Express Elevator to Hell

Standing helplessly the alien queen’s egg chamber, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) delivers a subtle yet fierce nod to her xenomorph foe, a threat delivered with motherly instincts, which Ripley assumes might translate. After all, Ripley stands next to an egg sac, flamethrower ready to go. If the message were received, it doesn’t matter. A lethal, murderous living weapon will never change.

Aliens is a unique specimen in mega-budget studio-produced productions, as is each film in the original four movies. They’re so wholly distinct, but all joined by a singular theme of corporate exploitation, profitability above all, and the trauma those values cause. Aliens merely adds macho, masculine vibes via a militaristic injection, who act like excited soldiers leaving home for war to defend their nation, only to eventually discover that muscle and brawn only stretch so far. The marines don’t have a notable cause; they have a profit motive. Unbeknownst to them, there’s an ever greater meaning to their action – shareholder gains.

Aliens is organic, with Stan Winston’s marvelous, world classic practical effects at their peak

Cameron’s script continues to carry relevance long past a summer blockbuster’s usual relevance (which anymore, feels like days rather than decades). It helps that Aliens is organic, with Stan Winston’s marvelous, world classic practical effects at their peak. This ensures a grounded reality that makes everything else authentic too, from the unsympathetic corporate values to Ripley’s human, empathy-driven need to save everyone.

Ripley’s the hero because a mission commander fails to protect his troops. Ripley is a hero because she willingly risks her own life to save others. Although Aliens wants to create heroes from the likes of Hudson (Bill Paxton), they all fall because their humanity was long since discarded by circumstance. They’re in a conflict with a foe that exists solely to kill.

Sent on this mission to prove the existence of and eradicate the species, what happens is inevitable, with the corporate figureheads of Weyland-Yutani eyeing a considerable payday on something they feel is controllable. Ripley sees through their guise because she’s the only one to survive on the other side of the fight. That fearful, gruesome possibility of xenomorph escape joined with her familial drive forms a character willing to fight for something more than just a paycheck. Aliens is a galaxy-saving story, not just a horror-bound, sci-fi survival one. That’s invisibly added scale to a movie that already looks, feels, and thrives on enormity compared to its somber predecessor.

Video

Let’s be upfront about this: James Cameron can do literally anything he wants with his movies. George Lucas too. We, the fans, cannot control those personal choices. However, like the infamous William Friedkin-approved Blu-ray “remaster” of The French Connection, that doesn’t mean everyone has to like it. This goes double for anyone who even considered AI rather than human hands in the restoration process.

So in that spirit, Aliens is ghastly.

Aliens is tricky. Of course it has detail. In close (and only in close), the amount of texture is incredible, surpassing the Blu-ray. However, that texture is inhibited by a near constant ringing that makes Alien look totally unnatural. Medium/long shots consistently show ringing artifacts that simply put, have no reason to be there. It’s unnecessary, it doesn’t look like film, and it makes Aliens visibly artificial.

It’s like Cameron’s AI restoration tools learned how to remaster from Universal back in the early 2010s or so. Areas of the screen look sharper than others, like a person’s nose will have a visible ring around a nostril but not their face. Look at Bishop’s eyes around 1:21:00-ish (theatrical cut), as if his eyes are super sharp but the rest of his face is naturally out-of-focus because the algorithm couldn’t figure it out. It’s not even logical in how it applies the tech.

Grain does weird things. The remaster struggles in haze, and that’s where the worst of the noise reduction is notable. The halos suck, but the smearing, waxy faces are worse (the tech has no idea what to do with or how to handle soft focus shots; those look abysmal). Grain does remain, but it’s slight, and the reduction is notable enough to smother anything not in close. Smearing in spots makes this look as if it’s viewed on an LCD screen circa 2006. Especially at distance, Aliens looks like an AI-created video. Something is just… wrong.

It’s bizarre, personally, that while a subset of the community never notice or care about noise reduction (also totally their choice), the majority do – or some used to, until it’s an oft-requested movie by a major director finally seeing release, and then DNR is fine. It’s setting an unfortunate precedent given how many strides were made to make UHD a true enthusiast delivery medium.

There is one plus – the new color grading is sensational. Flesh tones exude a vibrancy they used to lack, and or at least a more natural hue than before. Dolby Vision adds the slightest jump in brightness, but it’s overall dull. All the helmet/shoulder lights swinging around only deliver the slightest intensity, but little – if none, really – of the usual pop from HDR/Dolby Vision. Not even the sparks from the welding torches impress.

Audio

Now in Atmos (4.1 and 2.0 options are also offered), Aliens does some marvelous work, rendering dialog clearly with only slight age notable.

Surrounds kick in full during the first trip into the loading bay. Loaders work in every channel, clanging as they grab objects with a stellar reverb. By the time dropships begin entering atmosphere, every speaker begins to engage. The landing is mesmerizing, with exterior winds pounding the ship’s interior, and when outside, the howling, whipping air uses all available channels, including some marvelous overhead use. And the rain effect? That deserves a mention all its own. Alien attacks send screeches in every direction, and their tails whip around the victim.

The APC generates some generous low-end force during its escape a little past the hour mark. Flames erupt with a boomy thump. The dropship crash/explosion utilizes the subwoofer for all its worth.

Extras

Discs come in triplicate inside the case, and note the theatrical and extended cuts are both in 4K, and both feature a James Cameron commentary (he’s joined by crew). The UHD also includes an isolated score. The one new bonus features Cameron discussing the design of the film, running 31-minutes. The main bonus remains a recycled making-of, but it’s a beast that runs over three hours. This includes an additional hour of features that extend into test footage, pre-production, deleted scenes, and galleries. It’s exhaustive.

Aliens
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Movie

Aliens remains a grand action film, stuffed with subtext and brilliant practical effects.

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User Review
3.43 (7 votes)

The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 67 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD:


One thought on "Aliens 4K UHD Review"

  1. Mr. Chris Rasdale says:

    Hello Matt Paprocki,

    This is a great review of the new AI-enhanced ‘Aliens.’ 4K UHD blu ray.

    I don’t like the fact that Jsmes Cameron has used the AI to remove so much of the natural grain from the image, so I’ve held off on buying this disc.

    I watched my remastered 1080p blu ray of ‘Aliens.’ a couple of nights ago and I really don’t think the grain on it is so heavy as to be negative in any way.

    On the other hand I do like the idea of seeing more saturated colours and sharper detail, so I might buy the 4K disc at some point just to do a comparison with the 1080p disc.

    In the end though I’ll probably give the 4K disc away and stick with watching my 1080p disc.

    If only, instead of including the theatrical cut of ‘Aliens.’ in 4K with the AI enhancement, this release had included the extended cut in 4K HDR without the AI enhancement.

    I think that not doing so is a real disservice to fans of how ‘Aliens.’ has always looked – with all the grain intact.

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