BLU-RAY REVIEW: ALIEN 4K ULTRA HD

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by Tony O'Brien

4th June, 2019

BLU-RAY REVIEW: ALIEN 4K ULTRA HD

I must admit that I didn’t know where to start when it came to reviewing a film like ALIEN. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not for lack of originality, nor for that matter the cast - all of which are superb, but instead finding something to say that hasn’t already been said about the classic that hit cinemas in May 1979.

While many things could be said about the now 40-year-old horror/sci-fi classic, perhaps most surprising is how well it’s stood the test of time.

Granted, some aspects have become dated, notably the set design and of course unavoidable references to 70’s culture. 

Despite this, ALIEN still retains much, if not all of the feelings of dread, isolation and downright creepiness it instilled in audiences when it first hit cinemas. No small feat, considering the ‘numbness’ of modern audiences in the face of torture gore-fests and flashy effects found in modern horror and sci-fi genre today.

The crew of the mining vessel Nostromo which is en-route to earth, are awakened from hypersleep after the ship’s computer “Mother” receives a distress call from a nearby planet. Investigating the distress call, the crew discover a long-abandoned alien spaceship on nearby LV426.

One of the crew returns to the Nostromo with an alien organism attached to his face, which can’t be removed. After the organism dies, it appears Ash is back to his usual self, until an alien lifeform erupts from his chest, killing him in the process.

The crew scour the ship for the alien; however, they soon realise that they’re the ones being hunted.

While the set props, such as computers and references to social norms of the time such as smoking, are dated, they do make the film feel somewhat disjointed. Rather than detracting from the movie, the disjointed feeling only adds to an underlying sense of unease.

Likewise, Ridley Scott uses both the vastness and silence of space to create a sense of isolation that leaves you feeling unnerved during the film.

With the birth of CGI still more than a decade away, filmmakers used ‘monsters’ sparingly, lest they betray their true origins. This forced filmmakers to be more creative, and Ridley Scott uses it to create an evergrowing sense of dread, which is hard to shake even once the credits are rolling.

ALIEN is a classic for a reason and indeed spawned a sub-genre of ‘sci-fi’ horrors, which despite having many great titles in the genre, none can match the original. Free yourself of all distractions, sit down in a dark room and prepare for one hell of a ride.

Video Quality 

Shot in 35mm film with an aspect ratio of 2.35.1, ALIEN has never looked better. 

Given the film’s 35 mm origin, grain is to be expected. For the most part, it’s a constant, although the amount varies from hardly noticeable to extremely discernable. The grain, however, doesn’t detract for what’s mostly a sharp and detailed 4K transfer.

The detail is abundant, in both the interior of the Nostromo and in facial close-ups, which despite the film’s age are often resplendent in detail, with wrinkles, impurities and whiskers easily visible. 

Although the transfer is mostly sharp and detailed, there is the odd shot which appears notable softer, mainly in the second half of the film’s 116 minutes running time.

The film’s colour palette is mostly neutral, with the overall colour tone of the film often influenced by lighting. Colour use is largely constrained, with sets dominated by whites, greys and blacks. Skin tones are, however, spot on, always appearing natural.

Where sharpness may have the odd misstep, black levels remain solid through the film, any of the shots in space being a standout. The excellent black levels, coupled with the HDR transfer, help to both ‘open-up’ some of the darker scenes and imbue a sense of dimensionality. 

The HDR transfer helps to ‘open-up’ the darker parts of the transfer; however,  there’s little in the way of spectral highlights. They are present, but its use is mostly seen in the form of ship's engines and Dallas’ flame-thrower as he hunts the Nostromo’s stowaway.

With the original Blu-ray transfer on hand, it was hard not to draw comparisons between it and the 4K transfer. While the Blu-ray transfer itself is excellent, it’s notably softer than the 4K transfer. The Ultra HD transfer also has a better sense of dimensionality, the Blu-ray looking a little flatter next to it.

Sound Quality 

If like me, you were hoping for an Atmos soundtrack to accompany the HDR transfer, you’re going to be disappointed as ALIEN has adopted the same DTS-HD that accompanied the Blu-ray. With that out of the way, the DTS transfer is more than competent.

Converted to DTS: Nero X via a Denon AVC-X8500H AV Receiver, the soundtrack made full use of all my home theatre speakers. The DTS-HD track created a broad soundstage, which was used to capture everything from the voices of the crew scattered around the bridge of the Nostromo to the howling winds of LV426.

While there’s no discrete height information, the broad soundstage coupled with the DTS: Nero X decoding can give the soundstage a decent sense of height at times. The sound of water dripping from the roof of the hanger as Brett looks for Jonesy is an excellent example.

Voice and noises were placed precisely within the sound field, and although the soundtrack is dated, it’s hardly devoid of detail. Coupled with the broad soundstage, you're placed right in the middle of the action for an immersive home theatre experience.

The audio can sound a little shallow, and while voices are clear, at times, they are tightly confined to the centre speaker. Due to the age of the soundtrack, you may find yourself wanting to give the volume control a little bit of a nudge.

This is not a soundtrack that’s going to give your home theatre speakers a workout, but when called upon, the audio can deliver a good sense of dynamics. Likewise, scenes such as the landing on LV426 will give your subwoofer(s) a wakeup call.

Nitpicks about the lack of a Dolby Atmos soundtrack aside, given the age of the film, ALIEN features a superb soundtrack which is more than up to the task.

Buy ALIEN 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray here

Picture Quality: 
Sound Quality: 
Movie Rating: 

  • Label: Roadshow
  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Review Format: 4K Ultra HD                
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35.1                    
  • Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio                
  • Genre: Sci Fi/Horror                                    
  • Available Formats: DVD, Blu-ray & 4K Ultra HD            
  • Run Time: 116 minutes
  • Rating: M                      
  • Release Date: Available Now    

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Tony O'Brien's avatar

Written by:

Tony O'Brien

As the owner of Adelaide based ‘Clarity Audio & Video Calibration’, Tony is a certified ISF Calibrator. Tony is an accomplished Audio-Visual reviewer specialising in theatre and visual products.

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Posted in: Home Theatre Visual
Tags: alien  4k ultra hd  blu-ray  roadshow 

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