That’s because she’s made of plastic.

(kabann)

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.

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Alien, too

kabann

Image

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

GradysGhost

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.