- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2016

Director James Cameron’s Academy Award-winning opus to the deadly Xenomorph species returns to home theater screens in the celebratory package Aliens: 30th Anniversary Edition (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Rated R, 137 minutes, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, $24.99).

First, viewers get the theatrical version of the film and Mr. Cameron’s preferred meatier Special Edition (2:34:26) of the film, 17 minutes longer and splattered with some extra exposition, both contained on one Blu-ray disc.

Both cuts pick up 56 years after an ill-fated mission of Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and her USCSS Nostromo crew that unearthed a frightening creature on the moon LV-426.

After being found in stasis, floating in space, she is thawed out, debriefed by her bosses at Weyland-Yutani Corp., chastised for destroying her ship and summarily decommissioned.

Meanwhile, a bad corporate decision to terraform LV-426 exposes colonists to that dangerous species again. When communications from that moon end, Ripley, a crew of Colonial Marines (Bill Paxton and Michael Biehn, to name a few), an android (Lance Henriksen) and a corporate weasel (Paul Reiser) must go on a rescue mission to the location and investigate what happened.

Their discovery offers one of the best, nail-biting sci-fi survival thrill rides in the history of cinema.

The digital transfer, culled from the 2010 “Alien Anthology” set (remember that set), is strong with sharp colors and detail.

Moments of minutia look fantastic, such as boots kicking up chunks of mud on the moon, rainwater bouncing off of helmets, the glistening saliva of a Xenomorph ready to strike and acid blood spraying on the Marines.

Better yet, the transfer also highlights Stan Winston and his visual effects maestros interpreting H.R. Giger’s brilliant designs of the Xenomorphs, especially the new Alien queen.

The extras on the disc (the same from the “Alien Anthology” set) make a frustrating mockery of the main event.

I did appreciate the pieced together, optional commentary track starring Mr. Cameron, producer Gale Anne Hurd, Stan Winston, visual effects supervisors Robert Skotak and Dennis Skotak, miniature effects supervisor Pat McClung and actors Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Michael Biehn, Jenette Goldstein, Carrie Henn, and Christopher Henn.

The track is loaded with information such as the director discussing the Alien head designs and the ridiculous size of movie air ducts, Mr. Paxton talks about his profane ad-libs, and Carrie Henn (Newt) talking about her character’s nickname and backstory.

Now, confusion set in with the addition of the mysterious interactive overlay called the MU-TH-UR mode watched while the movie plays (either version).

A side menu on the left side of the screen offers three clickable options to access extra content.

Pick Auditory to get welcomed guidance on who is speaking during the optional commentary track and the topic. Pick Weyland-Yutani datastream to open a box showing facts from the film including the Marine’s motion tracker device that was built using pieces of various power tools.

Click on Visual for a potentially wonderful selection of featurettes. Except those extras only exist on discs 5 or 6 of the “Alien Anthology” set and not included with this package. That means they are unviewable, worthless for viewers and infuriating for the fan.

The only new featurette, a 31-minute “The Inspiration of Aliens,” requires typing a code into a website (www.FoxExtras.com) to stream on a web browser via a PC, Mac, tablet or phone.

Not only is accessing the segment this way ridiculously inconvenient for the home theater viewer in the throes of enjoying the Blu-ray, but it’s an antiquated concept.

Why not offer it via the Ultraviolet cloud service as part of the movie download code to permanently own the feature in one’s digital library?

At least a viewer could watch through the Flixster app (compatible with the Ultraviolet system) on popular entertainment consoles, Blu-ray players or smart high-definition televisions.

Well, if that sounds miserable, it got crueler for the first week of the release. Folks complained online that they could never get the website to accept the code, no matter what browser was used.

However, I highly recommend continuing to try the code. I did get it to eventually work days later and the segment offers a satisfying sit down with Mr. Cameron and a nostalgic look at a film that only cost $16 million.

He compares his effort on “Alien” as a roller coaster ride versus a haunted house, reveals story comparisons to the Vietnam War, explains how the Alien queen was based off of the termite ecosystem and presents details about the chest burster and face huggers and getting actors into the Alien warrior suits.

Details abound while he shows off some of his original sketches and artwork from the movie. Fans will appreciate how his effects team customized Tommy guns (M1A1 Thompson) for Pulse Rifles to get the biggest flash, how a foam dummy of Newt was carried by Ripley when she had to also carry a heavy gun in scenes and the origins of the power loader.

Unfortunately, it’s worth noting that you can only watch the featurette 10 times and that it disappears from streaming at the end of 2019. How is that fair?

Getting back to codes, the included digital download code for “Aliens” only offers the theatrical version of the film and not the Special Edition to further annoy fans.

All is not grim. The package does include some non-digital goodies. Owners get 10, full-color and glossy concept art cards featuring the Xenomorphs’ hive area and Ripley’s encounter with the queen all originally drawn by Mr. Cameron.

Additionally, a full-color mini booklet highlights some of Dark Horse Comics’ beautiful covers used for the various Aliens sequel comic book series showcasing artists such as Brian (Batman: The Killing Joke) Bolland, Mike (Hellboy) Mignola and Killian (Star Wars Rebels) Plunkett.

However, despite the tempting price and artwork, fans of Mr. Cameron’s film and the franchise looking to expand their Blu-ray library should stick to purchasing “Alien Anthology” (as low as $25 from some online stores) due to the technology lapses with the “Aliens: 30th Anniversary Edition” release.

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