Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I Heart Sequels: Alien3 (Part 1)

Part 1: A Little History and My Opening Arguments

As my first entry in what I hope is going to be a daily series of essays on the defense of the indefensible (particularly since it took me so long to come up with this genius idea in the first place, hahaha), I spent a lot of time wringing my hands over what would be the flagship entry in this voluminous undertaking. Truly there's a lot to be said about sequels and how they relate to the history and state of filmmaking as we know it today. Many audience members see sequels as an eventuality; a cycle of diminishing returns indicative of faceless, money-grubbing studio-types who are out of touch with what moviegoers want. The rest of the moviegoing audience is on the other end of the spectrum; they'll eat up whatever they're fed.

In the end, however, both types tend to agree on a lot of what they've seen, sequel-wise. They have their sacred cows (Empire Strikes Back, Godfather 2, etc.), their unmitigated disasters (Batman and Robin, Jaws: The Revenge) and a whole lot in between. A lot of these films, along with the very notion of the why and how of sequels, will eventually be discussed as we progress further and further in this series. What needs to be discussed, first and foremost, is why I want to even come to the defense of these films and what it is that makes a sequel, for lack of a better designation, fail or succeed. Which is why I'm starting this series with the often bemoaned Alien3.

Let me paint a picture for you. It's a Saturday afternoon, on a late weekend in May, 1992. I'm a few weeks past my 13th birthday and all I want to do is go to the movies. And, I don't just mean that Saturday. I'm talking every day of the week. Sometimes, more than once a day. I've got a few spots in the neighborhood I live in with my grandparents where I am constantly posted up, checking out the latest flicks. The newest place in town is the Krikorian 13, the biggest multiplex yet. Now, a year previous, in the summer of '91, something great happened at this Krikorian just after it opened its doors. I was able to buy my own ticket to an R-rated movie, without the aid of the dreaded parental supervision. And not just any R-rated movie. I bought it for T2, a surefire entry to the sacred cow list, though I am one of the few people I know of who don't rank it as high as all that.

But, as they say, that was then and at that time to me this was like opening up the floodgates. For years I was able to watch as many R-rated films as I wanted in the comfort of my own home without anybody saying boo about it. But any time I wanted to see an R-rated flick in the theater I had to ask one of the numerous adults waltzing in and out of my rather erratic childhood. This could be a real pain in the ass. In fact, the first time I saw T2, I went with my grandfather, a man whose lust for movies fed into my own, but a man who could not be bothered nine times out of ten to catch those movies on the big screen. Truth to be told, he's still with us, and that was the last movie we saw in the theater. I, on the other hand, had the patience of a meth-head; couldn't wait for anything to save my life. This was doubly true for movies. I saw T2 once and I was gonna see it again, a.s.a.f.p. But I couldn't find a single, solitary soul to take me to the movie. After much back and forth, my grandfather suggested I just try to go see the movie by myself. I was a 12 year-old pituitary case; 6 feet tall, 180 lbs, with a mustache bigger than my pop's. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to think that some box-office chick was gonna think I was 17 or older as the MPAA so humbly requested. That was my grandfather's logic at least. So I said fuck it (we all cursed in my grandparent's house), grabbed my velcro, my board and my Chucks, and skated down to the multiplex. Success. I was now part of the adult moviegoing crowd.

So, jumping ahead to the aforementioned Saturday in May of '92, I was all pumped up and ready to go check out the latest, R-rated, box-office extravaganza hitting the Krikorian that weekend, Alien3. Like a lot of other kids growing up with access to a VCR and cable TV in the mid-to-late 80's, I had run across the previous films in the Alien saga; matter of fact I had pretty much memorized James Cameron's epic Aliens (my fave in the series, and a definite entry in the upcoming I Heart Sequels writings) and was introduced to the original Alien as one of the few scary flicks my grandmother actually enjoyed (hence it was in heavy rotation in that household). As such, I was more than ready to see Alien3; I was dying to witness the latest entry in what was probably the first film series for adults I can remember being really passionate about during most of its theatrical release (notice I said for adults, hence Indiana Jones, Star Wars and Back to the Future don't count).

Now, to keep things brief after the incredibly long-winded introduction to the experience of seeing the film for the first time, as well as introducing the web series itself, I will tell you that my immediate response to Alien3 was one of awe. I truly believed that this was a great film and a great way to end the series. I'll let the haters stew on that for a minute... In the paragraphs that follow I will lay out my defense of the film, looking at it in terms of both now and then. But first I need to explain why I feel the need to immediately justify the film and how that relates to the writings in this series as a whole. You see, I grew up a film-nerd, but a very solitary film-nerd. As I said before, my childhood was pretty erratic, for reasons I don't really care to get into right now, so I didn't really have a core group of people, especially any my age, that I shared this trait with. Every member of my family loved movies, but they weren't about to sit down and pick apart the minutiae of these movies. It wasn't until I made it into high school and met a lot of other like-minded individuals that I really began to see that there were other people who shared this common interest in films. And one of the first things I noticed when I met a lot of these like-minded individuals was that there was one thing we definitely didn't agree upon and that was Alien3. They hated it. Passionately.

Of course, this wasn't the first time I had run into a large group of people who had disliked the film. Quite honestly I hadn't met anybody who really liked it. This started in the weeks following my first and second viewings of Alien3. The few friends I did have weren't all that impressed, since, after Aliens, all they wanted was a bigger, bloodier repeat of the war film that Cameron had given them initially. The older crowd, parents, teachers, etc., that could actually be bothered to give me their two cents regarding the movie all seemed to share the same opinion of the film as being entirely too dark and depressing. And of course there was that ending. You wanna talk about the very definition of depressing. Everybody who hated the movie, whether they hated it for any number of differing reasons, really hated that ending. Nobody wanted to see Lt. Ripley die, especially after not only going through two movies of her mightily battling these monsters, but also because (and we'll get into this further with the discussion of the third film) the movie begins with the death of three characters that we had fallen in love with during the course of the previous entry; rugged (sort of) love interest Corporal Hicks, (sort of) adopted daughter Newt, and Bishop, the only synthetic Ripley had given the time of day to (sort of). This was a movie that begins and ends with tragedy. Suffice it to say, most of the air-conditioned airheads who were expecting a good ole' time at the movies were pissed.

But that was the reaction from the chuckleheads and the everyman. These were the people who couldn't be bothered to think about the movie they had just seen any longer than the amount of time it took them to walk from the theater to their car. The kids who weren't interested in doing much beyond transitioning from a life of hoarding happy meals and He-Man toys into one built upon the ravenous consumption of pot and porno. (Of course I loved happy meals and He-Man as a little kid, as much as I loved pot and porno as a pre-teen; I just felt that I at least thought about those things as much as I took them in and that was how I felt about the movies as well.) When I got to high school and started meeting people who spent as much time sitting around talking about movies as they did watching them, I was certain that this trend would change and that I would meet some fans of the third and (one could only wish) final film in the saga. Jesus was I wrong. If nothing else, the barbs being thrown at the film were twice as venomous, if not twice as maddeningly one-note. In the end, to this day, I still haven't met anybody who's as willing to go to the mat in defense of this movie as I am. Sure, there are those people who have back-pedaled and admitted to liking the movie, "despite it's faults". But I haven't met one person who has been defending this movie since day one other than myself. That is why I'm starting here.

At the end of Aliens (Ripley kicks ass and rides off into the sunset with her new-found surrogate family, all tucked tidily away into cryo-stasis) we are left with the feeling that, if nothing else, everything's gonna be just fine for our battle-weary protagonists. We'd like to believe that the worst that could happen is Ripley, et al, will sleep and drift for another 57 years, after which they will be found by a salvage team, debriefed by yet another crew of Company half-wits and that they'll live the rest of their lives as low-level cogs in the Company wheel; one big, happy brain-dead family unit, whose future struggles will always pale in comparison to the terrors they've faced on LV-426. But as soon as we saw the marketing campaign start up for the next installment of the Lt. Ripley Terror Tales, we knew that things could always be much, much worse.

That campaign served as a reminder that Ripley always had, and always would, stand alone in her fight against the terror of the xenomorph that followed her from the Nostromo, to the Sulaco and all the way to this new planet, Fiorina 161. Sure, there were a lot of other characters that were part of the ongoing battle, some of whom we had become incredibly attached to in previous films. But when you get down to it, this is the story of one woman and her struggle to annihilate this evil from the universe, whether that was the path she chose or the one that life had chosen for her. In a way, this is the story of a hero, blessed and damned all the same. A Joan of Arc tale set in the deepest outreaches of space. She is the alpha and omega in this series; it begins and ends with her. As such, though it is very sad, almost enraging that the other survivors of the second film are killed in the opening frames of the third, it is hardly the betrayal that James Cameron and Alan Dean Foster would like to make it out to be.

This opening sets the tone for the entire film. It's bleak, it's audacious and it lets you know one crucial thing right from the word go - no one gets out alive. Speaking of bleak, the setting is another big indicator that we are way outside the worlds created by Ridley Scott and Cameron. While the Nostromo, Sulaco and LV-426 were home to the kind of working class characters that begged for our sympathy and identification, Fiorina 161 is populated by the lowest of the low. Rapists, murderers and dangerous dullards populate this penal colony-cum-foundry facility. There are no weapons. There is no technology. And there are no other women. While all of these men are religious converts who have taken a vow of celibacy, none of them have been put to the test in a long time. This, coupled with the fact that Ripley knows that there's already a history of non-belief when it comes to the alien species, creates an environment much more hostile and, to turn the phrase, alien to our hero than those seen in the previous films.

However, one of the first things I heard my fellow film-snobs bitch about, that the average citizen didn't give two flips about, was that the film took place in this locale. So many sci-fi fanboys seemingly were waiting for what they felt was the eventual return of Ripley, and therefore the Aliens, to Earth, a home planet never really seen, nor realistically depicted in the series. For some reason this was one thing that everybody wanted that I couldn't understand the attraction to. I was in love with Fiorina 161 because it was a place unlike any seen in any other film, and to me that is the power of sci-fi like this. Why would anybody want to see the effects of something like this on Earth? Practically every monster or alien or whatever had visited Earth numerous times in countless films previously. What's the appeal of bringing another one here? I want to be taken to new and unusual places. I've seen Earth as it is now and I've seen Earth in countless futuristic iterations over and over again. Truly the best moment in the unfortunate reboot Alien:Resurrection comes from the mouth of Ron Perlman's character when they realize the only place they're gonna make it to is humanity's home planet. "Earth. What a shithole", he grumbles. Exactly.

But try explaining that to every fanboy who felt the series had to go there. There comes a moment when you realize the fanboys aren't the ones who should be making the movies and that all their rhetoric about the fans owning the franchises is just bullshit. For some it's when you hear some toad croak about Verhoeven not being faithful to Heinlein with Starship Troopers. For others it when some quack spouts hyperbole about Lucas or Spielberg raping their childhood with a lot of the choices they've made regarding the films that made them the superstars they are. For me it's this series and all the bitching and moaning about how horrible the series turned out after the second film. Everybody has some fanfic version of the series brewing in their head, most of which sound fucking dreadful when you realize that you don't really care for much beyond Ripley and her war. That's why so much of what has come out sans Ripley might be fun, but it isn't great.

To Be Continued in Part 2: COMING SOON!


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home