The Alien Quadrilogy (20th Century Fox, 1979-1997) D: Ridley Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet w/ Sigourney Weaver. Nine discs. Rating: NNNN
got 65 hours to spare? someone has calculated that that's how long it takes to watch everything on this nine-disc doorstopper set of the four Alien films. But keep the 20th-anniversary single disc of Alien, because the alternate soundtracks from that DVD (Ridley Scott's commentary, the isolated Jerry Goldsmith score and the alternate sound mix) aren't in the new edition.
Fox brings these out as two-disc single issues in January, which means that if you go the single-movie route but want the trailers and TV spots, you've got a problem, since they're archived on the ninth disc, which also has the leftover material from the Alien and Aliens laser discs. Confused yet?
The original theatrical cut and the more recent director's cut, which is more a director's tinker with the original, with a two-hour-plus making-of and cast and crew commentary.
The theatrical cut makes its first appearance on DVD, along with an extended cut from the first DVD issue, which is 17 minutes longer and director James Cameron's preferred version. I prefer the theatrical, but the extended's good. Director/producer/ crew/cast commentary. Two-hour-plus making-of.
Although David Fincher has refused to have anything to do with the DVD issues of his feature debut, editor Terry Rawlings has reconstructed Fincher's assembly cut of Alien3 and Fox Home Video has brought it up to release standard, which gives us a much better idea of what it was supposed to be. The theatrical cut is included, along with a producer/crew/cast commentary and a production documentary, a story about people who kept hiring and losing directors and writers, started shooting without a completed script, then blamed the director. But this documentary was cut by about half an hour shortly before its release, and it's credited to one Frederic Garvin (Dan Aykroyd fans will get the reference), a pseudonym used by producer Charles de Lauzirika after the studio cut.
Theatrical cut and an "alternate" cut that includes Jeunet's opening, which the studio hated, and the studio ending, which Jeunet hated. Director/crew commentary, and the least interesting making-of in the box. (By 1996, people were making on-set promotional documentaries, and a lot of this one is drawn from that footage, so everyone is super-polite - not nearly as much fun as listening to Alien screenwriter Dan O'Bannon slag producer Walter Hill in the Alien making-of.) The interesting absence is Sigourney Weaver, who appears in the Alien documentary and with Scott in the commentary for that film but nowhere else in the box. (Any interview footage in the making-ofs is on-set material, not new.) I wonder if she resents the series that made her a star or if she thinks it hurts her rep as a serious actor?
Despite the problems with Alien3, this is a tremendous compilation, and the transfers are excellent. If I were buying, I'd probably wait for the single issues of Aliens and Alien3 to replace the ones in the 1999 Alien Legacy box, but if there's an Aliens fan on your list, this is self-recommending.
One design question: what bonehead at Fox decided that the way to package this set was in a foldout package? Fully unfolded, the set spreads out over 5 feet, and it's phenomenally inconvenient to find a single disc or, heaven forbid, the booklet.
EXTRAS Alternate cuts of all four films, full commentaries, feature-length making-ofs, deleted scenes, theatrical trailers, teasers and TV ads, DVD-ROM content, a couple of Easter Eggs I've yet to find. Loaded. English and Spanish versions, English subtitles.
Gambling, Gods And LSD (Alliance Atlantis, 2002) D: Peter Mettler. Rating: NNNNN
Horns And Halos (MicroFilms, 2002) D: Michael Galinsky, Suki Hawley, w/ Sander Hicks, James Hatfield. Rating: NNNN
every now and then you get a pair of DVDS that give you the unmistakable sense that the wrong film got the deluxe treatment. Horns And Halos is a strong and interesting documentary on the controversy surrounding the publication of James Hatfield's biography of George W. Bush, Fortunate Son, and punk entrepreneur Sander Hicks's attempt to publish the book after St. Martin's Press dumped it. It marks an ambitious first DVD release for MicroFilms, which has loaded it up with extras that become a bit redundant. Filmmakers Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley have a full commentary, so do we really need the bonus interviews on the second disc? It's a generously overloaded two-disc set for a solid documentary.
Gambling, Gods And LSD, on the other hand, is Toronto filmmaker Peter Mettler's hallucinatory meditation on people seeking transcendent experience, and Alliance Atlantis has included two extras: an on-disc essay on the film and a short film of Mettler discussing the project, during which he offers a fascinating tease. The three-hour film was cut from 55 hours of footage shot over 18 months, and Mettler's favourite version is the eight-hour cut. Given that Gambling, Gods And LSD is less a film you watch than one you sort of sink into, I'd actually like to see that cut.
And given the peculiarity of Mettler's travels, from Toronto to Vegas, Switzerland and India, a commentary would not have been too much to ask. Gambling, Gods And LSD is a fascinating film, but the Alliance Atlantis disc doesn't really do it justice.
EXTRAS Horns And Halos: Directors' commentary; deleted scenes; interviews with the filmmakers, James Hatfield and Sander Hicks; performance footage of Hicks with his band, White Collar Crime; radio interviews; extended scenes. Spanish subtitles. Gods, Gambling And LSD: Short, self-filmed introduction to the film by Peter Mettler. English, French subtitles.
A Boy And His Dog (First Run Features, 1975) D: L.Q. Jones, w/ Don Johnson, Tim McIntire. Rating: NNNN
first run features has rescued L.Q. Jones's cult classic from the distribution limbo it fell into when Lumivision died and took its laser disc catalogue with it. That explains why on the commentary track director L.Q. Jones and L.A. film critic Charles Champlin are talking about Jason Robards as if he were still alive; this is a reissue of the laser disc from roughly 1995. Adapted from Harlan Ellison's novella, A Boy And His Dog may be the first of the loner-wandering-the-post-apocalypse-wasteland movies. George Miller has acknowledged its influence on his Mad Max films. A young Don Johnson wanders the California desert near Barstow with his telepathic dog (voiced brilliantly by Tim McIntire) and is abducted into a repressive subterranean culture that mimics small-town America in the 50s and wants him for breeding purposes. It's actually very good, with a jaw-dropping twist ending.
The transfer is generally good, though unfortunately non-anamorphic, but a few shots are a bit scratchy. It's a shame First Run didn't do a proper remastering restoration, but L.Q. Jones, a veteran character actor, gives great commentary.
EXTRAS Commentary, original and re-issue trailer - and that original trailer is very strange, even for 1975.>
Coming Tuesday, December 9
Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Complete Season Five (20th Century Fox, 1999) The last and greatest of Buffy seasons before it jumped the shark and moved to UPN.
Gigli (Columbia/TriStar, 2003) People stayed away in droves from the theatrical release, but it's on home video anyway. A shame that there's no Ben Affleck commentary track....
Waco: The Rules Of Engagement (New Yorker Films) You may have to hunt a bit. No one seems to have Canadian rights, but it can be ordered from the U.S. This Oscar-nominated documentary is a must-see.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb