Alien Saga Collector's Set
(Japanese release)

By Joshua Zyber
May 1, 1999

Fox Video International has released the Alien Saga Collector’s Set on laserdisc in Japan. The set comprises the first three films in the series. All three films carry both the THX and Dolby Digital markings. The first two discs are, I'm sure, created from the same film-to-video transfers as the most recent CLV editions released domestically. Compared directly to the otherwise definitive CAV box sets, Alien is noticeably sharper but is also considerably darker. I have heard speculation that some Japanese laserdiscs are mastered for a 0 IRE black level, which might account for the overly dark appearance. I have not had the opportunity to compare this disc to the domestic THX release to see if it exhibits the same problem. Bumping up the brightness on my television monitor by a few notches while watching the import helps even out the differences between the two discs, but there are still important details lost in the murk. There are also many instances of inaccurate coloring on the new disc. The gleaming white walls of the cryogenic chambers early in the film now have a bluish tint to them which is just plain wrong. Fleshtones are also overly pinkish in a number of scenes. Viewed independently the THX disc would seem acceptable, but on the whole I prefer the textures of the old CAV disc. Aliens has a sharper and overall better picture transfer than the notoriously grainy Special Edition CAV set, but it is unfortunately only the original theatrical cut of the film and is also slightly cropped on the sides in comparison, though the framing balance is barely affected at all.

Unfortunately, none of the movies contain any supplements directly related to these three films, not even trailers as I was really hoping. I was also expecting a printed booklet or brochure of some sort, which I have found to be a common inclusion in the Japanese box sets I have bought in the past. No such luck in this case.

Now for the good stuff:

On side 4 of the Aliens disc is the only known (to me anyway) full-length release of the Making of Alien Resurrection half-hour featurette. The DVD release of Alien Resurrection contains only a 3 minute exerpt from this special. The program is basically an infomercial for the film, no doubt prepared for cable TV, and not terribly exceptional for its genre. It does have a couple of important highlights, namely some terrific behind-the-scenes footage of the film's underwater sequence and an interview with the film's music composer, John Frizzell. During the underwater scene Ron Perlman describes a near-death experience he had while performing an entire shot like a good trooper even though his eyes were bursting out of his head. Frizzell demonstrates unorthodox methods to create interesting sounds for the musical score. Both scenes are highly entertaining. The program is in English with Japanese subtitles and is hosted by Ron Perlman, who is uncharacteristically hammy as a host.

The biggest advantage to owning this box set, however, is the THX remastered edition of Alien3 which has not been released domestically on laserdisc. The subsequent domestic DVD release does sport the THX seal and also includes a 20 minute behind-the-scenes featurette which has been released on VHS but is so far unavailable on laserdisc.

The original laserdisc for this film is, in a word, terrible. The entire last act of the movie is so flooded with signal noise that it becomes painful to watch. I have long regarded it as one of the worst looking lasers I've ever owned. The import, on the other hand, is fantastic and prompted me to dump my old copy immediately. The picture has the exact same letterboxing as the old disc, so the opening EEV crash sequence is still slightly cropped but the film is otherwise fine. Maybe it's just overscan, but I wish they'd windowbox that portion of the movie anyway. The discs also share the same ideally placed side break, but the new disc has more chapter stops. The picture quality is terrific. It is slightly sharper than the old disc and has stronger colors, and most importantly the last act of the film is ROCK SOLID -- No noise whatsoever. It was such a relief to finally view this film in a state comparable to my memories of its theatrical showings. The finale of the movie should look every bit as good as the similar (all right, identical) ending of Terminator 2 which has always looked great on disc. The audio on the domestic edition wasn't exactly slacking, but the import is even stronger and in addition has a Dolby Digital track, making it the first release of this film to feature one and almost certainly the only laserdisc that ever will.

Contrary to popular opinion about the movie, I've always found Alien3 to be an excellent addition to the series. It is full of David Fincher's stylish visuals, a strong script, interesting religious subtexts, and a very fitting sacrificial end for the Ripley character (at least until they brought her back for the next sequel). I saw it twice in the theater on its opening weekend. The movie had me hooked from the very beginning by killing off most of the survivors from the last movie. They could have been written out of the story somehow, or worse yet replaced with new actors, but instead everyone was killed off right in the opening credits. Why? Because there can be no happy ending for Ripley. She's trapped in a nightmare and can never wake up. Every time she thinks she's safe, every time she thinks she's strong enough to win, she is beaten back down. How did that alien egg get on her ship? Who the hell cares? What's important is that it IS there. It will always be there waiting for her. She can never escape.

Alien3 is a movie that ruthlessly, maliciously, gleefully defies the expectations of all the fans who went to see it. The fans wanted another rock 'em sock 'em action picture like Aliens. Did Fincher give them one? No. Alien3 is moody, somber, grungy, gruesome, out and out depressing.

Yes, it is also a flawed film. Objectively, it is not as perfectly executed as either of the first two movies. Most of the prisoner characters are indistinguishable from one another and the film exerts very little effort building up sympathy for them. But this is unimportant because the film is not about them. It's about Ripley. Everyone else is just meat for the beast. And Ripley is great in this film. Weaver gives a terrific performance portraying her as a woman beaten down so far that she doesn't want to get back up, yet has to. She's got absolutely nothing left to live for, but she can't stop until the job is done. The movie brilliantly quashes all of the of the optimism at the end of the last film and replaces it with hopelessness and despair.

That's pretty ballsy, and I respect the movie enormously for it.

Almost everyone else in the world feels differently so I won't beleaguer the point, but regardless I have long been waiting for this movie to be remastered as nicely as it has been here.

All three films have unobtrusive Japanese subtitles that appear below the 2.35:1 pictures of the first and third films, but within the 1.85:1 picture of the second (probably so that they won't be cut off on 16:9 monitors). Interestingly, the movies are all close-captioned in English. The captions appear in electronic black bands that are usually positioned to cover up the Japanese subtitles.

The box set itself is attractively packaged. All three films are contained in individual jackets within a sturdy outer box. The jacket for Aliens is even a gatefold. For some reason white was chosen as the predominant color rather than the expected black, but it doesn't look too bad at all. The standard poster art for each of the three films appears inset on each jacket cover. My only complaint is that they did not leave enough room in the box to fit a copy of Alien Resurrection, which came out separately around the same time.

For those of us still supporting the grand old laserdisc format, this import box set is a terrific addition to any Alien fan's collection.

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email: jzyber @ mind spring . com (remove spaces)


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