmmaker Walter Hill. Normally Hill is a crackerjack director of "B" movies; he wrote an early draft of Alien, and ended up with a producer credit. He did receive credit for contributing to the screenplays of Aliens and Alien 3 and received producer credits on all four films (as well as the inferior Alien vs. Predator films). Like Ripley, there's no doubt that Hill had something to do with the success and appeal of the series.

In 2003, Fox released the "Alien Quadrilogy" on DVD, including all four films in two different versions apiece, plus five discs worth of extras. Scott, Cameron and Jeunet provided commentary tracks, but Fincher did not. Now the entire package has been transferred to an even more gorgeous Blu-Ray set, with six discs. It's a very handsome hardcover package, and the title has been changed to the less awkward Alien Anthology. There's a new feature that -- if their equipment allows -- lets viewers switch discs and seamlessly continue viewing without any warnings or menus. Scott provides a new introduction to this feature.

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