Officially, there's more than 60 hours of special features on the Alien Anthology set. I didn't count the minutes myself, but I know that when I was sitting down to watch these discs, my weekend just slipped away from me and before I even stopped to think properly about what was happening, a couple of days had faded like smoke. At that point, I think I'd pretty much exhausted the bigger video extras in sixteen hours of sofa time or so, so I'm thinking the commentary tracks are making up a good chunk of the official count.
None the less, this collection of supplements goes far beyond the call of duty and ended up feeling rather exhaustive, and I certainly didn't regret diving in up to my ears.
I think you should bear in mind that relatively little here is newly produced material and most of these "extras" have been pulled out of the archive, including a wealth of "previously unseen" footage. However, I'd say that this is an asset, and for for two main reasons:
- Memory is not flawless, so it's good to have this legion of contributors on the record from back when they were likely to have better recall
- Because most of the more obvious material had already been used, this set now makes a bunch of mining expeditions into the more esoteric. For me, much of the really exciting and intriguing stuff on these discs would never make the cut if you only had, say, ten hours to play with.
I'm sure you've worked out that these discs are stuffed to the gills. There are two deeply-loaded BD-50 discs of supplements, and navigating it as actually very simple. If you want to sit down and watch everything, it's simply a question of doing so, or you can use the new MU-TH-UR mode to "tag" subjects. This video gives a glimpse of the system in use:
Only a glimpse. It's harder to explain MU-TH-UR than it is to use her, but in essence there's a tagging system in place and it allows you to jump to material about the subjects you're most interested in. Say you're watching Alien, and those ookie eggs first appear, you can tell the system you want to know everything there is to know about these eggs with just a couple of button presses; when you next pop in the supplement discs, the player remembers what you're interested in, and offers you a playlist built from your selection.
For me, MU-TH-UR mode was counter-intuitive because I was going to watch every last second, anyway, but I at least know I can now go back and find all of the stuff about, say, dressing up a dog in an Alien suit that the Anthology has to offer and with just a couple of clicks and a disc-change or two. It could have been unwieldy, and it's actually pretty clean and straightforward.
However, I expect most people will sit back and watch the full-length documentaries as whole entities and not be too selective about what topics they will learn about. The documentaries are certainly well-made, well-paced pieces of work, and you can trust them to take you through the relevant info in a relevant order – and it's great to finally have them intact and unedited.
The Alien 3 making-of doc on the Quadrilogy set was famously subject to censorship. Here's how I wrote about the new version for DVD and Blu-ray Review:
[Anthology producer Charles de] Lauzirika admits that only a couple of the Alien 3 interview subjects were "brutally honest", but there's more to this doc than talking heads. Amongst the previously unseen footage are several shots of Fincher on set, visibly frustrated and, in one money shot, verbalising it. We get to see the director stand from his canvas chair, grab a mic and declare, "It's amazing to me that Fox is the number one studio in the country because they're all such a bunch of morons". It's surprising that this particular outburst made the cut even now. Lauzirika padded the edit with some additional footage to bear the brunt of Fox's censorship but says he was amazed that, "They didn't cut anything". What we've ended up with is even stronger stuff than what the studio rejected first time around.
The doc was originally titled Wreckage and Rape, after a music cue on the Alien 3 soundtrack. On the Quadrilogy release, the censored version was simply called The Making of Alien 3. This time out, it's become the slightly toned-down Wreckage and Rage. And where even the chapter headings were censored before, they're now back to their angry originals: Development Hell, The Color of Blood, Requiem for a Scream.
So how is it that we have been able to go from the bitter acrimony of making Alien 3 through the censorship of the Quadrilogy to finally letting it all hang out on the Anthology? "Time heals wounds," says Lauzirika. Simple as that.
Wreckage and Rage is essential stuff, whether or not you share my views on Alien 3. It is a fine example of how the best in-depth documentaries and commentaries available on Blu-ray and DVD offer a real contribution to film culture.
Here's how Day One with the Anthology started:
Charles de Lauzirika, producer of the Alien Anthology Blu-ray box set, has said it himself: the real reason to care about Blu-ray, to upgrade your discs, is the superior picture and audio quality.
And I don't suppose he's wrong… not really. Not even while it was the supplements that had me really chomping at the bit, almost frothing to get my hands on the discs.
The Alien Anthology is available now from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. It's almost perfect. Buy it.