Aliens UHD Review

5 Stars The perfect sequel
Aliens 4k review

Aliens, one of the finest examples of film sequels, remains an exhilarating, magnificent display of directorial excellence, screenplay genius, and exemplary production design and performance. Writer/Director James Cameron, still new on the scene when he wrote his original treatment for this sequel, knew where he wanted to take the follow-up and executed that vision (following standard script evolutions from that treatment) with unrelenting precision. Serving as an allegory of the Vietnam War, with Colonial Marines armed with “superior firepower” bested by an enemy on their terrain, is a descent into disaster with a thread of hopefulness as Ripley leads the ragged remnants of the armed forces and the young girl they find who survived the xenomorph onslaught as they fight for survival.

It’s a landmark film. How many science-fiction, action horror movies have garnered seven Academy Award nominations, including for Best Actress, Best Score, Best Editing, Best Sound, and Best Art Direction, and won for Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Visual Effects?

The Ultra High-Definition Disc release of Aliens is exceptional, though the grain situation, or rather the lack of pronounced grain compared to how we’ve seen this film in the past, will cause (and already has caused) consternation. I miss the grain and, unlike James Cameron, have always loved the grit and edge that grain brought to the experience. The startlingly crisp and detail-rich look of the film today caught me by surprise when I purchased and watched the 4K digital version in December. I recall finding how pure and life-like the image was a little distracting (perhaps more so as I’ve seen this film a couple hundred times over my lifetime). I rewatched the film in January with James Horner’s original isolated score (my favorite score by my favorite composer), and in the intervening 6 or so weeks I’ve gotten used to how this film looks in 4K. Yes, I wish I had a version that looked a little closer to what I was used to and to what I believed was closer to the theatrical experience, but I also am growing to appreciate what we have with this unbelievably detailed, crisp, precise image. The film loses none of its power and none of its lure, and I guess that’s more important. But I understand when fans say they are disappointed.

Disc Information
Studio: Fox
Distributed By: Disney
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: Dolby Atmos, English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Other
Rating: R
Run Time: 137 min (Theatrical) | 154 mins (Special Edition)
Package Includes: UHD, Blu-ray, Digital Copy
Case Type: Standard 4k with sleeve
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 03/12/2024
MSRP: $39.99

The Production: 5/5

“Goddammit that’s not all, because if one of those things gets down here then that will be all, then all this, this bullshit that you think is so important, you can just kiss all that goodbye.”

About the film

After drifting through space for 57 years having narrowly escaped a deadly encounter with an unknown alien species (which killed the rest of her crew), Lt. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) finds herself doubted by her former employers and their bureaucratic insurance agencies about what happened (she blew up her ship to try and kill the deadly creature). Everyone she ever knew is gone, no one believes her story about surviving the alien attack, and she feels discarded and alone. It doesn’t help that the planet where her former crew picked up the deadly alien is now being terraformed and none of the colonists there, made up of 50 or 60 families, has had a deadly encounter with “any hostile organism.”

When contact is lost with that colony, the company fronted by Burke (Paul Reiser) wants her to serve as an advisor to a crew of Colonial Marines, led by Lt. Gorman (William Hope) who will be dispatched to find out what’s happening on the planet, now designated as LV-426.

She doesn’t want to go but is unable to move on if she doesn’t. To face her demons, she relents. When they arrive, the colonists are nowhere to be found and they discover the compound breached and abandoned. A young girl, apparently the only survivor, is found, and then things quickly devolve as the well-trained soldiers find themselves outflanked, outnumbered, and seemingly out of options against a ferocious alien species. Ripley is back in a fight for her life against a relentless species but will do what she must to protect the young girl and the remnants of the colonial marines to survive and destroy the aliens once and for all.

Aliens is why I love what I love.

I first saw Aliens on VHS in 1987 when I was 12 years old. It was at an old friend’s birthday party. He was the kind of kid whose parents would let him have a film rated 18 (in the UK) to watch and not think twice about it. He got away with a lot, but the impact of seeing this film on me was seismic. I was immediately struck by everything about it. The atmosphere, the thrills, the emotional core, the mesmerizing action, the staggeringly good film score, and the landmark character of Ripley. This film influenced, and I’d say sparked, my passionate love of film and film scores. It’s the film I have seen the most in my life, well over 200 times. It has rippled through my life wonderfully.

Sigourney Weaver as Ripley is the core reason Aliens resonates.

Aliens is, as James Cameron offers during his introduction to the Special Edition version of the film (his preferred cut), “40 miles of bad road.” It’s an action horror film with a bleak shadow cast as the plot navigates a descent into deadliness. The weight of that bleakness, as the Colonial Marines swing quickly from a macho and almost flippant sense of military imperiousness to death and desperation is buoyed by Cameron’s handling of Ripley’s arc. Traumatized, betrayed, sidelined, and forgotten after waking up from prolonged sleep drifting in space, Ripley finds the inner strength to tackle her trauma head-on. After landing on LV-426 and finding the aftermath of the colonist’s last stand, Ripley’s character pivots from her fear and trepidation to a maternal instinct when they discover Newt (Carrie Henn), a young girl who “survived…with no weapons and no training.” This is a revelatory pivot for this character and defines the captivating, important arc. The change resonates more deeply in the Special Edition of the film but works well even without the extra dimension. Cameron also attunes the character to what Sigourney Weaver does in the original Alien, with leadership and certitude born of instinct, absent bravado, and always with a shadow of doubt. In Aliens, she received an Academy Award for her portrayal, and with good reason. She excels in this perfectly written role, with the camera fixated on her in the opening scenes as she descends into bureaucracy hell and tormented neglect through her grounding and ascent into taking control of what she can amid the horror.

Weaver carries the pain behind Ripley’s eyes at what she’s going through and though we see her at rock-bottom for only a moment in the film (“Spare me Burke, I’ve had my psych evaluation this month.” “Yeah, I know, I’ve read it, you wake up every night, sheets soaking with sweat.”), she presents a deep sense of dismay and disarray at what she’s going through. Weaver takes us through the stages of Ripley being rebuilt beautifully, from the uncertainty she feels interacting with the Colonial Marines on the Sulaco (“I hope you’re right, I really do”), to finding her footing when things deteriorate on the planet, until finally, she’s leading a ragtag group of survivors through that 40 miles of bad road. Her performance, and Cameron’s brilliant treatment of the Ripley character, are why we admire and celebrate her as much, if not more, than we did back in 1986.

Ridley Scott’s Alien, a haunted house horror film set in the working-class dregs of a ratty mining ship in space with a crew of blue-collar workers, was a profound elevation of the genre, coalescing marvels of production and creature design, Scott’s brilliant artistic directorial approach, Jerry Goldsmith’s discordant, awards-worthy score, and superb performances. Like Aliens, Alien was a bleak experience that ended on a brutally earned, barely triumphant note. As films go, it wasn’t the most obvious choice for a sequel (though one was sought soon after Alien hit the cinemas). And the sequel, which took seven years to arrive, almost didn’t happen.

Getting Aliens made wasn’t smooth sailing.

James Cameron’s hiring to both write and helm the follow-up to Alien was solidified following the success of The Terminator (he was approached to write a treatment of Aliens while in pre-production on The Terminator), and Gale Anne Hurd served as his producer (a role Cameron had to fight for her to hold because women producers of action films weren’t understood or welcomed by 20th Century Fox at the time). Cameron wrote Aliens with Ripley as the main character, but Fox hadn’t secured Sigourney Weaver to appear in the sequel. It all could have fallen apart, but the strength of Cameron’s screenplay, and the power of Fox’s checkbook, averted that disaster.

Filming in England at Pinewood Studios, a good portion of the production crew wasn’t on board with this young, arrogant American trying to potentially mess up what Ridley Scott, a Brit, had done on the original Alien (and many on the Aliens crew had worked on that film, too). Luckily, despite the tough shoot and personnel difficulties, Cameron, Hurd, and the crew made it work and the resulting film, a masterful assembly of filmmaking greatness, potent performances, and astute marketing, put an end to any doubts there may have been of Cameron’s worth and potential as a filmmaker. I highly recommend reading books like The Making of Aliens by J. W. Rinzler and Aliens: The Set Photography to understand in more detail the arduous and challenging journey to creating this film.

Every element of Aliens is Amazing

Cameron’s direction is assured and effective. He’d written a powerful follow-up to a beloved science fiction horror gem with the craft and certainty of a seasoned filmmaker despite having only one fully completed film under his belt (Piranha II, from which he was fired, doesn’t count here). Cameron’s weakness as a filmmaker often lay in his writing, particularly dialogue, and while some of the Colonial Marine banter comes close to no working, it does ultimately work well and gives us plenty of quotable lines (“Game over, man, Game over!”). A solid cast was assembled for the film, too. Hudson and Hicks are perhaps the most memorable of the cast of Marines, played by the late Bill Paxton and Michael Biehn, respectively. Jenette Goldstein as Private Vasquez is another memorable character, memorable for her aggravated interplay with Private Hudon. Carrie Henn as Newt is also particularly good. Henn may have given up acting, but her 1987 Saturn Award for Best Performance by a Younger Actress for her role in this legendary film is quite something. Lance Henrikson, with whom Cameron worked on The Terminator, puts in a fine performance as the android Bishop (“I prefer the term artificial person myself.”). Ripley, having almost been killed by an Android on the mission where they first found the alien species, has a deep distrust of androids, and Henriksen drives a wonderful balance of whether the character is good or evil like Ash (played by Ian Holm) in Alien. Paul Reiser makes a wonderful corporate weasel as Carter Burke, too.

Production design, editing, cinematography, sound design, visual effects, and certainly the impressive score by James Horner, are all a part of what makes Aliens an incredible film, and emblematic of Cameron’s high and exacting standards. Horner had a fraught relationship with Cameron and his demands, particularly the last-minute edits to the film that necessitated heavy changes to the score. Their relationship soured (which may explain why Horner didn’t score Cameron’s follow-up, The Abyss). But they would reunite, memorably, for Titanic and Avatar.

This review, written in 2024, is two years shy of Aliens 40th anniversary, and besides a bulky monitor in the medical facility orbiting above the earth (and low-grade video quality of the shoulder cameras the marines all wear going into the mission,) there’s nothing that ages this film. The production design is stunning. The great Ron Cobb served as conceptual designer and the equally great Syd Mead served as conceptual artist, giving the film a fascinating aesthetic, and retro-futuristic magnificence that connected superbly with what Alien established. And the Alien universe was given room to expand superbly, building upon Alien designer, H.R. Giger’s Biomechanical artistic genius, with Cameron’s contribution, the Alien Queen, being a masterstroke. The Alien Queen, realized by the gifted Stan Winston (with credit as Second Unit Director, too) and his crew, offered this universe something new, while even Giger’s creations were adapted, from the smooth head design to a more texture carapace. The single creature in Alien meant we saw it stalk, in Aliens, we see multiples and through editing and camera placement, Cameron and team made a handful of alien creations appear as many. Cameron’s story and approach mean we don’t get a retread or sideways remake of the original film (something so many sequels are guilty of), we get something entirely new, built on the familiar, but taking us in new directions, in new ways, with new surprises. The Alien creature may be the perfect organism, but Cameron’s Aliens is the perfect sequel.

Lt. Ripley is a character who made movies better.

But why does Aliens remain such a compelling film? I’d argue it’s down to Sigourney Weaver and her Academy Award-nominated performance as Ripley. Consider what she shows us with her strong, compassionate, empathetic, no-nonsense leadership qualities.

Ripley resolves to face her fears following her trauma. She begins the film emotionally scarred following but resolves not to let her trauma define her and chooses to go back to where it all began to try and close the door on that trauma. Ripley also demonstrates moral conviction in the face of ignorant bureaucracy and nefarious corporate greed. Despite being the “third wheel” amongst a collection of highly trained soldiers, when things go bad and chaos starts to consume, Ripley instinctively knows to do the right thing. The defining moment is when she commandeers the armored personnel carrier (APC) to rescue the imperiled soldiers fighting for their lives against an onslaught of xenomorphs after the commander in charge flounders. She does the right thing without worrying about what it will mean for her. She just does it.

Weaver imbues, or rather matures Ripley’s intelligence that we saw in the 1979 film. She has command of her surroundings, understands the situation they’re all in, and shares clearly and convincingly with those around her. As she steps into the leadership role what follows is not political infighting but relief. While Ripley may not have known what she was capable of when “push came to shove,” Cameron wrote her as a character that would not falter under pressure. Selflessly and tirelessly working with the survivors, she made smart choices and, when faced with unexpected hurdles, remained calm, evaluated the options, and when a course of action was determined, gave it 100%.

But why does all this matter?

In 1986, how many women were the lead characters in action films? James Cameron, who gave the world Sarah Conner, a character who evolved from a confused victim on the run to a commanding fighter in 1984’s The Terminator, wrote a character that wasn’t a woman playing a role traditionally portrayed by a man, but a strong, commanding character that could only have been portrayed by a woman. It is a landmark moment that gave other filmmakers a blueprint for not only what was possible, but what was necessary.

Aliens is a riveting ride, but it’s characters that ultimately make good movies great, Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley is a great character and, I’d posit, among the greatest characters of all time. Even the disappointing sequels don’t damage Ripley’s legacy.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

Compared to how I think most of us remember this film and perhaps expected this to look, it’s a 3 out of 5. But as a match to director James Cameron’s preference and his original wants for how this film could look, and now improved upon even more with the evolution of technology advancements (thanks, AI), it’s a 5 out of 5.

From Todd Erwin’s review of the 4K Digital release of Aliens:

“Aliens was photographed and completed on 35mm film in the 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. For this release, additional clean-up and processing to the film was completed by Park Road Post in New Zealand to create a new 4K digital intermediate. It was then graded using Dolby Vision and HDR10 high dynamic range, all under the supervision of director James Cameron.”

Here are my thoughts on the look of this release.

Aliens on Ultra High-Definition disc is an updated experience from what moviegoers would have experienced in theaters in 1986, and a different experience than fans had enjoyed from the VHS days, DVD, and Blu-ray releases from 14 or so years ago. Is that a good thing? Yes and no.

Aliens was always a grainy film. The film stock was chosen by Director of Photography Adrian Biddle (who replaced Dick Bush with whom James Cameron was greatly displeased and thus, Bush was fired from the production after disagreements over the lighting of the Alien enclave, with Cameron wanting it more dimly lit for mood and atmosphere, and Bush reportedly wanting it brightly lit to show off the intricacy of the production work. Cameron was right.) Cameron has always said he didn’t like the amount of grain. So, with these new editions, the heavy grain is gone. There is a very fine layer of grain but I’ve no idea if that’s what’s left or if that’s been added back. What I do know is that the artificial intelligence process heavily used to create the 4K versions has retained the detail. I’ve seen screengrabs of the shaved hair of Lt. Gorman (William Hope), calling out the odd, almost hedgehog-like spiked appearance. In motion, that’s not what you see but it does call out the imperfections of the AI process. The level of detail on this disc is stunning, though.

And I do mean stunning.

The wrinkle lines on Ripley’s forehead early in the film appear more pronounced, but is that the makeup we’re seeing clearer than ever? Is that the AI enhancement being a little aggressive? Hard to tell.

In the visual effects, the Dropship still has Matte lines noticeable during the initial descent over the white clouds of the planet and when it flies into the superstructure as Ripley goes to rescue Newt, but generally the impressive model work stands out as superb. The sound design supports the convincing model work (consider the sound of the metal bouncing on the ground following the crash and explosion of the Dropship). The power of those miniatures, like the APC being loaded into the Dropship, is further supported by the perfect, Oscar-nominated editing (by Ray Lovejoy).

I have spent my entire life watching Aliens on home media. VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray, and this new UHD version of the film doesn’t look entirely like what came before. The colors appear right, with Cameron’s favored electric blue right from the opening moments appearing as I remember them. Flesh tones are natural, the bursts of fire from the M56 Smart Guns used by Privates Vasquez and Drake (Mark Rolston), the flames Ripley unleashes as she descends into the unstable structure of the Atmosphere Processor (ducking under the glowing pink/red overheated pipes), are a perfect display of yellow and orange. Black levels are superb throughout but what you’ll find striking is the level of detail. It’s almost unbelievable. You’re seeing a level of detail that’s hard to comprehend. We’ve lived through artificially sharpened images on releases that fake detail while removing noise to deliver a ‘clean image,’ and they are routinely and deservedly scorched for failing us. The image in Aliens has been artificially touched, removing the grain that Cameron never wanted and never liked, while not sacrificing details. You can look at the close-ups and set details behind characters and see the staggering level of detail the production crew put into the work (and that fired Dick Bush wanted his brighter lighting to showcase), but it’s all here vivid as if you’re seeing a window into the day the scenes were shot, peering through that window to the past without filter or obfuscation. It took me a while to get used to just how detailed the image was (I, frankly, didn’t think AI was advanced enough to be used in this way).

The disc is also entirely superior to the 4K streaming version. While discs always have the edge over streaming, high-speed internet in our area means the quality of 4K streams is always superb and close to quality parity with discs. That’s true for the 4K digital stream of Aliens as well, but here, the disc has a distinct edge. While the detail is quite close, the main improvements the disc offers are in color balance and saturation. In the sequence where the aliens attack Ripley and the rest of the survivors, which leads into the final act of the film, the Operations room, and the hallways are bathed in red (as are the ducts the survivors scramble through.) The digital 4K copy of the theatrical cut was a more muted version of that red and it stood out to me. But this 4K disc shows the fully saturated red that I expected (and prefer). The Dolby Vision grading is stellar.

I’ll note that upon first viewing the Special Edition cut, the disc froze at 1:55:02, but after reinserting the disc, no issues.

Audio: 5/5

Aliens with a Dolby Atmos track is a terrifically immersive and spatially engrossing way to experience this film.

When released theatrically, the audio was always a vibrant part of the experience. It featured a 70mm 6-track Dolby along with a 35mm 2-channel matrixed Dolby Surround. Various home video releases have offered impressive 5.1 audio configurations and have worked well. The Dolby Atmos audio offered here is something else entirely, and that’s delightful. Even the opening moments as the Nostromo lifeboat (the Narcissus) as the surviving Lt. Ripley and her “stupid cat” Jonesy deep in hypersleep, are collected and boarded by a disappointed salvage team, is a delight and show off the overheads in delightful ways. The Dropship descent to the planet, the dripping water through the colony barricades, and acid-damaged ceilings and floors as the rain falls in offer a sense of abandonment and eerie echo. James Horner’s dark, brooding, percussion-heavy score (during the military moments and action sequences), shines in the expanded sonic space. Horner’s score, my favorite film score by my favorite film composer, is also thematically rich and any score with a clanging anvil is going to be a winner in my book.

Low-Frequency Effects give the subwoofer some welcome booms and punches as the APC crashes and smashes, or the Dropship crashes and explodes, or as the Pulse Rifles tear into advancing xenomorphs – it’s wonderful.

The 4K disc also offers an English 2.0 DTS-HDMA track that will hue closer to how many enjoyed the film in the days of VHS.

Special Features: 5/5

While there weren’t any new special features created for the UHD release of Aliens (or the 4K digital release back in December), the legacy special features are plentiful and absorbing.

Both the Theatrical and Special Edition version of the film is here via seamless branching. The Special Edition is the superior version with 17 extra minutes of great scenes, though the Theatrical Cut remains an excellent watch.

  • James Cameron Introduction– A message from writer/director James Cameron introducing the Special Edition version of the film.
  • 2003 Audio Commentary by James Cameron and the Cast and Crew-Special Edition– 1990 Special Edition Commentary by James Cameron and the cast and crew.
  • The Inspiration and Design of Aliens– For the 30th anniversary, writer/director James Cameron reveals new insight into his own inspiration and the design elements for Aliens.
  • 2003 Audio Commentary by James Cameron and the Cast and Crew– 1986 Theatrical Version Commentary by James Cameron and the cast and crew.
  • Isolated Scores
    • Final Theatrical Isolated Score– This isolated track presents, as accurately as possible, James Horner’s music score in its final form following extensive reworking during the post-production process.
    • Composer’s Original Isolated Score– Although there are a few instances where the length of individual sequences was changed slightly after the music was recorded, this isolated score track presents, as accurately as possible, James Horner’s original intentions.
  • Superior Firepower: Making Aliens– Immerse yourself in the world of Aliens with 11 fully loaded featurettes that deconstruct all that went into making this sci-fi thriller, from casting to creature design to post-production and everything in between.
    • 57 Years Later: Continuing the Story
    • Building Better Worlds: From Concept to Construction
    • Preparing for Battle: Casting and Characterization
    • This Time It’s War: Pinewood Studios, 1985
    • The Risk Always Lives: Weapons and Action
    • Bug Hunt: Creature Design
    • Two Orphans: Sigourney Weaver and Carrie Henn
    • Beauty and the Bitch: Power Loader vs. Queen Alien
    • The Final Countdown: Music, Editing and Sound
    • The Power of Real Tech: Visual Effects
    • Aliens Unleashed: Reaction to the Film
  • Superior Firepower: Making Aliens Enhancement Pods– Supplemental video pieces to complement Superior Firepower: Making Aliens.
    • Without Sigourney Weaver
    • Origins of Acheron
    • Building Hadley’s Hope
    • Cameron’s Design Philosophy
    • Finding an Unused Power Plant
    • Cameron’s Military Interests
    • Working with Sigourney Weaver
    • The Importance of Being Bishop
    • Paul Reiser on Carter Burke
    • The Paxton/Cameron Connection
    • Becoming Vasquez
    • On Set: Infiltrating the Colony
    • Props: Personal Light Unit
    • Simon Atherton Talks Weapons
    • Praising Stan Winston
    • Test Footage: Chestburster
    • Fighting the Facehugger
    • Test Footage: Facehugger
    • Stan Winston’s Challenge
    • Test Footage: Queen Alien
    • Stan Winston’s Legacy
    • Cameron’s Cutting Edge
    • Sigourney Weaver’s Triumph
    • Re-Enlisting with Cameron
    • From Producer to Stunt Double
  • Pre-Visualizations: Multi-Angle Videomatics
    • Angle 1: Videomatic
    • Angle 2: Videomatic/Final Shot Comparison
    • Audio Commentary by Miniature Effects Supervisor Pat McClung
  • Direct Access to New/Additional Scenes from Special Edition
    • Ripley’s Daughter– Burke informs Ripley that her daughter died two years ago.
    • Van Leuwen’s Verdict– Van Leuwen reads the findings of the court of inquiry.
    • The Colony/The Jordens’ Discovery– The colony is bustling with life and activity. Newt, along with her brother and parents, come upon the Derelict ship.
    • Burke’s Answer– At Ripley’s apartment, Burke explains why he’s making the trip to LV-426.
    • Sulaco– Establishing shots of the interior of the Sulaco before the crew awakens from hyper-sleep.
    • Hudson’s Hubris– As they descend in the drop ship to LV-426, Hudson boasts about their advanced weaponry.
    • False Alarm– Hudson and Vasquez detect motion in the colony, only to find it is pet hamsters.
    • Ripley Pauses– As she enters the colony, Ripley hesitates for a moment.
    • The Sentry Guns– Hicks reveals they have robot sentry systems. While examining the colony blueprints, Ripley and Hicks discuss where to place the robot sentries.
    • Fire in the Hole– Hudson and Vasquez set up the UA 571-C remote sentry weapons and following a quick test, seal the tunnel.
    • Last Line of Defense– The Sentry Guns dutifully scan the tunnel for incoming targets.
    • Newt’s Questions– Newt quizzes Ripley about the fate of her parents.
    • Hudson’s “Ant” Theory– Hudson speculates on how the Aliens are organized and reproduce.
    • The Aliens Attack– The Sentry Guns unload on multiple targets.
    • The Aliens Retreat– Under withering fire from the sentries, the Aliens are temporarily repulsed.
    • First Name Basis– As Ripley departs the drop ship to try and rescue Newt, she and Hicks share their first names with each other.
  • Deleted Scene: Burke Cocooned– Long one of the most sought-after lost moments from the entire Alien Anthology, this scene depicting Carter Burke’s fate is now revealed.
  • Deleted Scene Montage– This collection of scene extensions and omitted moments represents the remainder of deleted scenes not appearing in either the Theatrical Version or the Special Edition.
  • Still Galleries and More
    • Original Treatment by James Cameron
    • Storyboard Archive
    • The Art of Aliens
    • Cast Portrait Gallery
    • Production Image Galleries
    • Continuity Polaroids
    • Weapons and Vehicles
    • Stan Winston’s Workshop
    • Colonial Marine Helmet Cameras
    • Video Graphics Gallery
    • Weyland-Yutani Inquest: Nostromo Dossiers
  • Post-Production Aftermath
    • Image Galleries
    • Laserdisc Archives
    • Main Title Exploration
    • Teaser Trailer
    • Theatrical Trailer
    • Domestic Trailer
    • International Trailer

A digital copy of the film is also included. Anyone disappointed that the digital copies of Aliens and The Abyss did NOT include the Special Edition cuts in 4K can call Disney Home Entertainment customer service at 888-223-4369. Currently, they are only collecting feedback, but if they receive plenty of complaints, they may fix the issue retroactively.

Overall: 5/5

Aliens, one of the finest examples of film sequels, remains an exhilarating, magnificent display of directorial excellence, screenplay genius, and exemplary production design and performance. Writer/Director James Cameron, still new on the scene when he wrote his original treatment for this sequel, knew where he wanted to take the follow-up and executed that vision (following standard script evolutions from that treatment) with unrelenting precision. Serving as an allegory of the Vietnam War, with Colonial Marines armed with “superior firepower” bested by an enemy on their terrain, is a descent into disaster with a thread of hopefulness as Ripley leads the ragged remnants of the armed forces and the young girl they find who survived the xenomorph onslaught as they fight for survival.

It’s a landmark film. How many science-fiction, action horror movies have garnered seven Academy Award nominations, including for Best Actress, Best Score, Best Editing, Best Sound, and Best Art Direction, and won for Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Visual Effects?

The Ultra High-Definition Disc release of Aliens is exceptional, though the grain situation, or rather the lack of pronounced grain compared to how we’ve seen this film in the past, will cause (and already has caused) consternation. I miss the grain and, unlike James Cameron, have always loved the grit and edge that grain brought to the experience. The startlingly crisp and detail-rich look of the film today caught me by surprise when I purchased and watched the 4K digital version in December. I recall finding how pure and life-like the image was a little distracting (perhaps more so as I’ve seen this film a couple hundred times over my lifetime). I rewatched the film in January with James Horner’s original isolated score (my favorite score by my favorite composer), and in the intervening 6 or so weeks I’ve gotten used to how this film looks in 4K. Yes, I wish I had a version that looked a little closer to what I was used to and to what I believed was closer to the theatrical experience, but I also am growing to appreciate what we have with this unbelievably detailed, crisp, precise image. The film loses none of its power and none of its lure, and I guess that’s more important. But I understand when fans say they are disappointed.

Neil has been a member of the Home Theater Forum reviewing staff since 2007, approaching a thousand reviews and interviews with actors, directors, writers, stunt performers, producers and more in that time. A senior communications manager and podcast host with a Fortune 500 company by day, Neil lives in the Charlotte, NC area with his wife and son, serves on the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Charlotte Board of Directors, and has a passion for film scores, with a collection in the thousands.

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JohnRice

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Wow Neil. Epic review. In brief, I can relate to the impact this film had on you. I had very much the same reaction to, of all things, Fiddler on the Roof, when I was 7 years old. It just opened my eyes to a world outside the Northern Colorado bubble I grew up in, and the power of film. Still, I'm quite certain I haven't seen it 200 times. ;)
 

Walter Kittel

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Nice review as always. I am somewhat in agreement regarding the grittier theatrical presentation, at least that is my vague recollection; but I am still looking forward to the new release. (Not having viewed the UHD I will be curious to see how it plays in terms of presentation.)


My first experience with the film was on a Friday evening at the Galleria on the West side of Houston. The film was playing on the largest screen with a fully packed auditorium of around 500 patrons. Two things I still recall...

People were actually running up the aisles to go to the rest room, so as not to miss any more of the film then was necessary.

During the med lab sequence (before Hicks opens the ceiling panel) you could literally hear a pin drop in the theater as everyone was on edge. Complete silence in a theater of 500 viewers.

It was a great theatrical experience. I've seen the film countless times over the years but it still works exceptionally well (as does Ridley Scott's Alien.)

- Walter.
 

JoshZ

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I'm still waiting for Amazon for so much as to notify me of an expected shipping date.

Neil, a question from your review. You said: "The colors appear right, with Cameron’s favored electric blue right from the opening moments appearing as I remember them. Flesh tones are natural."

Does this mean that the colors have been adjusted since the last Blu-ray? Are you able to compare? Because from about the point the marines land on LV-426, that disc was almost entirely teal and orange, with almost no other colors for the rest of the movie.
 

Clay_E

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I'm still waiting for Amazon for so much as to notify me of an expected shipping date.
Yeah, same here. My pre-order from Walmart got stuck in the shipping process (whatever that means), so they had to cancel that order, but it's now showing as "Sold Out", which is the case at both Amazon and DeepDiscount as well. And Target and B&N aren't even carrying it. I did place an order with Amazon, so hopefully it'll show up one of these days, but I'm not hopeful.
 

Neil Middlemiss

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I'm still waiting for Amazon for so much as to notify me of an expected shipping date.

Neil, a question from your review. You said: "The colors appear right, with Cameron’s favored electric blue right from the opening moments appearing as I remember them. Flesh tones are natural."

Does this mean that the colors have been adjusted since the last Blu-ray? Are you able to compare? Because from about the point the marines land on LV-426, that disc was almost entirely teal and orange, with almost no other colors for the rest of the movie.
I'm away from home at the moment so can't do the comparison until Friday at the earliest, but will do just that. I can say outside of a teal-ish-ness to the interior of the APC after the first encounter with the Aliens ("Hey, hey look. The Sarge and Deitrich aren't dead, man. Their signs are real low, but they ain't dead."), my main point of reference for both the blue and the red I spoke of in my review is the first landing on LV-426 as they exit the APC and approach the facility in the rain, and then the attack and retreat with the sequence bathed in red. On the 4K digital stream neither were as I remembered the colors to be (not as strong), but the UHD of the Special Edition was much better and what I was hoping I'd see. But I'll pull out all the DVD and Blu-ray copies I own (and there are embarrassingly many) when I get home to see how they compare.
 

Bartman

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It's disappointing the streaming version doesn't match the disc version in the areas described, was it intentionally dumbed down? How about the regular Blu-ray, was that dumbed down? I don't have a 4K player for fear of another upgrade cycle (VHS, laserdisc, DVD, Blu-ray). I've just watched the 2014 Blu-ray. The story surpasses any other concerns, so answers to these questions will determine if I ever stream it. Is there an explanation of the AI SW & how it's able to remove grain without sacrificing detail or creating artifacts, that is truly amazing?
 

JoshZ

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Is there an explanation of the AI SW & how it's able to remove grain without sacrificing detail or creating artifacts, that is truly amazing?

I'm sure it's built off a similar process to what was done with the film for the Blu-ray master in 2010. Lowry Digital had special software that was able to remove grain without affecting picture detail. I believe it would sample portions of adjacent frames to estimate what the picture underneath the grain should look like. Then, after the real grain was removed, a new (much finer) layer of artificial grain was added to give the picture a little bit of texture.
 

Bartman

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I'm sure it's built off a similar process to what was done with the film for the Blu-ray master in 2010. Lowry Digital had special software that was able to remove grain without affecting picture detail. I believe it would sample portions of adjacent frames to estimate what the picture underneath the grain should look like. Then, after the real grain was removed, a new (much finer) layer of artificial grain was added to give the picture a little bit of texture.
OK, if grain is completely decorrelated frame to frame, I understand how this could work. Pixels and/or groups of pixels are either static or have common velocities frame to frame, the grain does not, & that is used to define a true picture element vs grain. Does that mean a pixel compromising grain is deleted & a new pixel created from surrounding pixels?
Where this was used previously I'd heard of velocity problems. With faster processors this has become less of a problem?
Interesting that the grain is completely removed then artificial grain added back, a bit counterintuitive unless they tried partial removal & it didn't 'look' good.
Certainly the early Bond movies processed by Lowry Digital have an artificial (comic book) look about them. Cheers!
 

Noel Aguirre

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Aliens to me in a theater yielded an experience only surpassed by Apocalypse Now. A brilliant film. And I am psyched after reading this excellent review (thanks!) and now have to get this!
 

JohnRice

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I'm sure it's built off a similar process to what was done with the film for the Blu-ray master in 2010. Lowry Digital had special software that was able to remove grain without affecting picture detail. I believe it would sample portions of adjacent frames to estimate what the picture underneath the grain should look like. Then, after the real grain was removed, a new (much finer) layer of artificial grain was added to give the picture a little bit of texture.

OK, if grain is completely decorrelated frame to frame, I understand how this could work. Pixels and/or groups of pixels are either static or have common velocities frame to frame, the grain does not, & that is used to define a true picture element vs grain. Does that mean a pixel compromising grain is deleted & a new pixel created from surrounding pixels?
Where this was used previously I'd heard of velocity problems. With faster processors this has become less of a problem?
Interesting that the grain is completely removed then artificial grain added back, a bit counterintuitive unless they tried partial removal & it didn't 'look' good.
Certainly the early Bond movies processed by Lowry Digital have an artificial (comic book) look about them. Cheers!
Noise reduction today is an entirely different beast from what it was in 2010.

No comparison whatsoever.

These days, noise reduction can be accomplished using an "AI" type of process that's probably too complicated to explain. I only understand it conceptually, anyway. I just know I have used it, and the results are remarkable. Yes, you can still overdo it, but the real thing is you can virtually eliminate noise (including grain) with little to zero of the old type of artifacts.
 

Neil Middlemiss

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I'm still waiting for Amazon for so much as to notify me of an expected shipping date.

Neil, a question from your review. You said: "The colors appear right, with Cameron’s favored electric blue right from the opening moments appearing as I remember them. Flesh tones are natural."

Does this mean that the colors have been adjusted since the last Blu-ray? Are you able to compare? Because from about the point the marines land on LV-426, that disc was almost entirely teal and orange, with almost no other colors for the rest of the movie.
@JoshZ - I am back home and was able to do a comparison between three different releases. I looked at three scenes in three versions of the film the film. The opening scene where the Narcissus is intercepted, the sequences where the Marines first disembark from the APC, and the scene after the first battle where the Marines barely make it out alive in the APC ("I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.").

I watched these on the Alien Quadrilogy 9-Disc DVD set (with the special editions of each movie - awesome set). The Alien Egg Blu-ray edition that I picked up at the 2010 Comic-Con), and the new UHD release. Here's what I noticed.

The Electric blue opening sequence with the Narcissus is similar, color-wise. The DVD's black levels bleed more but the Blu and UHD are better defined (as you might expect).

The sequence with the Marines first landing and deploying to the North entrance of the facility is where it's most interesting. The DVD and the UHD are the most alike (color-wise, definition is night and day). The color has a blue hint but more of a lean toward grey, whereas the Blu-ray is a little greener in color (and likely where complaints of teal come from). But they aren't seismically different. They are grades on the same scale. I was surprised at how similar all three were and how aligned with the DVD this moment was on the UHD. When they get inside, the same differences apply, with the Blu-ray leaning toward the green/grey with the DVD and UHD leaning toward the blue/grey. The white of the horizontal hallway lights is a little whiter (and I do mean a shade whiter) in the UHD version.

The sequence with the embattled team discusses their next move following casualties, the colors are quite similar, but again, I'd say the DVD and UHD are closer, but all three have a little green with the blue but doesn't seem out of place.

I hope that helps.

I will also say that the Blu-ray's grain structure was finer than I remembered and the level of detail and clarity excellent for the format. The UHD may best all previous versions on those fronts, but seeing a stronger amount of grain was comforting. I suspect I'll watch the UHD version from now on, but I also believe I'll pop in previous releases from time to time to honor my earlier experiences watching the film).
 

DanH1972

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It's disappointing the streaming version doesn't match the disc version in the areas described, was it intentionally dumbed down? How about the regular Blu-ray, was that dumbed down? I don't have a 4K player for fear of another upgrade cycle (VHS, laserdisc, DVD, Blu-ray). I've just watched the 2014 Blu-ray. The story surpasses any other concerns, so answers to these questions will determine if I ever stream it. Is there an explanation of the AI SW & how it's able to remove grain without sacrificing detail or creating artifacts, that is truly amazing?
The lack of a decent bitrate tends to dumb down film and TV releases all by itself. Then there are some streaming companies that insist on further manipulation of the soundtracks to appease the masses and their lower end sound systems.
 
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