So it’s Halloween, but it’s also Sunday, which probably means one of two things: Either you’re still hungover from last night’s pre-Halloween festivities, or you’ve got some neutered, only semi-drunken Halloween plans lined up for tonight. (Or hell, maybe both—in which case, congrats on being an overachiever.)
Regardless: If you (A) like film, and (B) wanna watch something scary for the holiday, and (C) are looking for a way to kill a few hours—as well as a good number of future hours—here’s my advice: Pick up the Alien Anthology, and prepare to not leave your couch for the foreseeable future.
If you’re a fan of the Alien films (or, more likely, if you’re a fan of the first two Alien films), you’ve likely already seen the excellent Alien Quadrilogy, 2003's nine-disc, special features-laden set that established the gold standard for DVD releases. (The Quadrilogy was so goddamn impressive, in fact, that Fox had to invent a whole new word to describe it; apparently, “tetralogy” didn’t have the punch they were looking for.) The Alien Anthology—which came out last week on Blu-ray—not only boasts the expected upgrades to that set—namely, gorgeous high-def transfers and great sound for all four films, which are the main reasons for any cinephile to pick this up—but also adds even more in-depth special features. There’re two cuts of each film (including the vastly superior director’s cut of 1986's Aliens and the similarly superior workprint cut of 1992's Alien 3), commentaries, deleted scenes, isolated scores, individual documentaries on the making of each of the films, deleted scenes from those documentaries (referred to as “enhancement pods”), Dan O’Bannon first-draft screenplay for 1979's Alien and Joss Whedon's first-draft screenplay for 1997's Alien Resurrection (and James Cameron’s original treatment for Aliens), production artwork, and a truly insane amount of archival materials. All told, the press release for the Alien Anthology says it boasts “over 60 hours of special features and over 12,000 images," and yeah, that seems about right, because christ.
Thankfully, this isn’t just a case of Fox throwing everything they could possibly find onto some Blu-rays, repackaging it, and reselling it to fans—almost all of the special features here should prove fascinating for anyone who’s interested in film, in large part because of how surprisingly candid and jarringly self-critical they are. How candid, you ask? Well, courtesy of the Anthology’s documentary Wreckage and Rage: The Making of Alien 3, let’s take a look at happy-go-lucky director David Fincher on the cheery set of the not-troubled-at-all film Alien 3. You can tell he already knows this film is gonna turn out great!
Hit the jump for a bullet-point list on why the Anthology’s worth its hefty cost ($140!) and so very, very much of your time.
• Phenomenal prettiness. Again: The chief reason to buy this thing is how great the films look and sound—probably better than they ever have before, even in their theatrical releases. This is especially apparent with Alien and Aliens, but Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection look and sound great, too.
• The Quadrilogy's special features—now extended. If you haven’t seen 'em before, you’ll be in heaven—but even if you have, there’s even more great stuff here. Namely, the Anthology's “enhancement pods” are little mini-featurettes that're essentially deleted scenes from the films' making-of documentaries. They add a whole new level of behind-the-scenes info about each film, giving new insight into the crafting of a masterpiece like Alien, Aliens' ballsy gamble to supercharge the series, the fucked-up, anger-fueled mess that was Alien 3's production, and the well-intentioned (at least on the parts of writer Joss Whedon and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet) but ultimately dumb and unimaginative Alien Resurrection. Encompassing all elements of production, this behind-the-scenes stuff is astounding in its scope and honesty—I’m not sure who at Fox decided it was okay for everyone to be so open and critical about all the things that didn’t and don’t work about these films, but kudos to whoever they are. This is fascinating stuff.
• Wreckage and Rage: The Making of Alien 3. This making-of doc on Alien 3 is technically a carry-over from the Quadrilogy... but there’s about 30 minutes of footage included in this version that wasn’t there before, and just about all of it has to do with David Fincher. Fincher (who still refuses to have anything to do with Alien 3, his first feature) was under tremendous pressure throughout Alien 3's production thanks to an overbearing studio, an unfinished script, the legacies of two directors who had already bailed on the project (Renny Harlin and Vincent Ward), a looming release date, and a grumpy cast and crew. In the previous version of Wreckage and Rage, Fox didn't show much of Fincher on set—but here that footage has been reinstated, and it doesn’t do Fincher any favors. Coming across as inexperienced, stubborn, petulant, and sometimes just plain mean, Fincher now seems an equally—or at least a partially—culpable party in the film’s troubled production, which until now has been easy to blame on Fox.
Alien 3 is many things, but it’s perhaps most interesting as the early, troubled work of a hugely talented director who would go on to make great films, and seeing Wreckage and Rage's fly-on-the-wall footage of Fincher makes the film all the more interesting. (Which reminds me: If you watch Alien 3, watch the workprint cut; it’s a strikingly different and far superior film to the one Fox released in theaters.)
• Random weird shit. With physical media in its protracted death throes, this Blu-ray collection is probably the final sort of box set we'll ever see for the Alien films. Perhaps because of that, Fox has loaded the Anthology with everything you could possibly want, from VHS footage of Stan Winston’s crew testing out a rudimentary Queen Alien puppet to Sigourney Weaver’s Alien screen tests. But there's a ton of weirder, less-obvious stuff, too: The script for a never-made Aliens ride at a Korean amusement park? Here. Parodies of Alien and Aliens from Spaceballs and Family Guy? Here. A gallery of Dark Horse Comics’ Aliens funnybooks? Here. Concept artist Sylvain Despretz talking about how Alejandro Jodorowsky's failed attempt to make a Dune flick drastically changed the course of science fiction in the ’70s? Here. Matte painters waxing nostalgic about their craft? Here. Info about how they tried to use a dressed-up a whippet as a baby alien for Alien 3—and the hilarious/sad footage of said whippet prancing about in an alien bodysuit and helmet? Here! Tips on how to make your own alien acid saliva? HERE.
Exhausting and exhaustive? Yes. But thanks to its presentation of so much well-crafted info about the makings of these films, the Alien Anthology is a thus-far unparalleled Blu-ray experience. Few films are as great as the first Alien, few are as thrilling as Aliens, and few are as interestingly broken as Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection. Yeah, the quality of these films varies wildly, but each of these movies is still worth watching and rewatching—and doing so with this much knowledge about their origins, flaws, and triumphs only makes them that much more entertaining.
Oh, yeah, and post-script: Yeah, this thing retails for a whopping $140 (though you can probably find it cheaper if you look around a bit). That said, if you don’t care about this set's Blu-ray-exclusive features, 2003's Alien Quadrilogy is now crazy cheap now that the Anthology's out. You can find it now for like $20, and it's still highly recommended, provided you can live without reading the script for that Korean amusement park's ill-fated Aliens ride.