Aliens: Ultimate Collector’s Edition (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Mar 09, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
  • Bookmark and Share
Aliens: Ultimate Collector’s Edition (4K UHD Review)


James Cameron

Release Date(s)

1986/1990 (March 12, 2024)


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

Aliens (4K Ultra HD)




[Editor’s Note: This review is adapted from my look at the 4K Digital release from December of last year. New A/V comments pertaining to the disc quality are in bold italic text. Per labeling on the discs, each disc in this set is All Region.]

The Highlights:

  • Aliens looks very good in physical 4K, improving upon the 4K Digital presentation, but it’s been given modern remastering that belies the look of a 38-year-old film.
  • The new Atmos and 5.1 DTS-HD MA mixes (on 4K UHD and Blu-ray, respectively) are excellent.
  • Both versions of the film are contained on both the 4K and Blu-ray, and all three discs are all region.
  • Nearly all of the legacy extras have carried over save for a handful of featurettes, a TV spot, and an Easter Egg (detailed below).


“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.

When I reviewed Fox’s 4K Digital release of this film back in December, here’s what I had to say about the video quality…

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.

All of the above still applies to Fox’s new physical 4K Ultra HD release, which is encoded on a triple-layered UHD-100 disc. The only difference here is that the video data rates are significantly higher that the Digital stream—on the order of 50 Mbps on average. What that means, is that the color is a bit more vibrant, detail is a little more nuanced, the overall contrast is a little more expansive, and the whole image looks just a bit more dimensional. Everything that was great about the 4K Digital image is still great here, only better. Of course, the slightly-processed appearance remains too, and each of you will have to decide how you feel about that. But there is absolutely no doubt that this film looks better than it ever has before, on both physical 4K UHD and Blu-ray (a BD-50), and that it looks exactly as Cameron wants it to.

As for the audio side of this experience, here’s what I had to say about the 4K Digital audio…

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 the 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.

Fox’s new 4K UHD disc includes audio in English Dolby Atmos, English 4.1 Dolby Surround (Theatrical Cut only), English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, French 5.1 DTS-HD High Resolution, and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. (Note that the Blu-ray swaps the Dolby Atmos mix for English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and the English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio for English 2.0 Dolby Digital.) All of my audio quality comments on the 4K Digital Atmos apply here as well. Note that subtitles on both discs are available in English for the Hearing Impaired, French, and Spanish.

Fox’s Ultra HD release is a 3-disc set that includes 4K and Blu-ray movie discs, as well as a Blu-ray bonus disc. Each of the movie discs contains the following:

  • 1986 Theatrical Cut (4K or HD – 137:15)
  • 1990 Special Edition (4K or HD – 154:28)
  • Introduction to the Special Edition by James Cameron (SD – :34)
  • 2003 Audio Commentary (with director James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd, Stan Winston, Robert Skotak, Dennis Skotak, Pat McClung, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, Christopher Henn and Carrie Henn)
  • Direct Access to Special Edition Scenes
  • Final Theatrical Isolated Score (5.1 Dolby Digital – Theatrical Cut only)
  • Composer’s Original Isolated Score (5.1 Dolby Digital – Theatrical Cut only)

In addition to this, the bonus Blu-ray adds the following:

  • The Inspiration and Design of Aliens (HD – 30:54) – NEW
  • Superior Firepower: Making Aliens (SD – 11 chapters – 184:59)
    • 57 Years Later: Continuing the Story (SD – 11:05)
    • Building Better Worlds: From Concept to Construction (SD – 13:29)
    • Preparing for Battle: Casting and Characterization (SD – 17:00)
    • This Time It’s War: Pinewood Studios, 1985 (SD – 19:39)
    • The Risk Always Lives: Weapons and Action (SD – 15:12)
    • Bug Hunt: Creature Design (SD – 16:23)
    • Two Orphans: Sigourney Weaver and Carrie Henn (SD – 13:48)
    • Beauty and the Bitch: Power Loader vs. Queen Alien (SD – 22:25)
    • The Final Countdown: Music, Editing and Sound (SD – 15:31)
    • The Power of Real Tech: Visual Effects (SD – 27:47)
    • Aliens Unleashed: Reaction to the Film (SD – 12:33)
  • Superior Firepower: Making Aliens Enhancement Pods (SD – 25 pods – 58:31)
    • Without Sigourney Weaver (SD – 1:28)
    • Origins of Acheron (SD – 2:02)
    • Building Hadley’s Hope (SD – 3:28)
    • Cameron’s Design Philosophy (SD – 2:23)
    • Finding and Unused Power Plant (SD – 2:08)
    • Cameron’s Military Interests (SD – 1:25)
    • Working with Sigourney Weaver (SD – 5:26)
    • The Importance of Being Bishop (SD – 1:28)
    • Paul Reiser on Carter Burke (SD – 1:02)
    • The Paxton/Cameron Connection (SD – 2:18)
    • Becoming Vasquez (SD – 1:08)
    • On Set: Infiltrating the Colony (SD – 3:13)
    • Props: Personal Light Unit (SD – :38)
    • Simon Atherton Talks Weapons (SD – 2:01)
    • Praising Stan Winston (SD – 1:41)
    • Test Footage: Chestburster (SD – 1:21)
    • Fighting the Facehugger (SD – 1:18)
    • Test Footage: Facehugger (SD – 7:29)
    • Stan Winston’s Challenge (SD – 1:48)
    • Test Footage: Queen Alien (SD – 4:49)
    • Stan Winston’s Legacy (SD – 2:37)
    • Cameron’s Cutting Edge (SD – 1:33)
    • Sigourney Weaver’s Triumph (SD – 1:39)
    • Re-Enlisting with Cameron (SD – 1:25)
    • From Producer to Stunt Double (SD – 2:31)
  • Pre-Production
    • Development
      • Original Treatment by James Cameron
    • Footage
      • Pre-Visualizations: Multi-Angle Videomatics (with optional commentary by Pat McClung)
        • Angle 1: Videomatic (SD – 3:13)
        • Angle 2: Videomatic/Final Shot Comparison (SD – 3:13)
    • Pre-Visualization
      • Storyboard Archive
    • Conceptual Art
      • The Art of Aliens
        • Gateway Station and Colony
        • Vehicles and Weapons
        • Aliens
    • Casting
      • Cast Portrait Gallery
  • Production
    • Photography
      • Production Image Galleries
        • Preparing for Filming
        • The Narcissus
        • Gateway Station
        • Colony Life
        • The Sulaco
        • Arrival on Acheron
        • Main Colony Complex
        • Ripley Rescues Newt
        • Final Battle and Epilogue
      • Continuity Polaroids
      • Weapons and Vehicles
      • Stan Winston’s Workshop
    • Footage
      • Colonial Marine Helmet Cameras (SD – 5:08)
      • Video Graphics Gallery (SD – 4:06)
      • Weyland-Yutani Inquest: Nostromo Dossiers (SD – 3:37)
  • Post-Production and Aftermath
    • Footage
      • Deleted Scene: Burke Cocooned (SD – 1:31)
      • Deleted Scene Montage (SD – 4:08)
    • Photography
      • Image Galleries
        • Visual Effects
        • Music Recordings
        • Premiere
        • Special Shoot
    • Miscellaneous
      • Laserdisc Archives (includes both images and videos)
        • Chapter 1: Introduction
        • Chapter 2: Table of Contents
        • Chapter 3: Writer/Director James Cameron
        • Chapter 4: The Screenplay
        • Chapter 5: The Aliens Crew
        • Chapter 6: Casting
        • Chapter 7: Introduction
        • Chapter 8: The Narcissus
        • Chapter 9: Gateway Station
        • Chapter 10: Alien Landscape
        • Chapter 11: The Jorden Tractor
        • Chapter 12: The Sulaco
        • Chapter 13: The Drop-Ship
        • Chapter 14: The Colonial Marines
        • Chapter 15: Marine Weaponry
        • Chapter 16: The Armored Personnel Carrier (APC)
        • Chapter 17: The Colony
        • Chapter 18: Facehuggers
        • Chapter 19: The Alien Nest
        • Chapter 20: The Chestburster
        • Chapter 21: The Aliens
        • Chapter 22: The Queen
        • Chapter 23: The Power-Loader
        • Chapter 24: Replicas of Bishop and Newt
        • Chapter 25: The Power-Loader vs. Queen Battle
        • Chapter 26: Editing and Music
        • Chapter 27: Theatrical Release
        • Chapter 28: Promotion
        • Chapter 29: The Restoration
        • Chapter 30: Closing Commentary
        • Chapter 31: Bibliography and LaserDisc Production Credits
      • Main Title Exploration (SD – 3:01)
      • Theatrical Trailers
        • Teaser Trailer (SD – 1:51)
        • Theatrical Trailer (SD – 1:57)
        • Domestic Trailer (SD – :35)
        • International Trailer (SD – :32)

We’ve reviewed nearly all of these extras several times before here at The Bits over the years, including here on DVD, here again on DVD, and here on Blu-ray. Suffice it to say that this is as fine and comprehensive a package of bonus features as anyone could ask for with regard to this film. But newly created for this 4K release is The Inspiration and Design of Aliens, which features Cameron looking back at the origins of his involvement on the project, his early ideas and artistic inspirations, and some of the challenges he and his team had to solve while bringing it to the big screen.

What’s more, as you can see by the list above, nearly all of the extras produced by our old friend Charles de Lauzirika for the original Alien Legacy and Alien Quadrilogy DVD and Blu-ray releases carry over here, except for the Legacy DVD’s 1986 Cinefex Interview with James Cameron (SD – 12:00), the “Somewhere in deepest space...” TV Spot (SD – :31) from Disc Four of the Quadrilogy DVD set (the Aliens extras disc), and that disc’s hidden Easter Egg: A Boy and His Power Loader (SD – 9:36). Longtime fans will also be pleased to know that the complete LaserDisc Archive originally compiled by our friends David C. Fein and Michael Matessino is here too, containing literally hundreds of text pages and images, as well as a collection of short video clips.

The only other behind-the-scenes content for this film that’s missing can be found on Image Entertainment’s Alien Saga DVD from 2003 (reviewed here), which also included a set of 4 featurettes: Aliens Behind the Scenes (SD – 8:02), Grunts in Space (SD – 3:53), James Cameron Profile (SD – 3:25), and Sigourney Weaver Profile (SD – 3:12). So fans are recommended to keep the Alien Legacy, Alien Quadrilogy, and/or Alien Saga discs accordingly to retain everything.

Of course, the package also contains a Movies Anywhere Digital code on a paper insert. The specific film versions and extras you gain access to via Digital will depend on the individual provider.

Aliens is a great film, and in many ways the perfect sequel to Ridley Scott’s original ‘haunted house on a spaceship’ sci-fi horror tale. While Aliens in physical 4K Ultra HD (and remastered Blu-ray) is a remarkable experience, featuring a striking restoration of the film that improves upon the 4K Digital experience in all the ways you would expect, it also takes a bit of 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. What’s more, this package includes a (nearly) complete archive of past special features along with a bit of good new content too. It’s therefore recommended, especially for diehard fans of the film, if perhaps not for all A/V enthusiasts.

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

- Bill Hunt

(You can follow Bill on social media on Twitter and Facebook)