Friday, 9 September 2011

222: If it bleeds we can kill it... Xeno Season!

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

If it bleeds, we can kill it: Xeno Season!

Oh yes, in the absence of any fresh cinematic releases that interest me, it's time to dive to the horror shelf and break out some films I don't watch nearly enough.

The thing is, in the midst of all my Star Wars merch, I always seem to forget how much I like Aliens and Predator

The Aliens/Predator Collection. Click for bigger.
…By no means "hardcore", but probably more than a 'civilian' fan.

9 days, 9 films (well 9½), in chronological release order, theatrical versions where available. These are more 'thoughts as I go' than full reviews, so probably won't make much sense if you haven't seen the films. No change there, then.
So, without further ado, let the acid-drenched carnage commence!

ALIEN (1979)
26 August 2011. Location: Home

For many years, I wasn't a fan of this (indeed, Alan Dean Foster's novelisation is one of the few books I've given up on midway). Turns out I was watching it wrong. Viewed as a sci-fi film, this is badly paced and uninteresting. Viewed as a horror film, it's really quite beautiful.

Random thoughts:
• I love the antiquated computer screens and the fact that smoking is allowed onboard the Nostomo.
• The white-panelled sections of the Nostromo remind me of the Tantive IV from Star Wars.
• The OCD part of my brain admires the queen for laying her eggs in such an orderly fashion.
• As the facehugger's acid burns through Kane's visor, wouldn't any of it drip/splash onto his face? Just a little bit? He seems relatively unscathed.
• Why do they eject Kane's body into space? Before the Ash-revelation, surely they need to keep all the evidence they can on what's happened?
• I like how it's insinuated that other forms of life are known about, just not that one.
• The exponential growth rate of the xenomorph once it's hatched seems ridiculous, but that runs through all the films, I suppose.
• That's not an alien, it's a guy in a suit! It's not the design that gives it away, it's the movement.

So, for 1979, this is well ahead of its time. Ridley Scott's done well,there.

Yes, only 5. It's good, but not that good.

ALIENS (1986)
27 August 2011. Location: Home

This one's definitely Sci-Fi over Horror, although there's a greater balance of both than with its predecessor. James Cameron's continued the mistrust-of-authority theme, and added in some mech/lifter suits; both of which he'd use again in Avatar. Except when he did it in Aliens, there's an original story and characters you actually care about (mee-ow, I know).

Random thoughts:
• Seriously, how is Spunkmeyer even a name?
• I always seem to forget that this takes place on planet LV-426 from Alien, even though I know it.
• The lifter-suit wouldn't be fast enough to fight in, even against the bulky Queen-Alien. And why does a cargo-handling device have a blowtorch on it?
• The models look like models, the mattes look like mattes, and the stop-motion animation looks just like it should. It's awesome, and miles better than a-guy-in-a-suit.

I find it more accessible than the first movie, but it's still missing the sense of adventure that's in the next film in Xeno-Season...

27 August 2011. Location: Home

Another twisted-genre movie. As a Sci-Fi, this doesn't work at all; as a throwaway Action flick? Gorgeous.
I honestly think it's a massive mistake to show the Yautja ship in the opening credits. It robs the film of its reveal later on. It's not relevant to the team's mission initially, and since the audience is one step ahead of the protagonists, their discoveries feel a little listless. If the film held back on the infra-red shots until after the enemy camp is discovered, the flow-of-info would work a lot better.

Random thoughts:
• Arnie really is an appalling actor, and although Carl Weathers isn't great, their scenes together make him look worse, too.
• Why is Hawkins wearing massive glasses on a spec-ops mission? Face-camo is supposed to reduce shine and reflection from your skin; with those geps, you may as well wear a hi-vis waistcoat.
• What little credibility the film has is also reduced by Arnie's godawful one-liners. But I suppose that's par for the course.
• Billy stripping off his shirt is ridiculous macho bullshit, even by Arnie's standards. The Predator has taken out an armed SpecOps squad, and numbnuts thinks he can take it out topless with a knife.
• Although this is matched by Arnie, when he smears himself in mud that he laughingly assumes won't warm to his body temperature as soon as it's dry and the moisture's evaporated from it.

It's rough'n'ready, but I get the impression it was meant to be a standalone vehicle for Schwarzenegger.

Intense, but great fun.

PREDATOR 2 (1990)
19 August 2011. Location: Home

"Okay, everybody just take a deep breath, loosen your sphincters. We don't need any rush-hour Rambos, there."

Even more fun than the first film, largely due to having funny characters, rather than scowling soldiers with corny lines. The city-setting and huge cast of extras reduces the feeling of claustrophobia this time around (which works better for me), and gives the feeling of a much larger budget.
Because Gary Busey's Keys and the feds know something about the Predator (like the audience), while the central characters don't, there's a definite feeling that the story is leading towards something bigger than just a face-off.

Random thoughts:
• There's enough characterisation in here that you actually care about the protagonists (and to a certain degree, even some of the human antagonists).
• Keys says that the thermal blast from Predator "destroyed enough rainforest to cover 300 city blocks" …and yet we saw Arnie out-run that? Hmm.
• Although he's portrayed as a brash bully, I find Keys' motivations more sympathetic, rather than Danny Glover's Harrigan, who's a 'good' cop, yet spends the entire movie disobeying orders and charging into crime-scenes as if he doesn't realise the importance of not contaminating evidence.
• …so Herb's wife hears the Predator roar in the bathroom, but didn't hear the bloody wall being caved in five minutes earlier? Okay then.

Minor flaws, but an excellent movie.

ALIEN³ (1992)
29 August 2011. Location: Home

"It's a long, sad story. And more than a little melodramatic…"

This line from Ripley is a pretty neat summation of the film, and it's certainly not what people were expecting after Aliens. The strong Brit-presence and muted dialogue make it less of a sci-fi and more of a dark melodrama. Just as the original Alien is a horror in a space setting, this is a drama first and foremost.

Random thoughts:
• It seems like a cheap move to a) re-hash the rescue procedure from the start of Aliens, and b) kill Hicks and Newt so that their stories don't have to be continued.
• Why is Ripley's gestation period so long when even the dog goes through a relatively 'regular' cycle?
• It almost turns into an Agatha Christie type tale, with the characters being picked off one by one. Except, obviously, we know who the murderer is.
• It's Henry Sellers! "I MADE THE BBC!"
• You can tell the majority of cast are British, the swearing's done properly...

It's a lot better than you remember.


31 August 2011. Location: Home

"So… who'd I have to fuck to get off this boat?"
Wise words, Sigourney, but you should have asked that before principal photography even began.

With Joss Whedon writing, and Ms. Weaver in co-production, this should have been handled brilliantly. Unlike its predecessors, it's out-and-out science fiction, and subsequently much weaker for it. Little touches like the hydratable whiskey-cubes are as corny as the whole space-pirate thing, and it feels like a 14yr old's take on the canon.

Now by this point in the saga, we're all very aware of what the Alien design looks like, but there's absolutely no 'reveal' at all, they're just filmed as if they're regular members of the cast. Ron Perlman's pretty good in this - he's playing someone who can't act. Speaking of which, even bearing in mind Winona Ryder's character, she's completely wooden. The only saving grace in the acting department is Sigourney herself, who gives a nice 'otherworldly' performance as a cloned version of Ripley, although it isn't enough to save the film, unfortunately. Even though all bets are off as to will survive 'til the end, there's no tension as you really don't care which of the unlikable characters is picked off next.

Random thoughts:
• The first corridor shootout is so slow-paced as to be completely unbelievable, even for a "space film".
• Versions 1-7 of the cloned Ripleys are so disparately wrong, I find it hard to believe they suddenly got it right with version 8. There doesn't seem to be any actual progress made between revisions, and it looks like the genetic equivalent of throwing Lego at the carpet and hoping it lands in the form of a car. It certainly wouldn't work the eighth time you try it.
• For the record, I'm fine with the swimming Aliens. The underwater sequence was one of the few I enjoyed.

Some interesting ideas, but I think they'd have worked better in the comics/novels (indeed, the false-Ripley has been done better in the novels). The film's reach exceeds its grasp.


02 September 2011. Location: Home

Yeah, I'm including this, what of it? It's flipping awesome! It gets a mention not because of its running time (8 mins), but because of its production values.

It's Batman vs. Aliens vs. Predator. A fanboy dream come true. Back in 2003, AVP was still a year away, and we'd hoped it was going to be something like this. Well, we could hope, couldn't we?

Click the link up there to watch this short film, and be amazed at what passion for film can generate.


02 September 2011. Location: Home

…it's Jurassic Park, isn't it? That's not intended as a detraction in any way, just an observation. Predator movies have always been loud, brash action films, and this is 66% Predator, 33% Alien.

As an addition to the Pred-canon, there are some nice chunks of backstory development. As an addition to the Alien mythos, other than the Weyland/Bishop backstory, there's fuck all. Not that it really matters too much.

Paul W.S. Anderson directs, and there's a definite feel of his Resident Evil movie, as we move between locations via a wireframe graphic display, and Colin Salmon and Liz May Brice are both here, who also starred (briefly) in RE1.

The amount of time that the facehuggers spend on their hosts is suspiciously short in this version of events, and the hatchling-to-adult process is also sped up ridiculously. I know we've got to keep the plot moving, but still. And while I expect a fairly short awake-gestation period for the humans (remember Kane wasn't up and about for long in Alien before the chestburster), the infected Predator takes a bloody age, but I'll put that down to a different physiology. Oh, and why didn't the Yautja's various vision ranges pick up the gestating PredAlien at the end? After all, it was possible to see Weyland's cancerous cells earlier on.

All in all, it's a dumb action film. That's what Predator does best, let's not require too much of this. It's still pretty entertaining.


AVP2: REQUIEM (2007)
03 September 2011. Location: Home

Oh, I see, let's spend film-one building up Alexa as a warrior that's recognised by the hunting clan, start film-two directly in conjunction with the first one… then forget about that character, kill the hunting clan, and make a teen-slasher movie. …right.

"Have you got power on that thing?" "Yeah, I just need some light..."
Yet again, the lead character sums up an entire movie in one sentence. It's not thematically dark, just visually. In fact, thematically, this is a sort of beige…

First things first: Why the fuck is this film so damned dark? I can't see what the hell's going on, and I watched it indoors with the curtains drawn.

Second things second: This is, yes, a teen slasher movie, but with monsters instead of a madman. You know it's going to be just great when the cast-list contains no-one you've heard of before. A staple of the slasher film is having teenagers dying left, right and centre. Sadly, a staple of the Predator series, is having characters that you don't want to die, and that's where this film falls down. BIG time.

At no point do the central characters appear to work out what's going on and what they're up against. They're so clueless, they manage to hole up in a fully stocked gun-store, and still fuck things up. Frankly, it's a relief in the final moments when the government decides to just nuke that area of Colorado and draw a line under the whole sorry mess.

On the plus side, we get to see a little bit of the Yautja homeward (MORE PLEASE), and the closing reference to the Yutani Corporation was a nice touch, but they seem like bits of the original screenplay which have been dropped into a below-average straight-to-video sequel.

Like Alien³, this isn't a horrendous movie per se, it's just fucking awful at being a Predator one (let alone an Alien film). I'd expect this from a spinoff TV series, not from an actual bona-fide sequel.

(because I'm here to review Aliens/Predator, not the cash-in shit in Blockbuster with the 'homage' cover.)

04 September 2011. Location: Home

Okay, last movie. With Robert Rodriguez's name on it, and Danny Trejo starring, this should be fucking awesome, right? I mean, you saw Machete? Yeah?

…it's pretty good. Not brilliant by any standards, but certainly back-on-track. We're in a jungle environment, the characters are (kind of) intelligent, and at least they're learning as they're hacked to pieces by the Predators. The infra-red-vision has been updated, which is very welcome in my book. All in all, this is a Predator movie. YAY!

Random thoughts:
• Adrien Brody's great, but not really for this 'badass' role as Royce. He's way too sympathetic from the word go, considering he's meant to be a mercenary by trade and nature.
• I get the feeling that Alice Braga was the second-choice for the part of Isabelle, and that it was written with Michelle Rodriguez in mind.
• For an alien planet, it looks suspiciously like Earth, except for the one single plant that stands out like the out-of-place prop it is.
• This reveal-shot 25 minutes in where the characters work out they're not on Earth by seeing all these planets in the sky: that's not the first time in the movie they've been in an area open enough to see the sky in front of them. If the sun hasn't moved (as Royce says), it stands to reason that the other planets-in-view would always have been there. And don't even get me started on the gravitational anomalies with having planets of that size so close to one another.
• The creature-shots of the Yautja attack-dogs are beautiful.
• It's fucking criminal to kill off Danny Trejo so early in the movie.
• Lawrence Fishburne is delightfully nuts as Noland.
• I see we get another "take my shirt off and fight in honourable melee combat" moment. Although, amazingly, it sort of works this time.
• Let's just ignore that bit in the trailer where Royce gets covered in the Predator tracking-dots, yeah?
• Why is Isabelle so surprised when Royce suggests booby-trapping the injured Edwin? They're all meant to be mercenaries, and Royce is acting like a merc. For once.

Despite its lukewarm reception last year, this is a good return-to-form for the Predator series.
More like this, please.


SO! That was a fun week-and-a-bit fo'sho! But have I learned anything from this? How does the progression of the canon over thirty-plus years fare, in a comparative sense? Are there any trends or waves that stand out?

There's only one thing that can help us… A GRAPH!

The Aliens/Predator chart - click for bigger
^^ Click to see that bigger. Opens in a new window.

I think we've learned that they don't make 'em like they used to, but Predators is a step in the right direction.

And that's about yer lot!
It's been fun, it's been exciting, it's been emotional. And dripping with acid.







Watching all of these in a row does something to you...

Sleep well!

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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