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The Digital Bits: We Know DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, SACD & High-Definition
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Back to Part II

[Editor's Note: Presented below are FOUR additional texts that were originally presented as sidebars in the Alien Quadrilogy portion of our book. They're interesting in their own right, and have been included here for completeness. Enjoy!]

SIDEBAR I - Alien Quadrilogy Production Trivia

More than twenty people worked on the creation of the new supplements for these DVDs, including the DVD producer, three coordinators, five editors, two or three fill-in editors, two or three people scanning photos, a handful of researchers and eight or nine people to go through boxes of film and identify footage. This doesn't include the many technicians and studio personnel who worked on the menus, the packaging, disc authoring, the new special effects footage and other necessary work.

All told, literally thousands of hours of production time were involved in the creation of the DVD supplements, spanning an entire year (from mid-summer 2002 to mid-summer 2003).

Approximately thirty new effects shots are being completed for the extended cuts of the films that are available on these DVDs. Some of these are digital composites of original optical elements, while others are being created from scratch using a variety of live action plates, original pre-visualizations and other internal documentation.

Five separate companies were involved in finishing the new visual effects shots and editing them seamlessly back into the films to create the new special edition versions.

Four separate camera teams were hired to gather new interview footage in the Los Angeles area, and additional teams were hired to do the same in the U.K., France, Australia, India, Canada, the Czech Republic, and elsewhere around the world.

More than eighty people involved in the production of the Alien films were interviewed for this DVD production, at an average of about forty-five minutes per interview. (The shortest interview - Alan Ladd, Jr. - clocked in at under fifteen minutes, while the longest - Ridley Scott - was over two and a half hours long!)

New audio commentary tracks were created for these DVDs, compiled from newly recorded sessions with nearly forty of the original filmmakers and actors.

The supplement disc for each film will feature more than three hours worth of short documentaries, which can be viewed in a "play all" mode. These have been culled together from hundreds of hours of new and previously created footage, including interviews, on-set footage and other production-related video. The vast majority of this material has never been released before.

The final discs are expected to incorporate more than ten thousand still images, either in the menus, the documentaries or in still gallery format. This includes production photos, conceptual art, storyboards, original script text and more.

You'll need more than forty hours to go through everything that will be included in the Alien Quadrilogy box set. That includes watching each of the four films three times (the theatrical version, the seamlessly-branched alternate version and the film with audio commentary), plus roughly three hours of material on each of the supplement discs and the bonus disc. We suggest that you book your vacation time now.


SIDEBAR II - A Commentary Tale

March 3rd, 2003 - 1 PM. It's an unusually overcast afternoon in Southern California, and we've just arrived at the Santa Monica offices of P.O.P. Sound. After parking in a small, off-street lot, we enter the building to find Alien Quadrilogy DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika waiting in the lobby. With him is with Jon Mefford, his lead coordinator on the project. On the agenda today is a full afternoon of DVD work - the reason for our visit. This will include an audio commentary recording session with three members of the cast of the original Alien, as well as separate, on-camera interviews with each.

P.O.P. Sound, a division of Pacific Ocean Post (which is located just across the street), is a state-of-the-art, audio post-production facility. Its two levels contain numerous recording booths and mixing stages, in which the soundtracks of many different feature films and DVD releases have been tweaked to perfection. On this day, the Quadrilogy production crew has occupied two stages. A fully equipped suite upstairs, Studio G, will host the commentary work. Studio B, on the first floor, is being converted into a makeshift interview set by a two-man crew. A Sony DVCAM is already standing at the ready on its tripod, along with various lights, microphones and other equipment.

While we wait for the actors to arrive, Lauzirika and Mefford take a few moments to confer and go over their notes for the day. There's a degree of nervous anticipation in the air, and for good reason. "You never know what's going to happen on days like this," Lauzirika says. "Commentaries and interviews are always a challenge. You just never know what you're going to get, and given the budget and the schedule, you've really only got one shot."

Of course, this is only one session of many set during the year-long Quadrilogy production. Several have already been completed and many more will be scheduled before the end of the project. But today's session is an important one. First on the docket is an on-camera interview with Tom Skerritt, set for 2 PM, followed by another with Harry Dean Stanton at 2:30. Veronica Cartwright is then expected to arrive in time for the group to begin recording their audio commentary together at 3 PM. An hour or two later, Cartwright will round out the afternoon with her own on-camera interview. Naturally, the unexpected happens almost immediately. Harry Dean Stanton strolls in at 1:45 PM, fully forty-five minutes early, and Skerritt is nowhere to be seen.

Stanton seems not so very different from Brett, the character he plays in the film. His clothes are blue-collar, his manner is laid back and he's rarely without a cigarette. With the clock ticking, the decision is quickly made to shoot Stanton's interview first. So he's led into Studio B, the door is closed and the videotape starts rolling. Lauzirika begins the interview, and it takes Stanton a little while to get going. A lot of years have passed, and he doesn't seem to remember a great deal about his work on Alien. Stanton, it seems, is a man of few words, about one in every ten of which is an expletive wrapped with a smile. As a result, the stories he does have to tell are both colorful and entertaining.

By 2:15, Stanton's footage is in the can, and we discover that Tom Skerritt has just appeared in the lobby. Skerritt, who played Dallas in the film, has flown in from out-of-state for the day. He's dressed in a smart looking suit and he's all business. So after a few minutes of preparation, the tape is rolling once again. Like Stanton, Skerritt's recollection of specific details about his work on Alien is limited. But while he doesn't recall much about the sets or the production design, he knows his craft and he's able to tell a few interesting anecdotes. In all, the interview continues for about twenty minutes.

At this point, we're fast approaching 3 PM. Everyone heads into the lobby to regroup, and to grab something to eat or drink. As Skerritt and Stanton catch up, you can tell that the Quadrilogy team is a little concerned about the commentary session to come. Given the interviews thus far, how much will the actors remember? Will they get enough good, usable material? These concerns evaporate, however, when Veronica Cartwright arrives moments later, full of smiles. Cartwright's a fireball and her enthusiasm is infectious. She's clearly thrilled to be involved in the project, and to see her fellow cast members again after so many years. Energized, the group moves upstairs into Studio G.

Studio G is typical of the kind of space used to record audio commentaries. On one end, there's a sound-isolated booth in which the actors are seated together in front of microphones. This is separated by a glass window from the control room, where all the mixing and recording equipment is located. A recording engineer and an assistant are already there, ready to go, as we enter. Elevated in the back of the room are a desk and couches for the production team to sit and supervise the process. As the recording session gets underway, Alien begins playing on video monitors mounted throughout both rooms. The idea is that actors can watch along and comment on what they're seeing.

Right from the start, it's obvious that the energy is different than in the earlier interviews. Cartwright, who played the character of Lambert in the film, picks up the ball and runs with it. It's not overstating things to say that she seems to remember everything as if it happened yesterday. She's got lots of interesting behind-the-scenes stories to tell, and Skerritt steps right in line with her. A few times during the session, Lauzirika has to pop in over the intercom to prompt the actors to talk about various subjects, but the commentary goes very well. Even Stanton has opened up more with Cartwright seated beside him. You can't exactly call him chatty and his comments are still laced with expletives, but he's absolutely hilarious and he's got us all laughing out in the control room. At one point, when a newly-restored deleted scene appears on the screen (we're watching the new special edition cut of Alien), the actors realize they're seeing new material. "I didn't know they cut any of my scenes out," Stanton quips. "Bastards."

When it's all over, the group moves downstairs again, and Skerritt and Stanton say their goodbyes. We chat for a few minutes with Cartwright as her make-up is touched up for her on-camera interview, and then she's ready to start. She picks right up where she left off, with animated answers to all of the questions Lauzirika asks of her. She even recalls a funny moment during the filming of the Chestburster scene, when she was hit in the face with a spray of fake blood and fell over backwards during the shot. We've seen the footage - she disappears behind the table so that all you can see are her boots sticking up in the air. Moments later, she just gets up and keeps on acting. Cartwright is thrilled to learn that the outtake has been recently found, and that it will be included on the DVD (in fact, every take shot during the filming of the infamous scene will be included on the disc in a multi-angle scene deconstruction).

It's nearly 6 PM when Cartwright finally concludes her interview and, with yet another smile, makes her exit. And that, as they say, is a wrap. Both Lauzirika and Mefford agree, it's been a good afternoon's work. There's plenty of usable material for both the documentaries and the commentary track. Cartwright, in particular, has contributed some great stories. So it's no surprise then, that as we gather our things and get ready to leave, Lauzirika seems a little more relaxed. "See what I mean?" he says with a smile as we make our way toward the parking lot. "You never know what to expect."


SIDEBAR III - Alien Encounters

DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika went to great lengths to try to convince Alien³ director David Fincher to participate in the Alien Quadrilogy project. Unfortunately, Fincher declined. Still, as fate would have it, Lauzirika had a couple of amusing brushes with the director over a two-week period in April of 2003. We'll let him tell the story in his own words:

"My editor, David Crowther, had just finished his rough cut restoration of the special edition version of Alien³, and we were planning to have a private screening of the cut that evening - myself, David and a few other people from the office. Given that it's a two and a half hour cut, we figured we should get dinner. Most of the guys wanted pizza, but I wanted a burrito, so I drove over to this Mexican place near our office called Poquito Mas.

So I'm standing there in line, ordering my ahi burrito, when out of the corner of my eye, I see something that sets off alarms in the back of my head. I look over, and there's David Fincher, sitting there with someone else eating his dinner. Immediately, I seized up like I'd just seen Jesus. And I'm thinking, what do I do? Do I interrupt him? Do I introduce myself? Do I invite him to check out the screening of the film with us?

I immediately call back to the office on my cell phone, and I'm telling the guys, "Fincher's here at Poquito Mas! What do I do?" In those moments, for some reason, I totally geek out. Do I dare talk to him about this film he obviously hates so much? Of course, the guys all said, "You've got to get him. You've got to go talk with him." Naturally, as I get off the phone and I'm about to do just that… Fincher gets in his car drives off.

I didn't really feel bad about missing the opportunity, because he seemed to be having a pretty intense discussion. It didn't seem like he was in a very approachable mood. And I figured, what could be worse than going up to him when he's in a bad mood and saying, "Hey, do you want to come and see the long cut of Alien³?"

Then, about a week later, Fincher actually called my office. Mark Romanek [who directed One Hour Photo - another DVD Lauzirika produced] had talked to him about me, and put in the good word... which, coming from Romanek, is a major deal to me. I mean, I worship both of these guys. Mark gave Fincher my number, which was incredibly nice of Mark to do. Unfortunately, I wasn't in the office when Fincher called. But he left this really cryptic voicemail: "Yeah, Mark Romanek told me to call you about Alien³…" and about halfway through the message, he just kind of drifted off. It was almost like he lost the heart to even talk about Alien³ right then in the middle of this message he was leaving me. We played phone tag for a while and never actually spoke directly. So I've saved this voicemail. For a while, I was toying with the idea of putting it on the DVD as an Easter egg until my better judgment kicked in. I doubt Fox's lawyers would have cleared it anyway.

So those are my two brief non-encounters with Fincher on this project."


SIDEBAR IV - A Quick Chat with Ridley Scott

During a break in the recording of his first audio commentary for the Alien Quadrilogy, we spoke briefly with Alien director Ridley Scott about DVD and the digital future of film.

The Digital Bits (DB): As someone who's been directing films for many years, how do you feel about the opportunity that DVD gives you to go back and revisit your work?

Ridley Scott (RS): It's nice, because DVDs help you to recapture the quality - the way you originally meant for the film to be seen. DVD really lets you hit that standard you want in terms of the picture and sound.

DB: Obviously, it all started with VHS, then laserdisc, and now DVD is the thing. How willing are you to come back and revisit your films for new formats as they come along?

RS: I'm always willing to be involved in whatever next phase format they want to take it to. Because it's all basically a device to carve the film in stone as much as you can - to get it just the way you want it.

DB: You and Charlie [de Lauzirika] have worked together on the DVD versions of a number of your films now. Do you find that long working relationship helpful when you approach a new DVD project? Is there a shorthand that develops between you?

RS: Oh, yeah. I think that's absolutely true. We started off on the first Alien, and we've worked on pretty well everything since then. It's worthwhile to do, you know? Film is worth preserving 'cause that's what DVD is really doing.

DB: With this new trend toward digital production, is there any thought in the back of your mind that the work being done for these DVDs is ultimately going to be the lasting testament to the film?

RS: Well, I don't know how long a DVD disc will last, and the studios are still pulling out the original negatives. I'm surprised - Paramount just did that for Duellists, and it's perfect. But will the negative still be around in another twenty years? Martin Scorsese's been complaining about that for years - that we need to spend the extra bit of money on the original negative to preserve it. So, thank god for the digital record, I suppose.

Digital seems to be a faster, better way of doing things. But I think it's all about the legacy of the film, digital or not. Pretty soon, you're going to have a screen that you hang on the wall like wallpaper, and you'll get a better image from it than you'll ever get from projection. So whatever the technology is, as long as you preserve the film the way it was meant to be seen, it's fine by me.


[Editor's Note: This completes our vintage coverage of Fox's Alien Quadrilogy DVD set as printed in our 2003 book, The Digital Bits Insider's Guide to DVD. However, that's not the end of our Alien coverage. As most of you know by now, Fox is revisiting the films in October on the Alien Anthology Blu-rays. All of the Quadrilogy DVD content will carry over to the new set, and DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika and his team have returned to create all-new special features just for the Blu-ray release. So read on!]

Continued in Part IV - The Alien Anthology

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