Aliens appears in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Always the least attractive of the four Alien flicks, Aliens got a good scrubbing here – maybe a little too good, in fact.
Prior to the release of this set, director James Cameron provide comments that made fans worry Aliens had undergone the same sort of extreme digital noise reduction (DNR) that had recently marred the Blu-ray for Predator. I’m happy to report that Aliens never offered the same kind of inappropriately bright ‘n’ shiny visuals we saw during Predator, but I did sense that it sometimes looked spiffier than it should.
After all, Aliens isn’t Avatar. It was meant to look like a gritty war movie, and at times, it still did on Blu-ray. The transfer definitely didn’t erase all signs of grain, as we still got a fair amount of it throughout the film.
But more than a few scenes looked less grainy than expected, and they became a bit of a distraction. For instance, some of the shots during the Marines’ first exploration of LV-426 just looked a little too clean. When contrasted against the grittier shots, a disconnect occurred, and the various sequences occasionally didn’t feel like they were part of the same design template.
I don’t want to overstate these issues, though, as I thought most of the film still looked fine. Again, this wasn’t a Predator-style debacle. Nonetheless, I’d prefer an Aliens that maintained the consistent sense of murk and menace we’d seen previously; this one looked good, but I wouldn’t liked more of the gritty documentary look it used to boast.
Sharpness largely appeared positive. Some shots came across as slightly soft at times, but those examples occurred infrequently. Most of the movie showed a slight dullness typical of film stocks of the era, but the image remained acceptably distinct and accurate most of the time. Jagged edges and moiré effects provided no concerns, and I saw no signs of edge enhancement. Source flaws also failed to appear.
Due to the film stock and the production design, colors seemed pretty bland during Aliens. However, that’s not really a complaint, as I don’t expect vivid hues from this – or any of the series, for that matter. Tones seemed somewhat flat, but they generally came across as reasonably clear and distinct given the nature of the film. Red lighting looked strong, as those elements were clear and not overly runny or heavy. Black levels could be a little inky, but they usually appeared fairly deep and rich, and shadow seemed appropriately opaque but not excessively thick. I would’ve preferred a grittier look, but I still though this was a pretty good presentation.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the 2003 DVD release? Despite my preference for the early release’s grainier look, I thought the Blu-ray was better as a whole. It simply offered better overall clarity, as even after umpteen viewings over the last 24 years, I noticed new details here.
By the way, a look at my review of the 2003 may present me as fickle. For that DVD, I complained that the movie looked too grainy, while I thought the Blu-ray wasn’t grainy enough. I suspect I should’ve been careful what I wished for, as I felt the less grainy Aliens was less satisfying.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Aliens barely showed its age, as it sounded very good for its era. The soundfield maintained a pretty strong forward bias. Within the front, the movie boasted reasonably vivid imagery. Music showed clear stereo separation and imaging, while effects seemed appropriately placed, and they blended together neatly. The surrounds kicked in with general reinforcement much of the time, but they added good pop to many of the action scenes; they played an acceptably active role in the proceedings.
Audio quality was relatively good. Dialogue varied from natural and distinct to somewhat thick and muddy, but most of the speech seemed positive, and I detected very few problems due to edginess or intelligibility. Effects also came across as pretty crisp and vivid, and they showed reasonable bass response that was fairly tight and bold. The score came across as clean and vivid for the most part, and those elements also demonstrated nice dynamics. I noticed very little distortion in this firm package. Ultimately, I really liked this mix and thought it held up well over the years.
The Blu-ray’s audio compared favorably with the mix from the 2003 DVD, and it probably worked a little better. I thought the Blu-ray and the DVD were a lot alike, but the Blu-ray boasted a bit more heft and clarity. It wasn’t a huge difference, but the Blu-ray gave us the preferred soundtrack.
Virtually all of the 2003 package’s extras repeat here – or elsewhere in the 6-disc “Alien Anthology” set, where the last two discs include tons of pieces. Because there are so many components on the fifth and sixth platters, I didn’t think it was fair to assign a “bonus features” grade for this disc on its own; I’ll rate the whole shebang when I get to the final two discs.
First of all, we can watch either the 1986 theatrical version of Aliens or the 1991 Special Edition Cut. I already discussed this in the body of the review, but I figured I should mention it as a supplement too. The disc 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.
If you select the “Special Edition” cut, the movie opens with a James Cameron introduction. In this 32-second message, the director discusses his preference for the longer version and gives us a quick note or two about it. It’s not terribly interesting, but it helps set the stage.
Next we find an audio commentary with director James Cameron, producer Gale Ann Hurd, alien effects creator Stan Winston, visual effects supervisors Robert and Dennis Skotak, miniature effects supervisor Pat McClung, and actors Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, Carrie Henn and Christopher Henn. A complex compilation of sources, only Cameron sits alone for his discussion. Hurd and Winston unite for their chat, while the Henn children are together for their moments. The Skotek brothers join up with McClung, and in a very happy choice, the four remaining actors – Biehn, Paxton, Henriksen, and Goldstein – sit together for their examination of the film.
Although I enjoyed the 2003 commentary on the Alien Blu-ray, it didn’t quite live up to expectations. I’m pleased to report that this Aliens track gave me what I anticipated and more than that. Not surprisingly, Cameron dominates the piece, and he really delivers the goods. The director touches on a variety of fascinating topics. He gets into how he arrived on the project, the development of the script and allusions to real world events, dealing with a visual universe created by someone else, his choice of aspect ratio, character and situation backstory, choosing how to pare down the film for its original theatrical release, and tons more. Cameron fills his time with consistently interesting notes that give us a very informative experience.
As for the others, they certainly occupy their moments well. It’s probably the most fun to hear the four actors who sit together. They exhibit a nice sense of camaraderie and toss out a lot of entertaining anecdotes. They reflect on their experiences and give us a good sense of working on the film. They even take a few good-natured jabs at their control-freak director in this light and loose chat. The Henn siblings only pop up occasionally. Christopher offers only about five words, but given the very small nature of his role, that doesn’t come as a surprise. Carrie gives us a few nice remarks such as the movie line her friends quoted for years – much to her annoyance.
While the Skoteks and McClurg mostly focus on effects, they do so in a clear manner and help us get a good feel for the film’s technical elements. Hurd and Winston also pair nicely as they go over a mix of topics. They cover production concerns as well as the expected notes about Winston’s adaptation of HR Giger’s original alien designs. Of particular interest are Hurd’s notes about all the tensions between her and Cameron and the British crew; apparently the Limeys didn’t give them much respect. In the end, I feel exceedingly pleased with this outstanding commentary, as it fleshes out Aliens in a highly educational and enjoyable manner.
If you select the theatrical edition of Aliens, 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.
Also alongside the theatrical version, two Isolated Score options appear. You can examine the “Final Theatrical Isolated Score” or the “Composer’s Original Isolated Score”. Both come with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio and are nice options for fans of movie music.
New to the Blu-ray, we find the MU-TH-UR Interactive Mode. This allows you to flip among the disc’s four audio features, save “data points” to reference when you watch Discs Five and Six, and view a trivia track. Called the “Weyland-Yutani Datastream”, this offers info about the flick’s origins, development and creation. We find much of this material elsewhere as well, but the “Datastream” provides a good overview.
I’m not wild about the format, though. Most “trivia tracks” are pretty unobtrusive, so you can follow them and watch the movie at the same time. This become more awkward here because of the amount of territory “MU-TH-UR” fills. Little branches pop up all over the screen, so we get visual distractions. This means you can’t easily check out the flick and the Datastream at the same time.
The Datastream also goes dead more often than I’d like. We get more than a few extended pauses, and a lot of the time, the same text remains on screen for an extended period. It’s still an interesting extra, but it doesn’t boast great execution.
For some time now, I’ve regarded Aliens as my favorite film. A virtually flawless action flick, it provides a tremendous thrill ride bolstered by unusually strong story telling and acting. The Blu-ray features generally positive picture and sound plus some interesting supplements highlighted by a terrific commentary. Despite some misgivings about the transfer, I feel pretty happy with this Aliens.
Note that as of November 2010, you can only purchase the Blu-ray of Aliens as part of “The Alien Anthology”. This includes Alien, its three sequels and two discs of bonus materials. I’m sure the films will be available individually at some point, but that date is currently unknown.
To rate this film, visit the original review of ALIENS