EDITORIAL: Aliens Ruined the Alien Franchise

Before I begin, I just want to say that I, in fact, do not hate Aliens at all. Actually, I find it to be fine piece of cinema, heavily influential and paced to entertain at breakneck speed. If you don’t believe me, check out my review.

But as I found myself halfway through a viewing earlier this year for Alien Week, I began to realize something I never had considered before. It felt…different. Not different from the other films, it already is that in spades. I mean different as in I was seeing the film itself in a light I had never seen before. As Ripley and the Marines huddled together in formation, their backs to the wall, awaiting the alien horde with rifles at the ready, I began to remember the numerous complaints of Prometheus viewers at the movie theater where I work, five years ago.

“It’s too confusing; I couldn’t understand it.”

Hicks is spooked. He fires blindly into the ceiling.

“The characters are dumb, they make terrible, stupid decisions. Totally unbelievable.”

Hudson and Vazquez let loose. Alien after alien leaps down from the ceiling panels.

“It’s nothing like Aliens. That movie was good.”

Ripley finally fires, and now I get it.

Indeed, James Cameron’s “perfect sequel” is a good movie. And it was a good thing for the franchise at the time, keeping it alive at a crucial juncture, spawning comics, novels, and yes, more films. But as history has shown time and again, good things can inadvertently lead to bad things. And that night, as Ripley and Newt faced extraterrestrial death in my living room for what was probably the 100th time, I finally saw that Aliens had done just that.

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Damn right, I just blamed Aliens for this.

So how did a seminal sci-fi flick with substantial success, both in profit and influence, singlehandedly destroy the future of its own franchise? To answer that question, it is necessary to look back at Ridley Scott’s original horror classic as well as Cameron’s follow-up, to determine what made Scott’s film stand out, and what Cameron dropped from his to achieve greater success.

THE ORIGINAL FILM

Conceived mainly by screenwriters Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, the script for Alien quickly made a splash among industry insiders in the mid-70s for bleak atmosphere and innovative monster, heavily inspired by the art of Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger. Nothing like Alien had been seen on screen before; while images of extraterrestrial creatures eating people were standard EC Comics fare and the main “space trucker” characters seemed to be blue-collar revisions of the scientific crews of Forbidden Planet and The Thing from Another World, Giger’s beast was a nightmarish creature of incredible sensuality–qualities which are usually mutually exclusive to one another. And the way in which it enters the story–by raping a human male and forcing a bloody birth upon him–is so horrifyingly innovative that the original scene still holds the same shock that it did in 1979.

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But as much as Alien is O’Bannon’s baby, it was Ridley Scott who did the child-rearing that resulted in a brilliant piece of celluloid. Known for both a meticulous attention to even the smallest detail and his penchant for perfectionism behind the camera, Scott’s direction over both the actors and the design crew, consisting of Giger, Ron Cobb, and comic legends Chris Foss and Jean Moebius Giraud, is as sublime as it is epic. Resolving to push for the maximum effort, Scott was able to attain highly-technical and realistic sets for the space tug Nostromo, and truly eerie and inhuman sights for the crashed Derelict, and of course, the Alien itself. Just two years after Star Wars, Alien changed sci-fi again.

As detailed in The Long Take’s excellent video analysis, the menace of the Alien is wholly unconventional, covered in semen-like slime as it approaches its prey with a sexual cunning. At every stage of its monstrous life cycle, its body takes on alternatively vaginal and phallic forms, stalking men and women alike in an apparent play on both toxic masculinity and the transgender boogeyman of the ’70s feminist movement. Combined with the post-Nixon distrust of authority and the outstanding character of Ripley, played with both masculine grit and feminine intuition by Sigourney Weaver, Alien cracks the mold of both space films and horror.

THE SEQUEL

Immediately after Alien, Ridley Scott had his own designs for a sequel, spit-balling back and forth between a story involving LV-426 exploding, sending eggs through the vastness of space to eventually reach Earth, where Ripley arrives at the start, and another, interesting notion of a prequel detailing how the Derelict and its Space Jockey pilot came to be on their barren world. With the departure of Alan Ladd, Jr. from Twentieth Century Fox, these ideas would not come to fruition, and Scott decided to pursue other projects.

It is intriguing to see the genesis of two very different directions that the Alien franchise would be destined to explore. The first, with an Alien horde reaching Earth, resembles many of the early drafts for Alien 3 and the driving plot element of Alien Resurrection, while the prequel concept obviously became Scott’s preferred vision with Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. In either case, Scott’s ambitions were clear: he wanted to explore the origins and nature of the Xenomorph creature, and dabble in the depiction of the Space Jockey.

Fast-forward to 1984. James Cameron, hot off the success of The Terminator, is suddenly in demand among the Hollywood elite. Having been working on the Alien sequel for some time, he and his producing partner Gale Anne Hurd were finally given the complete reigns over the project to finish in 1986. Cameron’s final script, incorporating ideas from an earlier sci-fi story he had written entitled Mother, signaled a massive shift in formula and tone from Scott’s entry. While preserving continuity and retaining Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, Aliens shifted away from the horror elements of its ancestor and planted its roots as a combat-driven action film. Gone were allusions to gender identity and sexual psychology, replaced by an allegory of the Vietnam War that serves to provide Ripley with the chance to assert her maternal identity with Newt, the young sole survivor of the LV-426 colony.

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Cameron has been quoted as saying that he wanted his film to be “less horror, more terror.” Whatever that is supposed to mean, it is clear that Aliens doesn’t fit in with the pure existential and predatory dread of the first film. Aliens is scary, but in a different fashion, opting for more traditional jumps and creeps in between pulse-pounding scenes of futuristic combat. In what is probably his biggest contribution to the Alien mythos, Cameron introduces the final piece of the Alien’s reproductive cycle, the Queen. A powerful leadership caste that control the Warrior drones by simple gesture, the Queen is more than a match for the crafty Ripley, and can even hold a grudge–it pursues her in a decidedly intelligent quest for revenge after Ripley destroys its nest.

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On the surface, this seems to be a good change, focusing the menace into a bigger and meaner creature that can think its way out of a jam. However, closer comparison between the films reveals that the concept of the Queen stands in opposition to the original idea of the Alien. The Alien of the first film is a solitary creature, slowly crawling out of the shadows to attack in startling displays of sexual sadism, and in the original screenplay and Director’s Cut, horrifically transform its victims into new eggs while they remain awake for the entire ordeal. And yet, for everything known about the Alien, Scott’s greatest contribution to it was the mystery surrounding it.

The Alien’s life cycle may have been complete in the beginning, but even this does not fully account for the sheer number of eggs within the Derelict’s cargo hold. Indeed, perhaps the hold contained more than just Xenomorph eggs. Perhaps there were untold varieties of beastly horrors locked away in its ancient walls. Their origin is also kept a tantalizing mystery; could they have been the remains of the rest of the Space Jockey crew? Or scientific specimens of an exploratory vessel? Or perhaps they were a biological weapon, as Scott liked to opine in the decades after finishing Alien. Even the true nature of the titular “Big Chap,” originally revealed as a highly intelligent being after biting Ripley’s head off and mimicking her voice to set an interstellar trap, was wisely dropped from the final cut. All of this adds to the eerie atmosphere of Scott’s film, intertwining with the cultural zeitgeist of the uncertain ’70s to unleash a truly horrifying experience that still captures minds today.

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Cameron, on the other hand, seemed uninterested in mystery. His creation of the Queen is the biggest indication as to his preferred depiction of the Xenomorph, no doubt heavily influenced more by the Arachnids of Robert Heinlein’s novel Starship Troopers than by Giger’s artwork and concepts. The Queen simultaneously removes the mystery of the Alien and the universe at large outside of the walls of Hadley’s Hope, reducing the invincible monster of Alien to an expendable foot soldier, able to be defeated by a simple barrage of caseless rifle fire. If only Dallas had one of those, right? Further more, the enigma of the eggs in the cargo hold isn’t so unfathomable anymore.

This rejection of the unknown continues to seep into every facet of Aliens. Early on, the faceless, evil Company is laid bare as a bureaucratic mess, more concerned with the loss of an iron ore shipment than with the prospect of a race of monsters at Earth’s doorstep. And Special Order 937? Replaced by a lowly Company agent with greedy aspirations of profiting from the creatures, revealing the influence of the materialistic ’80s upon Cameron’s story, where capitalism is still the bees knees, its just a few bad apples that muck things up. The only thematic content more pervasive than this is the specter of Reagan’s America, present in the nuclear family of Ripley, Hicks, and Newt as the survivors of the film, triumphing unequivocally over the promiscuous Anti-Mother by seemingly destroying the Xenomorph race once and for all.

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THE AFTERMATH

When times are good, people will respond to stories that reinforce the world around them. Aliens was released at the height of an American economic boom, presenting just enough of Alien‘s creature to be recognizable while jettisoning the uncertainty and pessimism of the ’70s inherent in that film. This turned out to be a recipe for success, propelling Aliens to box office and pop culture glory.

The subsequent sequels would not be so lucky. Alien 3 would prove to be Sisyphean struggle to produce, with many early drafts took on narratives that echoed Aliens, featuring military combat against swarms of the creatures. Despite some interesting drafts that presented truly nightmarish and ghastly depictions of the Aliens, each version retained this emphasis on action, until Vincent Ward’s legendary, ethereal lost story. Set on an artificial world made of wood and populated by Neo-Luddite monks, Ward’s Alien 3 became one of the greatest unmade films ever conceived, boldly removing the ’80s social certainty by killing Hicks and Newt and throwing Ripley into her own personal hell as the host for the last Alien. After Ward’s departure and the scrapping of the wooden world concept, the final Alien 3 as directed by David Fincher retained much of Ward’s themes, and pushed an increasingly nihilistic film upon an audience that expected a retread of Aliens, which is understandable given the misleading marketing of the film. As I’ve noted before, Alien 3 is uncompromising and brave in its conviction to emotional disturbance, betraying an almost gothic sense of horror that evokes the original but still remains its own beast. Unfortunately, audiences disagreed and many still do.

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Alien Resurrection, despite benefiting early on from the French expressionism of Jean-Pierre Jeunette and some of the most ghastly sights of the franchise, ends up playing as a light-hearted Aliens clone by the end, and the AVP entries of the 2000s were cynical cash grabs, with the second film literally remaking the plot of Aliens on present day Earth. Quickly, one can see a pattern emerging: nobody wanted to leave Cameron’s film behind.

Nobody except Ridley Scott himself, who regained the franchise in 2012 with Prometheus, a soft reboot that sought to explore the Space Jockey race, now called Engineers, in a bit of world-building that returned to the series the Eldritch threat of existential terror. Believing that Alien itself was a “cooked” beast, Scott strayed away from it, keeping the more recognizable beats of bodily horror while focusing on a demonic twist to humanity’s origins and the creeping threat of A.I. This led to a polarizing film, with opinions split down the middle; devotees of Scott’s original film feel it is a nice return of the tone of that piece, while critics deride it as shallow, confusing, and lacking of the main creature that makes the franchise what it is. Looking at the divide, it seems obvious where it came from.

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These days, the split among Alien fans remains firmly in place. Half seems to side more with Scott’s vision of a terrible, Lovecraftian universe of uncaring horrors, while the other prefers the human-centric adventure of Ripley and the Space Marines, barreling toward a war with the Alien species. What’s worse, this split has affected Scott’s plans for the prequel series. Originally planning a direct sequel to Prometheus entitled Paradise, the lukewarm reaction to that film caused him to drop many of the concepts he was building and shoehorn in the Alien for the even more polarizing Alien: Covenant, in which he seeks to assert ownership over the creature and its life cycle by presenting David, his murderous android character (and rebuke to the heroic Bishop) as the creator of the species. While I have my own thoughts on that little development, one cannot overstate how drastic a change this is from even his own first ideas, let alone the intentions of Dan O’Bannon and H.R. Giger. This can be unequivocally traced back to the success of Aliens, and the embracing by the fans of its simpler nature.

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With Alien: Covenant failing to make a splash at the box office, the future of the series is now uncertain. Scott’s Alien: Awakening project, even if it isn’t canceled, seems mired in its own intentions to reveal the last shred of mystery the franchise had, while the online outrage at the termination of Neill Blomkamp’s Alien 5 film, which would be another retread of Aliens with Ripley and Hicks returning to wipe away Alien 3 and Resurrection from continuity, has reached fever pitch, signalling that Fox could head in that direction. I would hope that they don’t, because I’ve had enough of Aliens. I’m fine with the one film, and would rather like to see more thought-provoking and eerie movies in the vein of the original. Attempting to recapture the Cameron version of the beast almost always ends in disappointment, and further dilutes the impact of the creature itself. But as it stands, it looks like the Alien will have to get used to disappointing its many devotees, because while Cameron seems more interested in friendlier E.T.s from Pandora, he’s still leaving his mark upon the cold evil of space.

New Video Series: Short Fan Edits

Hey there, true believers!

I have just launched a new video series on my YouTube and Vimeo channels, Short Fan Edits! Sometimes I feel the need to restructure just small portions of my favorite films; while the piece at large is fine just the way it is, perhaps one scene or two could be changed, either for the benefit of the narrative or just because it’s fun. This is the aim of Short Fan Edits. Each video will be a small sliver of a full fan edit, in many cases, probably the only change I would make to the film.

The first installment is my version of the deleted “bank robbery” scene of Escape from New York, placed before the opening credits to create a more natural flow. Check back on my channel, Temporal Productions, on YouTube and Vimeo for more!

EDITORIAL: Marvel vs DC

editorials

I know, I know. I have high ambitions for my first editorial. Looking forward to reading those well thought-out and considerate comments!

It is a battle with divisions deeper than the Middle East conflict. Marvel Comics against Detective Comics. Marvel vs DC. Day vs Night. Yeah, I went there. With origins separated by almost 3 decades, Marvel and DC quickly became rivals in the huge American comic book industry, and still today the typical image of the superhero is ingrained in the characters each company offers to its readers. While much has been and continues to be said and debated over the individual merits and flaws of each company’s franchise, fictional histories, and business strategy, I’m here to go into a specific market of each company, one out of many yet probably the most prominent aspect of each entity today.

I’m going to compare their cinematic universes.

Now, at first it may seem very unfair, given that the MCU is on its 16th film with several network television and Netflix series under its belt, while the so-called DCEU is only 3 films in. But fret not, I’m not here to bash. I am going to point out the deficiencies in each one, sure, but this being a full comparison means that I’m going to provide as clear a picture as I can of the unique flavor of both franchises, and how each reflects the core heart of each company’s approach to the American superhero.

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So, where do we start? How about the beginning? Why yes, invisible twin! Let’s start at the beginning: 2008.

MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe, known colloquially by fans as the MCU, was the brainchild of Kevin Feige, who in 2005 as the newly-formed Marvel Studios’ second-in-command under Avi Arad, envisioned an interconnected series of superhero films based around the only big characters Marvel still held film rights to: the Avengers. Shortly after becoming Chief Producer with Arad’s departure, Feige oversaw the formation of a committee designed to ensure creative integrity and continuity in the universe. This committee included Marvel Studios co-President Louis D’Esposito, Marvel Comics President of Publishing Dan Buckley, Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada, writer Brian Michael Bendis, Marvel Entertainment President Alan Fine, and Feige himself. Together, these six would begin crafting a broad, arching storyline that would form the basis for the MCU, which officially started with Iron Man, directed by Jon Favreau and starring Robert Downey Jr. as the Armored Avenger, Tony Stark.

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Despite the nearly three-year preparation and formation of the MCU, this wasn’t a very well-known fact at the time among normal moviegoers; with only a short post-credits stinger introducing Samuel L. Jackson as the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury, as any indication that a larger universe lay ahead, Iron Man was very much a standalone superhero flick, concerned with establishing its character first before introducing the universe at large.

This theme of the slow reveal continued throughout the MCU’s Phase One, with The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger containing smaller references to the world at large, mostly in the form of background easter eggs, plot devices, and of course, the omnipresent stinger, which by now has become a Marvel trademark. Not until 2012’s The Avengers, written and directed by Joss Whedon, did the MCU explode into full frame, with an ensemble assortment of characters, a storyline that reached deep into the Marvel toybox, and plot points that set up the next two Phases of films.

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As pioneering as this approach to world-building as this was, critics and audiences had reservations as well as hope, particularly in the cinematic styles of the films themselves. Looking at the Marvel output, one gets a sense that everything just looks almost the same, and there is truth to that statement. Despite Phase One containing diverse directorial talent from Kenneth Branaugh and Joe Johnston to newcomers Jon Favreau and Louis Leterrier, only Whedon seems to have been afforded a semblance of visual freedom, electing to shoot Avengers in an uncommon 1.85:1 ratio which greatly opens up the big action pieces that are the lynchpin of his film. Everything else, even when factoring in the signature trademarks of each helmer, feels as if it has all been sanitized into a one-size-fits-all box of cinematography.

 

While this continues into Phase Two at first, the influx of new filmmakers into the mix began to show. With names like Shane Black, James Gunn, and the Russo Brothers, Phase Two is where the MCU really started to hit its stride. The films began to take on more and more of their ancestral formulas; the Russos’ Captain America: The Winter Soldier borrowed heavily from 1970s spy and conspiracy thrillers, while Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy was a visual and auditory explosion of saccharine, presenting a colorful cosmos set to hit music from the ’70s and ’80s. Even Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man, while thematically as safe as Iron Man 3 or Thor: The Dark World, is an eclectic mix of heist movies and Golden Age sci-fi, able to tangle with the bigger hits of the summer easily.

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Phase Two also brought the MCU into television with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC and the Netflix shows, starting with Daredevil. While the ABC series have definitely hit roadblocks in terms of their writing (and in the sad case of Agent Carter, cancellation), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is still airing, with many more on the way such as The Inhumans, Cloak and Dagger, The Runaways, and the just-announced New Warriors. However, it is the Netflix shows where the MCU shines on the small screen, with Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist acting as a sort of R-rated Avengers, setting up a highly-anticipated miniseries called The Defenders in November of this year.

With the MCU now in its Third Phase of films and approaching a turning point with the third and fourth Avengers films in 2018 and 2019, it seems like the sky is no longer the limit for Marvel as they continue to rake in profits, bolstered by an ever-increasing critical support for their films.

DC EXTENDED UNIVERSE

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While the MCU was in the process of carving out its name in pop culture, Warner Brothers was still in the middle of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Itself a massive monetary and critical success for their company, the trilogy however was not conducive to beginning a shared continuity due to its heavy basis in realism and the whims of Nolan’s creative fancy. During the Nolan years, several attempts were made at rebooting the series, with the project closest to becoming a reality being George Miller’s Justice League Mortal. Without getting too much into it, this picture failed to be made, and instead, a new film focusing a reboot of Superman was pitched, written, and shot instead, guided in the scripting phase by Dark Knight alums David S. Goyer and Nolan himself, and then handed off to Zack Snyder.

While containing several references to other DC characters such as Batman, Man of Steel was made more as a “backdoor pilot” to a new shared universe, one that could stand alone if not successful but launch a franchise if so. Meanwhile, Warner’s television holdings began to air several series revolving around DC comics characters, beginning with Arrow in 2012. This started three distinct continuitues, with Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow sharing one, Gotham, a Batman prequel series centered on Detective Jim Gordon, and Supergirl contained within their own universes. Due to the hard sci-fi nature of The Flash and Legends, these shows have still crossed over several times, but never with any DC films at the time of this writing.

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After the modest success of Man of Steel, DC announced in 2014 a slate of ten upcoming films sharing continuity with the new Superman, and a year later finally placed a name on this continuity: the DC Extended Universe. Including the television series as separate universes, the DCEU functions as a multiverse, with different realities containing the various properties. This was done in order to include the television series without having to keep to their continuity, allowing the films to start fresh with only Man of Steel to have to honor.

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The film portion of the DCEU began in earnest with the March release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Introducing the new Batman, and for the first time on film, Wonder Woman, BVS did eventually become a blockbuster hit, but not after taking a savage pounding by critics and inducing a polarizing effect on the fanbase with its lackluster script and treatment of its characters. Later that year, Suicide Squad joined the ranks of the DCEU, presenting a team-up of DC villains that was even more polarizing than BVS, simultaneously earning low marks in reviews while winning an Oscar for makeup effects. It would not be until Wonder Woman‘s June release of this year that the DCEU earned near-unanimous praise, and not a moment too soon, with Justice League, its first high-profile team up film, dropping in November.

SO WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

Now, before I start, there seems to be some contention on whether it is even appropriate to compare the two franchises, let alone where to make the comparison. Do only the early Marvel films count, since the DCEU is 4 films in while the MCU is packing 16? I’m actually going to throw caution to the wind and open up the playing field for all the films, because, and let’s face it, the DCEU may be new, but they had the advantage of paying attention to Marvel and learning from their mistakes. So there it is.

Some of the more obvious visual differences are easy to spot, such as the DCEU’s usage of film over digital since BVS, which affords those films a more natural and dynamic look as opposed to the brighter, cleaner-looking Marvel offerings. There’s also the fact that Warner has full control over all characters in the DC Comics, having never had to experience the bankruptcy and selling off of film rights that Marvel did in the 1990s.

The audio experience of each franchise is also worlds apart, specifically in the musical motifs. While Marvel films have consistently proficient and even wonderful scores, the continuity of themes are virtually nonexistent, with sequels rarely carrying over the music of the previous installment. Really, only Alan Silvestri’s Avengers themes are brought back at all. Compare this with the grand and graceful work of Hans Zimmer, who is said to have composed the main themes for every Justice League member, and there’s another point for the DCEU.

 

However, the advantages start to taper off for the DCEU right about here. The biggest disadvantage that the DCEU has is it’s writing, pure and simple. From BVS on, there has been a persistent deficiency of even passable writing, from character motivations and development, to basic story structure, and it has greatly hurt the infant franchise. To illustrate this, I’ll be specifically comparing BVS with Civil War.

Image result for Captain America CIvil WarReleased only two months apart, BVS and CW both feature conflicts between superheroes considered by audiences at large to be friends and partners, motivated by deep philosophical and moral rifts between them. CW, being the first of Marvel’s Phase Three and the 13th film overall in the series, had the enormous advantage of the established story before it. Here, Steve Rogers/Captain America and Tony Stark/Iron Man find themselves on opposite sides of the law, with Stark supporting the Sokovia Accords, an international treaty governing the actions of superheroes, and Rogers opposing it to keep his friend, Bucky, out of an armored cell. Their arrival at these two different ends of the ideological spectrum had been evolving throughout the entire series, with Stark beginning very much distrustful of authority and Rogers firmly supportive of it. Their backgrounds reflected this as well: Rogers as a WWII veteran and super soldier, Stark as a freewheeling billionaire playboy who had been fighting off a government wanting to appropriate his weaponized armor for years. The events of the series slowly change them; Stark’s growing PTSD leads him to create Ultron in an attempt to secure world piece, only to backfire horrifically when Ultron goes rogue and kills thousands of people, while Rogers witnesses S.H.I.E.L.D., the clandestine spy agency he serves, grow more and more authoritarian until it is revealed that his worst enemy, the HYDRA organization, had hijacked it decades ago, and infested the entire world’s political infrastructure. The journeys these characters have taken are logical and conducive to good drama, culminating in an emotional slugfest when Stark, who’s already-strong self-destructive streak is at its peak, makes a snap-decision to murder Bucky for killing his parents while under HYDRA control.

Image result for batman v superman bruceBVS, on the other hand, had only one film before it to set up any characters, and that was a solo Superman film. Thus, Clark Kent is the only character that receives enough backstory to understand, but even that is no help in reasons that will become clearer in a moment. The new Bruce Wayne of the film, played with a suave and masterful swagger by Ben Affleck, is nevertheless an enigma; he is an older Batman, having already suffered the loss of Robin years ago, an event that seemingly pushed him over the edge into killing criminals, a decision that alienated many fans. This is the only semblance of any character building with Batman that leaves audiences unfamiliar with him, and hampers any connection we can make with him.

This doesn’t get any better when we realize that almost nothing the characters do actually contributes to the story. If it is true that the typical story act ends when a character makes a fateful and irrevocable decision, than BVS must have a two-hour-long act, followed by an ten-minute one, when Batman decides to kill Superman over flimsy fears that he will turn bad, and then decides to let him live over one of the most poorly-executed scenes ever filmed.

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You know the one, don’t ask.

And sure, Lex Luthor decides to kill Superman, using Batman to do it, but we never see this choice go down–he has decided to do it already when the film begins. Batman’s attempts to recover the kryptonite from Luthor and find out what he is doing with it are useless, as an action sequence involving the Batmobile ends with him failing to recover it, and later scene of Bruce infiltrating Luthor’s ball also ends with him losing the data to Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, so what was the point of those 20 minutes of precious screentime?

And then comes the big fight. Luthor holds hostage Clark’s mother Martha, forcing him to deliver Batman’s head if he wants her to live. Resolving to try to enlist the Batman’s help, as he reveals to Lois Lane, Superman heads to their confrontation, and tries to reason with Bruce…all of two times. By the third booby-trap Batman has sprung on him, Clark suddenly decides that he’d rather fight this man who needs advanced armor just to survive one of his blows rather than save his mother, and this is before he gets hit with kryptonite. It’s such a petty and out-of-character moment for Superman that it obliterates all of the development he had in the previous film. Remember how angrily he attacked Zod when he threatened his mother? Or how devastated he was at having to take Zod’s life to save others? Well here, he turns his back on both of those plot points, and its only to give us a Batman vs Superman fight, because Goddammit, it’s right there in the title!

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Superdouche.

Combine this with a role for Wonder Woman that only exists to give us a third leg in the Doomsday fight (and to open up a laptop with a Justice League trailer on it), and you get a mighty mess that leaves Nolan happy he didn’t have his name attached to it. With all of the emphasis on action scenes and pointless philosophical discussions that go nowhere, what should have been a solid Superman sequel with Batman as the antagonist quickly becomes an exercise on how not to write a script.

But why did this happen? Well, the most obvious explanation is that Warner wanted to catch up quickly to Marvel by putting out team-up films early, and capitalize on the Nolan-inspired wave of smarter blockbusters by injecting a directionless intellectual bent into a story with only enough meat for an hour of movie. This is Warner’s biggest weakness compared to Marvel: they simply don’t have a plan, and couldn’t be bothered to take the time to come up with one.

Remember, the MCU is guided by Kevin Feige and a committee of comic veterans who are experienced in plotting multi-issue story arcs that last years. Warner did not take this approach, only appointing Geoff Johns to Creative Head after the BVS fiasco. Even then, there is still no main story thread in place, as opposed to Marvel’s ongoing Infinity Stones storyline, which offers a basic framework while the characters evolve and grow on their way to the ultimate battle. The DCEU is very much a rudderless speedboat, employing a selection of its own first-rate filmmakers but not capitalizing on their strengths.

Another weakness of Warner’s franchise is the fact that they still assume more control over creative decisions. Within Marvel, Feige is free to direct the MCU as he sees fit, with minimal interference from the parent company (shocking that Disney would leave them alone, isn’t it?). There are still exertions of control over the filmmakers, most evident in the feud between Feige and Whedon during Age of Ultron, and the departures of Sally Jenkins from Thor: The Dark World and Edgar Wright from Ant-Man, but on the whole, this has been more the exception than the rule. Meanwhile, after BVS fell short of its projections, the heads of Warner stepped in, demanding extensive changes to the next film, Suicide Squad. Their alterations resulted in an even worse mess, with a film bearing an even more nonsensical storyline and no real growth from any character, essentially amounting to a video game level on film. In short, Marvel and Warner both meddle in the creative process, but to a lesser extent in the MCU and before the cameras roll, ensuring a more coherent product will hit the screens.

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So with that, MCU is definitely the more solid franchise, but that doesn’t mean the DCEU should be given up on. While the MCU’s television series tie in with the films, allowing for smaller side stories within the universe, the DC offerings are consistently higher-rated, and have the converse advantage of being able to go where they want to go, regardless of the film series. The DCEU has taken many more risks with its character portrayals, while the MCU is starting to feel stagnant in the fact that characters hardly die or face real danger. And when it comes down to it, Warner may be learning from their mistakes, if Wonder Woman is any indication.

So let’s say the DCEU rights itself, and become a real contender to Marvel’s dominance. How can it get there? Well, I know a little something of DC comics as well, for through most of my teen years I favored them more than the capeless denizens of Marvel. And I believe that the best way for that to happen is for DC’s runners and writers to recognize how different their heroes and stories are. Marvel makes topical entertainment, catering to whatever is hip and happening today. They’re entirely well-made pieces that will continue to captivate and offer up philosophical fodder for my sleepless nights, but they’ll never be as timeless as the worldly rage of Batman, or the lonely compassion of Superman. DC heroes and heroines harken back to the Golden Age of Comic Books, the introductory period of superhumans, and as such, the films should shift tone to reflect that heritage. Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are self-destructive creatures, doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over in front of us as a testament to our darker desires, while Diana Prince and J’onn J’onns see only the good in humanity, and fight to protect it.

In short, Marvel is riding a renaissance of cynicalism. It will be the job of DC to usher in the era of human optimism. This is their potential, and it’s high time they realize it.

Well, here it comes. I can’t wait to hear the polite and friendly responses to this accusing me of being a Marvel kiss-up or a DC puke, and let’s face it, I am much more of a Marvel fan right now, they are simply doing it better. But I really would like to see the DCEU succeed, so comparing the two and discovering the weaknesses and strengths of each is still a worthy endeavor. Am I crazy or am I onto something with this analysis? Let me know, I can take it.

As I flinch in the corner.

Double Bill Drive-In: The Right Stuff / Apollo 13

Double Bill Drive-In

Independence Day is almost upon us, and what better way to celebrate the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave than with a double feature of two high-flying movies of the highest American caliber!

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Relive the glory days of America’s supremacy in the Space Race, when we all watched in awe as red-blooded American boys of the air became astronauts, the bravest and most daring of professions around! In this double bill, you’ll see our boys in spacesuits during their finest hour and their most dangerous moments, in triumph and tragedy, where they will show us all what being an American truly means!

First, two previews for you:

And the first feature of the night:

The Right Stuff Movie Poster

A sweeping epic of the early days of America’s space program, The Right Stuff is brought to you by filmmaker Philip Kaufman in a three-plus hour grand story featuring the greatest of America’s early astronauts, including John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Alan Shepard, Gordo Cooper, and many more. Watch them soar past the Wild Blue Yonder first tamed by Chuck Yeager and into the vast open regions of the cosmos, painting a picture of the triumph of American ingenuity and exceptionalism in the face of the tumultuous 1960s.

“Remember: no bucks, no Buck Rogers.”

Three more trailers for your intermission!

And for the second feature of the night:

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Making a return engagement at our establishment after our first ever double bill, Apollo 13 makes for a brilliant compliment to The Right Stuff, continuing the story of America’s journey to the Moon whilst putting the exceptionalism of our daring astronauts in incredible danger for the first time, as the crew of Apollo 13 encounter a disaster which could strand them in space, sealing their fates.

“This 4th of July weekend, I wanted to give to viewers a vision of America that was good and pure in its own way. While the 1960s brought dramatic upheaval to the American Way, in many ways deserved, one shining light of pride was always our space program. While indeed started to beat the Soviets into the military high ground of Earth orbit, it became an incredible odyssey of mankind’s capacity to rise above its terrestrial origins and do what had never been done before. What a time to have been alive that would be. If you have stared up at the moon and ever wished you could have seen those events in person, like me, then this is the double feature for you. I guarantee it; you will never feel a bigger swelling of both American patriotism and love for the human race than will right here.”
– The Movie Maestro, Theater Owner

And that’s all she wrote, folks! Please remember to do your part by picking up your trash, and enjoy the fireworks on the way out! Happy 4th of July to you all!

Maestro’s Marathons: The American Spirit Marathon

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This 4th of July weekend, prepare for the fireworks by catching the best of the best of red-blooded, patriotic American cinema!

The 4th of July. A time to celebrate freedom,

Independence,

Courage,

And star-spangled explosions.

The Movie Maestro presents to you, on this July 4th weekend, the American Spirit Marathon. 12 explosive, ass-kicking films, all ready to pump the free will of America straight into you! This Independence Day, welcome those freedom-hating aliens and Russians to ‘Earf’ and soar beyond the clouds to plant the Old Glory on the face of the Moon!

Every year on the 4th of July, I always popped in a movie to celebrate. Most of the time, my infantile mind picked Independence Day or Air Force One, and in recent years, I’ve stayed a bit infantile in my picks, going for a mix of some more nuanced examples of patriotism and the most bombastically-nationalistic action-fests out there. And now that we are here for the first Independence Day at the Movie Maestro, I figured I would share my usual picks for the ultimate American marathon.

Spaced out across four days, from July 1st to the 4th, the American Spirit marathon is the best prep for ‘Murican festivities out there!

And also, just because I know there’s someone out there who won’t get the joke, there is a heavy bent of irony to most of the picks here. No, I’m not a brain-dead idiot who will literally blow my arms off this 4th because I love me some ‘Murica, I’m just having fun with this. I hope you will too!

The picks:

Live Free or Die Hard
Live Free or Die Hard Movie PosterStart off the American festivities by saving the nation with its favorite foul-mouthed, working-class hero, John McClane. Live Free or Die Hard takes the old New Hampshire motto and puts it to work, throwing McClane into the high-stakes world of cyberterrorism. The holiday weekend, indeed, the entire country, is being threatened by a digital madman, the former NSA golden-boy Thomas Gabriel. His power seems endless, his goals are nefarious, but we have a secret weapon: Bruce Willis with a gun. And Justin Long with a laptop, but he’s obviously not the most important part. Leave it to that scruffy New York beat cop to bring an old-fashioned dose of analog justice to those high-tech freedom-haters, with fireballs aplenty. If you’ve ever felt that uniquely American need to blow up the grid over one annoying traffic light, then this is the movie to start with.

1776
1776 Movie PosterSetting aside the explosions and the gunfights for a moment, why not go back to the very beginning? With a splash of Broadway melody, this film details the lengths to which the Continental Congress had to go to keep the American Revolution afloat, while never sugarcoating the compromises that the founding fathers had to make to secure independence. It’s like no other history class in existence as the Founding Fathers spit rhymes like musket fire and dance circles around the Crown like their lives depended on it! (What’s that? I am being told their lives did depend on it. History!) You even get a crash course in some lesser known American history, like the fact that Benjamin Franklin was a big horn-dog or that John Adams was really Mr. Feeny! Don’t let the fact that it’s a musical scare you off; think of it as a break before more booms!

Air Force One
Air Force One Movie PosterWho doesn’t want their President to be an ass-kicking Freedom Machine? While in real life that leads to tired old TV stars becoming President, and unmitigated disaster as they charge into battle unprepared, getting their jacket threads caught in their rifle sling, resulting in Taps being played way too early, in movie-land it is a recipe for American pride, as Harrison Ford unleashes justice upon the terrorist hijackers of the Presidential Plane, one bullet at a time. Now that we seem to have to deal with Russian aggression again these days, won’t it be comforting to have Han Solo wreck their plans, American style? In an amazing suit, no less? While F-15 soar alongside, blasting bogeys with air-to-air missiles? Sign me up, I’m ready for that! Settle back into the action with this Die Hard-inspired thriller with an Executive twist! Harrison Ford has my vote.

Olympus Has Fallen
Olympus Has Fallen Movie PosterWhile Aaron Eckhart’s President isn’t as tough as Ford’s, at least he has one incredible bodyguard in Gerard Butler. Yet another Die Hard clone finds its way into the American Spirit marathon with Olympus Has Fallen, a battle for supremacy in the White House itself. It looks like those dastardly Kims have started their ultimate gamble, attacking our very seat of power with both subterfuge and superior firepower. Never fear though, as resident badass Butler, a.k.a. King Leonidas, a.k.a. Mike Banning loads up and singlehandedly defeats the North Korean menace within the walls of our most hallowed mansion! Does it matter that Butler is actually Scottish? Or that he seems just as well known for -shudder- romantic comedies as well as actioners? It won’t during this hairy-chested roller coaster ride of a movie! And we even have God–er, I mean Morgan Freeman on our side!

Rocky IV
Rocky IV Movie PosterThose Russians are at it again. In between election hacking and straight-up invading neighboring countries, now they’re sinking their dirty mitts into our sports! This time, their greatest boxer, Ivan Drago, has killed the Master of Disaster, the freedom-shorts-wearing Apollo Creed! Only one man stands in Drago’s way of claiming the title from the U.S. of A: Rocky Balboa, the Italian Stallion! A crowd-pleaser by any and all means, Rocky IV presents good old Philadelphian Rocky at his most triumphant, winning the Cold War all by himself in the ring, without a single Nuke fired or submarine sunk. While the original Rocky may be the better film, who doesn’t want to see the Stallion win in the most bombastic way possible, decked out in Old Glory, smashing communism with his powerful fists? There, I said it. Rocky IV is better than Rocky. Except it isn’t. Except it is. Isn’t it?

Lincoln
Lincoln Movie PosterReturn to the history books with Lincoln, one of Steven Spielberg’s best docudramas and Daniel Day-Lewis’s finest performances. Dealing with the difficult passing of the 13th Amendment in 1865, Lincoln presents everything the titular President had to do, both painful and unethical, to bring about justice and freedom to a suffering people within the borders of our United States. A bit more somber than the rest of this marathon, it nevertheless is an important addition, reminding us that in between the RPGs and fistfights, there are true battles to be fought every day in the name of equality. And if I’m being much too serious and melodramatic about it, perhaps you can take solace in the fact that while there’s an overload of politics, it is much more interesting than your average CSPAN viewing, what with representatives engaged in the best insult battles I have ever had the pleasure of seeing.

Double Feature: The Right Stuff / Apollo 13
Right Stuff-Apollo 13
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Jaws
Jaws Movie PosterIs it a typical July 4th movie? No. Is it particularly patriotic? Not really. To be honest, Jaws is mostly here because of its setting: on the eve of a big 4th of July weekend full of tourists and sunny beaches. Depending on the holiday to pull them out of debt and off of welfare, because it’s very un-American to be on welfare, Amity Island finds itself in a pretty pickle, and in the sights of a killer shark. Resolving to eliminate the menace in the only way New England Americans know how, Chief Brody, ichthyolgist Hooper, and Captain Quint get ready to go sharking. Because fishing is for Europeans. One-half horror movie, one-half Moby Dick with a decidedly more explosive climax, Jaws is just what Uncle Sam ordered for his extra-large seafood platter. It could be your town. It could be your beach. It could be you as lunch. So kick back and take a bite out of this summer classic!

Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The First Avenger Movie PosterYou knew a superhero film was going to end up on this list sooner or later. They’re just as American as apple pie, fireworks, and massive nuclear weapons! But while Superman may stand for truth, justice, and the American way, well, he’s got nothing on the Captain himself, who launches headfirst into battle with the flag on his uniform and his indestructible shield! Steve Rogers just wanted to be a good citizen and serve his nation, but his sickly body prevented him from doing what he felt was his duty. Enter Dr. Erskine, who’s Super Soldier Serum transforms Steve into Captain America, the Star Spangled Man with a Plan, ready to sock it to old Adolf and his fascist monster, the Red Skull! Full of 1940s action and feel-good American vibes, this movie is ready take back the weekend from sharp-toothed fishes! Revel in Marvel’s over-the-top version of the Greatest Generation’s greatest fight with The First Avenger!

The Patriot
The Patriot Movie PosterWith one more trip into the past we arrive at Roland Emmerich’s The Patriot, the ultimate revenge story set within the embryonic throes of the United States during the Revolution. Join Benjamin Martin as he cuts a swath through the British redcoats, intent on avenging his fallen sons by destroying his nemesis, the brutal Colonel Tavington. Join his son, Gabriel Martin, as he mends Old Glory and beats back jolly old England on the hallowed shores of our home. And join General Cornwallis as he learns firsthand what happens when Brits mess with the U.S. of A. Is it accurate? Nope. Is it awesome? You bet! What, you expected a movie showing Mad Max going all Ahab on the British Hitler wouldn’t be rousing? It’s a damn blast, is what it is! So stop whining about “historical context” and “nuanced drama” and just enjoy the show!

Independence Day
Independence Day Movie PosterA July 4th classic, Independence Day offers the best of both worlds: a sci-fi extraordinaire set during the holiday, and a patriotic romp, as President Whitmore rallies the entire world to declare its own Independence Day against the alien invaders intent on conquering it. It’s got metropolitan sights, military hardware, and cheesy conspiracy theories, so it has to be American! To top it all off, President Whitmore gives us one hell of a cinematic speech, and it’s only the primer for the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind, complete with a crazy crop-duster ready to deliver the final blow to those meddling alien overlords. It doesn’t hurt to have Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith in the mix, puffing cigars and ruining alien motherships with the almighty power of the Apple Mac. It doesn’t get much more American than that. Now say it with me, “TODAY WE CELEBRATE OUR INDEPENDENCE DAY!!!”

Armageddon
Armageddon Movie PosterWhat could possibly beat Independence Day as the quintessential July 4th film? How about Michael Bay’s Armageddon, a movie with more American flags than any other? As detailed in my editorial, Armageddon lends itself well to patriotic fervor, and it’s a damn fun movie to watch on a day already centered around drinking and barbecue. You even get the biggest explosion of them all at the end as Bruce Willis (yep, he’s back!) blows up the mother of all asteroids! If you want to feel the tingle of America without blowing your fingers off, finish the marathon with Armageddon. You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

And that is a wrap! Now, of course, these are only suggestions, feel free to mix and match or add your own. This is the day of freedom, so embrace it!

Fan Edit Review: Derelict

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Original Films Directed by Ridley Scott, Alien written by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, Prometheus written by Jon Spaights and Damon Lindelof
Fan Edit by JobWillins
Category: FanMix

Not all fan edits exist to simply extend a film or fix some perceived problem with its story or pacing. Sometimes, an editor wants to make a work of art. An interesting mix of elements from different films can be combined to create an incredibly unique experience, and that is just what JobWillins has done here with Derelict, a combination of Prometheus and Alien.

Obviously, it isn’t as easy as sticking both films together at the ends and calling it a day. JobWillins’ vision calls for a marrying of both films’ stories, shifting back and forth between each film. This creates a unique dual narrative structure that increases the mystery element in each film and heightens the dread surrounding each cast of characters.

Roughly 30 or so minutes of Prometheus has been cut and replaced with an hour of Alien, staggered at varying intervals according to how well each scene fits. Beginning with David aboard the Prometheus, Derelict aims for maximum ambiguity: without the beginning of time opening or the Isle of Skye scene, the voyage and David’s role in it become a mystery, one that only heightens when the ship reaches its destination, only for the film to jump 30 years later to the Nostromo.

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The unknown elements of Alien gain even more of a sinister edge with this approach. The repeated beacon that calls the Nostromo is now implied to have something to do with the Prometheus mission. The derelict vessel becomes an even bigger enigma once the Juggernaut is revealed. David and Ash become even more intrinsically linked. All of these new revelations aren’t specifically stated by the edit, just implied by the new ordering.

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The best bits of this edit are in how the films transition into each other. The touchdown of the Prometheus cuts directly to the Nostromo’s rocky landing from inside the cockpit. Shaw, Holloway, and David’s escape from the storm cuts directly to Dallas and Lambert with Kane at the Nostromo airlock. An excellent montage of Weyland’s group entering the Engineer pyramid plays over Ash’s speech on the perfection of the Alien. And don’t get me started on how tense the new, combined climax is. With each cut of three decades, this edit’s legitimacy as FanEdit.org’s Fan Edit of the Month gets more and more solidified.

As mentioned before, large swaths of both films have been cut. Dropped is most of Prometheus‘ first act, sadly losing some of the better character moments between Shaw, Holloway, and Vickers (poor Vickers suffers the most from the cutting). Gone too is some of Alien‘s better bits of banter between Brett and Parker and some of the third act scares, but it’s all in the name of creating a pacing that fits in both stories effectively without turning the project into a 4-hour monstrosity. Two deleted scenes from Prometheus are also used.

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Video and sound are presented at the internet standard of 15 mbps, at 720p resolution with a 2-channel soundtrack. Presented in high contrast black-and-white to cover the obvious differences between the films’ visual styles, Derelict does a great job at emphasizing Ridley Scott’s use of light and shadow. Sound is dynamic enough for a stereo mix and quite adequate.

Derelict is an example of the talent that exists outside the Hollywood system. Taking two films separated by 32 years and combining them into a single, flowing story is not an easy feat, let alone making it a unique and entertaining venture when both films have been pored over to death. JobWillins makes the project look easy-peasy. Highly recommended.

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HOW TO GET IT:
Derelict has been taken from Vimeo’s public listings, however, it still exists as an unlisted video. If you have a Tumblr account, hop on and follow @JobWillins. On his blog there he has the video link posted along with the password required to watch. Enjoy!

REVIEW: Alien (1979)

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Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Dan O’Bannon, Story by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Koto

The big one. The original. One of the most influential films ever made. Alien. Just like Blade Runner, this is one I’m a bit scared to review, as I doubt I could add anything to the already incredibly-dense discussion of this pivotal piece of work. But, fear is meant to be faced (as Ripley herself discovered), so here goes.

A commercial crew aboard the deep space towing vessel Nostromo is on its way home when they pick up an SOS beacon from a distant moon. Picking up the signal, the crew sets down on the barren planetoid, discovering a derelict alien ship, stocked with egg-like objects. One of the crew is attacked by a creature within the eggs, and is brought back aboard the Nostromo before leaving. In time, the crew realizes that they are not alone, trapped in space with an alien stowaway.

Surprisingly, I grew up seeing its sequel Aliens long before this first, classic film. It wasn’t until age 13 when I borrowed a friend’s VHS copy that I truly sunk into this flick, and every little disturbing detail it holds close. Made in the wake of the almighty Star Wars, Ridley Scott’s sophomore effort is an excellent example of many different facets of filmmaking, from set design and world building, all employed to terrifying the audience with psychosexual imagery.

Born out of the failed Alejandro Jodorowsky Dune project, Alien is mainly the brainchild of Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, who created the main storyline together after many discussions about creating the ultimate version of older B-movie storylines involving scary star beasts of the night sky. The final script by O’Bannon reflects this lineage of old-school sci-fi, whilst injecting even earlier aspects of the genre that place it square within the style of Robert Heinlein or Poul Anderson. Most engenious, of course, was the creature itself: a being that reproduces through a horrifying act of oral rape. The concept would have been daring even today, let alone in the late ’70s, and O’Bannon milks it for all its worth by inflicting its violent birthing onto a male crewmember, forcing the men in the audience to entertain fears that have been traditionally reserved for women.

Expanding on this singular vision was Ridley, already well known as a visual savant in the industry, and a team of innovative artists designing every nook and cranny on screen. Sci-fi artists Ron Cobb and Chris Foss, and legendary comic book artist Moebius Giraud were key members of this team, assembling a hard sci-fi environment with distinctly European influences. The Nostromo is so well realized, all the way down to the warning labels on the doors, that it implies a vast universe of hardware and bureaucracy outside of its bulkheads with minimal effort.

The real MVP of the design team, undoubtedly, was H.R. Giger. A Swiss surrealist painter whose work was, shall we say, nightmarish, Giger was hired on after his work had an impression on O’Bannon after meeting him on the Dune project. Giger’s sexualized, biomechanical designs appear truly otherworldly and non-human, upping the production value considerably on their own. As important as O’Bannon was to the conception of the creature, Giger’s artwork was the visual basis for its entire menace, a sexualized and vaguely humanoid monster without eyes or subtlety. After all, look at its head. That is most definitely a penis. With a toothed penis for a tongue.

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In a way, we’ve never seen a film made like this before, or since: usually, there is a single art director attached to pool the different creative styles of the concept team together. Alien chucks that out of the window with several very different chief artists working on different aspects of the Nostromo environment (the ship itself, interior hardware, space suits, etc.), and one wildly unconventional and, at the time, considered-unfilmable painter forming the basis for everything extraterrestrial. It lends the film a realism that seldom few others ever attain.

The film’s sets and props masterfully realize these unique styles, with the Nostromo set built full size and interconnected, genuinely increasing the claustrophobia on the actors, and therefore, the audience. Special marks must be heaped on Giger’s “cockpit” set aboard the Derelict, featuring the 26-foot-tall “Space Jockey” alien.

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Ridley then takes the reigns, wisely keeping the Alien hidden in darkness for the majority of its little screentime, drawing from Spielberg’s Jaws strategy of horror: less is more, imagination is better. When the Alien isn’t around, Ridley takes great glee in drawing out the suspensful atmosphere, alternating sweeping dollies and tracking shots that seem like they’re taken straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey, with sublime handheld camera work that Ridley himself shot. He thrives on the slow build, and never once is it boring.

And yet, there is another side to the game die that is Alien: sound. Editor Terry Rawlings, who doubled as a sound designer, not only helps along the tension with precision cutting, but erects a sphere of emersive sound around the audience with all sorts of mechanical beeps, blips, and computerized tones. When I saw Alien last month for the Alien Day event, I was blown away by the sonic experience in a way that I hadn’t since seeing Scott’s Blade Runner on a big screen. In the quieter moments, Jerry Goldsmith’s almost experimental score takes hold, whisping through the air like a ghostly force. If you need any evidence of visual effects, art design, directing, and music combining to create an eerie atmosphere, look no further than the opening sequence, featuring titles by Saul Bass of Psycho fame:

The actors gracing the screen are a selection of America’s and Britain’s finest in simplicity, portraying a blue collar band of “space truckers” in sometimes brilliant ways. Harry Dean Stanton and Yaphet Koto banter back and forth, bitching about their smaller shares, pointing toward a continued class inequity in this future. Veronica Cartwright is a ball of emotion, acting as a reliable audience buffer and spoiler; Ian Holm is genuinely creepy as the aloof science officer with a big secret, and Tom Skerritt relishes in all the little quirks he brings to the very-subtly-implied sexual relationship he may be carrying on with Sigourney Weaver, in her career-defining role as Ellen Ripley. A professional woman with none of the traditionally feminine baggage, Ripley is vulnerable yet tough, exposed in a patriarchal society yet waiting to rise to the challenge, a perfect foil for the abomination of toxic masculinity in the Alien.

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All of this creates a palpable sense of tension and revulsion. Even before the seminal and incredibly bloody chestbursting scene, the film is a dark ride through a space-age haunted house. It’s no wonder that it is not only the most influential horror film of the past half-century, but also among the most influential science fiction stories. The film works both within its narrative, and as an expansive exercise in inadvertant world-building. From the society hinted at by the characters, to the eponymous Company and its sinister schemes, to the enigmatic presence of the Derelict and the Space Jockey, there’s so much to touch upon from this taut little tale.

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In 2003, Twentieth Century Fox released a Director’s Cut to theaters and home video, however, as Ridley Scott already considers the theatrical version his definitive cut, this is meant to be seen as an alternative vision. Scott was nonetheless involved, so the Director’s Cut is still a worthwhile piece of work. In order to avoid ruining the pace of the film, Scott made numerous small trims to other scenes, usually involving long takes of the set, making room for several deleted sequences. Both cuts are included on the excellent Alien Anthology blu-ray set.

Now that I’m done discussing the all of the obvious and unoriginal stuff that has most definitely been done before, what do I really think of Alien? Well, I’m not as scared of it as I used to be, but I’m still creeped out. What’s the difference? I don’t jump watching Alien, but I still check the dark corners on my way to bed after a viewing. I’m not covering my eyes whenever it emerges from the shadows to headbite one of the sorry crew, but I’m most certainly in the throes of existential terror at the prospect of such an unsettling thing, or the concept of a crashed alien ship, waiting millions of years with a payload of pure hell. That is true horror. It never gets old; it evolves.