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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents

Alien Hunter: SE (2003)

"Satellite imaged an unidentified mass, in the ice shelf down there. It appears to measure approximately 6 meters long by 3 wide. At first, they though it might be a rock slag or a fossilized whale. And now, they're not so sure."- Dr. John Bachman (Roy Dotrice)

Stars: James Spader, Janine Esser
Other Stars: John Lynch, Keir Dullea, Nikolai Binev, Leslie Stefanson, Aimee Graham, Stuart Charno, Carl Lewis, Svetla Vasileva, Roy Dotrice
Director: Ron Krauss

MPAA Rating: R for language and some violence
Run Time: 01h:31m:42s
Release Date: 2003-10-28
Genre: sci-fi

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Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- B-B+A- B-

 

DVD Review

Alien Hunter is a made-for-TV, Sci-Fi Channel flick from 2003 that stars James Spader as a former SETI cryptologist named Julian Rome who is called in to investigate a mysterious object that is giving off bizarre radio signals after it is found frozen deep in the ice in Antarctica. This one adheres to one of my all-time favorite sci-fi sub-genres: the isolated polar research lab that is cut off from the outside world while something really nasty is eventually unleashed.

Like a lesser version of The Thing or even to some degree the more traditionally militaristic Ice Station Zebra, Alien Hunter is all about characters forced to come to terms with an ugly truth. In this case, however, the film telegraphs the alien storyline (the obvious title, notwithstanding) with a quick preface that attempts to connect the infamous Roswell, New Mexico UFO mythology from 1947 with the goings-on at the remote Antarctic research lab, and it seems to take an inordinately long time before the characters in the film get caught up on what we the viewers already know from the opening credits.

The film is populated with inhabitants right out of Stock Character City, with your usual array of sci-fi clichés (the bald black guy, the cute former girlfriend, the heavily accented elder scientist, the arrogant non-believer, the curmudgeonly professor, the sexy researcher), and director Ron Krauss turns the isolated lab into a genre-familiar labyrinth of dimly lit corridors and winding drainage tunnels. Spader's Julian Rome, in between making nice-nice with his former gal pal Dr. Kate Brecher (Janine Eser), who just so happens to be part of the research team, has to spend a lot of time watching prime numbers flash by on computer screens as he struggles to crack the code that seems to be emanating from the unearthed block of ice.

The really weird thing is that for all of the "seen it before" setups and characters in Alien Hunter, the end product is surprisingly entertaining. Director Krauss really works wonders with what was apparently a mediocre budget, giving the film a polished, big-budget feel. A few of the explosive action sequences are constructed particularly nicely, including a chaotic infection scene, though much of the time characters are simply talking about what's going to happen as we get unneeded backstory.

The screenplay, from The Forsaken director J.S. Cardone, has its own elements of The X-Files tossed in liberally and often, and Krauss even incorporates enough flashlights-piercing-the-smoky-darkness scenes that for a minute I half-expected Mulder or Scully to wander into the proceedings. The story itself, loosely linking Roswell, government complicity (including Keir Dullea as the Secretary of Defense), nuclear sterilization and Close Encounters-esque moments of alien wonder, is nothing particularly revelatory, but the way it is put together works more often than it doesn't.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen (a step up from its original full-frame presentation on the SciFi channel), the transfer of Alien Hunter looks as good as any handful of mainstream feature film discs I've seen lately. Black levels are not completely rock solid, resulting in some noticeably thick shadows, but considering how much of the story takes place in dimly lit environs these sequences were never overly difficult to follow. The entire film has that genre-familiar icy, almost monochromatic look to it (I call it the Alien look), but a palette of bright, smoothly-rendered colors (as in the corn lab sequences) and consistent fleshtones are reproduced well.

Image Transfer Grade: B+
 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Columbia TriStar comes through with a rather outstanding 5.1 Dolby Digital surround mix for this release, one that employs the rear channels extensively to create a very sweet-sounding audio track. Discrete effects (like dripping water or echoes) reverb across the rear left and right channels appropriately, and in chapter 16 there is a wonderfully mixed explosion sequence where various character voices randomly rise up from behind in the aftermath. Primary character dialogue is clear and audible in the center channel, with a pleasing blend of spatial imaging for assorted doors and mechanical effects moving from left to right, and back.

Audio Transfer Grade: A- 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Bad Boys II, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
5 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Storyboard
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Ron Krauss
Packaging: AGI Media Packaging
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
Extras Review: Director Ron Krauss offers up a full-length commentary track for Alien Hunter, and while this one doesn't necessarily raise the needle on the excitement meter, he does provide more than a few bits of production insight. Krauss has a very flat delivery, so enduring the duration of the track is a challenge in spots, but he does point out the various scenes where stock footage was used (like borrowing footage from Twins for an early Berkeley campus shot), in addition to the hows and whys of shooting the film in Bulgaria. This isn't the most endearing commentary I've listened to, but it did have some engaging content once in a while.

The Director's Location Scout (10m:24s) highlights Ron Krauss' handheld video camera footage during the search for locations in Sofia, Bulgaria. Some of the rough footage, like the flashlight-lit bomb shelter tour, is atmospheric enough that it looks as if it could have been lifted directly from tbe finished film. Alien Hunter: Behind The Scenes (16m:13s) is an EPK-type feature, consisting of comments from Krauss, Spader, Janine Eser, Carl Lewis and screenwriter J.S. Cardone. Krauss talks about the story, design and visual effects, but too much of this piece centers on reiterating the plot and showing scenes from the film itself.

There are six Deleted Scenes (including a supposed Alternate Ending, which has no sound, no effects, and doesn't seem to offer any real alternative ending, as far as I can tell), which run a total of 09m:35s, and are available with an optional commentary track from Krauss. The sequences, some of which are extended versions of finished product, were mostly cut for the usual reasons (pacing, repetition), and none are particularly memorable.

The Storyboard Comparison takes three sequences (Corn Field, Michael's Death, The Dome), and offers the storyboards on the left half of the screen, with the finished sequence on the right. An in-depth Photo Gallery is broken down into six sections (Alien, Alien Build, Maintenance, Mess Hall, Pod, Tunnel), as are three trailers (Bad Boys II, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines).

The disc itself is cut into a generous 28 chapters, and features subtitles in both English and French.

Extras Grade: B-
 

Final Comments

While not groundbreaking by any means, this made-for-cable alien adventure looks richer and more detailed than it has a right to. As an added plus, a lively 5.1 surround mix makes the seen it before stuff easier to swallow, and for fans of The X-Files or The Thing this is certainly worth a rental.

Rich Rosell 2003-12-02