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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 5, 2003

'Alien' fans' dream: 9 discs, lots of commentaries

By Terry Lawson
Knight Ridder News Service

Full disclosure: I have not watched in their entirety all nine — that's right, nine — discs of "Alien Quadrilogy" (Fox), which would have taken a work week plus overtime: There's something like 45 hours of previously unseen material here. I still may do so, however, sometime before I retire to some other planet.

Ridley Scott's 1979 "Alien" is one of the best horror movies of the past half-century; James Cameron's 1986 sequel, "Aliens," is one of the best action movies of the past quarter-century (and, to my mind, still his best movie, especially in the extended cut); and the third and fourth installments, 1992's "Alien3" and 1997's "Alien Resurrection," were serious, if ultimately failed, attempts to maintain the integrity of the series, as opposed to cash-ins like the upcoming "Alien Vs. Predator."

The films have been boxed before, way back in the DVD format's infancy — all of three years ago — as the four-disc "Alien Legacy." But this super-sized upgrade is a fan's dream box or, should we say, nightmare box.

Each film gets the two-disc treatment (and will be available separately early next year). Disc 1 contains the original film and this year's "Director's Cut" re-release including a newly pieced-together commentary by Scott and cast members. (Owners of the original box might want to hold off taking theirs to eBay because Scott's original solo commentary was far more interesting.)

Disc 2 is composed primarily of production footage and interviews, including on-set film of the mysterious artist H.R. Giger, who designed the title character and other elements. There are also, believe it or not, some extended scenes not seen in any previous incarnation.

Disc 3 contains James Cameron's scorching follow-up and the even better, 154-minute cut first seen on TV, with an intro and commentary by Cameron, his producer and ex-wife Gale Ann Hurd, and assorted cast and crew, including the ever-underrated Bill Paxton. ("I ain't goin' in there.")

It is one of the most entertaining commentaries ever created for a DVD, containing as much wit as insight. Disc 4's featurettes are broken into pre-production, production and post-production segments that will make you feel like you lived you through the two-year process.

The fifth disc may appeal mostly to the truly Alienated, in that it couples David Fincher's bleak, seemingly conclusive prison saga "Alien3" with a new cut that's a half-hour longer, but, alas, no better. Fincher is pointedly absent, with the film editor, director of photography, designers and others providing the blow-by-blow. The sixth disc may be most notable for the footage of Sigourney Weaver's head being shaved.

Discs 7 and 8 are devoted to "Resurrection," the fabulist vision of French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet ("Amelie") that brought Weaver's Ripley back from the dead.

The original cut is coupled with a new version that is 10 minutes longer, and the DVD designers have been good enough to notify us when we're seeing the additional footage; otherwise, we would have never noticed. Either way, we begin to suspect that the gifted and loquacious Jeunet had never seen the previous films, despite a new interview in which he goes on about his disappointment in failing to please the "Alien" faithful. The best of the extras here is a dissection of the film's great underwater scene, which did nothing to advance the movie but sure looked spectacular.

If you want disc 9, which contains a round-up doc, a Q&A with Scott filmed this year and all the text originally included on the now-collectible laser-disc box, you have to buy the whole box set. As for the booklet exclusive to this set, I can only advise Fox to look at the Criterion Collection packages, with their critical essays and reprints of contemporaneous material, for a primer as to how this could have been done better.

'Pirates' on the prowl

Disney is in negotiations for a sequel to the summer's most entertaining movie, "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl." I'm interested only if James Cameron can be persuaded to take the wheel.

If that doesn't happen, we will always have the maiden voyage on an extras-laden two-DVD set (Buena Vista) containing a nicely transferred and beautifully mixed version of Johnny Depp's rock 'n' roll mess of a pirate taking a well-written, well-directed romance-and-ghost-story adventure to the high seas.

Disc 1 also contains three commentary tracks, and while the interplay between the sardonic Depp and director Gore Verbinsk is entertaining, the best, believe it or not, comes from the producer and writers.

There's about five hours of bonus material on disc 2, including a whopping 19 deleted and extended scenes, which would have turned an already lengthy film into a bona fide comic epic. There's also a doc on pirates, a funny blooper reel, and, best of all, a 1968 excerpt from "Disney's Wonderful World of Color," in which Walt himself shows us how the theme park ride that inspired the movie was created.