The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Alien(s)


I recently re-watched these two movies, and while so many have talked about them to the point of this post being redundant, I love them so you're going to have to live with that redundancy. So, with that out of the way, let's talk about Ridley Scott and James Cameron's masterpieces.

"Alien" is a work of art. A nightmarish work of art with visuals straight out of the mind of H.R. Giger (and trust me, this guy could make H.P. Lovecraft nervous), but a work of art. At the core of it, this is a movie about sex, reproduction, and everything that entails. When you're aboard the Nostromo, it's almost like being in the womb. Hell, the ship's central computer is called Mother.

The dark side to all this is the titular alien itself. The thing itself is the personification of rape. For all intents and purposes; once the egg hatches the facehugger rapes it's victim's face as it plants an embryo inside you. Then the chestburster (which is pretty phallic) bursts out of it's host's chest, in a twisted version of child birth before growing into this biomechanical nightmare (complete with phallic head and tail). This thing is the antithesis of the miracle of life... and, as Ash called it a perfect organism. And despite all this twisted evil, it is frightening in it's purity. There was almost something sadistic in it's behavior. It didn't speak, but it was definitely as intelligent as any human, perhaps even more so.

Ellen Ripley herself is a perfect protagonist. She's no hero, just an ordinary, blue-collar person thrust into extraordinary events while on the job. She never set out to be a hero, and to be honest, in "Alien" she never did become a hero. She just survived. Ellen Ripley was you and I, and that's a big part of the reason why she worked so well. I do believe this element was lost throughout the sequels, but I'll get to that.

In "Alien," Ridley Scott made what I think is the best science fiction film of all time. Despite it taking place in space, is is chilling in it's reality. The artistry in the film is perfect. Every scene, every shot, every line of dialogue has purpose. There are no heroes, just people who do a day job and struggle to survive against... alien. Some people call this a horror film, and while there are elements of horror, I don't think so. All great science fiction explores the affects of science or technology or even what is "alien" on man. It seems easy on paper, but there needs to be that element of reality to it, and it is not in play in 99% of science fiction. This movie is science fiction in the purest essence of the genre, and the horror is here because anything else would be sheer fantasy.

Now, let's talk about the sequel. "Aliens" is a fantastic movie. I love it. I love it very much. This is as good as a Hollywood action movie can ever possibly get. But anyone who says it is better than "Alien" or even just as good as "Alien" is wrong. Now, I know "Aliens" has a ton of critics among Ridley Scott fans, but rest assured that I am not one of them.

I think the reason "Aliens" works so wonderfully as a sequel is because it was so different. James Cameron did not set out to re-create the first movie, or to even try to top the first movie. He took Ellen Ripley, and the alien and made something very different. An action adventure movie with a lot of humanity to it. A lot of really fun characters, and a bad guy who you can't wait to see die a horrible death... and since this is "Aliens," you know that he will.

This movie takes place fifty-seven years after "Alien" ended, and Ripley was in cryo trying to make it back home after the Nostromo was destroyed. She hasn't aged, but her daughter grew old and died of cancer. Ripley is pretty much co-erced into going back to face this thing as an adviser to the marines, after the colony had been taken over by the aliens. Ripley bonds with the colony's only survivor, a little girl named Newt and becomes a surrogate mother to her, bringing back the theme of motherhood.

Taking the theme of motherhood even further, Ripley meets her nemesis in the Alien Queen, the one that has been laying all of the eggs. I think the Queen is one of the greatest movie monsters of all time. The design is great, even H.R. Giger gave it two thumbs up. And it makes a great foil for Ripley in this story. Ripley wants to wipe out the aliens and save Newt because she couldn't be there for her own daughter. Even though the Queen can't talk, it wants to spread the population of the aliens. And, after Ripley torches some of it's eggs, well... it's on!

Let's talk about the Queen for just a moment. This thing was not Ridley Scott's impression. One of the criticisms leveled against the concept of the Queen was that, even though the aliens were still clearly intelligent, James Cameron turned them into something a little more familiar to us with the Queen's inclusion. Not only do I understand where they are coming from but, even though I said the Queen is one of the greatest movie monsters of all time, I kind of agree with them. There is a deleted scene in "Alien" where two of the people captured by the alien are cocooned and mutating into eggs themselves. That is both an even more frightening concept and far more, well, alien. James Cameron took advantage of this scene being left on the cutting room floor to create the Queen, and through the Queen, a perfect foil for Ripley. Did it work? Absolutely. But I can't help but feel a slight preference for the original concept. Thankfully, I don't think the two are irreconcilable, as this thing in both movies has shown an ability to adapt to suit it's needs, so hey, they needed a queen. Why not?

I would also like to add that the aliens themselves, from the creature in the first film to the Queen in the second are the greatest movie monsters of all time, and they didn't need CGI to be pulled off. The Queen is an animatronic puppet, and the alien in the first movie is a guy in a suit. Find me any CGI creation that both looks better and is more effective. You can't! It just isn't happening. I know Hollywood doesn't like to hear this, but these movies are proof that all the best CGI in the world will never be a substitute for the best practical effects. Everything here looks real, and lived-in. There is nothing sterile about it, unlike the utterly lifeless looking "Star Wars" prequels.

So there you have it, one of the greatest movies ever made, and one of the greatest sequels ever made. "Alien" is a perfect movie, a timeless classic. "Aliens" comes pretty close too, I have to admit. Sure it's not what Ridley Scott would have done, but it works beautifully anyway. I guess I would liken "Alien" to a perfect art film, and "Aliens" to a perfect Hollywood blockbuster. Together, we get a great duology, and it's not about which one wins and which one loses... we the viewers are the winners here.

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Sigh, I suppose I cannot avoid it. "Alien 3" is terrible. I don't know what they were trying to do here, but killing off Newt and Hicks was a terrible idea, not to mention I do not buy an egg making it on board the ship. Did the Queen bring one with her when she attacked Ripley? I didn't see it. While I don't dislike the idea of Ripley sacrificing her life to prevent more of these things from spreading, make that the ending to a much better movie! And no, it's not David Fincher's fault, he did not get to make the movie he wanted to make, Fox interfered from the word go, and to this day he won't even put the movie on his resume.

"Alien Resurrection" was just as terrible. Remember when I said that Ripley was you and I, and that's why she worked as a character. Well, "Aliens" turned her into an action hero, which I am 100% cool with. "Alien 3" took it even farther than that, and by the time we get to "Alien Resurrection" this is all over, instead she is the half-human/half alien superhero clone. I'm sorry, I get angry just thinking about it.

And as far as the "Alien vs Predator" movies go... ugh. Please, don't ask me to go there. Just don't. If I rant about those, it will end with the FBI putting me on some kind of watch list. If you like them, please do not comment. So, I'll let James Cameron and Ridley Scott have the word on those.




"Alien" is a perfect film. If you've never seen it, you're really missing out on something special. In fact, I'll say you're more than missing out, you're depriving yourself. "Aliens" is a great and fun return to the character of Ripley and that world. See that one too. Avoid anything else at all costs. Ridley Scott returns to this world with this summer's "Prometheus" and I have high hopes for it.

8 comments:

  1. If Prometheus is good, then we finally have a perfect sc-fi trilogy with three consistently good films.

    After I watch Prometheus hopefully opening day, I'll watch Alien and Aliens right afterwards.

    Yeah, Alien 3 and Resurrection are pretty bleh. I hope Nostalgia Critic bashes either or both of them down the road.

    Alien vs Predator-only good visual effects.

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    1. I don't even think the visual effects were all that good.

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  2. I thought I read somewhere that Cameron later watched Alien vs Predator and he ranked it after his film, as being better than Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection. Of course, that may be damning it with faint praise.

    I make it a point to watch Aliens once a year.

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    1. It could only be faint praise.

      I hope you watch "Alien" at least as often.

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  3. Alien vs. Predator had so much potential. It's such a pity...

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    1. No it didn't. The very concept is asinine. I don't get why the hell anyone would want it.

      The moment you hear a title like "Alien vs Predator" it's dead on arrival. It's like having Michael Bay's name in the credits.

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  4. The reason people would want stuff like "Alien vs Predator" is basically Rule of Cool. And unlike other vs examples like say "Freddy vs Jason" or "Godzilla vs King Kong" the basis for Alien vs Predator at least have some basis for their conflict, with the Predators being hunters and all.

    That being said, the entire thing doesn't seem to work outside of videogames.

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    1. I never even thought it was "cool."

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