Volume 4, Number 6
As I mentioned last issue, there are pros and cons to being a film fan in England.
But there's an added pro, if you're a film fan in York, like me. It's called the City Screen, a small theater that runs out of the local museum, only a twenty-minute or so walk from the campus where I live. It has decent sound, a good-sized screen, well-sloped seats, and toilets. And it shows everything from new action flicks to the classics. I saw an advance screening of Plunkett & Macleane there. A couple weeks ago, I strolled over and saw Casablanca again. And this last weekend, I got to watch all four of the Alien movies in one day.
Now, I'd seen the first one ages ago on video, but I was sick of having to admit to not having seen the more recent ones. So, I went. I paid eight pounds, got a good seat, and was blown away.
Video can't compare to the Real Thing.
I was on the edge of my seat for the entire first film, mostly because I had only a dim recollection of it, and was trying desperately to remember which crew member it was who turned out to be the robot. But also because it's a wonderfully suspenseful film. Most folks call it horror, but it's not actually that horrific. It's the moments of heart-pounding suspense as the alien hunts down the crew members that make it work.
Well, that and Ripley.
She's clearly the driving force behind the films. She's the one who thinks logically, who wants to enforce quarantine (the breaking of which is what dooms the rest of the crew). She's not a Marine, although she works with them in Aliens. She's afraid. But she fights back anyway, and that is what makes her hero material. And when she goes back to the planet that started it all in Aliens, she's trying to lay to rest the mental demons that rarely plague typical movie heroes. It's her atypical traits that make her so effective.
Oddly enough, Aliens is more formulaic than Alien, but I actually enjoyed it more. For one thing, it has more characters that I genuinely like. In the first film, I only like Ripley and Ash (well, and the cat). But the second has Bishop, whose minuscule screen time is a criminal offense, and the Marines, who somehow manage to make their stereotypical characters an absolute delight instead of tired old rehashes of The Sergeant, The Captain, The Hotshot, etcetera. Even the oft-annoying Newt couldn't keep me from having a great time with Aliens.
So what went wrong with the other two? I went off for dinner during the break, and came back hoping for more of the high-quality action and terror of Aliens, and instead got Alien3 and Alien: Resurrection. Both were an absolute blast while I was watching, but I couldn't help noticing the problems.
And afterwards, I was ready to pound someone, because under reasoned consideration, they fall apart like a cheap kitchen utensil.
For example: we see a facehugger impregnate somebody in the escape pod as Alien3 opens, right? So how come it also manages to impregnate the dog? In the first two, once impregnation had occurred, the facehugger died. It's a bad idea to change the nature of the beast without some sort of explanation. Come to that, why was the one that had hibernated in the dog bigger than the dog itself? In the first two films, the stage that did the nasty eruption bit was only about as long as one's arm. This one was full-sized. Sheesh.
And Resurrection made me want to scream even during the damn thing: cloning doesn't work that way! AUGH! Okay, they say they got her DNA from some blood samples left on the prison planet in number three. No problem - it's far enough in the future that that's reasonable. But, they clone her so they can extract the alien and breed it, right? It gives them some trouble, but they manage it.
Now, let's consider the way the aliens work. The facehugger sticks an egg of some sort into your chest cavity, the egg hatches, and the chestburster stage gives you a severe case of pneumonia by erupting out of your torso.
When does the alien's DNA join up with the host's?
All of you who said, 'it doesn't,' get a big gold star sticker.
That is a major plot problem, particularly since the entire premise is that the alien DNA and Ripley's were so twined together that they had trouble getting the cloning to work properly; Ripley got left with some alien characteristics, and the alien got some human ones. It enraged me. The audience isn't stupid, and treating them as if they are is shooting the film in its own foot.
It would've taken them thirty seconds to have one of the scientists explain what the heck was going on ('Gee, isn't it lucky that the blood sample included some of the alien's DNA too?'). Something. Anything.
The first two were fairly smart. What little science there was, was accurate (well, except the old sound-in-space problem. But even Star Wars has that), o at least it was fudged well. But both Alien3 and Resurrection just skipped over the whole idea, and that kept me from enjoying the rather cool space-pirate types and the new edition of Ripley, who was pretty groovy herself.
Not, of course, to say that the last four hours of my time spent in City Screen were wasted. I had a blast cheering on the ragtag bunch of prisoners who have to fight the rather peculiar alien without any weapons except their wits. And as I said above, I liked the space pirates. They were fun, particularly the one played by Ron Perlman.
And, best of all, I saw the films the way they were meant to be seen - in a theater, in the dark, with the huge screen filling my vision. That alone was worth the price of admission.
In all, being a film fan here in York isn't such a bad deal.