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Fox Home Entertainment presents
The Alien Quadrilogy: Aliens (1986)

Ripley: These people are here to protect you. They are soldiers.
Newt: It won't make any difference.

- Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: November 30, 2003

Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn, Lance Henriksen, Paul Reiser, Bill Paxton
Other Stars: William Hope, Jeanette Goldstein, Al Matthews, Mark Rolston, Ricco Ross, Colette Hiller, Daniel Kash, Cynthia Scott, Tip Tipping
Director: James Cameron

MPAA Rating: R for (contains language, violence, and gore)
Run Time: 02h:34m:15s
Release Date: December 02, 2003
UPC: 024543098478
Genre: sci-fi


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AAA A+

DVD Review

Following the remarkable success of Alien, James Cameron tackled the daunting task of writing a distinctive sequel without losing its devout fans. Instead of copying the original’s horror genre, he instead crafted a combat picture that would become even more popular than its predecessor. Once his The Terminator gained huge audiences in 1984, Cameron also signed to direct the ongoing tale of heroine Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). Aliens drew massive crowds in 1986 and has maintained consistent popularity for the past 17 years. I attended this film at the historic Fox Theater in St. Louis this past summer, and the audience still appeared fascinated with Cameron's much different vision.

The story begins 57 years after the original events with Ripley unknowingly marooned in the far reaches of deep space. Discovered by the Company, she faces an inquisition for destroying the Nostromo and makes a horrifying discovery—colonists have settled on the Alien's planet. Joining a roughneck gang of heavily armed marines, Ripley returns to this world to regain contact with the settlers. Upon arrival, they discover a disastrous scene and face a nasty group of enemies who number in the hundreds. The action reaches a feverish pitch and eventually leads to an all-out tussle between Ripley and the nasty Alien Queen.

An intriguing new element of this picture comes from Newt (Carrie Henn), the charming young girl who brings out Ripley's maternal tendencies. Her inclusion makes their ultimate survival more touching because it extends the life of a child. Cameron definitely cranks up the action and military elements, but he also provides a caring side that adds considerable emotional resonance. The marines include an oddball group of macho men and women who believe that no challenge is too difficult. This arrogance quickly falls apart during the first chaotic attack from the aliens, which severely damages the company. An interesting exception is the more sensitive Corporal Hicks, who understands the danger but remains a calming force. Cameron veteran Michael Biehn (The Terminator, The Abyss) performs nicely, and his character's connection with Ripley is easily understandable. Lance Henriksen plays the android Bishop, a devoted member who unfortunately generates some bad memories. The brash, sometimes-annoying Private Hudson is played by then-unknown Bill Paxton. The supporting cast lacks the impressive résumés of the first movie, but they still provide the human elements needed to carry the picture.

This film once again presents the idea that the Company is the true enemy and even worse then the vicious aliens. Its representative is the manipulative Burke, who calls himself a nice guy but remains focused on the commercial side of the project. Casting the unimposing Paul Reiser (My Two Dads) in this role is a stroke of genius because he seems harmless compared to the hulking marines. Sigourney Weaver is even more confident and effective this time around, and her confrontations with Burke reveal a humanity only hinted at during Alien.

Aliens does contain human elements, but its success obviously comes from the large group of unique killers. Cameron actually dealt with a modest budget and was forced to use trick editing to create the illusion of a huge alien force. The story once again moves deliberately and takes a while to reach the first major battle. However, the pace rarely slows following this conflict and frenetically moves towards the final confrontation. The marines’ weapons include pulse rifles, shotguns, grenades, pistols, and flame throwers, and even then the onslaught remains. While falling a bit short of its predecessor in grand style, this film expands the original idea and delivers an excellent sequel.

Released within the Alien Quadrilogy nine-disc boxed set, this second entry may be viewed in the original 137-minute theatrical cut or the previously released 154-minute "special edition." The lengthier version may be slightly bloated, but it still includes several compelling moments that would have served the original release. One scene involves Ripley learning about her daughter, who has died at an old age without seeing her mother again. This moment adds even more relevance to the heroine's relationship with Newt. There's also a decent subplot involving sentry guns that shows the aliens' persistence at reaching their prey. Other scenes presenting Newt and the colonists inspecting the alien ship are interesting, but they probably do slow the movie down. Both versions retain the story's heart and deliver an unforgettable viewing experience.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Rationo
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Aliens was actually not shot in the widescreen format, a decision that James Cameron now says he regrets. However, this 1.85:1 widescreen transfer still provides an impressive experience that is only slightly less than its predecessor. The colors shine brightly and the images are very sharp, but a minor amount of grain does appear during a few scenes. Even given these small flaws, the picture still looks great and deserves a high recommendation.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishno
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno
DTSEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: This film provides similar audio options to Alien, with the only difference being the Spanish track now being a stereo one. The explosive battles sound wonderful here and help to generate a powerful listening experience. Plenty of involvement comes from the rear speakers, and the intense effects move throughout the sound field. DVD enthusiasts should crank up the volume for this picture and let their home system shine.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 44 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish
14 Deleted Scenes
7 Documentaries
4 Featurette(s)
Storyboard
1 Feature/Episode commentary by James Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd, Stan Winston, Visual Effects Supervisors Robert Skotak and Dennis Skotak, Miniature Effects Supervisor Pat McClung, and Actors Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, Bill Paxton, and Carrie Henn
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo and Storyboard Archives
  2. Original Treatment by James Cameron
  3. Deleted Footage Marker (Special Edition)
  4. THX Optimizer
Extras Review: Aliens includes many similar extra features to its predecessor, but many of these documentaries contain a much different tone. Many of the crew members had problems with writer/director James Cameron's working style, which stressed perfection and wasn't always friendly. The differences in the British filming culture also created some conflicts between the crew members. While Alien covers much of the creation and writing process, these discs are more technical in nature.

Many of the key players appear on Disc One for the commentary track, which covers both the theatrical and special editions. James Cameron's words are especially interesting and make you wish he'd have his own track. His statements provide a nice combination of technical and story elements. The crew members remain interesting while focusing on the specific design and filming. The actors have a lot of fun and retain a silly camaraderie while relating their experiences. It would have been great for them to also have their own track because it's so enjoyable.

The special edition provides a deleted footage marker that allows us to realize which scenes are new to this version (as with the special edition of the first film). Viewers curious about the extra scenes but not wanting to see the entire picture can see them along with the theatrical cut.

Provided below are descriptions for each supplement included on Disc Two:

Pre-Production

57 Years Later: Capturing the Story
Producer Michael Giler returns to discuss the evolution of the idea for a sequel to the massive hit Alien. This worthwhile eight-minute featurette gives us tons of information about the early conceptions for the picture. In an older interview, James Cameron discusses his thoughts about not doing a "clone" of the original, and instead discusses the combat genre of Aliens. Sigourney Weaver also speaks about her concerns with doing a sequel and the importance of keeping the character reliable. Amazingly, Fox even told Cameron to devise a story without Ripley when contract negotiations grew sour.

Original Treatment By James Cameron
This section presents the September 21, 1983 story treatment from Cameron, David Giler, and Walter Hill. There are no text notes this time, so viewers have to work a bit harder to discover the original ideas.

Building Better Worlds: From Concept to Construction
This 13-minute feature discusses the creative beginnings with conceptual designer Syd Mead, and we witness his early drawings of the ship. These pictures are very detailed and combine nicely with the statements. Ron Cobb also returns, offering very specific ideas to producer Gale Anne Hurd about the setting. Peter LeMont had to actually bring the unique designs to life, which was not always an easy task. It's interesting to note Cameron's absence here after Ridley Scott's major involvement on the first supplemental disc. Luckily, Hurd takes up the slack and provides the extra material needed to complement the designers. One intriguing aspect is the trickery and diligence needed to counteract the limited budget.

The Art of Aliens: Conceptual Art Portfolio
The artwork of Ron Cobb, Syd Mead, and James Cameron appears here divided into three sections—the gateway station and colony, vehicles and weapons, and aliens. Notes appear before certain pictures, which range between crude drawings and colorful creations.

Previsualizations: Multi-Angle Videomatics
This feature allows us to view the videomatic miniature shots alone or alongside the actual images from the completed film. Audio options include the actual soundtrack or commentary from miniature effects supervisor Pat McClung. I love these types of extras, as they show the amazing amount of work required even before filming begins.

Preparing for Battle: Casting and Characterizations
Casting for Aliens was especially difficult, and Gale Anne Hurd describes the countless actors interviewed for the military roles. Finding the right girl for Newt in England was especially difficult because of the character's young age. Carrie and Chris Henn appear, now as adults, to speak about their experiences. Many of the clips present both the actors during filming and now, looking back from the present day, which brings a nice perspective. The marines actually went through several weeks of grueling training to improve the group's camaraderie and abilities. This 17-minute documentary basically covers everyone and effectively conveys the feelings among the cast.

Cast Portrait Gallery: Photo Archive
Similar to the gallery included with Alien, this extra allows us to view basic photos of each cast member. A brief introduction accompanies each person listing their character and career highlights.


Production

This Time It's War: Pinewood Studios, 1985
This 20-minute feature begins with a lengthy discussion concerning the early departure of the original directory of photography, Dick Bush. The coverage is surprisingly thorough and looks at every aspect of the issue. Oddly, Michael Biehn did not appear in the casting featurette, but he tells his story here about arriving at the last minute to replace another actor. Nearly everyone discusses James Cameron's frustrating and stubborn nature while respecting him at the same time. We also learn about the other side and the British crew's disdain for the new director and Gale Anne Hurd. The crew basically rebelled against them and had numerous fiery clashes. It's fascinating to hear such direct accounts about a movie set instead of the usual promotional fluff. They also discuss the variances of British culture and the Americans' bewilderment at their oddities.

Production Gallery: Photo Archive and Continuity Polaroids
These sections mirror those on the first film and are noteworthy to devout fans wanting to see everything possible. The Production Gallery includes notes that introduce each of the nine areas. Script supervisor Diana Dill's polaroids provide some mildly interesting shots, but it's not exactly exciting.

The Risk Always Lives: Weapons and Action
Yes, weapons. Very cool. This 16-minute documentary examines the many crazy weapons designed to look futuristic and kill the nasty aliens. Sigourney Weaver discovers her strong aversion to using guns, which makes her character choice a bit odd. On the flip side, it's no big surprise to me that Bill Paxton really enjoys firing weapons. Al Matthews provides some intriguing statements from the set that immediately showcase his military background. We also learn about several dangerous accidents, particularly one involving the actors suffocating from the fire.

Weapons and Vehicles: Photo Archive
Here we have plenty of photos showcasing the marine outfits and weapons used on the set. Certain photos have models wearing that costumes that look very silly away from the actual film.

Bug Hunt: Creature Design
This feature explains the changes made to the creatures from the first movie. We also observe the new ideas for the chestburster, the facehugger, and the fully grown aliens. Surprisingly, James Cameron actually discusses his ideas of using less gore than Alien in hopes of creating more terror. Stan Winston and many other crew members also speak about the various designs and how the creatures were made. The comments about the warrior alien are especially intriguing, as we see the tricks used to create the illusion of so many enemies.

Beauty and the Bitch: Power Loader vs. Queen Alien
Virtually the only completely new alien design in this picture was the Alien Queen, who battles Ripley in the chaotic finale. We learn here about the complex actions necessary to make this huge puppet work correctly. This was truly a groundbreaking creation, and the descriptions of the process are wonderful. Plenty of great footage appears from the shooting, which presents the difficulty in filming the scene.

Stan Winston's Workshop: Photo Archive
This gallery includes drawings and photographs of the various creatures used in the film, specifically the facehugger and different warrior aliens. Notes once again accompany the pictures and provide worthwhile material.

Two Orphans: Sigourney Weaver and Carrie Henn
During the strenuous filming, a strong bond developed between Weaver and Henn, who spent the last month or so as the only actors remaining. They called themselves "orphans" and really enjoyed working on the production. Henn warmly recalls doing Newt's pivotal scenes as a young girl and loved doing it, even though it was her only film. Once again, we hear about Weaver's hatred of guns. The shots from production look very intense and reveal some extreme difficulties on the set.


Post-Production

The Final Countdown: Music, Editing and Sound
This 15-minute feature includes a quick description of the lengthy editing process from Gale Anne Hurd. The stress was very high and led to extremely long days for everyone. Music also was problematic, and composer James Horner speaks candidly about his own time difficulties; Hurd didn't understand the creation process and made things crazy for him. After parting ways with Cameron for many years, Horner did rejoin with the director and craft the score for Titanic. Finally, the sound guys explain the effects they created and identify particular scenes where the use of their effects enhances the picture.

The Power of Real Tech: Visual Effects
Robert and Dennis Skotak supervised the visual effects and developed a wide array of shots needed for the numerous unique moments. Constructing the large, intricate miniatures required tremendous creativity, and the settings used for the big shots are especially impressive. The Sulacco looks wonderful in the picture, and it's amazing to see how they used the miniature. This documentary runs for 28 minutes and thoroughly covers every element of visual effects, which should be intriguing for technical buffs.

Visual Effects Gallery: Photo Archive and Film Finish & Release: Photo Archive
Here are the final two photo archives on this disc. The visual effects piece provides a closer look at the numerous miniatures and other materials presented in the preceding documentary. The other entry is split into three sections—the music recording, premiere, and special shoot—that aren't very exciting.

Aliens Unleashed: Reaction to the Film
Wow. I'm exhausted. This last featurette concerns the marketing tactics and initial reaction to the movie. It runs for 12 minutes and includes comments from the actors and crew about their feelings. Michael Biehn and Bill Paxton both loved it and showcase their tremendous enthusiasm. Even after the numerous clashes on the set, everyone realized they had worked on a classic.

Extras Grade: A+

 

Final Comments

I grew up in the 1980s, and Aliens stands in my brain as the most familiar picture of the series. It delivers a more action-packed version of the tale, but also provides emotional impact missing from the original film. In Alien, Ridley Scott utilizes a more artistic style and crafts images of true horror, while here James Cameron presents a more straightforward vision in this sequel. Both are equally successful for different reasons and combine to form one of the great duos of cinema history.

 


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