Alien3 appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The DVD mostly reproduced the material well, though it didn’t seem like a standout transfer.
Sharpness generally looked good. Some of the movie’s wide shots came across as a little soft and ill defined, but those didn’t occur frequently. Instead, the majority of the flick appeared detailed and accurate. No issues connected to jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but I noticed mild edge enhancement on occasion. The picture lacked any signs of print flaws. Some light grain showed up at times, but this seemed unobtrusive, and the rest of the movie remained free from defects.
No one will mistake Alien3 for an Austin Powers flick with its severely restricted palette. Brown was the color of the day, and the movie rarely displayed any tones that could remotely be considered vivid or bold. This made matters look a little muddy at times, but the DVD seemed to replicate the hues with reasonable accuracy. Blacks seemed well defined and deep, and low-light shots appeared concise and distinctive. Since so much of the movie took place in dim conditions, that became especially important. Because of the occasional blurriness and the edge enhancement, Alien3 fell short of greatness, but it mostly seemed very satisfying.
To my surprise, the added/alternate sequences in the “Special Edition” cut matched the original material quite cleanly. I expected these to seem fairly rough, but instead, I found them to appear virtually as strong as the bits from the theatrical release. A couple of specks manifested themselves during the new shots, but that was it; otherwise they melded cleanly and showed no issues.
How did the 2003 DVD compare to the original 1999 release? The pair seemed very similar. When I didn’t consider the bits added for the “special edition” cut, I found the two to appear virtually identical. Both showed a similar pattern of strengths and weaknesses, and I saw little to distinguish one image from the other.
Created back at the beginning of the digital era in theaters, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Alien3 worked quite well. The soundfield generally favored the forward speakers, but it blended nicely with all the channels to build an involving and lively experience. Elements seemed appropriately localized and they meshed together smoothly. Music displayed solid stereo delineation, and effects moved neatly across the speakers. The surrounds contributed a good sense of atmosphere that helped make the movie moodier. They also kicked to life well in the action sequences and added a punch to those scenes.
Audio quality appeared fine across the board. Speech was distinct and natural, and I noticed almost no concerns with edginess or intelligibility. Music came across as bright and dynamic. The score appeared well defined and vivid, with good definition and range. Effects also were accurate and bold. They showed clean highs and packed a nice, smooth sense of low-end. While not on a level with more modern soundtracks, the audio of Alien3 has held up well over the years.
Although the picture quality of the scenes added to the “Special Edition” cut seemed solid, the audio in those sequences showed some rough spots. Actually, effects and music mostly worked fine; it was the dialogue that suffered. At the start of the movie, a disclaimer warned us of problems with the production sound, and these occasionally made the speech awkward or unintelligible. The DVD offered optional subtitles for those sequences, though this feature became disabled if you chose the “deleted footage marker” I’ll soon mention.
Despite the problems with the “Special Edition” footage, I still felt the audio of Alien3 merited an “A-“. I didn’t think it was fair to lower my grade because of this, as it seemed more logical to rate the sound on the merits of the original material. Besides, only the speech in the added bits came across as somewhat problematic; the rest of it seemed fine.
Whereas the 1999 version of Alien3 presented a modest roster of extras, the 2003 edition offers a much stronger package. One main change: we can now watch either the theatrical rendition or the 2003 extended cut. I already discussed this in the body of the review, but I figured I should mention it as a supplement too. The DVD uses seamless branching to cut between them. In a nice touch, if you watch the alternate version, you’ll find a deleted footage marker that notes all the originally excised material. The words “special edition” show up in the bottom right of the screen when new footage appears.
Next we find a new audio commentary with cinematographer Alex Thomson, editor Terry Rawlings, alien effects designers Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr., visual effects producer Richard Edlund, and actors Lance Henriksen and Paul McGann. Thomson, Rawlings, McGann and Henriksen all appear solo, whereas it sounds like the three effects men sit together; however, it seems that some of those participants come and go and aren’t always in a group.
Though the Alien3 track includes some good material, it seems like a generally average commentary and definitely offers the weakest of the four in the series. Given the qualifications of the participants, technical matters strongly dominate the proceedings. We get lots of notes about the visual aspects of the movie and putting it together as well as all the different effects elements. We learn what it was like to work with both David Fincher and Sigourney Weaver plus some general information about the flick and its legacy.
The absence of Fincher remains a major problem, though. As many know, he had a really bad experience on Alien3, and apparently he remains upset enough about that to want nothing to do with the project anymore. That means you’ll not find new material with him anywhere in this set, and without his cooperation in the commentary, it becomes less focused and informative than I’d like. It sags with some frequency and includes more than a few extended empty spaces. As a fan of Alien3, I thought the track offered enough useful material to make the commentary worth a listen, but I doubt folks who don’t feel a definite affinity for the flick will get much from it.
Note that the content of the commentary varies somewhat dependent on the version of the film you watch. The special edition and theatrical cuts feature a few different elements. Thjs makes sense but becomes slightly frustrating for those of us who want to learn everything we can about the movie, as it means we need to sit through many redundant elements to get new tidbits. If you select the theatrical edition of Alien3, you’ll get access to deleted scenes. Note that these simply show the alternate sequences from the special edition cut; nothing different than what we find in that version appears in this section. It’s too bad the commentary for those scenes isn’t available as you watch them this way; that’d solve the problem of the redundant elements.
DVD One features the THX Optimizer. Also found on many other DVDs, this purports to help you set up your system for the best reproduction of both picture and sound, ala stand-alone programs such as Video Essentials. I’ve never tried the Optimizer since I’m happy with my settings, but if you don’t own something such as Essentials, the Optimizer may help you improve picture and audio quality.
On DVD Two, we get scads of supplements. These divide into three areas, and we begin with Pre-Production. Entitled Development: Concluding the Story, a 16-minute and 58-second featurette. As usual, it mixes movie shots, archival materials, and interviews. We hear from writer/producer David Giler, producer Gordon Carroll, almost-director Renny Harlin, actors Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn, and Sigourney Weaver, story writer/another almost-director Vincent Ward, production executive Jon Landau, production designer Norman Reynolds, storyboard artist Martin Asbury, and additional special effects supervisor Joss Williams. Here and elsewhere, most of the interviews come from modern sessions, but a moderate amount of early Nineties comments appear as well.
Unquestionably the most troubled of the four productions, “Concluding” sets the stage for the Alien3 problems nicely. We hear about its path to the screen with all the various starts and stops. The inclusion of Harlin and his discussion of what he would have done is valuable, as are the remarks from the actors who didn’t come along for the ride; it’s fascinating to hear Biehn express his disappointment about not appearing in this flick. Ward also goes into the problems he experienced in this tight and compelling program.
Speaking of Ward, we get more of his tale in Tales of the Wooden Planet: Vincent Ward’s Vision. The 13-minute and 11-second featurette presents information from Ward, Giler, alien effects creators Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr., Boss Film Studios’ Pat McClung, and model shop supervisor David Jones. Most of this features Ward as he tells us his plans for the story, but we also get some reactions to his ideas from the others. Those elements help balance the piece and ground it in the real world. It’s definitely interesting to get a synopsis of Ward’s concepts so we can compare what he wanted to do with the end result.
The next featurette, Pre-Production Part III runs 11 minutes and 40 seconds. It provides notes from Landau, Gillis, Giler, Carroll, Weaver, Asbury, Jones, Reynolds, Biehn, visual effects producer Richard Edlund, matte painter Paul Lasaine, makeup supervisor Peter Robb-King, and executive producer Ezra Swerdlow. We learn about Fincher’s arrival on the project and the issues connected to the film’s script – or lack thereof – and other burgeoning problems. As with the first two featurettes, this one also seems intriguing and illuminating as it doesn’t shy away from the negative issues connected to the film.
For the last featurette in the “Pre-Production” area, we greet Xeno-Erotic: HR Giger’s Redesign. This 10-minute and 20-second piece offers statements from Weaver, Gillis, Woodruff, original alien designer Giger, and maquette sculptor Cornelius de Fries. We get looks at Giger’s art and plans and learn about his intentions for the updated creature. It’s an interesting examination of Giger’s work, especially since a lot of it doesn’t end up in the movie.
“Pre-Production” ends with three “Still Photo Galleries”. The Art of Arceon: Conceptual Art Portfolio divides into three smaller sections: “EEV” (10 images), “Arceon: The Wooden Planet” (42), and “Alien Mutations” (19). The “Mutations” are the coolest to see since they expand into different kinds of aliens. Actually, they remind me a little of the Kenner action figures from 1993; those featured aliens that came from various creatures like wild boars.
Next in the “Galleries” we find Storyboards for 10 different scenes. These include “The Crash” (87 images), “Burning the Dead” (109), “An Inmate Gets Diced” (49), “Bishop’s Revelation” (120), “Clemens and Andrews Killed” (64), “The Plan Fails” (99), “Human Bait” (169), “The Leadworks” (29), “Finale (Theatrical Version)” (136), and “Alternate Ending” (210). Finally, The Art of Fiorina spreads into two areas: “Exterior: Fiorina ‘Fury’ 161” (five sketches) and “Interior: Mineral Ore Refinery” (29).
Now we move to Production with the less-than-creatively titled Production Part I featurette. It fills 18 minutes and one second as it presents comments from Gillis, Weaver, Landau, Robb-King, Swerdlow, Williams, Reynolds, special effects supervisor George Gibbs, cinematographer Alex Thomson, and actors Paul McGann, Charles Dance, Ralph Brown, Charles S. Dutton, and Danny Webb. Like its title, “Production” seems somewhat generic. It goes through a few basics of the shoot like the sets, topics connected the departure of the original cinematographer and visual elements, but it doesn’t give us much that seems terribly fascinating – or maybe I’ve just become spoiled by the juiciness of the initial few featurettes. The best parts of “Production” present shots from the set, so at least we get to see Fincher at work.
Another featurette comes next with Adaptive Organism: Creature Design. In this 20-minute and 32-second piece, we hear from Gillis, Woodruff, Weaver and Edlund as they delve into various alien issues. Gillis and Woodruff dominate the piece and they offer a lot of great information about their work. They go over items unused in the theatrical cut as well as the execution of bits like the Bishop animatronic and the dog burster. They go into detail about Woodruff’s work in the alien suit as well. The comments are useful and illuminating, and some great behind the scenes footage appears. Of particular interest are the test shots of a dog in a suit almost used for the dog burster; I’ve heard about these images for years, so it’s great to finally see them.
More uncreative titles arrive with the next two programs. Production Part II takes 14 minutes and 39 seconds and presents remarks from Robb-King, Swerdlow, Landau, Giler, Thomson, Gillis, McGann, special makeup effects Greg Cannom, editor Terry Rawlings, sound editors Gary S. and Gregory M. Gerlich, model shop supervisor David Jones, and composer Elliot Goldenthal. This program follows the production as it leaves England and returns to LA. There Fincher compiled a rough cut and those involved worked through what they still needed for the flick. The show goes through additional shooting, Weaver’s bald cap, issues with the ending, and material unused in the theatrical cut. Some of the details become a bit redundant if you’ve watched the longer edition of the film, but this piece nonetheless offers some good insight about the flick’s problems.
Production Part III runs eight minutes and 53 seconds and presents Rawlings, Reynolds, Giler, Landau, Swerdlow, costume designer Bob Ringwood, and actors Lance Henriksen, Brian Glover, Charles Dance, Ralph Brown, Sigourney Weaver, and Paul McGann. This featurette concentrates on Fincher. It discusses the positives he brought to the film and his disenchantment with the way things went on Alien3, especially as connected to the studio. Not surprisingly, the absence of any remarks from Fincher himself makes this show a little less effective than it could be, but it nonetheless presents a reasonably frank assessment of the issues.
Next we get a Furnace Construction Time-Lapse Sequence that lasts four minutes and 34 seconds. It presents exactly what the title implies: a time-lapse depiction of the building of the furnace. It’s a moderately fun way to check out the creation of an enormous set.
Another video piece comes via the EEV Scan Multi-Angle Study. This provides six viewing options: skin surface, musculature, organs, skeleton, final shot, and five-angle composite. We can watch these choices with commentary from Alec Gillis. We see some of these shots elsewhere, but this is an interesting way to look at them more closely. Gillis provides some fairly basic notes about the images.
Two “Still Photo Galleries” round out the “Production” area. Production Gallery breaks into eight smaller sections: “Preparing to Film” (18 shots), “Crash Landing” (80), “Honoring the Dead” (83), “The Alien Strikes” (13), “The Death of Clemens and Andrews” (77), “Capture and Escape” (37), “Leadworks Trap” (85), and “Final Confrontation” (30). Within ADI’s Workshop, we find 171 shots of their creations for the film.
The DVD heads toward its end with the Post-Production domain. Called Optical Fury: Visual Effects, the first featurette takes 23 minutes and 18 seconds and includes notes from Landau, Woodruff, Jones, visual effects producer Richard Edlund, matte department supervisor Michelle Moen, and matte painter Paul Lasaine. They discuss the alien puppet and its integration into the film, miniature sets and elements, matte paintings, and other visual pieces. It’s a well-produced featurette that proves informative and interesting.
Music, Editing and Sound lasts 14 minutes and 51 seconds as it presents comments from composer Elliot Goldenthal and sound editors Gregory M. and Gary S. Gerlich. Goldenthal covers his intentions for his work, while the Gerlichs go over some elements of their audio mix. Goldenthal also relates some intriguing notes about Fincher’s disappearance toward the end of post-production, and the participants discuss problems connected to the integration of effects and music. The program delves into its subjects well and gives us a good examination of the issues that existed on Alien3.
For the final featurette, we get Post-Mortem: Reactions to the Film. A six-minute and seven-second piece, it offers statements from Gillis, Asbury, Weaver, Thomson, Swerdlow, Dutton, Harlin, Ward, Goldenthal, Giler, Landau, McGann, Woodruff, and Rawlings. They examine the movie’s legacy and their impressions of the final flick. Whereas these parts of the DVDs for the first two films consisted mostly of praise, “Reactions” is much more downbeat as it gets into the movie’s problems. I’d have liked to hear more detailed thoughts about the flick, but this nonetheless offers a decent glimpse of the subject.
Lastly, we find two more “Still Photo Galleries”. Visual Effects Gallery includes 120 shots of various elements. Special Promotional Shoot gives us 56 pictures from both the posed sessions and the premiere.
In a nice touch, the DVD allows you to watch all the featurettes as one long program. All together, these fill a whopping two hours, 38 minutes, and 30 seconds. It also collects all the artwork and photos into their own respective domains, though those options seem less useful. I enjoyed being able to check out all the featurettes as one long show, but with so many stillframe options, trying to work through them as a gigantic conglomeration seemed awkward and unpleasant.
A film with many detractors, I think Alien3 actually works quite well. It remains muddled in a lot of ways, but it manages to create a unique vision of the Alien universe and provides a distinctive and frequently moving experience. The DVD offers generally solid picture and audio with a strong set of supplements. I don’t know if anything here will change the minds of the flick’s foes, but for fans and those with open minds, I definitely recommend it.
Does the 2003 release merit a repurchase if you own the 1999 DVD? Yes, unless you have no interest in the extended version of the film and also don’t care at all about supplements. If you simply want to watch the theatrical cut, the 1999 disc is fine. Both editions display very similar picture and audio, so there’s no reason to “upgrade” for improvements in those areas. However, the 2003 disc includes the extended edition of the film plus a surfeit of excellent extras, so I think the vast majority of Alien3 fans will want to get the new release.
Footnote: as I write this, the 2003 version of Alien3 appears only in the Alien Quadrilogy boxed set. However, the 2-DVD version will come out on its own in early 2004.
To rate this film, visit the original review of ALIEN3