Friday, March 16, 2012

Aliens and predators and bears. Oh my!

Having recently watched my way through the very loosely tied Aliens and Predators films (save for the bland Predators) i feel like sharing my thoughts on the unique progression of the series.

Alien (1979)

There's just something about Ash.
Alien is one of my favourite films for a variety of reasons, it's essentially a group of space truckers getting picked off by an unimaginable terror, there's great acting, brilliant creature design, it's also very much about rape. But more importantly it's still frightening as fuck.
Now the sexual imagery of the movie is impossible to deny, the alien's phallic everything, the egg and facehugger's feminine qualities, Ash oozing white goo after sexually assaulting Ripley. Personally i view the alien as a distortion of humanity, similar to this nerve-ending homunculus:

We're  all hands and genitals, facehuggers and aliens. Now the sexless android Ash, resented human beings, he admired the alien because it was pure, it had a purpose, he tries to emulate its raw sexuality by shoving a porno mag down Ripley's throat. It's a fascinating scene. 
Now what i love about our space truckers, is that they're all very real people. There's all the subtleties and nuances of real human interaction, rare for films, especially horror and sci-fi.
Another thing i find interesting is that in an early draft of the script, the writer comes out and says: "The crew is unisex and all parts are interchangeable for men or women." And that really plays to the strength of this film i think, they're characters first. Ripley isn't so much a badass woman, as she is a woman that happens to be badass.
And honestly the threat of the alien isn't restricted to sex, look at the last two kills, it throws Parker against the wall and penetrates him, and then gives Lambert the tail between the legs. Honestly the only time i feel Ripley being a female comes into play, is at the end, when the alien plays Peeping Tom. The male gaze of the alien (and the audience) wouldn't be nearly as affective had it been Tom Skerritt in his skivvies.

Aliens (1986)
Meet mother.
Now this film is the prototype for all the Cameron films to come. Making the female lead strong through motherhood? Check. Evil rich/corporate dude? Check. Space marines? You bet your ass!
Now obviously the showdown between Ripley and the queen is all about motherhood and such. But other than that, this film is about Vietnam, war, soldiers.
In the first film the alien was a dark reflection of the crew, it's slightly transparent dome was akin to their helmet, the biomechanical look, their fancy steam-powered suits.  In this film the alien is a reflection of the soldiers, completely opaque domes and pointier edges, it's the marine's armour, they're also numerous and expendable.
The marines take a literal approach to the space, they set up a command center, barricade doors, secure hallways, and so on. The aliens however, come through walls, come down out of the ceiling, they're literally fighting in a different space than the marines. Newt was able to survive because she lived like they did.
While it is nice Aliens has tremendous influence on everything to come, it's been done better (unlike Alien). The most recent example would be, Battle: Los Angeles, a far superior film about marines fighting a twisted version of themselves.
One thing that's always bothered me about the end of this film is they gave the queen emotions, she protects her eggs as a mother would, she gets angered when Ripley kill them. The aliens otherwise lack emotions, and this was a weird contradiction. If Ripley's motherhood is her strength, why is it the downfall of the queen? Shouldn't her lack of maternal instinct have been her weakness?

Predator (1987)
Most homoerotic scene to grace cinema. It also ended racism.
Predator also takes cues from Vietnam, but it's also about the phallus vs. the yonic, man vs. nature.
Much like Aliens, you've got a group of exaggerated soldiers being lied to by their leaders. The soldiers are phallic, they're big, strong, sexual tyrannosauruses. And i've yet to mention their ridiculous guns! The predator on the other hand, is yonic or as Danny Glover affectionately calls it in the sequel a "Pussyface", it's tribal, it's natural "She says the jungle... it just came alive and took him." This thing isn't so much invisible as it is the jungle. Women are a threat to the manly Sparta fun of war and arm wrestling, the soldiers want to kill the woman as she's a threat to who they are, the Predator never gives her a second thought. Arnie transforms from ├╝ber phallic "Stick around" to the opposite, he fights like the Predator, hiding in nature, it's why he wins at the end, he's no longer who he once was. "What the hell are you?"

Predator 2 (1990)
Come here and give me a nice, wet, slippery kiss!
This film was oddly ill received. It takes place in a dystopic 1997, where crime has risen 400%. We're transplanted from the green jungle to the concrete one, gang wars rule the streets, and Danny Glover is the baddest motherfucker around. This film is almost a parody, but really it's just taking the exaggerations of the soldiers in Predator, and spreading it to the world at large. Though basically this film does seem to take place in the same universe as Demolition Man and Escape from LA, i mean, everyone packing heat on the subway is dark humour in a very sobering way. Oddly enough one of the reviews i read, complained of racism. That because the Predator is played by a large black man, and has dreadlocks or an "Afro-style braided hairdo" that we're supposed to fear him? Not sure i buy that.
Not to say this isn't a racist film though, the two gangs are minorities, Colombians and Jamacians, a bit safer than just saying they're Americans that happen to be Mexican or black. Glover also ends the film in whiteface, with the predator ship taking off and covering him in ash, it brings to mind an unfortunate parallel to the first film, Arnie won by not being phallic anymore, so Glover won by not being black anymore? Perhaps the film judges him for being a black cop, working for the white man, and if the Predator is representing black stereotypes, then Glover be-heading it... It's interesting.
This film also expands on the rituals of the Predators, not killing an armed woman, because she was pregnant, honouring both the death of a fallen, and the one who respectfully took him down. It also shows that the wrist-bomb is more than an honourable death, more than a final  "Fuck you", it also keeps their technology out of the wrong hands
Mostly it's a decent movie that takes a lot from both Predator and Aliens (including Bill Paxton!) and opened the way for less serious action/sci-fi films. It's definitely a product of its time though.

Alien³ (1993)

I loved you in Repo Man!
i find it funny that Cameron considers it a slap to the face that Newt and Hicks were killed off so a different story could be told. i mean, he injected a motherhood story into Aliens, the Ripley of Alien was no mother, there was no child waiting for her at the end of that long space journey.
It's also said this film just hits the resent button, which is sort of true, a small group against a singular alien, but it explores some nice themes.
Aliens had facing and overcoming trauma, Ripley finally agreed to go because she was tired of living in fear. She realizes along with the audience that the alien is less of an evil rape god, and more of a giant rape bug. She recovers and even flirts with the gruff voiced Hicks a bit. In ³ this is accelerated to the point of Ripley being on the sexual prowl, she engages the doctor. This is a reflection of her being alien, both in the sense that she's the only woman on this planet, and that she's pregnant with the new queen. "I'm part of the family now."
This film is also the mashup of at least three scripts, one involving monks on wooden satellite,  another just being a prison planet. The monk story had them believing the alien was a demon, a punishment from their god. It's interesting angel, and really should have stayed in the story. The prisoner monks we get in the film themselves really do have an interesting left behind aspect to them. They knew they had sinned, and this hostile planet, this smelting plant was their punishment, their hell. And this is why the rape scene has always felt wildly out of place (aside from the rape goggles), ex-criminals or not, they were still devoted to their faith, and it the scene only seemed to exist to make Dillon look like a good guy. The monks should have been terrified of Ripley, she was nearly one in the same as the alien.
Dillon: Yeah, well you don't wanna know me, lady. I'm a murderer and rapist of women.
Ripley: Well, I guess I must make you nervous. 
And did we really need a literal rape scene in an Alien film? (The answer is no)

Alien: Resurrection (1997)
Jim Henson's Alien Babies.
In theory i should love this film, it was directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, one of the most whimsical directors around, the terrifying Chris Cunningham was behind the special effects (and honestly, i do love the look of the newborn alien), and it was penned by Joss Whedon, who can occasionally pull off something clever, but this was definitely one of his many cringe worthy moments. It's also the only film on this list i saw in theaters.
To be fair though, the story does continue theme of the Alien films, Ripley is more alien now than ever, so much a sexual predator she crudely demands "Who do I have to fuck to get off this boat?" and symbolically ripping the pharyngeal jaw out of an alien to present it as a matador would present the bull's tail to his paramour (or was that just an invention of Hemingway?) not to mention the castration implication.  Winona Ryder's character is also interesting, she's a robot built by other robots, so they put emotions in her, and she's by far more human than human. A far cry from Ash. There's also that great scene where Ripley confronts and destroys all the past versions of herself, the imperfect ones. There's a lot of clever things being toyed with in this film, but they never really follow through, and much like Predator 2, it can't quite decide if it wants to be a parody or not. It's nearly interesting!

Alien vs. Predator (2004)
My, what lovely doe eyes you have.
My god this film makes no sense, that said, it's not as bad as i remember. It's not good by any measure, but at least the pretty pictures didn't leave me bored. Of the many problems, it lacks any characters, the aliens are incidental (they could have been anything), and the confrontation between aliens and Predator had the biggest mistake of letting popularity influence the fight:
"They squeezed it dry. He survived, he’s now in Disneyland in Orlando and no way am I going back there. How did he end up in Disneyland?" - Ridley Scott on the alien
In the film we get the this overblown clash of Titans, because it's not two freaky aliens duking it out, it's literally two franchises,  the aliens get some cheap kills in on the Predators because they're more experienced, (four movies vs. two) they're more popular, and there's he derivative nature of Predator 2.
Think of it like Darth Vader, in the original Star Wars, he's just an enforcer, a weapon Tarkin has on a leash, a lot of people don't respect him. Then in the next two films, not only is he suddenly the Emperor's right hand man, he's also Luke's father. The prequels went as far as to make him into Space Jesus. All because he resonated with the audience, he was meaningful to us. So in AvP instead of exciting action between two monsters, we get drawn out slugfests between film icons. They expect us to care because of the reputation.
Onto the nonsense though, why does everyone have guns on a trip to Antarctica? Did they all just watch the Thing before leaving? Why didn't the Predator set off his bomb once he got facehugged? Why couldn't his people tell he was pregnant? Why all the slomo? Actually i kind of liked the bullet time facehuggers, completely pointless, but fun. i also liked that a relationship formed between protagonist and the doomed Predator. Just a nice display of the honour bound hunter, the Predators aren't entirely psycho killers.

Now let's talk about Charles Bishop Weyland.

Really, I'm human, why are you looking at me like that?
In Alien³ we meet someone claiming to be the creator of Bishop. Weyland-Yutani sent him as goodwill, a face Ripley could trust. The thing is, this is total bullshit. No, he may not be an android, but he's not human, he's the personification of W-Y, its lying face. The company has done nothing but work against Ripley since the beginning "Crew expendable" To believe that a robot designer would care enough about an alien to live and and continue to demand Ripley's life with his face sloughing off is, well frankly, inconceivable. Ripley was no fool, she leapt. AvP was clever enough to realize this, and introduced the original Bishop, the head of Weyland, just in case you didn't get it.

Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007) 
Bound by tradition and honour.
Now this movie was quite a surprise, i'd rank it in the top three of the series, right after Alien and Predator.
One of the most bizarre complaints about this movie was that it had shallow characters. My question is how did they miss the soldiers of Predator and Aliens? The cops, the prisoner monks, the space pirates, everyone in Antarctica? i made a point of mentioning how i loved the realistic characters in Alien, well this is the only other film in the series that features real people. An alien horde takes over a small town in Colorado, we get to see it from town people's point of view, and it's fantastic. It's a shame if audiences are finding characters shallow simply because they're not larger than life. Part of the problem might have been that people were failing to realize that the protagonist of this film wasn't any of the town folk, it's the Predator. The film follows him, his trip to Earth to avenge the death of a fellow hunter he cared for, to destroy the unholy Predalien hybrid, and to eliminate the alien threat on Earth. He also kills a few humans, it's his nature. This film really play out as a requiem for the Predators, and brings in the future of the Alien films.
One of my favourite moments is right after the facehuggers get loose, they catch a boy and his father hunting in the woods. You get to see the alien burst out of this ten year old kid's chest, it sets the tone for the rest of the film, no one is safe. And they go on to prove it many times. There are some nice touches, callbacks of sorts, in Predator 2, a woman in is spared because she's pregnant, in this film the Predalien seeks out pregnant women specifically. Just as the original alien was a dark version of us, this is a dark version of Predators.
There's also exciting action, good acting (especially Predator), and it's a lot of fun. i'm already sold on any project the Brothers Strause do in the future. (Also you should check out Skyline, why not?)

Ladies and Jellyspoons
None of these films were ever really meant to be tied together, and trying to connect them into a coherent story, a canon, will just make you insane, or really boring at parties. But overall, the original films are brilliant and interesting, and gave us iconic creatures and great cinematic experiences. The sequels while lesser in quality, at the very least tried to bring new things to the table while continuing themes they noticed in the previous films, to varying degrees of success. However this summer, Ridley Scott is returning, and rewriting history with Prometheus, and i for one am both terrified and excited.

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