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Aliens Blu-ray disc set

They mostly come out at night. Mostly.

By Alistair Dabbs, 5 Apr 2012

Review James Cameron is often credited with turning science fiction from a cult or B-movie genre into a one that earned not just big money but critical success too. The breakthrough film was Aliens and the year was 1986.

Aliens theatrical release and special edition Blu-ray disc set

Aliens on Blu-ray: Two films for the price of one and a half

Sure, George Lucas had already reinvigorated sci-fi on the big screen with Star Wars but that was just a panto with corridors. Ridley Scott should have been pronounced the father of modern sci-fi movies after 1979’s Alien but his 1982 commercial disaster Blade Runner left him extremely unpopular with the studios at the time.

Aliens theatrical release and special edition Blu-ray disc set

I’ve been looking for that shower head everywhere

So when the studios came looking to make a sequel to Alien, they approached James Cameron, a young gun still in his twenties who had become hot property after having written and directed The Terminator at high speed and under budget.

Aliens theatrical release and special edition Blu-ray disc set

“Let’s light a campfire and sing songs” – actual line from this scene

Aliens was an immediate hit, costing $18m to make but earning $131m at the box office. It had strong characters as well as big scares. It had guns and brains. Barry Norman loved it and Sigourney Weaver received a Best Leading Actress nomination at the Oscars – an award that would previously have been unthinkable for a sci-fi flick.

Aliens theatrical release and special edition Blu-ray disc set

Burke puts on his ‘come hit me’ face – that’s his usual one

Five years later, James Cameron unveiled a Special Edition of the film, which was essentially the 2hr 35mins masterpiece he’d originally created before being forced to cut 20 minutes for its 1986 theatrical showing. Both versions went on to enjoy lucrative video and DVD sales – it even appeared on Laserdisc. And here at last, both versions get their Blu-ray release simultaneously on one disc.

Hurrah! Aliens in hi-def!

Against the grain?

The only problem is that Blu-ray reveals how grainy the movie’s visuals actually are. According to James Cameron, this was the standard quality film offered by Kodak when you were shooting in 1.85:1 (16:9) in the mid-80s. Apparently he was worried that anamorphic widescreen lenses caused distortions that would play havoc with Aliens’ surprisingly low-budget, pre-digital special effects.

Aliens theatrical release and special edition Blu-ray disc set

Years ago, someone flushed their bagpipes down the loo, and now look

Besides, Cameron apparently took great pains to “maintain consistency” with the first film (i.e. slavishly copy Ridley Scott) by filling every scene with flickering lights, rain and smoke. Now, thanks to Blu-ray, you can admire high-definition smoke as the handheld camera whirls sickeningly around every fight scene.

Aliens theatrical release and special edition Blu-ray disc set

Incubating eggs, Ripley-style: Mum’s not too happy

Of much more worthy note is the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. It’s easy to forget that much of Aliens was filmed in low-budget sets and in front of back-projections with two crews working simultaneously at break-neck speed on adjacent stages at Pinewood. Surely, one reason for your brain fooling you into thinking you’re watching terrifying creatures – rather than tall stuntmen in rubber suits – is the very high quality of the soundtrack.

Aliens theatrical release and special edition Blu-ray disc set

I think there was a bone in that haddock

The whole atmosphere generated by the Aliens audio in my living room reminds me of the first time I played Quake while wearing headphones in the middle of the night. Some of you must know what I’m talking about: the reverberation in open spaces, the close warmth in small spaces, and the clanking of chains from around the next corner. Despite the movie’s reputation for its visual fireworks, it’s actually a relentless audio rollercoaster too.

This is reflected in the two Academy Awards that the film actually won in 1986: Sound Effect Editing and Visual Effects.

Aliens theatrical release and special edition Blu-ray disc set

Get away from her, you bitch. Scratch your eyes out, I will

Less impressive is the package of extras slung on to the disc. Assuming you can work out how to navigate the atrocious user interface, you can choose to listen to the composer’s original score (i.e. one that doesn’t work well with the film), watch three ‘deleted scenes’ (i.e the ones already put back in to the Special Edition) and enable a commentary with Cameron, cast and crew taken from an old DVD release (it is almost ten years old).

Ooh and there’s a 30-second introduction to the Special Edition by James Cameron, in which he says you are about to watch the Special Edition. Well burn my arse off with a blowtorch, this is as underwhelming as it gets.

Verdict

Justified though I feel about dissing the extras, I’m satisfied with the price of this no-frills package. At the time of writing, Amazon was selling it for a little over £11. For that, you get a blue box with a disc in it, no booklet, no stickers or figurines, and not even any text printed on the inside. Oh, and of course you get a damn good sci-fi action movie with a crackling script and a curiously powerful sub-theme about the bond between mother and child. Alternatively, you could just wait until it next gets shown on Freeview HD, but doesn’t your home cinema deserve better audio? ®

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