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.
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.