Tag Archives: Alien

My Thoughts on: Aliens (1986)

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There is, based on my experience, a long-running argument as to whether Alien or Aliens is the superior film. I’ve heard valid arguments for both films, but the fact is, you can’t compare them to each other. At the end of the day, Alien is first and foremost a horror film (albeit one set in space) while Aliens is firmly set in the action genre.

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I have a confession to make about Aliens: I can’t watch the beginning of the film. Learning that Ripley has been in stasis for 57 years and no one believes her story about the alien is just too painful, for lack of a better word, to watch. I don’t know if it’s just subconscious frustration on my part (because we know Ripley’s telling the truth) but I just can’t watch the opening; I usually just skip to Burke’s visit to Ripley’s home.

Issues with the opening aside, I love Aliens; I love the set up, I love the characters and I love the various plot twists. In summary, Ripley unwillingly returns to LV-426 after a colony established there goes radio silent. She’s accompanied by a squad of colonial marines, Bishop (another android, but one more advanced than Ash) and Burke, an executive who is definitely as slimy as you think he is. In predictable fashion, everyone except Ripley completely underestimates the gravity of the situation, resulting in the marines walking straight into an alien nest (though granted they don’t realize that’s what it is at first). This is one of my favorite scenes in any science fiction film because you just know from the start that most of these characters are going to die, and since it’s an Alien movie, it’s not going to be pretty. After the initial massacre, the plot focuses on Ripley working with the survivors to escape back to their ship, while also bonding with Newt, the lone colony survivor.

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The biggest difference between this film and the original is that the first film only had ONE Alien on the loose; Aliens has several hundred and it’s also responsible for introducing the Alien Queen to the story. And speaking of the queen….what a terrifying creature she is! Until Jurassic Park, the Alien Queen was the largest animatronic/puppet of its kind, requiring over a dozen people to operate at any given time. Technical details aside, the scene introducing the queen is terrifying, I love how the camera only shows bits and pieces before suddenly pulling back and showing the creature in all her scary glory.

Another sub-plot I want to highlight is Ripley’s relationship with Bishop. Given that the last android she knew tried to kill her, Ripley understandably wants nothing to do with Bishop at first. But as time goes on and Bishop proves himself time and again, Ripley comes to respect the android and the feeling is mutual.

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James Horner’s score is a big part of why Aliens is so great: there are hints of the horror/suspense that Goldsmith created in the original film, but also moments of full blown action (notable example: when Ripley charges in to rescue the surviving marines, the score goes into overdrive).

Few more random thoughts:

-Burke’s comeuppance is one of the greatest things you will ever see. My only regret is we don’t get to see more (a lot of it is left to the imagination).

-Since it is the 80s, if you look carefully you can see the wires manipulating some of the Alien puppets (the most obvious one comes when an Alien surfaces out of the water right behind Newt, you can see it attached to the tail).

-That scene where the facehuggers are loose in the medical lab is downright terrifying, but they move so realistically you can’t really tell they’re puppets.

At the end of the day I highly recommend both Alien and Aliens as they’re both great films (just for their own reasons). Let me know what you think of Aliens in the comments below and have a great day!

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My Thoughts on: Alien (1979)

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As long as I live I will never forget the first time I saw Alien. I was in college, it was my sophomore year and I was feeling really bored and in the mood for something new. There was an Alien marathon on TV and I decided to just sit down and try them (since I’d never seen them before). And for the record, I did know about the chestburster scene going in, I just didn’t know where in the film it would be.

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Alien, if you’ve never seen it before, is a dark, gritty piece of science fiction horror that is about as far from the sanitized utopia of Star Trek as you can get. The story follows the crew of the Nostromo, a commercial space tug hauling a massive shipment back to Earth. The ship is clean (for the most part) and functional, but it’s not what you’d call elegant. There are no sleek lines or holographic displays here; this is a ship that feels real. The crew is abruptly pulled from stasis when the ship’s computer “Mother” detects a transmission coming from LV-426, a barren moon. There they stumble across the wreckage of an alien spacecraft which is carrying a strange cargo of eggs…and the situation deteriorates from there.

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The story is almost literally a case of “curiosity killed the crew.” Once Kane (John Hurt) is attacked by the alien face hugger, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is the only sensible one who wants to follow protocol and keep Kane in quarantine until they can determine if it’s dangerous. Ash (Ian Holm), the science officer, overrules Ripley and allows Kane to come on board, setting the events for the rest of the film into motion. The facehugger implants an egg, which quickly develops into the iconic alien (in gruesome fashion) and one by one the crew is picked off. If they hadn’t been so hellbent on investigating the alien ship in the first place, no one would have died (probably). Though given how ruthless the Company (later retconned to the Weyland-Yutani Corporation) is implied to be, if the crew had returned with nothing they probably would have met with some kind of “accident” back on Earth.

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Part of what makes the first Alien film so terrifying is how little you really see of the alien itself. This was done by design as director Ridley Scott wanted audiences to see the alien as a terrifying figure and not just “some guy in a rubber suit” (which is exactly what the alien was, but watching the film you’d never know that). There is also no way of knowing when the alien is going to appear next.

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My two favorite examples involve the death of Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) and the climax of the film. In the first scene, Dallas is stalking the alien with a flamethrower…or at least he thinks he is. At an intersection of the ship, Dallas turns with a light and the last thing you see is a jump cut of the alien lunging out of the darkness (it always makes me jump too, even though I KNOW the shot is coming, the way it’s timed always puts me on edge). The second example is even scarier because it’s also a false ending: Ripley has escaped the Nostromo by the skin of her teeth and is preparing to enter a stasis pod until she can be rescued. Just as everyone’s relaxed…THERE’S THE ALIEN! It’s hand literally pops out of the wall as it had burrowed itself into the side of the shuttle to escape detection. Fun fact about this scene? If you examine the wall of the shuttle while Ripley is getting changed, you can just see him sitting there before the moment happens (but you have to look carefully, he’s camouflaged very well).

One scene that makes me intensely uncomfortable is the scene where Ash tries to murder Ripley. I know it was probably designed to make the audience squirm but that doesn’t make it any easier to sit through (in brief, Ash tries to suffocate Ripley by forcing a rolled up magazine down her throat), in fact many times I just skip the scene entirely.

And of course I have to mention Jerry Goldsmith’s fantastic score, which is minimal to be sure, but very effective. Actually, the opening credits were supposed to feature a theme that was more orchestral and Romantic in tone, but Ridley Scott didn’t like it so Goldsmith was obliged to recompose the opening to what you hear in the final cut (he would also grouse that while the first piece took weeks to compose, the piece that made it into the film took all of ten minutes to put together). Despite the difficulties, the score was nominated for a Golden Globe, a Grammy Award and a BAFTA Award (though unfortunately it didn’t win).

Alien is one of those rare films that you can watch over and over and still be scared every single time; it’s definitely one of those films you must see at least once in your life. If you have seen Alien, let me know what you think about it in the comments below and have a great day!

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Film 101: False endings

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*warning, I’m discussing the endings of multiple films so I suppose I should include a spoiler warning

You’ve seen it before: after a long and arduous battle, the bad guy (or group of bad guys) is defeated/killed and the surviving heroes all breathe a sigh of relief as they prepare to return to their mostly normal lives. But wait…what’s that noise? Oh no one of the bad guys isn’t dead and here he comes again!! That, in a nutshell, is the essence of a false ending in film. For a few minutes it seems like the story is wrapping up but it’s actually the prelude to another fight (or in some cases another full act of the story).

False endings are extremely common in horror films and are usually employed to lure the audience into a false sense of security (believing the danger is passed) before using a final jump scare that often takes the last surviving character. In non-horror examples, false endings are usually employed as an excuse to stretch out the ending of a film, either for dramatic or comedic reasons. There are far too many examples for an exhaustive list, but I will do my best to list some of the most notable examples from film history:

The Ten Commandments (1956): There’s a scene towards the end of the film when Rameses returns after his army is destroyed in the Red Sea. He vowed to kill his wife when he returned but when she points out that he failed to kill Moses, he flings the sword down and slumps onto his throne, his only explanation being “His god…IS God.” The way this scene ends, it could almost be viewed as the end of the film, as Moses and his people have safely crossed the Red Sea and Rameses has been thoroughly chastised for his hubris. But then the scene shifts back to the desert and the final act of the film truly begins.

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Alien (1979): This is probably one of the more famous examples. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has destroyed the Nostromo, escaping with her cat into a small shuttle. The danger seemingly passed, she prepares to put herself back into stasis to await rescue when OMG the Alien’s hand shoots out from a wall revealing it had stowed away on the escape ship. This leads to a final battle where a terrified Ripley must blow the Alien into space.

Aliens (1986): An equally notable example: the colony on LV-426 was blasted into oblivion with only Bishop, Hicks, Newt and Ripley escaping alive. They make it back to the Sulacco and prepare to get medical help for Hicks before setting a course for home when suddenly…Bishop is impaled from behind, revealing the fearsome Alien Queen stowed away and she’s madder than ever!

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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003): As anyone who has seen this film knows, the end of this film has multiple false endings, with it seemingly taking forever to reach the true ending of Frodo sailing away into the West while Sam returns home to his family.

 

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The Descent (2005): This is possibly one of the cruelest false endings ever made. Sarah barely manages to escape the cave with her life and speeds away in her car. Suddenly she sees Juno, one of her dead companions sitting in the passenger seat which causes Sarah to snap awake and realize…it was all a dream, she’s still in the cave and the monsters are closing in.

John Wick (2014): A notable recent example comes in the first John Wick film. After fulfilling his mission and killing Iosef in revenge for killing his dog, the weary assassin prepares to return home. He’s even given a new car as ‘compensation’ for everything. All seems to be well…until Viggo learns that Marcus could’ve killed Wick several times before this and chose not too. When he informs Wick that he’s going after Marcus, the film shifts back into action and we get almost a full act of action and violence before finally reaching the true ending (Wick saves a dog from being put down and limps for home).

Atomic Blonde (2017): It could be argued that the ending sequence of this movie contains several false endings. For a few minutes it seems like the film is going to end with the revelation that Lorraine was Satchel all the time only to shift into an attempted assassination by her Russian handlers (which she escapes), leading to the shock revelation that Lorraine is actually American CIA (and there’s no way of knowing if that’s the actual truth but it’s where the film ends).

Other films with notable false endings include: Spectre (2015); A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984); 47 Meters Down (2017) and Final Destination 2 (2003).

What do you think of these false endings? Are there any examples you can think of that I didn’t list? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day!

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My thoughts on Alien: Covenant (2017), be afraid…and grossed out

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Oh my. Oh my oh my oh my…..well, I finally worked up the courage to go see an Alien film in the theater, and the experience was exactly what I suspected it would be: I.Was.TERRIFIED!!!! Not all the time, but enough that I was thoroughly weirded out by the time the movie ended.

And every time I relate my fright to someone, the first thing they ask is: but did you LIKE it? And…well….I’m actually not sure. I THINK I liked it, I mean if the goal of the film was to scare it’s audience half to death (and gross out the other half) than I think it succeeded).

The story is eerily similar to the original Alien film (which I believe was the idea): the colony ship Covenant is en route to Origae-6 with 2000 colonists (and 1000+ human embryos) in hypersleep and cryo-storage. With seven years and four months left in the voyage, the ship is overseen by the synthetic Walter, who is a physical duplicate of David, the android we met in Prometheus (the events of which are revealed to have occurred ten years before this film). Everything is fine until a random neutrino storm damages the ship. The crew is woken to deal with the problem, but the captain’s pod malfunctions and Branson (James Franco!!) burns to death trapped inside his pod (in the first majorly disturbing scene of the film).

From that point, through pretty much the rest of the film, the crew makes one bad decision after another, and the only one who speaks any degree of sense is Daniels (Covenant’s version of Ripley), who vehemently protests departing their original course to pursue a mystery planet that was previously undetected. This planet turns out to be where David and Shaw ended up after departing at the end of Prometheus. The Covenant crew lands to explore (leaving the main colony ship and a few crew members in orbit) and finds a gorgeous planet, fertile and perfectly habitable (bad weather notwithstanding) but no animals of any kind. Still, there’s no apparent danger until one crew member steps on a pile of half buried jars that release the same pesky pathogen from Prometheus. And a little while later, a second crew member ingests the same pathogen at the site of Shaw’s crashed ship.

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Well, you can guess what happens: chaos!! The first crew member becomes host to a “back-burster” because, well, it claws its way out of the poor guy’s back in a terrifying scene. And, I have to admit that the one critic was right; these crew members act really really dumb. I mean, the one is trying to fend off this newborn Alien with a KNIFE, like that is going to do ANYTHING!! And the one crewmember who DOES go for a gun, misses at point blank range!! *facepalms* As bad as all of that was, it’s nothing compared to the “mouth-burster” that appears from the other crew member. I can’t describe it to you without feeling nauseous, but you can imagine what it looked like.

(Un)Fortunately the crew is “rescued” by David, who has been living alone on the planet for the last 10 years. Claiming that Shaw was killed in the crash and the planet’s population wiped out accidentally, David takes them to the heart of a city that is now a necropolis, literally. The square is full of thousands of blackened corpses, all twisted up in terror from the pathogen that killed them.

The truth about what David has done is absolutely horrifying (especially given that Shaw rescued him and put him back together). Not only did Shaw not die in the crash, she was systematically tortured as David experimented with what the pathogen would do to a human body. It is further revealed that David deliberately released the pathogen on the planet, knowing what it would do to the people living there. It seems that from the beginning David has had nothing but contempt for the humans who created them, deriding them to Walter as “a dying species” who are not worthy to start a new life elsewhere. It seemed to me that David hoped to sway Walter to his side, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of the dynamic between Data and Lore in Star Trek: The Next Generation. David refers to Walter as “brother”, and like Lore, he possesses advanced emotional capabilities that Walter does not have. In fact, Walter informs David that others were afraid of him for that reason, which is why subsequent models were made with less emotions (almost the identical reasoning for why Data was made without emotions). Seeing that Walter will not join him, David attempts to kill him, but Walter has a secret: his body is capable of self-repair (something David is unaware of). The first climax involves a tremendous fight between Walter and David (essentially Michael Fassbender is fighting himself and it’s great!!) but the outcome is left unresolved, we only see “Walter” running out after the few surviving crewmembers when pilot Tennessee brings another ship down to rescue them.

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It should be mentioned that before all this, David revealed to the captain that he has created eggs, yes THOSE eggs, facehuggers and all. The captain is lured into peeking into an open egg in one of the stupidest moments I’ve ever seen (I mean seriously, looking into the scary alien egg because the untrustworthy android told you to? Seriously?) Revealing David to be the creator of the traditional xenomorph to me turns the history of Alien on its head. Because, it now comes out that the most deadly creature in history was created by one of our own androids for the express purpose of wiping out the human race. But then again, if THAT is true, how is it possible that Predators have been hunting Aliens for thousands of years (per the events of Alien vs Predator and Alien vs. Predator Requiem)? Ah plot holes…don’t you just love them?

Returning to the story, there’s one last fight between Daniels and the xenomorph who is clinging to the ship, but it is disposed of. The fight is over, good guys won, but just as we all breathe a deep sigh of relief…it turns out it’s not over at all. See, the one surviving crewmember, turns out he was already infected with a chestburster (when or how that happened, I’m still not sure, though I have my suspicions. And don’t even ask me why it took longer for this one to gestate). Now there’s a fully formed Alien loose on board the Covenant. It takes out two more crew members (who are too busy getting “busy” in the shower to hear the alarm bells) and it takes the combined efforts of Daniels and Tennessee (“Walter” is watching in fascination) to eject the Alien from the ship.

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NOW the crisis seems to be over and Daniels and Tennessee can return to their sleep pods for the remainder of their trip. But just before she goes to sleep, Daniels asks “Walter” if he will help her build the cabin she talked about at the beginning of the film. But the android doesn’t answer…because he isn’t Walter. He’s David…and now he has control of everything on the ship. The last scene with Daniels is the most horrifying at all because she knows exactly what David plans to do with her (the same that he did to Shaw) and watching her futilely bang and scream inside her sleep pod before she is yanked into cryo-sleep is terrifying to watch. And that’s where the film ends, with David in control, looking over the 2000 colonists that are now his unwitting test subjects. A final transmission reveals that any news of this “incident” won’t be relayed to Earth for at least 18 months. It’s a dark ending, and a terribly dark film, one that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to watch again because it was just that terrifying.

 

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But one detail in the film intrigued me to no end: at least half of the film uses Jerry Goldsmith’s original Alien score to the exclusion of any other type of music. Even the opening titles (where and how the main title appears) is done in the same way as the original Alien title. It’s an interesting decision that makes sense to a certain degree. Ridley Scott is determined to have Covenant (and the films that follow) set squarely in the Alien universe (no confusion like what happened in Prometheus). What better way to do that than using the original Alien music? When in doubt, set the world with music.

Having watched Alien, Aliens and Prometheus (along with Alien vs Predator), I thought I had some idea of what to expect from this film. I knew there would be blood and gore, that goes without saying for an Alien film, but I was not prepared for what I saw in the film, not even close to prepared.

Contrary to what some people perceive, I am not scared of seeing blood in and of itself. What gets to me is when it’s a LOT of blood, and especially when it’s right up front, no getting away from it. And when you compare Alien: Covenant to its predecessors, one thing stands out right away: the amount of blood actually visible during the violent sequences. Oh sure, there’s the iconic “chestburster” scene with its violent spurt of blood; the pilot Ferro meets a bloody end in Aliens, but really, most of the deaths happen so fast there isn’t any blood at all. But in Alien: Covenant, it seems like every other death scene is an excuse to let loose a torrent of blood and guts. While the “back-burster” scene was gross, I could (mostly) watch because it was really just a chest-burster in reverse. However, the scene that will always bother me is the “mouth-burster.” As soon as I realized what was happening, I had to look away, I could not watch it happen, because I felt physically ill at the thought of it. I know the Alien films are firmly set in the horror genre, but I really feel like that scene took it too far (unless your goal is to make the audience want to throw up).

One detail I’m glad for is that they kept Shaw’s torture and death offscreen, only showing us a few details via David’s drawings. And thankfully, by the time they showed those pictures in detail, my mind was so weirded out that I didn’t really process the images (I didn’t even realize it was Shaw until the last picture) or what they were all about. And speaking of David’s “experiments”, something has been bugging me: in the flashback, the pathogen turned all the Engineers into blackened corpses, right? In that case, where did David get that dissected corpse that was laying on the table? It had an Engineer’s physique, so where did it come from?

These are my excess thoughts on Alien: Covenant; despite the fact that I was royally grossed out and freaked out, I’ll probably be lining up to see the sequel whenever it gets here, if only because now I have to see how this prequel series will line up with the original Alien (that is, if there IS another sequel).

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