Thursday, May 22, 2008

Alien Aftermath

Each morning since last July I have had roughly the same routine: wake up, shower, make a bowl of oatmeal with raisins and/or apples, spend ten minutes in prayer while the oatmeal cooks and then cools, and then watch 15 minutes of a movie while I eat breffist, supplemented with a tall glass of O to the J. It works, even though it's not always delicious, but I usually stay full until lunch, which never happens if I eat cereal. Several weeks ago I decided I would wade through my old VHS collection of Alien movies including, as much as I was not looking forward to it, Alien Resurrection.

It was slow going at first, as our VCR slowly died in a fit of black-and-white fuzz, but we soon got a "new" one and I continued my journey through the life and times of Ripley, the heroine of the Alien series, played by the indelible Sigourney Weaver. In many respects I realized how good these films are, and yes, that includes the oft-maligned Alien3. Ridley Scott's original Alien was a masterwork of suspense, and breathed new life into the creature-feature flicks of the 50s and 60s, largely due to a supremely charming and charismatic cast. Its sequel, Aliens, showcases James Cameron at his big-budget best. His films are, if nothing else, epic in scale, and Aliens proved to be a worthy successor to the original by giving us what my friend Ben once described as a "VietNam movie in space." The action was frantic and suspenseful, and the aliens were as scary as all get out. The Queen still gives me chills, and I have no idea how they filmed the final 15 minutes of the movie with the technology that was available at the time.

Most would prefer to forget Alien3, but if you take it as more of a study of David Fincher than anything else, it turns out to be surprisingly well-done. Slow pacing, quick cuts, and religious symbolism (Neo of the Matrix trilogy has nothing on Ripley, folks) all combine to form a moody, ethereal rumination on self-sacrifice and self-preservation.

But Alien Resurrection...good gravy. The final chapter in the franchise (AvP films notwithstanding) is little more than a shameless attempt to cash in on the series' most noteworthy points (the aliens) while disregarding everything that made the original movies so exceptional (the characters). It's a silly splatter flick that proudly wears its grotesqueness on its sleeve, and even becomes a parody of itself by the time the "Newborn" appears. While the original Alien was a magnificent work of suspense and heightened emotions, its third sequel lies firmly at the bottom rung of the entire canon of splatter films, and relies not on impeccable pacing, but, sadly, on sheer shock value alone. The movie, rather than constructing a solid plot (why is there a swimming pool in a spaceship?) just gets more and more gross until the bitter end.

Anyway, after finishing the final Alien movie this morning I figured I needed something much more light to cleanse my mental palate. Enter This Is Spinal Tap, which is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. Though it is best viewed with British friends, like my former college roommates Ben and Simon, it's so funny even while being watched alone at 6am that I am actually looking forward to my morning bowl of oatmeal tomorrow. And, as if to pay homage to the movie, I received a rather fitting issue of National Geographic in the mail this afternoon. I nearly left it in its plastic mailing wrap, too, in honor of Nigel's guitar. :)

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