Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Alien: The Director's Cut

This article was first posted on August 30, 2010. It is presented in its entirety with some minor changes.

I have mixed feelings about Alien: TheDirector's Cut. On one hand, the insertion of never before seen footage provides us with a perspective on the life cycle of the Alien different from the Alien as social insect analogue used in Aliens. On the other hand, the insertion of the footage interferes with the taut pacing of the original, especially when one considers when in the sequence of events leading up to the film's climax Ripley discovers the Alien's nest in the Nostromo; the atmosphere is one of urgency after Ripley finds Parker's and Lambert's mutilated bodies and subsequently initiates the Nostromo's self-destruct sequence and it is during her almost frenzied rush to the Nostromo's lifeboat/shuttle that she discovers the nest and spends valuable minutes that she can ill afford to lose (given the self-destruct mechanism's ten minute timer) exploring the nest and euthanizing, for lack of a better word, Dallas and Brett, who she finds cocooned and slowly metamorphosing into Alien eggs. Had she found the nest prior to initiating the Nostromo's self-destruct sequence, the inclusion of this scene may have worked. In its present place, it detracts from the urgency of Ripley's plight.

Be that as it may, details of the Alien life cycle presented in this scene give us a tantalizing glimpse of what may have been had this footage not been excised in the original theatrical release. The first sequel, Aliens, would have certainly been different, since there wouldn't have been an Alien queen to act as Ripley's foil. Speaking of Aliens, the more I've watched Alien (either the original theatrical release or the director's cut), the more dissatisfied I've grown with its sequel. My primary gripe is on differences in the way the Alien was portrayed in the two films; in the first film, the Alien is an ambush predator that establishes a perch from which it slowly and stealthily approaches its victims before seizing them and dragging them to its lair where they can be cocooned; in the second film, the ambush predator is no more and we are treated to the Alien as a target amongst many in a shooting gallery, which, to be fair, is probably consistent with the vision of the Alien as social insect presented in the film.

Frankly, I prefer the vision of the Alien presented in the original film. To quote the android, Ash: [The Alien is a] perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility. [It is] a survivor... unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.

This vision of the Alien didn't survive the transition from the original film to the sequel and, frankly, I think it's a pity.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Where I Discuss Serenity

This article was first posted on August 29, 2010. It is presented in its entirety with some minor changes.

I wasn't a big fan of Serenity when I first saw it, and I'm afraid I'm still not a fan. Watching Serenity (the Firefly pilot) and Serenity (the Firefly movie) back to back merely served to highlight all the gripes I had about Serenity (the Firefly movie). The television pilot (and series) featured an ensemble cast and while the movie started off that way, it eventually turned into Buffy the Vampire Slayer (or, in this case, River the Reaver Slayer) and a bunch of people who she magnanimously puts up with. It didn't help that Malcolm Reynolds, the only other strong character in the movie, seemed to have undergone a complete personality shift somewhere in between Objectsin Space (the last episode in the series) and Serenity (the Firefly movie). In fact, I found Mal's personality shift so jarring that I almost felt I wasn't watching the original Firefly cast but their Mirror Universe counterparts.

I could have forgiven the inconsistencies in Mal's characterization in the movie as opposed to the series (after all, a bit of time was supposed to have passed and people do change) but I really found the resolution of River's story arc to be really difficult to stomach. I may be in the minority here but I find the concept of omnipotent and omniscient heroes to be, well, boring. During the series, while it was obvious that River had some unique and powerful abilities, the fact that she was off in la-la land half the time prevented her from being too obtrusive. Once she was "cured" of her psychological ailments, she became...boring. And obtrusive. And speaking of how she was "cured", it was simply too neat and tidy: River sees a holographic recording of Ms. Exposition describe how an entire planetful of people just decided to lay down and die, how the Reavers came to be and after witnessing the bloody climax of the recording (Ms. Exposition getting raped and eaten alive by a Reaver), River purges her demons by vomiting against a nearby wall after which she declares: "I'm alright...I'm alright". Huh? What? This was most unsatisfying considering everything that she and Simon went through during the course of Firefly's fourteen episodes.

Yeah, we get it. She's cured. And a total badass now

Personally, I think the movie would have been much more satisfying had River died; if she had simply closed the blast doors, tossed Simon's medical kit through the doors before they closed and then gotten killed by the Reavers, the movie would have been much better. We would have been spared the rather difficult to swallow scenes of her wading through the Reavers and piling their corpses up like cordwood and River sacrificing herself to save her brother and the others would have been very poignant, on par with Spock sacrificing himself to save the Enterprise and her crew in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Her dying to save her brother would also have lent thematic symmetry to their story arc. And more important of all, we would have been spared the exchange between River and Mal at the film's end where we realize that she can essentially do everything that everyone on the crew can (and probably do a better job of it) which leaves us with the question of what purpose they serve now.

Spock saves the Enterprise and its crew in a selfless act of heroism

Of course, having River die in Serenity probably would not have sat well with many Firefly fans, especially since almost a third of the original cast ended up getting killed off in the film. River dying probably would have resulted in grief-stricken Firefly fans converging upon JossWhedon's home with torches and pitchforks in hand and bloody vengeance in their hearts. However, I find nothing wrong with the idea of the hero dying in a story. I thought the Star Trek moviefranchise would have been much better had Spock stayed dead in the aftermath of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (if anything, it could have opened up some interesting story-lines about how Kirk and the rest of the crew dealt with their grief and eventually got on with their lives) and I thought Lethal Weapon 2 would have been a much better movie had Riggs died in Murtaugh's arms. There's nothing wrong with the hero dying, either in the act of saving the lives of others or avenging a loved one.

If anything, it's heroic.