Dreaming LifeDreaming Life

As with books, films are an insight into other people's dreams but where books place you right inside the author's and character's mind a film lets you sit back and watch, lets you fully take in all the scenery. Because of this, films are the closest thing we have at the moment to watching an actual dream. Dreams are very much like films in the way they jump from scene to scene, change angles and give us viewpoints from different characters. Films are written with people's collective dreams in mind, what society is aspiring to, afraid of, or simply feels is in fashion at the moment. Like books, good films always reflect society's underlying feelings at the time they were made; sometimes knowingly and sometimes not.

Comparative essay, Cameron, Aliens- This Time it’s War/ Jeunet, Alien Resurrection.

The first ‘Alien’ (1979) film by Ridley Scott was a very low budget production that was very much in the hack and slash horror genre, all shadows and being picked off one at a time until the monster or villain is stopped by a lone hero or heroine in this case. Though it did achieve a high degree of success and was primarily a horror film over science-fiction. ‘Aliens’ is the sequel to this film but has its own self contained story, in the first film Ripley and her crew go to the planet as explorers and discover an alien that is mostly made of teeth. The aliens were pure evil and existed with no explanation just killing anything that was warm and moved, and they incubated their young in the bodies of their victims. Ripley is the only survivor when she finally jettisons the alien out of an air lock. She puts herself into hibernation and is picked up 57 years later by a salvage ship, suffering from nightmares, which is where ‘Aliens’ picks up the story.

James Cameron was born in Canada in 1954, he became a screenwriter, director and producer and studied physics at California State University. He began his career working for Roger Corman designing sets and earned himself a reputation for creating premier action films. His first great success was ‘The Terminator’ (1984) which later reached cult status. He also directed and co-wrote ‘Rambo: First Blood Part II’ (1985) before co-writing and directing ‘Aliens- This Time it’s War’ (1986) bringing his own style into the ‘Alien’ theme. Cameron conceived of the idea of a sequel to ‘Alien’ at the same time as working on the script for ‘Rambo: First Blood Part II’ and wrote an outline for it called ‘Ripley and Soldiers.’ He was thinking a lot about the conflict in Vietnam when he was pondering the ‘Alien’ sequel, on how a high-tech nation like the U.S.A. was defeated and overwhelmed by a seemingly low-tech people like the North-Vietnamese army. He also wondered about why some GIs thought of the awful conditions of the war and others considered that parts of the experience were some of the most memorable and exciting moments of their lives and immediately re-enlisted after their tour of duty was over. There have been many films about the Vietnam war and a popular T.V. series named ‘Tour of Duty’ who’s characters are almost identical to the marines in ‘Aliens.’ It is often said that stories often reflect the times they are written in, even if the author doesn’t realize it at the time it can often be spotted when looked back upon years later. Maybe if this story had been written during the Vietnam war the overwhelming alien forces may have been the main plot, but it wasn’t.

In the 1980s there was a shift towards material wealth on a large scale, it was suddenly deemed okay to be rich and okay to do whatever you like to become rich. Although there have been large companies for a long time there was a lot of controversy surrounding big corporations and how they went about making there profits, there still is but that was the big thing at the time. So Cameron is working on a Vietnam war film while pondering over an ‘Alien’ sequel, he comes up with the idea of sending trained troops back to the planet and have them overwhelmed by the creatures and having to evacuate, much like the Americans had to in Vietnam. But in keeping with current issues he makes it so the aliens aren’t the real bad guys, they are just being themselves trying to survive. The real villain is the corporation behind everything, covertly manipulating everyone for their own financial gains.

Because she knows what the aliens are like she is sent back to the planet with the marines and suggests nuking the planet from orbit but is informed that a colony of people live there so they would have to rescue them first. The evil corporation is manifest in the character Burke, who represents the corporation that owns the expensive colony and dreams of using the aliens to make him rich in some kind of warfare initiative. After a brief set up period the film is back on the planet, all the colonists apart from one have been overrun and the film goes berserk with more or less none stop violence till the end of the film.

Aliens are rushing down air ducts, popping out of the floor and smashing through walls and ceilings. They are everywhere and there is constant gunfire, grenades and flame-throwers. No matter how many aliens they kill there is always hundreds more to replace them, this is well demonstrated when they erect two auto-sentries in a corridor and the camera action switches between the screaming hoards of aliens streaming into the corridor and the frightened marines on the other side of the door watching a countdown of the bullets firing from the auto-sentries, when they first begin firing the counter is in hundred but when the aliens finally give up on that approach there are less than twenty rounds left. And, unlike the first film, they seem to have a kind of cunning intelligence. They know how many enemies they have and how many there are of them and reason that their overwhelming numbers will overrun the humans but when they see, if only they knew, that their efforts are getting them nowhere they backed off to plan another route. They even cut the power, putting Hics into a new panicky high, and at one point one of them even operates a lift.

It is easy to see how the aliens could represent the North Vietnamese army, because they were backed by Russia and China (with more than half the world’s population living there) they had an endless supply of backup soldiers. The Americans had helicopter gunships and hi-tech planes and equipment but it was an example in history where the technology is not enough. The Viet Cong were experts at moving around on foot at high speeds through dense jungle and foxholes that they dug to speedily sneak around, just like the aliens scurry about in the air ducts and floor and ceiling spaces confounding their enemy by attacking by surprise from every angle.

Of all the other Alien films, ‘Alien Resurrection’ has the most in common with Aliens, or is the most similar. Both are very Hollywood type films, lots of action and special effects. Ripley dies in ‘Alien 3’, the film in between the two but is brought back in this film through cloning and is part alien. Her character has change somewhat, or perhaps it’s just her strength, and she has acid for blood. She is physically stronger but she is almost childlike in her behavior, discovering herself. As with ‘Aliens’ it is not the aliens that are the enemy, in keeping with the times the blame has shifted from big corporations to scientists and cloning. Ripley is a clone of her former self spliced with a little bit of alien, at the end of the film there is the alien spliced with a little bit of human. There is a very good seen where Ripley sees all the aborted attempts at cloning her with various, and hideous, degrees of success. Although the dangers of cloning is an issue in this film, it is still a film about aliens and the issue is not probed too deeply.

Winona Ryder's portrayal of this film's token android has been criticized by some as been not android-like enough, but it could be argued that with 300 years of development androids have evolved from mere intelligence and started feeling with some human type neuroses. The android in ‘Aliens’ is more evolved than the original so it makes sense that the latest model would be too. The aliens have also changed a little, for one there are only a dozen or so of them in this film and instead of overwhelming the humans it is the humans, to begin with, that have control of them. The audience gets to see more of what the aliens look like in this film and there is a particularly moving shot where an alien puts its face right up against a glass screen with a scientist on the other side. It appears that the humans have evolved enough to make a cell that can contain the aliens, until the aliens think of ripping one of their own apart so its blood will burn through the floor. The aliens in this film are for the first time mostly computer graphics, which does give greater scope for design but it also tends to make the movement look a bit springy and less natural than in ‘Aliens’. The model’s movement in ‘Aliens’ is much more wild and fluid like a swarm of ants which makes them a bit more convincing. The aliens in ‘Resurrection are also a lot more dribbling in mucus, in fact there is so much of it in some shots it’s a wonder they don’t drown in their own fluids.

Although there are some funny moments in ‘Aliens’, they are more funny in a situation way than straight forward jokes. ‘Resurrection’ seems to have a lot more humor in it, like the alien getting its revenge on the scientist who was torturing it earlier; which also shows a new development to their nature. In ‘Aliens’ the main mother alien had a sense of revenge and anger but the normal drones behaved more like a hive mind, yet here we have one going out of its way to double back and get the scientist- an example of Hollywood theatrics perhaps. The human characters are less serious, especially the man that drops the knife into the disabled man’s leg as a joke because he knows he can’t feel it.

There is nowhere near the amount of action in ‘Resurrection’, probably because there are far less aliens to kill, and it is nearly an hour into the film before the aliens break out and start causing havoc, though the underwater scenes are an interesting development. Having the scene underwater adds to the claustrophobic tension, because the act of having to hold your breath and swimming a long way underwater is already a scary thing to have to do- with a few aliens thrown in at your heels it’s positively terrifying. There does seem to be a bit of a flaw in this film though, if there are only a dozen or so why don’t they just kill them? They had armed marines and their weapons should have advanced even more by now, just one of the auto-sentries from ‘Aliens’ could have finished them all off. Also for some reason in a time that is supposed to be hundreds of years in the future, they have people armed with pistols and even worse still, sawn off shotguns.

There is a nice change at the end of this film though, in ‘Aliens’ Ripley is battling with the mother alien and calling her a bitch; but now she is part alien herself she finds comfort being near to the alien. She also has feelings towards the monstrosity that is alien spliced with a bit of human. And, although she does let it get sucked out into space, there is a lost of grief and emotion in the scene. The new Ripley has a sympathy towards the aliens in a way she could have never had before because of her alien DNA. All the ‘alien’ films are unique and yet they all keep the alien mythology going fairly consistently which ties them all together, one can only wonder where it should lead next, if anywhere. The ultimate horror would be here on earth but that might be too obvious even for Hollywood. Perhaps they could send a special unit to seek out where the aliens come from?

Jonathan Malory