Why you should be watching - Alien, 40th Anniversary 4K edition
With this 40th anniversary 4K remaster of Ridley Scott’s Alien, the perfect organism has finally achieved its perfect form. Starting with a new 4K scan of the original camera negatives, the restoration team, supervised by Scott, have created a pristine version of the film that will reveal just what your home cinema setup can achieve. With the increase in detail offered by the 4K resolution, alongside the wider range of colours and brightness offered by HDR, this version brings a forty-year-old film to terrifying life.
The story, for the few who have never seen the film, is fairly simple. Awakened from hypersleep part of the way through their journey home, the crew of the deep space cargo vessel The Nostromo land upon an unexplored planet to investigate what appears to be a distress signal. The ensuing encounter with an alien life form unleashes a monstrous predator upon the ship, and one-by-one it picks off members of the crew. However, from these bare bones, the filmmakers have created one of the most visually iconic films in cinematic history. Ridley Scott’s ability to construct fully realised worlds through incredible production design, something he would become known for following Blade Runner, is never more on show than in Alien. The industrial design of The Nostromo presents a vision of a used future, full of pipework, metal grilles and claustrophobic vents, a world away from the sparkling crafts from films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Alien creature itself, as well as the spaceship where it is first encountered, combine organic and mechanical elements to horrific effect.
Never has the loving attention to detail heaped upon Alien’s production been more evident than in this 4K version. The film is composed with a surplus of shadows, occasionally interrupted by brilliant illuminations, and the HDR aspect of this release allows for all the details of these dark spaces to emerge, whilst permitting the bright elements to be suitably blinding. The increase in detail offered by 4K ensures that, amongst other things, the textures used by the filmmakers really shine through. Over the years, John Hurt’s famous dinner-table confrontation with the alien creature has lost some of its ability to shock. Due to the abundance of detail now visible, watching the film you are suddenly confronted by a shimmering, viscous sheen that covers the creature, the texture suddenly rendering it more lifelike and restoring the grotesquerie that had been stolen from it through familiarity and lower quality releases. While I may have seen Alien more times than I could possibly count, this new restoration grants the film back its ability to shock, even if you know exactly what to expect.
Although the soundtrack to this edition remains that of previous blu-ray releases, this is no reason to be disappointed. Even if they were stripped of their nightmarish visuals, certain scenes in Alien would still remain terrifying. A case in point is Dallas’ crawl through the ship’s air vents as he tries to track down the creature. Jerry Goldsmith’s score maintains an unnerving ebb and flow, but it’s the way in which this is interspersed with bursts of the flamethrower and underscored with the quickening pace of the beeps of the motion tracker that allows it to build to the crescendo of the Alien’s scream. The terror that the crew feels is very easy to understand once you experience the sound of the creature crawling around in your home cinema’s surround channels.
By anchoring his film around Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, Ridley Scott not only made her a star, but created a revolutionary female heroine whose influence is still being felt today. Alien launched a franchise, but across five increasingly poor sequels, nothing has managed to recapture the terrifying brilliance of the original movie. This restoration blows away the accumulated dust of the last forty years, making Alien feel immediate, visceral, and truly horrifying. In short, this is the definitive release of one of the greatest films ever made.
Written by Jake - Oxford Store