Just good enough to make you wish it was better



The lights go out and I’m ready to watch David Fincher’s early studio piece, Alien 3. I briefly ponder how, as Phil so eloquently worded it, “directing a movie is as much about personal growth as it is about artistic expression.

Certainly, David Fincher has brought us some modern classics. Some that come to mind: Seven. Fight Club. He’s made some excellent movies that haven’t seemed to reach popular acceptance: Zodiac, for example. The Social Network. He’s made some bad movies, as well: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which I couldn’t sit through. Panic Room. Alien 3.

But if we’re to consider Fincher’s third installment (and really, final, since Resurrection is a bullshit back-from-the-dead-for-one-last-55-million-dollars popcorn flick) in the context of the rest of his productions, Alien 3 shows a young, somewhat inexperienced, but extremely talented director showcasing some of his long-time apparent talents.

Those talents are put on display immediately in the opening credits sequence. An ominous score plays over credits, the vacant depths of space, and an escape pod silently floating through them. Inside, the small leftover crew (Ripley, Newt, and Bishop) sleep in preservation chambers.

Until a stowaway facehugger destroys some equipment and breaks through a few of those chambers. The damaged equipment causes fires and explosions, and the pod is sent spiraling through the universe, eventually crashing into a large body of water on a work/prison planet near an installation of such.

This sequence is edited with precision. The facehugger never looked so menacing as it does here, close up, all gloss and skeleton, and clawing its way to the top of Newt’s bed. That this sequence (a) is amazing, (b) gets you through the opening credits, and (c) serves as an exciting, entire first act to the movie shows some directorial talent.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film does not hold up to the opening sequence, except for a few fleeting moments that don’t make up for the other two and half hours of dreadful boredom. What makes the boredom so unbearable is that much of it is unnecessary. One example —

Clemens is the prison colony’s medical consult. He makes for a somewhat interesting character since he chooses to side with Ripley against the prison warden in the interests of science, even though he doesn’t seem to like what Ripley’s up to at the time. That establishes a good dynamic between those three characters. An hour of the movie goes by and you realize you’ve seen a couple of xenomorph birth scenes that lasted maybe a couple of minutes intercut with a full hour of people talking about prison politics. When the alien finally starts killing people (what you came here to see), it kills Clemens long before it even approaches the obnoxious token black preacher guy, leaving the good character triangle in shambles, the token black preacher guy annoying you with scripture-fueled rally speeches, a crazy dude doing infuriatingly stupid shit, and Pete Postlethwaite depositing an easy paycheck for the next ninety minutes.

The movie is apparently supposed to be a character study. Ripley’s been through a lot of shit. She isn’t very afraid of the rape-minded inmates because in a sense, life has already raped her. Twice, actually. So what’s one more time? And now she’s facing certain death – she’s host to xenomorph kin. Sigourney plays it well because she’s a talented actress who was handed some decent writing. She delivers the worst of her lines (“Your ass is already on the line. The only question is… What are you gonna do about it?”) with something less than gusto that lets you know she knows the lines are rubbish. This makes even the worst of her dialog at least bearable (unlike the forced action star one-liners she was handed in Aliens).

But Alien 3 is so goddamn boring that I completely lost interest in even Ripley’s character. I found myself browsing the net and keeping the volume up on the TV loud enough to follow whatever useless conversation was going on at the time.

Useless because it doesn’t take that much walking and talking to explain what we need to know here. The plot of Alien 3, taken in summary, is actually quite good. Ripley crash lands, and fears the deaths of her crewmates were at the hands of aliens. She demands an autopsy, which yields evidence against her hypothesis. But despite the available science, she recognizes a sort of bond between her and the xenomorph, which totally creeps her out. This is shown to us in a tense scene where the xenomom could easily murder Ripley, but opts not to, and proven later with a body scan, but the audience is clued in early thanks to one of those intercut birthing scenes. She knows in order to solve the alien problem, she must kill herself before the one inside her ruptures through her chest. The rest of the movie becomes a series of events trying to destroy the beast.

It’s a good basic plot structure, a natural next phase for our heroine, but it can be told to us in about 45 fewer minutes than Fincher takes to tell it.

Pacing issues aside, the one thing the film has going for it almost throughout is the cinematography. There is an incredible focus in this movie on composition. Each shot is visually tickling in some way. Despite the dreary, industrial interior of the prison facility, each frame is somehow pleasing to the eye. Only a few spots stand out as being particularly bad, and every last one of them involves computer graphics from the early 90s (a symptom of Cameronitis; see Terminator 2: Judgment Day).

When the aliens are puppets and we get to see them up close, they’re horrifying. When they’re CG, they look like a two-mouthed breed of Pokemon. This was infrequent, though, and only a few seconds at a stretch in most cases. Ripley falling into the incinerator looked absolutely terrible.

There’s really a lot to like about Alien 3. The score is even quite good, except for a couple of spots where it really overpowers the tone of the film and seems out of place. There’s enough to like about it to earn maybe 5/10 points from me. It’s just so damn long and boring. If you trim this movie down, it may be closer to a 7 or 8. But I can’t justify watching this entire movie again for a very long time just to see a few cool parts and some pretty pictures.


Alien³ – In which a movie is revisited and rating is revised.



I swiped this picture from Screenrant.com, and while I don’t agree with the content of the article about the scariest movie monsters, this picture was great because it so excellently provides an example of something scarier than the alien in Alien³.

In our initial summary post, I placed this movie just behind Aliens and ahead of Prometheus and Resurrection.  To be fair, it had been a long time since I’d seen it, and I had some fond memories of the movie from a stylistic point of view.  Pretty sure that was retroactively supported by how well I think David Fincher did in his later films.  So Gwen and I watched it again (the extended Assembly Cut this time, which I hadn’t seen before) and it was certainly an illuminating experience.  If you’ve read my other posts you already know I’m nowhere near a REAL reviewer;  how about if I do something different this time around, and take you through the movie, soup to nuts, so you can follow what I was thinking as I watched it.

I love Blu-Ray as a format.  The menu on this new Anthology edition that I’m watching is pretty cool – it goes through an assortment of informational screens showing you where they are in space, what happened at the end of Aliens, a little bit about what’s going on as the movie opens, cam footage and schematics, etc.  Kind of cool.


Okay, the movie opens.  Interesting style, with the beginning of the story told in a series of almost impressionistic flashes, as we see the cryogenically sleeping survivors of the last movie quietly OH NO attacked by a facehugger that hatched out of an egg that was hidden in plain sight, evidently.  You’d think after the kind of ordeal they had been through recently, someone would have done some kind of scan or sweep or quick look-around to make sure they hadn’t missed anything.  Okay, so Ripley’s compromised, there’s a fire, they’re dumped into an escape pod and they’re crashing.

Planet looks kind of cool;  dark, gloomy, bad weather, industrial.  A younger Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) appears, looking severe in his big coat.  He spots the washed up, oily-dirty-blackened Ripley and carries her to safety in a very Frank Miller-esque comic booky looking scene.

Now there are some cows.  Good, we know what else is gonna get aliened.

Short cuts alternating the discovery (gruesome!) of the other bodies with a computer monitor where someone is logging what’s going on.  It’s not the worst way of squeezing in a little more exposition, but zooming in on the text we’re supposed to find most horrifying and poignant?  That’s so very Cameron.  I’d expect more out of you, Fincher, but this is your first movie so I’ll cut you a little slack.

The sun sets.  I’ll put a pin in that.

Charles Dutton as a kind of creepy religious leader (Dillon).  Establishing shots of some interesting character actors, while they’re getting what we already know summarized for them.  From the inmates, odd professions of discomfort with a woman having appeared in this prison.  “We don’t like it because we’re trying to punish ourselves for our sins.”  Mmmmmkay.

Ripley wakes and meets Clemens (Charles Dance) for some more catching up, light on dialogue, which makes the scene work well.  More walkin’ around shots, show us a little of the facility, show Ripley a little of the wreckage.  Break the news that Hicks and Newt are dead, and Bishop is junked.  Emotion happens but it doesn’t come off the screen.  Hey look, acid burn.

The morgue is especially big, roomy, well lit.  Dead body, which looks remarkably whole considering the mangled mess we saw in the crash.  Ripley inexplicably investigates Newt’s mouth, neck and chest for signs of alien, then calls for an autopsy.

  • Side note:  one of my movie pet peeves is the “drawing your fingers down over a dead person’s eyes” to close them, without ever even touching the eyelids.  Wouldn’t work that way anyway.

Bloody autopsy.  This prison refinery doctor is really experienced and very well equipped.  Bad orchestral swelling to try, and fail, to build up tension.  Clemens does have good dialogue though.

“Now, since I’m not a complete idiot, would you like to tell me what we’re really looking for?”  Perfectly delivered.

Demonstration that there is internal conflict between Clemens and the superintendent and his apparently moronic henchman (Ralph Brown, an excellent actor in a weak role.)  Superintendent explains things to Ripley to try and scare her and convince her to stay out of the way of the horrible inmates.

The guy who played the head scientist from The Fifth Element (he regrew Leeloo) and some other guy bring a dead ox into a ridiculously bloodstained abattoir;  aside from silly dialog, it seems this is just a setup to show us where the alien will be born.

ACT TWO, i guess.

More establishing shots of people working in a foundry.  I guess this place is a foundry.  I’ll bet the molten metal will be important in act 3.  Ah, it’s a funeral scene where they are gonna drop the dead off in the molten stuff.  You know they’ll have to just collect the extra slag, right?  Okay, the alien is apparently being born very, very slowly while this is going on.  Hey, I didn’t catch this before:  Dillon the minister is yammering about new lives that begin whenever someone dies, as we see the cutest four-legged alien calf baby stand up and run off.  Awww!  It’s a stick puppet alien!  Ripley has a bit of a nosebleed.

Side plot happens about Dillon dealing with dissent in the ranks because some of his guys don’t like one of the other guys (Golic) cause he’s stinky and crazy.  Hey, he looks like – yuuuup, it’s Paul McGann, a one-time one-off Doctor Who.  Dillon, inconsistent in his attitude, is now hostile towards Ripley because he is a “murderer and rapist of women” and her being there is offensive to him and his disciples.  I’m starting to get kind of bored here.

Ripley and Clemens talk, she tries to find out what his history is, he deflects.  He tries to find out what she’s hiding, she deflects with sex talk.  It’s all defense in this game.

Prisoner cleaning crap in a fan tube finds nasty shed skin, then finds alien, then finds fan blade.  Bloody, but not shocking at all.

Ripley and Clemens do some sex, then deflect each other’s questions some more.  Wow, he is so reluctant to say why he’s there, and as bad as that place is it must be something INCREDIBLE.

Ripley’s tearing apart the wreckage when swelling tension music suddenly leads to her jumping as the camera reveals… Clemens standing there.  There’s nothing shocking here.  Aren’t we used to seeing the Alien first, when it’s about to attack?  Come on, there’s no surprise monster here anymore.  Ripley is strangely nonchalant about finding out about the dead guy.

Another pissing match between Clemens and the superintendent, in which it is insinuated that Clemens did something really horrific, and the super threatens to reveal it to Ripley if he doesn’t keep her wrapped up.  I’ll bet this is gonna be really spectacular when it comes out in the open!  I’m kind of glad I didn’t remember the details of the movie, because this is the closest thing to an interesting, mysterious plot point that this movie has offered so far.

Ripley goes to the dump to salvage the remains of Bishop when she’s attacked by a rape squad of Dillon’s religious followers who look like they’re trying to star in a David Fincher music video.   She’s saved by Dillon, now protective of her for some reason.

Apparently there’s a traditional ritual in their weird apocalyptic church that if someone dies they have to light a bunch of candles in a long row, in a secluded underground chamber, in such a fashion that it sets up a great alien attack scene.  This time it’s Man in an Alien Suit Alien!   And they have to carry smoky torches made of sparklers even when the place is really well lit.  Probably because they film well.  The alien lets Golic run off after the blood-soaked double kill.  That’s marginally interesting.

Ripley hooks Bishop up so he can talk, and then has to cajole him into telling her that the alien was indeed on board their ship and that the company knows about what happened.  Golic is even crazier than he was before (we assume, because we didn’t see anything he did before) now that he’s seen the alien and his mind has snapped.

Finally, something I can get behind… when Ripley gets a boring dressing-down from the super, we get the kind of dialogue that Cameron won’t do, and even Ridley Scott doesn’t do as succinctly.

“We’re fucked.”  “No, you’re fucked.”

I guess this is as good a place for ACT THREE as any other.

Finally, just as Ripley indicates that maybe she’s not feeling all that well, and we’re thinking “how the hell has she not had this alien baby yet anyway?  It’s been a couple of days at this point, and the cow had its big calf alien at the beginning of the movie.”  Clemens tells his “Long, Sad Story.”  He already said he’s not a prisoner there but he was at one time, and now he tells Ripley about what atrocities he committed to land him there in the first place.  It’s a real letdown.

Alien attack!  This time, it’s Animatronic Alien Head and then Composited Stick Puppet Alien, and it won’t kill Ripley for some reason.  It leaves Golic alone again.  Damn!  That guy is so stinky even an alien won’t attack him!  So Clemens is down.  Then the superintendent is snatched before Ripley can get to the rest of them to warn them that the alien is coming.

It’s at this point the first movie ends and the second movie begins.  the second half of the movie is now a frantic sequence of events, where the alien chases the people who are chasing the alien, while they are waiting for the “rescue” ship to arrive.  Aaron (the super’s dumb henchman) is now Ripley’s assistant, as she and Dillon effectively share command.

A weak attempt at lightheartedness is finally attempted with revealing Aaron’s “85” nickname as stemming from the other inmates learning his IQ.

They attempt a complicated tactical mission which they could only have come up with by watching the first two movies.  A bunch of barrels of flammable shit are uncovered because the story needed them.  Ripley starts to feel worse, but it’s not scary or tense.

They set the trap and lose some folks when an alien-initiated accident causes a premature explosion.  The guy who tried to rape Ripley earlier ends up sacrificing himself to trap the alien.  Hey, it’s Badly Composited Stick Puppet Alien this time!  It’s not scary or tense.

There’s some guys who actually have real flashlights now for some reason.

Golic, the crazy guy, finds out it’s trapped then lets it out because he’s worshipping it or something, and it kills him.  Not scary or tense.

Ripley contacts the company to inform them they’ve trapped the xenomorph and – I’m about to use that word again – inexplicably requests permission to kill it.  I can only assume she doesn’t need to be told they will refuse, but she needs to prompt them to transmit a response saying permission denied, so the camera can zoom in on those words.

Golic, the crazy guy, having found out it’s trapped, lets it out because he’s worshipping it or something, and it kills him.  Not scary or tense.

Dillon’s back to not wanting to help Ripley again.  Then the quite small group of remaining guys discover the xenomorph is loose, and start fighting amongst themselves.

Ripley, with 85’s help, scans herself with a remarkably intact medical scanner on the formerly wrecked escape vessel’s remarkably intact cryo pod.  yeah, there’s a baby alien.  It’s a queen?  Well I guess that’s a conclusion which can be drawn based on the alien’s behavior earlier when it wouldn’t kill her.  After another brief non-killing encounter with Man In An Alien Suit Alien, Ripley decides to try to get Dillon to kill her to put a stop to the baby queen.  Instead, they decide to use her as bait to try to give it a molten lead bath.

Really, really bad running alien chase sequence with Composited Stick Puppet Alien.  The special effects here are remarkably bad.  I can only assume it’s sticking to the walls and ceiling while it chases them because it’s bored.  The pattering of alien feet sounds like they’re being chased by Stewie Griffin.  Man In An Alien Suit makes another couple of appearances, and Stick Puppet too, sometimes in a nice greenish color.  There are more alien-cam tunnel chase shots and each person who gets killed explodes more drastically and bloodily.

So Ripley finally lures it to the furnace and the bath happens when Dillon sacrifices himself inexplicably to keep the alien in place.  But after getting dumped on by many tons of molten lead, which are accompanied by a triumphant victory theme, it pulls a Jason Voorhees and comes back with a lovely dull silvery sheen.  So they shower it in water, blowing it up spectacularly by thermal shock.  Good thing that cold water dispenser was there!  I don’t know how lead foundries work, but I’m sure that’s standard.

  • Side note:  I’m pretty sure this is fine, scientifically, even though it’s been pointed out that these things have shown themselves capable of surviving the temperature change from a shuttle to outer space.  That would be about 500-550 degrees (F) difference, while molten lead to non-boiling water would be, like, 1500 degrees, so much, much more drastic.  Carry on.

Now the company folks are here, and there’s an appearance by Bishop, only it’s the human who designed the android.  They try to convince her, now, that they will destroy it, but she’s not buying it.  As she’s getting ready to end it all, Bishop comes back and admits that they have to have the specimen, as if that would convince her to change her mind.  She times her leap perfectly and falls into the molten lead green screen just as the little one makes its debut.

No, wait, that was in the theatrical version!  In the Assembly Cut, she just falls in.

Now that it’s all over, the sun comes up.  Oh good, the sunset/sunrise thing framed the action.  First year film students can talk about that.

The last survivor is hauled off from the facility by the company team as they leave.  The recording of Ripley’s log from the first Alien movie, inexplicably, plays in the wreckage of the shuttle, and a noisy computer readout tells us that they’re scrapping the place.  Whatever.

So unfortunately the atmosphere of the first half of the film was completely undone by the pacing of the second half.  The Clemens character was interesting, but his  backstory was weak and after he was killed off halfway through and replaced, there was no longer anyone interesting to identify with.  Ripley was kind of exactly the same as she was in Aliens, so I found her kind of boring.  Dillon was inconsistent with unfathomable motivations.  Pete Poslethwaite was in it, did you know that?  Utterly wasted, by the way.

The creature effects were an exercise in bad decisions.  When the xenomorph was a Man In An Alien Suit, it looked good, but when it was Composited Stick Puppet it was ridiculous.

So I originally rated this a 6, but having paid closer attention I can’t give it more than a 4.

Congratulations, Prometheus, I think you’ve now been promoted to the third best movie in the franchise.

Often accompanied by a sore throat and a bad taste in your mouth


For the record, Jenny ended up reading an Eve Dallas book while Aliens played in the background, and I don’t blame her at all. She endured the oral onslaught, though, and toughed out a headache in the process. (For what it’s worth, I woke up with a headache this morning, therefore all James Cameron movies cause headaches.) And Phil, a movie’s value in personal growth to the director only counts when the director eventually makes a good movie.

As Phil mentioned over here, I realized that although I talk shit about Aliens whenever the subject arises, it had been maybe a decade since I’d seen it. How could my opinion on the movie be considered valid when I last watched it so long ago? I decided I needed to take it in again.

I’m glad I did. Because if I had written this review without revisiting it, I might have talked some shit about it. Now, having it fresh in my mind, I am going to talk veritable manure yards of shit about it.

Oh, where do I begin? How about with how poorly Aliens has aged.

In space, no one can see your perm

Now, don’t get me wrong. In no way do I hold bad 80’s haircuts against a movie. Any film is a product of its time, and sometimes, even the best of movies suffer from Outdated Hairstyle Syndrome. The Silence of the Lambs is a perfect example of a great movie where everyone has 90’s hair and the women wear shoulderpads, and the cops burst into rooms and immediately pose in the doorway like Charlie’s Angels. Most movies (except period pieces and movies that seem to truly define an era or culture) are only mildly hurt by this, and I usually get over it in fifteen minutes or so and manage to get into the movie.

However, Aliens has more dating it than a seargent with a bad moustache. I think the problem is best titled James Cameronitis. Half of the shots in the movie scream, “This was made with 1985’s best computer technology,” and the real problem with that is that it didn’t have to be that way. Alien made do on less and has only a couple of seconds of film that make me suddenly realize I’ve been watching a movie this whole time. But probably about half of its sequel made me see the fourth wall unintentionally. Shots which come to mind…

  • The military spacecraft is approaching the planet LV-426. As it passes through the cloud layer, the ship is clearly a model on strings, wobbling against a blue screen while B-roll from an airplane cockpit sends clouds shooting at the camera.
  • They land and wander around a bit. The entire exterior looks like the set of an Ed Wood movie. Shots of this nature are persistent throughout the entire film.
  • A wall of industrial piping explodes. The pipes are very obviously computer generated, and are of the same quality as the Windows XP Pipes screensaver. The explosions are blue screened on top.

Now, my complaint here isn’t that the movie is old. It’s that it looks like shit even though it didn’t have to. James Cameronitis is the condition of a movie being swollen with special effects that are guaranteed to cement a movie to a specific time period without providing anything of value to otherwise engage an audience. Other symptoms of James Cameronitis include bad performances from good actors; characters that might as well be Dick Tracy villains; plots so predictable you don’t need to see the movie; and rabid, mostly undeserved fanboyism by people who act like characters on Big Bang Theory. If you experience any of these symptoms, ask your doctor if Good Cinema is right for you.

James Cameronitis is often caused by an urge to make movies with the latest and greatest technology the year has to offer. While that’s admirable in a “why not?” sort of way, it’s problematic because technology isn’t a big enough leg to stand on when filmmaking. I’m sure that in 1986, Aliens was an amazing looking movie, and the adolescent boner that is Ripley appearing in a mechanized cargo loader behind sliding doors, foggily illuminated from a light that has no business being where it is was probably super radical.

But not anymore. All the shimmer and sparkle of a movie like Aliens is doomed to fade in time, revealing the core that lies beneath. Unfortunately, there isn’t much underneath what used to be a glossy, attractive exterior. Turns out, Aliens is the film equivalent of an eight-track tape. Hey, cool! An old doohickey! But it’s totally useless.

Are you there, 20th Century Fox? It’s me, James Cameron.

One of the major themes of this film’s predecessor (which I didn’t go into much detail on in my Alien review) and other Ridley Scott films is the blatant disregard shown by corporations for human life. This theme is continued in Cameron’s thingamajig. Burke, the upper management goon from “The Company” is revealed to know more than he has let on, which puts the entire crew in danger. Just like in the first one when Ash is revealed to be an android who knows more than he has let on, which puts the entire crew in danger.

My point, of course, is that everything about Aliens is designed to sell admission tickets. It’s not even meant to be a good movie, just a marketable one. It doesn’t exist to inform us of some nuanced part of the human experience. It is not literature. If anything, it’s a textbook example of how to put butts in theater seats without making anything good.

James Cameron has always been a studio director, and he probably always will be, just like Burke was always a company man, and would have likely remained so had he not met his fate on planet LV-426. If Aliens is meant to warn us that a company might try to convince people they’re safe when they’re not in the interest of profit, then James Cameron is meant to warn us that a movie studio might try to convince us that we’re not watching the same old crappy story made up of the same old crappy characters in the interest of profit. There’s a reason James Cameron movie trailers don’t say, “From the director of Piranha Part Two: The Spawning“, and it’s because Piranha Part Two: The Spawning doesn’t sell tickets to Avatar.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time on the characters, because frankly, the writers didn’t even spend a lot of time on the characters. The cast is a gallery of boy band members – the quiet one, the tough one, the funny one… The characters suck. That’s kind of okay, though. This is an action flick, not a character study, and they get us through the plot alright.

They’re boring, though, unlike, say, Corbin Dallas. And unlike in The Fifth Element, their interactions with each other play out like a pissing contest instead of like people motivated to acheive a goal and facing adversity in doing so. Most of the characters are pretty useless, and the aliens continue to outsmart them and pick them off one at a time like the killer in a slasher flick. It’s hard for me to buy into the supposed intelligence of the xenomorphs when they are only ever shown outsmarting the most doltish team of marines in cinema history.

Ellen Ripley is a big, fat liar

Let’s go back to Alien for a minute. Remember that pivotal scene where, while trying to surgically remove a facehugger from Kane’s mug, the alien blood spurts out and begins devouring a hole in the floor. The crew of the Nostromo follows it down through several floors of solid, industrial metal flooring before the acid finally neutralizes. It’s incredibly destructive, and for the first time in the movie, they realize that this isn’t just some weird alien – it’s dangerous.

In Aliens, when Ripley meets with the company’s board about her actions on the Nostromo, she defends herself by explaining in a loud and frustrated and harsh tone that THESE THINGS HAVE HIGHLY CONCENTRATED ACIDIC BLOOD! Half an hour later in the movie, Alien blood starts literally splashing all over everything. There are explosions and gunfire and alien heads blasting open all over tanks and equipment. And yet nothing begins to disintegrate. There is no steam, no smoke, no acidic blood whatsoever. At one point, Vasquez grabs an alien and fires several shots from a pistol directly into the bug’s elongated head. Yellow-brown alien blood splashes all over her face, her hands, her body… she’s basically drowning in the stuff. And she doesn’t even blink. She doesn’t appear to be in any pain whatsoever.

So is xenomorph blood acidic or not?

Wheel of Overplayed Tropes!

Ripley is resting in a recovery room after waking up from her hibernation when Burke walks into the room. They begin to talk about how the world has changed, but Ripley soon becomes physically uncomfortable. It’s not long before she realizes that something’s wrong. Suddenly, she’s convulsing, her abdomen rising and falling in quick jerks, almost as though a chestburster were about to break through! In her wild convulsions, her hand hits a glass of water (a literal glass, not a plastic tumbler or disposable cup) and… guess what? You’ll never guess. It shatters on the floor in slow motion.

Soon it becomes clear that there is a chestburster pressing its face through her skin. It pushes up, up, up, and you can see its features defined in the elasticity of her belly. But then, just as it’s about to break through…. guess what? You’ll never guess. She wakes up, and it was all just a dream.

Later, they’ve finally arrived on the planet LV-426. While all the marines are unloading supplies with cargo loader mech suits, Ripley’s standing around, twiddling her thumbs. But she’s anxious. She’s not the prissy little princess the guys all like to imagine her as, and she asks what she can do to help. Seargent Apone tilts his head at her, opens his eyes behind curls of cigar smoke. He doesn’t believe her. So… guess what? You’ll never guess. He makes her prove it!

So Ripley gets into a suit, makes some mech porn for the high school boys in the theater audience, and… guess what? You’ll never guess. She kicks ass in a loader.

And so on and so forth. I don’t have to cite these things. If you watch the movie, you’ll find them throughout. I’ve seen these exact shots a thousand times, and I’m tired of seeing them. James Cameron didn’t exactly pioneer them, either.

The two

I’ve said a lot of bad shit about Aliens today, and I feel I should explain why it isn’t all bad.

Believe it or not, this is what it looks like when James Cameron shows restraint. When the just-a-dream chestburster pushes his head through, Cameron could have easily thrown some money at a big gore sequence before the inevitable just-a-dream wake-up.

A scene later on has one man running out of ammo against an army of xenomorphs. At the control panel, Ripley and the Seargent watch a display counting down the bullet reserves. Cameron shows us only the looks on their faces and the countdown. He could have shown us the aliens devour the straggler as his barrels ran dry. I can think of a few action flick directors who could take a page out of Cameron’s book, and so can you.

Restraint is somewhat valuable in filmmaking. In fact, I’d say it’s worth about two points. Or, if you prefer to think of this way, that’s one point for every good line of dialog.

That’s because she’s made of plastic.


It’s late, my team just won at a trivia game, and I have to work tomorrow, but I’m gonna try to bang this thing out before bed so Ryan can get some frustration off his chest. That sounded better before I wrote it down. He agreed to endure a fresh viewing of Aliens so he could write an informed post about why he hates it SO MUCH. Good on ya, Ryan, and tell Jenny I’m sorry, I know how much you guys hate it and she could have just sat there and played angry birds or something, but she didn’t, and I salute you.

So anyway, directing a movie is as much about personal growth as it is about artistic expression. I pulled that out of my ass, but let’s explore it anyway, briefly.

Steven Spielberg hit it out of the park very early in his career, with Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1941, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, all in fairly short order. A.I., Minority Report and Indiana Jones and the Fuck All Nuclear Fridge Aliens weren’t until much later when I can only assume all the money and accolades made him stop really giving a shit.

George Lucas hit that stage much, much faster. I don’t need to tell you, though.

Our good friend James Cameron, though, had to grow a bit; after cutting his teeth on Piranha 2, and accidentally creating a modern sci-fi classic cautionary tale with The Terminator, Aliens was, for all intents and purposes, a necessary exercise for a growing directorial talent to develop his skills characters plot devices bank account so that he could eventually involve himself with a series of increasingly megalomaniacally ridiculous projects (Titanic on the big screen, some shit about the real Titanic, Avatar, more Avatar nonsense, becoming a real life blue alien thing I can only assume) culminating in what I can only guess is some sort of godhood. Be that as it may, he hit his personal sweet spot between ’86 and ’89 with Aliens and The Abyss, in both of which he combined adolescent wish-fulfillment, silly characters, initially just-short-of-overly-ambitious plots, and no directorial restraint, and accidentally came away with just the right amount of fun. This is why we went to the movies in the late 80’s.

Maybe Ryan was just born too late, and reared on too much quality. I had just graduated from high school when Aliens hit the theater, and for me, this was a big step up from most of the other stuff out at the time.

I’m rambling.

Characters: pretty friggin’ hokey. I was talking in my last post about crews that had to hit every preset personality niche. You had Vasquez and Drake, the tough marines. Hudson, the joker. Hicks, the quiet, reluctant hero. Gorman, the green Lieutenant. Apone, the battle-hardened sergeant. The greasy company stooge, Burke. A handful of redshirts with no defined personality. Holy crap, the only thing missing is the Professor and Mary Ann. This cast could have been plucked out and dropped into any war movie or teenage slasher flick.

But it worked. Stupid as it was on paper, this movie was responsible for some of the most memorable, quotable lines in american cinema history.

“Stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen!”

“I like to keep this handy… for close encounters.”

“Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?”
“No. Have you?”

“We’re on an express elevator to hell; going down!”

Come to think of it, Bill Paxton was involved in most of the movie’s great interactions. He was just goofy and loud and recalcitrant, and I can’t think of another role he’s been in where he was as much fun to watch. That includes Weird Science.

Remember I mentioned adolescent wish-fulfillment? I’m talking about things like broadly showing everyone this ludicrous walking forklift at the beginning of the movie, then too predictably using it for the boss fight at the end. The whole Chekov’s Gun trope is one of my pet peeves in movies, and the egregious use of it here is one of the reasons I consider my 7 rating generous. But for all that I hate how Cameron resorts to such cheap devices, I like the technical execution of it. The action sequences in general are tight, frenetic, and exciting, without quite losing it completely and entering Michael Bay territory.

In this film’s superior predecessor, Ian Holm was chilling as the robot artificial human – his performance was one of the high points of the movie, and the transformation from creepy emotionless bastard apparently human science officer to creepy emotionless homicidal bastard android was a master stroke of subtlety. Cameron obviously wanted to go a different route here, and gave Bishop (Lance Henriksen in perhaps the best role he’s ever had) more personality, using that to defuse the audience’s anticipated hostility and mistrust, and placing it on Ripley, letting the viewer watch it evolve. I think this was a very interesting move, and it was satisfying enough to watch it, that it minimized the disappointment towards the end, when you realize you’ve just been suckered into watching two enemies become friends.

There’s a great scene about halfway through, I think, when the surviving team members realize they’re fucked, and are trying to bug out and get back into orbit. They’ve called the dropship, and predictably, just before it takes off to retrieve the evacuees, the never-vigilant dropship crew are shown to have let down their guard, predictably, and let a xenomorph on board. It kills the pilot, predictably, and the ship crashes. The survivors, watching their rescue hopes disintegrate spectacularly, are completely stunned, realizing they have to go back inside.

“We’d better get back, ’cause it’ll be dark soon, and they mostly come at night… mostly.”

I love that scene.

Anyway, 7 out of 10. It’s a pure popcorn flick, and I don’t usually like those, but I will always be able to watch this one again.

Alien, too



I was tempted to start commenting in line with Ryan’s thoughts during his Alien post, but I don’t wanna step on his toes quite yet.  Especially since I pretty much agree with his assessments on this fine film.  So your post can stay intact this time.  But I know you’re going to say some pretty crazy shit really, really soon.  Won’t that be fun?

So why a 9 from me?  Ryan explained himself very well, but in the process implied that the only thing preventing him from rating it 10/10, although it was essentially a perfect movie, is that he gave that rating to Blade Runner.  Does this mean that there can be only one 10 in moviedom?  I’m not so sure that’s the kind of scale I’m willing to use.

For me, I gave Alien a 9, because as close as it is to a perfectly executed artistic piece, I don’t believe it’s perfect.  Is perfection possible?  I don’t think so, but that means you either start refining your scale so that you can draw ever closer to perfection as needed, eventually creating a scale of 100, or 1000, so you can start offering ratings of 998 or thereabouts, or you can just define a “perfect” movie as one that expresses what it was intended to express, perfectly, with little or no room for improvement.  Whatever, I could go on all day about redefining standards.

Here’s the thing:  Alien‘s great strength was that its atmosphere so effectively evoked dread and helplessness.  Giger’s design sense was so uncomfortably organic and obscene that a receptive viewer can’t help but feel kind of violated just by watching the pivotal scenes;  the discovery of the horrible eggs and penetrating assault of Cain, the overwhelmingly violent emergence of the young chestburster, the cornering and inescapable fate of Parker and Lambert when they’re trying to gather the supplies needed for a desparate escape.  It’s hard to be an impartial observer when the surroundings are so claustrophobic.  There’s a cliched horror movie trope where the victims are constantly making the wrong decisions, and the audience is left exasperatedly wondering why the fool teenagers, being stalked by the relentless murderer, keep going upstairs, instead of out to the street to find a neighbor.  In Alien it doesn’t take long to realize they don’t have anywhere to go.  Can’t they just stay in one place, backs to the wall, and wait for it?  Not really – this thing has countless places to hide and can wait, and wait.  They’re fucked.

I loved the cast, and it’s a testament to the actors’ talent, and the director’s, that they weren’t playing the obligatory spaceship crew, but a group of workers with a job to do.  Within a couple of years, it started to become a tradition that every time a movie contained a crew of characters, they had to each portray a specific personality niche – the tough captain, the funny guy, the rough-around-the-edges hero, the bully, the quiet innocent.  Watch anything by James Cameron and you’ll be able to identify them all.

On the Nostromo — not an exploratory vessel, or a warship, or a rescue ship, but an honest-to-goodness tug towing a refinery back to Earth (I always loved the practicality of that) — The captain was a competent but weary company man, just trying to follow his orders and do the job so they can get back home.  His lieutenant (Ripley) was a competent and no-nonsense company woman trying to stand up to subordinates who are often a pain in the ass.  Cain (poor bastard) was competent and no-nonsense, and just wanted to do the job and get home.  Same with Lambert;  you could just hear it in Veronica Cartwright’s voice when she talked, that she didn’t want to be there from the beginning.  One of my favorite characters was Parker, portrayed by the spectacular Yaphet Kotto, who was exactly the kind of disgruntled facilities mechanic who does exactly as much as necessary to get by, but is so fed up with the system that he makes his superiors jump through hoops to get anything more, even though it’s no sweat to him.  I’ve worked with people like this in my life, and my guess is these actors have as well, to be able to capture the personalities so accurately.

Lots of people talk about the motherhood concept in this and the following movies, but I’m reluctant to subscribe to that as any important underlying theme, because it’s run up the flagpole way too obviously to be anything more than just set decoration.  I think what they were trying to do in Alien was make you, the oserver, afraid of being stuck where you can’t run away, stalked by something with which you can’t reason, and violated in a way you can’t (and won’t) live through.  That’s horror.

Extra props for the incredibly moody and subtle musical composition, the incredible set design (the ship itself becomes a character in the film), and perfect pacing.

There are a couple of scenes that, after so many years and so many viewings, just seem comical.  When Dallas is trying to drive the alien through the air shafts, and the tables are turned, leaving him to be surprised by the waiting beast, the reveal shot of the alien thrusting its arms out (for a hug?) comes across a little bit silly.  I imagine it’s still an effective shock for a first time viewer, though.

The Story So Far

Phil and I made an attempt at blogging over at Blogger and it sucked. People had trouble commenting, and eventually the platform deleted the entire contents of our post. Our post which we couldn’t seem to format in a legible manner.

So I think we’re going to try this WordPress thing for a while and see how it goes. Expect some theming customization in the coming days.

Additionally, neither of us had that first post backed up, so we’re going to have to try to recreate it here. Let’s start fresh.

This blog is the result of watching Prometheus in a group and every last one of us coming away from it with a bad taste in our mouths. But we had a long discussion of it, and thought it was still worth it to talk about it.

So Phil and I decided we would begin the discussion on the topic of the entire Alien franchise, and start by just listing the movies and how we would rate those movies on a 0-10 scale. Here are mine:

Alien - 9 
Aliens - 2 
Alien 3 - 6 
Alien: Resurrection - 4 
Prometheus - 5 

We’ll get to these movies in turn and explain our ratings and hopefully incite a little discussion.

So that was Ryan, this is Phil.  Howdy, everyone.

Ryan and I have had a longstanding difference of opinion on the movie Aliens, though we have always agreed that Alien was one of the great horror/sci-fi films.  This franchise now appears to be quite polarizing in our group, so what better place to start our discussions, yeah?  My overall ratings:

Alien - 9 
Aliens - 7 
Alien 3 - 6 
Alien: Resurrection - 4 
Prometheus - 5 

Hey, what do you know.  After double checking my IMDB account to confirm how I’ve rated these movies previously, we match up perfectly except for the hotly-contested second installment.

I guarantee this won’t  mean we like things for the same reason, but what the hey… let’s look to the next post for the beginning of our Alien Franchise Film-By-Film Discussion.



Alien is 33 years old as I write this post. I think we’re past the statute of limitations on spoilers. All the same, there may be some ahead.

In my previous post, I marked Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi/horror film Alien with a 9/10 rating. If you are questioning that rating, I hope you’re asking why I don’t think it’s a 10.

It’s not a 10, but only because Blade Runner is a 10. Alien lacks one thing that Blade Runner excels at particularly, and that’s a seemingly unending amount of depth and thought exercise fodder. I have been thinking new things about Blade Runner since I first saw the Director’s Cut, and watching it is at least an annual event for me. Alien has some food for thought in it, but it’s limited.

That’s not a slight against the movie, though. Alien is nearly perfect in its simplicity of plot. Subtleties in the film suggest some of its director’s trademark signature themes (corporate control over human life, for example), but when the credits roll, however you choose to read into it, you just watched a tightly plotted and perfectly paced action/horror film.

Ellen Ripley is one of the greatest female characters of all time. She’s a bit unsavory by necessity. She works with men doing a traditionally male job, and it’s grunt work. By the time we join her, she has evidently made herself at home with the crew, dominated by foul-mouthed, grizzled technicians and cargo handlers. They can be abrasive, but she holds her own and often dominates conversations, especially as her title (Lieutenant) dictates.

So she’s a strong woman to begin with, but even in the late 70’s with second-wave feminism strongly influencing culture, I don’t think that’s enough to portray the feminist perspective Alien is often labeled with, and which Ripley is credited for (at least not in retrospect).

Alien is a film (really, the Alien franchise is an entire trilogy of films) about the essence and trials of womanhood. As Ripley physically tracks and fights a monster bent on the eradication of her crew, she metaphorically battles the horrors of birth into a strange, unfamiliar, and uninviting world, culminating in her realization that she must come into her womanhood and separate from her mother, becoming independent. This is played out in the form of Ripley ejecting herself from the ship (whose main operating computer is called “Mother”) to seek safety. But she also saves “Mother” in the sense that she successfully ejects the threatening alien as well.

I’m sure you can go wild with this concept and read into all kinds of little details. What does Jonesy, the ship’s cat, represent? What does it mean that Ripley protects the cat at all costs? What does it mean that slimey engineer Brett goes after Jonesy (literally chasing pussy)? Knock yourself out.

I don’t know if there’s that much to it. But thematic and literary elements aside, Alien looks perfect. The art of the film was worked over by H. R. Giger (NSFW?), which sets a dark and gothic tone otherwise unprecedented in film, and rarely matched since.

The monster is sometimes animatronic and sometimes a man in a rubber suit. In all cases, the effects that make the xenomorph work hold up extremely well, especially considering how accustomed we are to effects-by-computer these days. The physicality of the creature makes it more realistic and therefore more horrific. Alien is one of the great analog science fiction films, and it’s only bested in that regard by Blade Runner.

The characters in Alien may not be nuanced, but they’re not flat, either. Considering the film is a creature feature, that’s saying a lot. All around, acting is solid, and comes from some greats like Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, and Tom Skerritt. Every actor performs solidly here. I can’t think of much to dislike about any of that.

And for those reasons, I give the original Alien a 9/10. It aspires to be a solid monster movie in space with high production value. It is exactly that, and hasn’t fallen to pieces with age. Not only does it exceed my expectation of what a horror movie should be, it far outpaces the average horror movie of its time.