Game Over Man: Examining Aliens

Yay, I’m back, and ready to dive into my work yet again. Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I went on vacation this past weekend (specifically, Thursday through Sunday) – both much-needed and, I think, well-deserved. I had originally envisioned it as a trip back to my home town to see friends and relatives, go out in the mountains for a bit, do a fantasy football draft with plenty of drinking, you know, that sort of thing.

Then came Hurricane Irene, and I had to adjust my plans as I wasn’t comfortable leaving our animals alone during the storm. They’ve recently lost one of our cats and have been very jittery and acting strangely, so I thought some stability was probably needed. I ended up picking up a good friend and bringing him back to town to hang out, play some Rock Band, that sort of thing.

I tell you this pointless story just to illustrate how circumstances forced us into a situation where movies were the best outlet. I don’t typically watch a whole lot of movies or television, preferring to get most of my storytelling through books, so this was an interesting weekend. We watched some good stuff and we watched some real stinkers – for instance, I had fond memories of Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, but good lord that movie was awful with the benefit of experience (the first is still fun though). The same goes for Warlock 2: The Armageddon, which I had recalled as pretty good but was downright laughable. Sometimes you really can’t go home again, I guess.

But I’m not here to bury those films. I’m here, instead, to praise two of the dynamos that we watched this weekend: Aliens and Saw (to be covered soon).

Aliens, of course, is the second in my planned extended viewing of the Alien “saga”, and so I’ll tackle it first. My friend had never seen it before, so I had a kind of secondary lens into the film. Interestingly, he felt it was overlong and was fatigued by the end, which intrigued me given that I was pretty exhilarated heading into the last act of the film.

One of the first things I noted is that, like Alien, Aliens starts out very slow and subdued. I mean, seriously. Even I was wishing for the pace to pick up a little bit at the beginning, but I wonder if this has to do with, again, the change in attention spans since 1986. Possibly. But by the time we get to Ripley‘s showdown with the company people, the anticipation is starting to build, and is full-on ready to go by the time she joins the Marines and they are prepping for the mission.

Few character notes. I’d never noticed that it wasn’t just that Ripley was being a bad-ass (though she was), it’s that she feels this responsibility and drive to do something in the face of these things. Time and again, she shows that she feels she really has the only true grip on the situation, and acts accordingly. Hell, I can’t blame her, either, given what happened in the first movie – every time she knew what was going on, she was thwarted at every turn. I have to give Cameron some massive credit for understanding that about her character and making it a bedrock of the changes she had to undergo throughout the movie.

I had a few sour notes, though, and they surprised me, as Ripley has always been such an important character to me. The first, and most obvious, was when she initially refused to get involved with the colony. That really didn’t make a lot of sense to me in-character, given how she feels the responsibility for what the aliens will do, and realizes Weyland-Yutani‘s motives with the colony. It seemed a bit out-of-character.

My other issue wasn’t so much with her character as the ham-handed way that Cameron used the mother motif. I mean, of course Ripley’s journey here is from a sort of rebellious sense of responsibility to a transference of her motherly instincts to Newt, and that felt fine. It’s just…I don’t know. Something struck me as ham-handed in the way he handled it. A little too over-the-top, like he felt viewers just wouldn’t get it and wanted to beat us over the head with it. It doesn’t help that Newt is a completely one-note character and has an insanely annoying scream that she uses constantly. In that respect, I guess it felt more like telling than showing, even though he did. I suppose it all boils down to not buying the emotional connection there. Disappointing.

Burke. Good lord, Burke. If Ripley’s mother thing was hitting you over the head, Burke was smashing your head in with a toilet lid. It might have helped to include a scene where he was getting pressured from someone above him – anything to make him more than a caricature of a corporate stooge. Thumbs-down there.

There were some great characters, don’t get me wrong. Hudson is a perennial favorite, as is Private Vasquez. Vasquez is actually my second-favorite to Ripley, who was still excellent despite a few quibbles. You might get the idea that I like strong female characters, which I can’t entirely deny, but it’s more about women being depicted as something other than their sex appeal. It’s so refreshing that I can’t help but be impressed.

The same stands for when there’s a non-white protagonist or supporting character who doesn’t adhere to expected stereotypes and is portrayed as a real human being. It’s not even about being PC, though I do think most stories do a lousy job of representing the way humanity really looks and acts. It’s about doing something different, for God’s sake. Enough with the white mail protagonists!

But overall, I learned a lot. I took particular note of the rising-and-falling action of the story, which is my particular focus of study at the moment. I’ve come to realize that most stories can be described using a series of lines depicting the rising and falling action of the plot and subplots, and have been mentally drawing a picture of those as I watch movies and read novels. It’s quickly taught me a lot about the plot structure that I want to use for Entanglements (which, alas, has a white male protagonist, but it’s somewhat appropriate given the setting).

Aliens, though…yeah. It’s still my second-favorite movie of the series. I had hoped that I would see what other people see in it. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like the movie a lot, but it’s just missing something that is present in Alien, something that I can’t quite put my finger on at the moment. Still, a pretty good movie, and less of an action movie than a thriller, which surprised me.

Onward to the restored version of Alien 3, which hasn’t quite gotten a fair shake…

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    • Interesting perspective on the first movie, especially. I can totally see your point on seeing it for the first time in 2007, but I definitely credit it for giving me an early awareness that women could be something other than just the object to be rescued. Okay, her and Princess Leia. Heh.

  1. Pingback: Let’s Play a Game: Examining Saw | Shaggin the Muse

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