Aliens On 4K UHD

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I grew up with the laser disc of James Cameron’s Aliens (1986). From there I moved onto DVD and then Blu-Ray. Every jump in format was a jump in quality. But Cameron’s film, under his own supervision, looks bizarre on the UHD format. The film tells the same story but the images I had grown up with appear vastly different from the film as I knew it.

The major change Cameron has brought to the UHD release of Aliens is the removal of the film grain. Cameron wants his film to look like it could have come out in 2024 so he has applied a hefty amount of digital noise reduction to the film. This new print loses the grain inherent to 35mm and dispenses with minor details in the process.

Aliens looks its worst in scenes where the focus softens, often because of various smoke effects. In these instances the flesh tones take on a quasi-A.I. quality. Such scenes feel akin to the horrendous CGI effects of the late nineties. The groundbreaking effects of Aliens (which are still superior to anything out there today) rub shoulders with goofy looking DNR. This undoes the magic of Aliens and reveals its artifice.

The grainy 35mm film stock that was used to shoot Aliens back in 1986 matched the grit of the plot with its tough marines and alien army. Dispensing with the grain Cameron undoes the aesthetic tone of his film. This meddling places Cameron alongside George Lucas as auteurs seemingly hell bent on compromising their most beloved works with a vision born out of gigantic egos.

The images of Aliens have been so changed and manipulated by Cameron to look like something else that the UHD print is arguably a different film from the Aliens of 1986. Aliens on UHD is not the definitive home media release which is a shame because the UHD format is ideal for preserving the physical qualities of 35mm film. As it is I prefer the Blu-Ray of Aliens.