18 October, 2012

What I Watched Last Month…

What I watched in… 
June 2012

Aliens (on DVD)
Of course there's not much I can say about Aliens that hasn't already been said. Once again, like it's predecessor Alien, it's a fabulously tense movie, this time with full-on action mixed in very liberally. It's simply great and is a perfect turning up of the heat in all the right ways from Alien, especially for Ripley as a character. 
For me, on this my (I think) fourth viewing (twice in the cinema — once at original release and once a few years ago) the most remarkable aspect of the film is absolutely Ripley. She is written and played with such a laser-like focus it's almost breathtaking. Not a single line is wasted, nor a single action. Everything written and acted for Ripley through Sigourney Weaver illuminates more of her steel will, concrete resolve and enormous courage and heart. In this movie she is one of the best represented characters I've ever enjoyed in movies. Add to this how fabulous she also is in the original Alien and she's simply incredible. 
This movie has one of my favourite film lines ever, and of course it comes from Ripley: "Get away for her you BITCH!"

Alien3 (on DVD)
I didn't realise that I'd never seen this movie before. I have to say that Aliens had me so pumped for the character of Ripley that after its credits had faded from the screen I immediately wanted to throw this one in the DVD player. I craved to see more of that woman regardless of the bad reputation this film has. Unfortunately I didn't find this instalment of the Alien series nearly as enjoyable as I'd hoped. 
For me, the opening montage signalled trouble immediately. I hate the way it negates everything Ripley fought for in Aliens within minutes of frame one. With that one action of making the previous film(s) all but meaningless I lost all investment I had in wanting to see what might happen next. There wasn't even any empathy from me regarding the circumstances depicted, merely a feeling of disappointment and being cheated. This had now become just another adventure in a serial story, not truly a continuation of Ripley's ordeals.  
Ripley's character wasn't nearly as well defined or presented here, which is a common problem in this movie: it's a bit of a mess and unfocused in most of its plot, storytelling and characters. Ripley's character seems off — no where near smart and steely enough. 
That being said, one of Ripley's most interesting facets, certainly by this stage, is the developing relationship between her and the aliens. What an awful ongoing nightmare for Ripley — an ordeal of insanity inducing proportions — and that really begins to come to the fore. 
There is an interesting turn in this relationship with the aliens; it's the logical progression that Riley's worst nightmare in Alien and Aliens comes to pass here, and yet the whole film feels so boring and pedestrian. So much more should have been made of her waking nightmare. 
There are interesting religious themes and symbology, but again under utilised and weak. There's an oppressive sense of despair and hopelessness in all three movies so far, and that's certainly integral to their personality: a palpable sense of insurmountable doom. I felt like its application in Alien3 wasn't as genuine, but more forced and shoe-horned in. Similarly with the emotional content. A3 was also lacking in the tension and suspense department. I could see how it was trying to be achieved, but in the end it fell short. The final attempt(s) to kill the alien were muddled and confusing to me. Again, I found the whole movie kind of haphazard. 
I even thought the soundtrack was inappropriate. And I rarely even take that kind of notice of a soundtrack. 
I felt another disappointment was the production design. Design in the first two movies was hardcore and rock solid, while here it seems kind of cheap and derivative, with very little to commend it. To my mind it felt like it borrowed stylistically (though not emotionally) from Miller's Mad Max-es and Burton's Batman-s. In the end it felt B-grade, and not in a good way. 
All in all, not the progression of the Ripley character I was so looking forward to, instead missing the mark with her, and missing the chance to develop the fabulous (if obvious) possibilities that were touched on. 

Alien: Resurrection (on DVD)
Once again, this is an interesting and somewhat logical evolution of the whole Ripley/Alien relationship and saga. But again, as in Alien3, the very worthy ideas being introduced are not pushed nearly far or hard enough. If there's one thing that Alien and Aliens did with their ideas, it was they pushed them – and so the audience too – just about as hard and far as possible, and that's where the interest and tension mostly came from, not the horror or action tropes. As a case in point, I quite like Ripley's new incarnation and character, but it was again disappointingly under utilised. 
It's an interesting episode in the series in that it looks like it was really trying to be more mainstream in its approach to the genre of sci-fi movies while still being reverent to the previous films in the franchise. It began much more like a space opera adventure, then turned into an imitation of Alien and Aliens' predicaments and escapes. It still wasn't able to capture the same tension and foreboding so prevalent in the first two though. 
Interestingly, I wonder if this is a forerunner to Joss Whedon's Firefly and Serenity, which I've never seen either of. From the little I know of Whedon's sci-fi work, this looks very much like his "band of misfits". 
I was much more excited by and invested in Alien: Resurrection than I was in Alien3, but again, it falls far short of its potential considering a lot of the ideas present. 

All four Alien films will eventually be getting Director's Cut viewings for the first time from me and I'm really interested in seeing the differences in the final products there. 

And finally, that brings me to the reason for this whole re-viewing of the Alien quadrilogy… 

Prometheus (at the cinema) 
Here is a welcome return to high tension and real fear, as well as touches of the oppressive death and morbidity themes. The step up with this film is the addition of a sense of the epic, both of the physicality of the location and environment, as well as of the theme and reach. 
Unfortunately it falls down far too often with illogical character actions and plot holes. It wasn't enough to ruin the film completely for me, but it's certainly enough to often have my brow furrowing, asking myself the kind of questions that the film makers don't really want me asking myself instead of pondering the larger issues being presented. In short, I was distracted from what I really should have been concentrating on because of stupidity in the storytelling. 
It had a great design sense, feeling very 70s inspired, while also completely fulfilling the expectations of a contemporary audience. The acting was really good and the effects were excellent. 

Oliver! (live on stage, as a high school musical)
I've never seen this musical before, either live or on film. Neither have I ever read the original novel. Not to denigrate this high school production by any means, because it was very enjoyable, but it's a real testament to Charles Dickens' original story (Oliver Twist) and just how weighty the emotional content is, even when presented as a musical by (certainly enthusiastic, and often very talented) amateurs. It's made me want to read the source material to get the deeper narrative. 


  1. Interesting. I've just recently rewatched them as well and found that Aliens was the one that annoyed me the most. Yes, Alien 3 undid all the work done by Aliens, but it also allowed me to think: What if Aliens didn't happen and Alien 3 picked up after the first Alien, but with the knowledge that the Nostromo pod crash landed on the prison planet, bypassing all the stuff that got covered in Aliens. It works for me and actually makes the character arc of Ripley seem a bit more in line with the original movie.


    Have you seen the musical Oliver! ? The last 40 minutes with Oliver Reed is amazing!

  2. The directors cuts for the films are imho substantially better.

    Alien's director's cut makes the creature self-perpetuating (which would invalidate a lot of the details in the second film).

    Aliens' director's cut has masses of extra backstory on the colony, and fleshes out Ripley's character, as well as increasing the precariousness of the barricade in medlab / operations.

    Alien 3, jeez, that's a substantially different film with the director's cut. I think it was Fincher's first feature, and he may not have had the clout to get the longer film he wanted into cinematic release.