Friday This ‘n’ That – Alien edition

I have an Alien problem.

Alien

I first saw Alien at the theater in 1979. I was fifteen years old and my friend John Gervais and I were waiting in line at the Dadeland theater. We were a little nervous about sneaking in but talked a young couple into purchasing our tickets. Not only did Alien scare the pants off me and warp my fragile little mind but it made a lifelong impression.

Alien and Aliens are my two of my three favorite horror movies of all time (John Carpenter’s The Thing being the third). Alien 3 is a terrible mess (though the ‘director’s cut’ fixes quite a few issues) with some nice visuals. Ditto Alien Resurrection (love the underwater scene). Alien vs. Predator is stupid, short, and PG-13. No Alien film should be PG-13. The sequel Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem was just a slasher movie dressed up with Aliens. Prometheus was a well-meaning misfire that tried to shoehorn in an Alien at the end.

I watch all of these films periodically because I just love the Aliens. I’ll also gladly fork out my money to see Prometheus 2 and Alien 5 in theaters. Recently I picked up Alien Isolation for my Xbox (though I haven’t found time to play it yet). I’ve previously shared photos of Alien figures and the Alien quilt my wife made.

Recently she bought me an Alien Buddha off of Etsy:

Alien Buddha

I haven’t decided where to put it as yet.

Alien game

I also couldn’t resist this expensive card game, simply because it features Alien.

Own the first ever Alien Deck Building Game! Use Legendary moves from battling Super Villains to battling chest-bursting, face-hugging, acid-for-blood-having Aliens. This game features some of Alien’s greatest protagonists, including Ripley, Dallas, Bishop and Private Hicks, as they go to battle against some of the most terrifying creatures in the universe. Players must work with each other to defeat the terrifying Xenomorphs!”

I haven’t found the time to play it either. Like I said I have a problem.

Now when oh when am I going to get to see Alien 5?

 

 

Alien 5, Prometheus 2, Yes Please!

Terminator Genisys was a disappointment but not hugely so. The first two entries in the franchise are classics but the third one was a step down and the fourth a slapdash hodgepodge so that Genisys would not live up to the first two is not a surprise and at least it was better than Salvation (which is remembered more for Christian Bale’s offscreen antics than his onscreen performance).

Alien 5

So why should I be excited that my absolute favorite franchise is getting an eighth movie (ninth if it comes out after Prometheus 2)? Neill Blomkamp made an exciting feature debut with District 9. District 9 was an excellent science fiction movie that proved that Blomkamp could handle unique extraterrestrials and weave in social commentary without it being overbearing or pedantic.

Alien 5

Then Blomkamp made Elysium which was interesting science fiction but unfortunately was overbearing and pedantic and just okay. I haven’t yet braved Chappie because it looked just awful – Short Circuit should never be a model for a movie. However Blomkamp has always avowed his love for the Alien franchise and his concept art for Alien 5 makes it clear that he wants to correct Alien 3.

Alien 5

Alien 3 certainly had an intriguing concept (Ripley crashlands on a prison planet with no weapons) but somewhere along the line, someone decided to give the finger to fans of Aliens and killed off two of the four survivors in the opening credits and still wasn’t through. It is not that nihilism in a franchise is bad and certainly right from the start, we knew that Weyland-Yutani considered crew expendable. It is just that the unceremonious dumping of half the cast is really poor storytelling.

Honestly, Dark Horse comics came out with a ridiculously large series of Alien comics miniseries. The first three would have made excellent movies and began where Aliens left off. After Alien 3 was released, all further rereleases of the comics had to be scrubbed and the characters of Ripley, Hicks, and Newt were all renamed.

Clearly the Blomkamp concept art showing a burned Hicks along with Ripley indicates a desire to revisit Alien 3’s plotline. With the two actors being thirty years older now, I’m not sure where Blomkamp intends to go but I’ll certainly buy a ticket. Of course I’ll buy a ticket for Ridley Scott’s Prometheus 2 as well.

Attack of the Director’s Cut!

Things only last in their pure form for a short while after they have been named. So it is with the director’s cut. The director’s cut of a film took on significance when it was substantially different from the version released by Hollywood. It did not take Hollywood long to co-opt and market the term into insignificance.

Most director’s cuts are simply a matter of a scene or two inserted into a film that does very little to change a film. The only more useless term is ‘unrated’. Unrated is used constantly on horror movies that were watered down for an all ages PG-13 release then they add back the few seconds of violence that was trimmed when it is released on home video and no longer needs a PG-13 rating.

Alien

Still there are some director’s cuts worth noting. The director’s cut of Alien does not appreciably change the film, simply changing a few takes and adding a fan favorite scene that slows down the narrative at a crucial moment. The original cut is actually better and clearly Ridley Scott should not be allowed to tinker too much as there are now, I think, five versions of Blade Runner available.

Speaking of someone who should not be allowed to touch his completed films, George Lucas actually took his original Star Wars trilogy (you know, the good one) and made it worse by cramming special effects shot after special effects shot into an already classic series of films. Since he owned the rights at the time, they weren’t even called director’s cuts. Obviously there is some hope now that since Disney owns the rights, Han will shoot first in the future.

Aliens

Getting back to Aliens, James Cameron’s directors cut of Aliens is almost half an hour longer than the U.S. cut. There are some great scenes reintroduced but the overall theme of motherhood is no longer subtle but seems rather sledgehammered home. I enjoy the director’s cut more but the U.S. cut is definitely tighter.

Aliens 3, one of David Fincher’s first films, is an incomprehensible mess. The longer cut, which restores much of his work, is not an actual director’s cut as Fincher has disavowed it. It does make the film much better than it has a right to be. The basic premise of Alien 3 was a huge middle finger to those that loved Aliens. It was also made at the dawn of CGI and the CGI is just awful in many scenes.

Kingdom of Heaven

In addition to Blade Runner and Alien, there is also a director’s cut of Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. Ridley Scott filmed a fabulous epic of the Crusades that suffered from three faults. First, it starred Orlando Bloom who, while not bad, cannot carry the film. Second, it presents Muslim characters in a reasonable light and shows many Christian ones as fanatics. While that is historically accurate, this was too soon after 9/11 for audiences to embrace. The third fault was that the studio decided to cut it from well over three hours (epic length) to just under two and a half (summer blockbuster length). Gone were many subplots and much comprehensibility. The director’s cut restores the subplots making the film the near-classic it should have been.

Which brings us to tomorrow’s topic: the highly anticipated director’s cut of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed

R.I.P. H.R. Giger and Malik Bendjelloul

 

H.R. Giger

H.R. Giger has passed away at the age of 74 in Switzerland. While not part of the Hollywood machine, Giger, designed the iconic look of the Ridley Scott’s Alien. This endeared him to me as the Alien series is probably my favorite. Alien and Aliens are both in my top three films. I thoroughly enjoy the remaining four films and Prometheus, in spite of the quite variable quality of those endeavors.

Future-Kill

Giger also had a hand in the design for Species, a guilty pleasure of mine. He designed the poster for Future-Kill (above). He was a conceptual artist for Poltergeist II and his works were the basis of the videogame Dark Seed and its sequel. Unfortunately, Netflix streaming does not have any of his films. Amazon Prime has Species III but it is pretty meh.

Malik Bendjelloul

 

Malik Bendjelloul died on May 13th, 2014 as a result of suicide. He was the director/writer/editor/producer/title designer/illustrator of Searching for Sugar Man which won the Oscar for Best Documentary last year. Searching for Sugar Man is not available on Amazon Prime or Netflix streaming.

Alamo Drafthouse

I love the Alamo Drafthouse. I have never been but how can you not love a theater that takes movies this seriously. My sister-in-law currently resides in Austin and regularly attends. My youngest daughter has been there and the other week my wife went out to visit and caught Captain Phillips.

Alamo Drafthouse

 

She brought me home the monthly in-house magazine, Birth. Movies. Death.

Birth. Movies. Death.

 

Apparently November is Tough Ladies Month. Girlie Night will feature Nine to Five. Aliens will be shown in a 70mm print. They will have a Pulp Fiction quote-along (with a Jackrabbit Slim’s dance off). They will also feature Bonnie and Clyde, Coal Miner’s Daughter, Gilda, Fargo, The Lady Eve, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and To Kill a Mockingbird. All this in addition to showing first-run movies.

They also have Afternoon Tea! – “Your ticket to the screening includes a delicious plate of British sweets and savories plus three courses of premium organic tea provided by Austin’s own Zhi Tea!”. This month’s Tea feature is Elizabeth.

They have so many special features that if I lived in Austin, I would just arrange for my check to be direct deposited into their account. On the other hand it’s hard to hold a job if you never leave the theater. Oh except working at the theater. I wonder if Alamo is hiring?

Aliens – Second Verse Same as the First week

This week I have decided to cover the unjustly derided vehicle known as the sequel. This is Second Verse Same as the First week. Aliens is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Aliens (1986) – Rated R.

“In this acclaimed sequel, the only survivor from the first film, Lt. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), finds her horrific account of her crews fate is met with skepticism — until the disappearance of colonists on LV-426 prompts a team of high-tech Marines to investigate. This special edition features an introduction by director James Cameron, commentary by cast and crew members and both the theatrical and special edition versions of the film.”

“Game over man, game over.”

Please note that the description refers to the disc version. The instant version is the theatrical release.

Alien and Aliens are two of my all-time favorite films. While Alien is the better film (by just a smidge), it takes a long time to set up the story and mythos and even once the action starts, the movie moves in fits and spurts. Aliens with its extreme emphasis on action is the more enjoyable film.

James Cameron is an incredible director. He made three of the best action films ever made (Aliens, Terminator, and Terminator 2) as well as the blockbusters Titanic and Avatar. Every thing he touches since Piranha 2: The Spawning is apparently made of gold.

Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) completes her transformation here from Alien. Besides being the main character of a wonderful ensemble, she is also central to the theme woven throughout the film. Cameron visits and revisits aspects of motherhood throughout the production (more so in the extended version). There is a wonderful initial scene of the face of a sleeping Ripley that fades into a scene of the planet Earth.

Comedian Paul Reiser plays wonderfully against type as friendly corporate representative Burke. Genre veteran Lance Henriksen is genuinely creepy as Bishop. This is the only film child actor Carrie Henn appeared in and she is quite good (she is a schoolteacher now).

The soldiers are all great. The underrated Bill Paxton has a field day as the panicky Hicks. Michael Biehn is the quiet but ultra-competent Hudson. Jenette Goldstein steals many a scene as the uber macho Vasquez. Even William Hope is good as the hapless Lt. Gorman.

While all of the film is impressive, I think the thing Cameron does best is that he knows how to properly pace the film. After a lot of buildup (and a couple false scares to keep us interested), Cameron brings us to the best action setpiece in the movie. It is an incredibly tense confrontation between the marines and the Aliens.

The important part is that right after that is over, there are a few character beats so we can catch our breath before the next action sequence. After the following sequence, we get some very humorous dialogue especially from Hudson and then more buildup as the survivors prepare for a siege.

It is hard to believe that Cameron only had a half-dozen alien suits to work with. It seems as though there are a never-ending swarm of aliens, particularly in a sequence involving the auto sentries in the extended edition.

Well it can hardly be a surprise that I heartily recommend one of my favorite films of all time. While Cameron does spend some time setting up the story, it is like the long climb of a roller coaster before you go over the top. Once you hit the peak, the ride is utterly thrilling all the way to the end.

Thankfully Netflix presents this movie in HD. While not without flaws, the 720p image looks so much better than my DVD. This has me eagerly awaiting the 1080p Alien Blu-Ray box set due this fall.

Trivia: Kathryn Bigelow, first female to win a Best Director Oscar for The Hurt Locker, directed Near Dark. Near Dark features Lance Henriksen (Bishop), Bill Paxton (Hudson), and Jenette Goldstein (Vasquez) from Aliens as vampires and in one scene, the movie Aliens is playing in the background. It is an interesting film – just ignore the ridiculous new cover they gave it to make it look like Twilight.

People Watch: Mark Rolston, who plays Drake here, played Dan Erickson in Saw V and Saw VI.