Aliens (4K Digital Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Dec 12, 2023
  • Format: Digital
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Aliens (4K Digital Review)


James Cameron

Release Date(s)

1986/1990 (December 12, 2023)


Brandywine Productions/20th Century Fox (Studios) (Buena Vista Home Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: See Below
  • Video Grade: B+
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: N/A

Aliens (4K Digital)



“This time... it’s war.”

More than half a century after the events of Ridley Scott’s original Alien (1979), Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the sole survivor of the commercial towing vessel Nostromo, is rescued from hypersleep in her drifting escape shuttle. Upon returning to Earth, Ripley is made to face the wrath of a company that’s none too pleased with her having destroyed their expensive spacecraft and precious cargo. And no one takes her story seriously, of how the Nostromo landed on an uncharted planet and encountered a deadly alien lifeform, which killed the rest of her crew. In fact, Ripley is told, much to her horror, that the planet she claims to have landed on has been settled by terraforming colonists for years... and none there have ever reported encountering aliens like the one she describes.

Poor Ripley is quickly black-listed, and soon finds herself doing menial work in civilian life, all the while suffering nightmares from her experience. That is, until contact is lost with the colonists on the very same planet, and the Weyland-Yutani Corporation suddenly needs her help. An executive named Burke (played by Paul Reiser, pre-Mad About You), makes her an offer—the company will reinstate her flight commission if she agrees to go back to the planet as an advisor to a squad of Colonial Marines, which is being sent to determine what happened. Hoping that a little alien ass-kicking will cure her post-traumatic stress, and save the colonists in the process, Ripley agrees to return. The result, of course, is more than two hours of sheer terror, in which the bugs always seem to have the upper hand.

Cameron’s approach to this sequel is refreshing, in that he didn’t simply try to copy the classic horror tone of the original film. He approached Aliens as a straightforward combat picture, and crafted a script that’s filled with a different kind of tension in addition to plenty of action. There are some fun performances here, by actors who would later become fairly well known, among them Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Michael Biehn, and the aforementioned Reiser (whose mid-80s haircut is about the only thing that really dates this film). The actual Xenomorphs appear far more bug-like in this movie, which plays on the deep-rooted, unconscious fear of insects that many people harbor. And all of this mayhem was created with just six alien costumes (not counting the Queen), surprising given that the impression is of hundreds of the creatures on the attack at once. With the Queen itself, Cameron managed to break new ground, showing us the final stage of the creature’s life-cycle, unseen in the original Alien. The concepts and designs here are very true to, and respectful of, the work of the original film’s artists (including the great H.R. Giger). Whether you like Cameron’s approach or not, this is great production design. Aliens isn’t better than the original film—far from it. It’s just different. And it really works.

Aliens was shot on 35 mm photochemical film (specifically Eastman 400T 5294 and 5295) by cinematographer Adrian Biddle (The Princess Bride, 1492, V for Vendetta) using Arriflex 35-III and Moviecam SuperAmerica cameras with Canon K35 spherical lenses, and it was finished on film at the 1.85 flat aspect ratio for theaters. For its release on Ultra HD, Lightstorm, working with Park Road Post, appears to have utilized the best-available scan of the original camera negative (possibly new and 4K, but it’s also possible that the previous 2K Blu-ray scan was used; I haven’t been able to confirm that with Lightstorm yet in this particular case)—“optimized” by Park Road’s proprietary deep-learning algorithms—to create a new 4K Digital Intermediate. Photochemical grain has been greatly reduced, though not eliminated entirely, and it should be noted that this isn’t the usual Digital Noise Reduction with which people have long been familiar (a dreaded and blunt instrument). Unlike an image scrubbed with DNR, this process hasn’t removed all of the fine image detail. Not only does that detail remain, it too has been “enhanced” algorithmically. The image has then been graded for high dynamic range, with both Dolby Vision and HDR10 available.

The result is remarkable clarity and detail, but it is a bit jarring. Applied to Titanic (reviewed here), this unique remastering process feels completely appropriate. Applied to Aliens, which has always been a film with a grittier look, it takes more getting used to. The film looks almost modern now as opposed to vintage late 80s, which appears to be Cameron’s intent. On the other hand, I’ve just spent the entire morning going back and forth between the Alien Anthology Blu-ray and the new 4K Digital presentation on Vudu, Apple TV, and Movies Anywhere, and I definitely prefer the 4K (with a caveat that the forthcoming physical UHD should release improve upon it). There’s no doubt that this is James Cameron’s Aliens looking better than you’ve ever seen it before. There’s still light photochemical grain visible. There is plenty of fine image detail visible (though it’s a little less nuanced looking than the fine detail on Titanic). The color palette is vibrant, with the cool blue-gray tones it’s always had, and it’s close enough to the Blu-ray palette that you wouldn’t notice a difference unless you compared the images side-by-side. Blacks are incredibly deep, highlights are genuinely bold. This 4K image certainly isn’t perfect—it often looks a little… processed is the best word I can come up with. But the more I look at it, the more I like it, and I suspect that most fans will feel the same. But I also suspect that some viewers will really dislike it, because it’s definitely different, and I certainly appreciate that perspective too.

The film’s primary English audio is now included in a new Dolby Atmos mix that features a bigger, wider, and much more immersive soundstage than ever before. Subtle atmospherics surround the listener, with tight and punchy LFE, and more tonally full-sounding mids. Dialogue is clear at all times. Directional effects and movement are smoother sounding and a bit more aggressive at once. The height channels are employed more subtly for overhead completion, but they do play a more noticeable role occasionally, such as when the Sulaco’s dropship is firing up its engines (and the camera pans down to see Ripley watching). The actual drop too features them more prominently as hatches clang, latches release, and the engines scream down from overheads above. James Horner’s score utilizes the entire soundfield, exhibiting high fidelity that benefits its trademark brassy horn section. This is a very good sonic upgrade, and I look forward to hearing it in full bit rate on physical 4K UHD in a few months.

In terms of special features, each Digital provider seems to offer a different selection of bonus content from the previous Alien Anthology Blu-ray set. And while the 1990 Special Edition is typically included, only the Theatrical Cut seems to be available in actual 4K with HDR and Dolby Atmos. So we’ll have to wait until the disc version arrives to really give everything its due attention.

Aliens is a great film, and in many ways the perfect sequel to Ridley Scott’s ‘haunted house on a spaceship’ sci-fi horror tale. While Aliens in 4K Digital is a remarkable experience, it also takes some adjustment. But that’s completely understandable. At the end of the day, film is an artistic expression. And people’s appreciation of that art—including its remastering—is going to be subjective. Still, there can be no doubt that the film now looks and sounds exactly the way its director wants it to. Your own mileage may vary.

Film Ratings (Special Edition/Theatrical): A-/B+

- Bill Hunt

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