Recently I had reason to revisit the first and second movies in the Alien franchise. That reason was to show them to my eldest, in an effort to break through the YouTube fog and show an example of what true storytelling is. I was able to use both to show what film looks like when it’s done well, and is a tool for pondering questions and teaching lessons. Little by little, I’ll break through.
Versions and Vicissitudes
Both Alien and Aliens are terrific. They both have two “cuts” available to watch; all four of the first Alien films do. The terribly-misnamed “director’s cut” of Alien isn’t a director’s cut, per Ridley Scott’s own admission on the extras, so just stick with the theatrical version. The fact that Scott worked to make sure the reintegrated footage flowed appropriately is a testament to a master artist, but the theatrical cut is superior here. If you really want to watch nerds lose their minds, though, start debating the merits of different Blade Runner cuts.
Aliens is terrific regardless of which cut you watch. However, I’d always recommend the special edition as it’s James Cameron’s preferred version and it’s even more engrossing. (See what I did there?) If you’re one of the people who doesn’t know if you’ve seen this special edition, ask yourself if you remember Newt’s family. If yes, then you have.
It’s a real testament to film when it can find relevance outside its current time. That’s when it’s art. It’s why Star Wars can be eternal: its themes aren’t rooted in a single time, even if they’re inspired by them. The prequels are true art, by the way, and this is your regular reminder that they are.
Likewise, it’s why Alien and Aliens continue to appeal to new audiences.
(As a side note: Alien3‘s “special edition/workprint cut” is substantially better than the final theatrical version. You should check it out if you haven’t.)
The Metaphor at Hand: Who is Whom?
As I thought about Aliens, I started to think about how our social circles are playing out little mini-versions of this drama in the present day. Sure, we have to play it out from about six feet away – even if we live in the same house, according to at least one of the more insane governors – but the parallels can be found.
I started figuring out who, in my circle, is whom. While I might not detail them below, I got all the way down to trying to find a Frost and a Ferro. That seems a bit too in-the-weeds for the purposes of this brief screed, though.
I don’t know that I found any Ripleys, the take-no-prisoners survivor who sees the mistakes of the decision makers and tries to find a real solution. Ripley, in both movies, discovers that motivations other than safety had a lot to do with certain decisions. I suppose time will tell who Ripley is.
In the current climate it would make sense to nominate health care workers as Bishop, willing to sacrifice themselves to the greater good. Bishop is aware of the danger but goes out to confront it anyway.
I wondered who was Hicks, who makes the best go of it even though he knows that the data and evaluation he’s been given is garbage. To be honest, Hicks is a character everyone would love to be. When you can’t control it, sometimes you just do what you can with what you’ve got.
I sought an Apone, who did his best to get through the situation when all he got was bad strategy and conflicting information. His fate still grates on me, to be honest, because he was just trying to follow what he was being told by those who supposedly knew better.
I won’t say how many Hudsons I found. After all, no one wants to be known as Hudson. Hudson melts down and believes everyone is going to die and doesn’t even want to bother trying to live. To be honest, Hudson went from a funny side character to maddening, really quickly.
I looked for Vasquez, whose reaction when confronted with overwhelming odds is just to go out and fight it and accept that there are going to be losses. It might not be the smartest strategy, but she’s a counterpoint to Hicks’ emotional collapse. Instead of retreating in the face of danger, she confronts it and accepts that the outcome is beyond her control.
I even tried to peg down Lt. Gorman, the paralyzed know-it-all who, in a crisis situation, just freezes and when the real world doesn’t follow the statistical models. Gorman keeps giving orders based on how it’s supposed to go, instead of adapting to the situation, and then gets angry when Ripley decides his strategies don’t work and goes in search of another solution. I doubt anyone wants to be known as a Gorman.
Of course, in this analogy the Alien Queen is the Chinese Communist Party. The origin of the trouble who wants to kill anyone who confronts it. There, I said it.
(Who’s Burke, then? Well, likely it’s someone like [Insert NBA player or official name here] who likes to keep sneaker profits tidy, or [Disney movie executive] who just can’t figure out why the latest mega blockbuster isn’t making the money they projected despite the fact that they made creative decisions to appease censors under the guise of cultural sensitivity while anyone from another country who’s offended can go kick rocks. But that has nothing to do with the current world situation, just the collective greed of people who can’t handle the idea of losing access to wage slaves.)
Who Got Assigned What Role?
I’m not going to name the people I assigned to what role. The reason is that, obviously, pretty much only people I know read these screeds unless I insult abysmally untalented authors. I don’t want really to offend anyone.
Besides, if we’re all locked in our homes we have plenty of time to do introspection. I know who I think “I” am in this situation, but I continue to ponder. Maybe you can discover who you think “you” are as well.
Suffice it to say that you’re all the well-adjusted heroes and heroines who never made asinine assumptions or gave in to panic. In the end, isn’t that what it’s all about?
What About the Character Study in Alien?
The first Alien is a horror movie (a slasher movie really), and these sorts of personality quirks play out as well. I’m sure I could draw parallels there, except for the fact that I didn’t want to do that.
If you want to do that, you can knock yourself out. I’m not your boss. I don’t care.
And that’s why I should be class president.