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April 1996, Week 3


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Robbie Fraser <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 13 Apr 1996 13:09:08 GMT
text/plain (62 lines)
Some thoughts about Aliens and some other movies.
One of the best things about Aliens has to be the leisurely,
masterly, structured buildup of suspense. With the exception of
Ripley's disturbing dream in the Gateway Station hospital, there
is no high action in the original version until the marines hit
the planet Acheron. (I loved the Director's Cut edition, but I
have to say the scenes with Newt's family interrupted the finer
narrative development in the original release. We gained lost
scenes but it was at a certain price, unlike the re-release of
The Abyss which brought to the story a whole new dimension.) The
story develops in perfect tone. As Ripley encounters corporate
disbelief, red tape and approbation we begin to doubt her (and
ourselves). The events in the first film begin to seem like a
nightmarish hallucination. (Again, this would not work so well if
the events in the colony were shown.) This lays the foundation
for a wonderful filmic moment of horror.
So often in suspenseful films knowledge of the horror itself is
confined to a few people - young people (Nightmare on Elm St, The
Blob) or a single individual who struggles to warn society
against a tide of vested interest and disbelief (Chief Brody in
Jaws, Ripley in all of the Alien films, Sarah Connor in The
Terminator). Then comes a moment when "the authorities"
acknowledge the horror too, and suddenly the film takes on a far
more apocalyptic resonance, when all the resources of mankind/the
marines/the police are thrown against the evil and more often
than not are overthrown, leaving it up to the kids/Ripley/Chief
Brody. This moment of recognition is very satisfying - the hairs
stand up on the back of your neck when you hear Burke (or is it
Gorman) say that contact has been lost with the colony on
Acheron. I liken this moment to the one in The Andromeda Strain
when the officers walk up to the scientist's party and tell him
with ashen faces "There's been a fire", which of course is
military code for "There's been a serious new viral outbreak". In
Aliens this moment of truth is made all the more sinister when we
find out that Burke knew all along and was toying with the
pioneers' lives. This is the same device Craven uses in Nightmare
on Elm St when we realise the heroine's mother knew all about Mr
Kruger all along.
Cameron transforms this dynamic, which is essentially a tried and
tested horror/B-Movie formula, to lay the foundations of a
philosophy of armed individualism (eg Sarah Connor in guerrilla
mode) which greatly enriches the genre. Whether you agree with
this essentially right wing philosophy or not (I personally think
the satisfying xenophobia in Aliens gets a little out of hand in
True Lies with the rabid anti-Arab stereotypes, though I'm no fan
of Hezbollah) it's a completely compelling account of what human
beings can do, for good and ill, in extreme situations.
Watch the Skies!
Favourite Line from Aliens: There's somethin' movin' and it ain't
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