Charles de Lauzirika, producer of the Alien Anthology Blu-ray box set, has said it himself: the real reason to care about Blu-ray, to upgrade your discs, is the superior picture and audio quality. With that in mind, I want to take you through the new release, film by film, for the next four days. We’ll then discuss the package overall, and some of its better special features. All of this perfectly timed to lead up to the set’s release next week.
Any consideration of Ridley Scott’s Alien will be a little more topical than typical at the moment, in light of his in-development prequel. Will he be returning to the same aesthetic? Will he be playing the same tricks of lighting and design? Or is he going to bring us something entirely new? Well, if it’s a question of “it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” then the aesthetic of Alien certainly isn’t busted up or dated or tired. If a film came out tomorrow that looked as stylish, well appointed and as dramatically shot as this one it would rank amongst the year’s best.
The film has received not one but two new transfers, one each for the theatrical and the director’s cut. Both are in 2.40:1, both are pin sharp though, presumably in accordance with Scott’s wishes, they have slightly different colour and contrast balances. You will have to be paying close attention to notice this, however – or have to a pair of TV sets lined up alongside one another – because the overall effect in each case is largely the same: a deep and very dimensional image, well balanced throughout and making great use of the format.
Alongside the lossless 5.1 audio available on both edits, the theatrical cut also boasts a lossless 4.1 track, offering us a close representation of what original cinema audiences would have enjoyed. Perhaps it’s only of interest to purists, but this box set is in the business of giving purists and perfectionists exactly what they want.
You may have forgotten, but the film is mixed in such a way that it uses the front channels far, far more than the rear. In effect, this gives the few moments of strong rear application some genuine kick, and almost an element of surprise. The differences between the two sound mixes are a touch more overt than the differences in the video transfers, but that’s really not too overt at all. Subtlety and refinement in the production of this disc has resulted in subtlety and refinement in the product.
Blu-ray can have a nasty way of revealing weakness in make-up, special effects and production design that the relatively forgiving, organic surface of 35mm would forgive. A sharp, hard transfer like this one puts Alien under the microscope. Thankfully, it passes the test. Those shortcomings you remember – once it’s up and at ’em, the chestburster puppet is hardly convincing, scooting across the floor like every FX man’s nightmare – certainly don’t play any worse. If anything, the overall experience as the mood permeating from the soundtrack, lighting and image composition can help carry the load better than ever before.
Tomorrow: the controversial transfers of Aliens… and why that film might just have the least satisfactory soundtrack in the set…
In the UK, Alien Anthology is available from October 25th. US readers will have to wait until the 26th.
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