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The DVD Shelf--Aliens (1986) The Abyss (1989) Terminator 2 (1991)

By Psycho Dave in Media
Tue Mar 28, 2006 at 05:47:05 PM EST
Tags: Movies (all tags)

About eight years ago James Cameron was hard at work on his epic Titanic, which was looking to be a Heaven's Gate style fiasco. Most of the initial press on the production focused on its numerous delays and budget overruns. Requiring money from two studios, it was the most expensive film ever made, until last year when King Kong surpassed it. Cameron had to give up his 8 million dollar fee to keep 20th Century Fox from firing him. When it was finally wrapped up, the final cut of the movie ran over three hours, which was a length guaranteed to make any studio exec shake in their Gucci loafers. It was finally released in during the holiday season of 1997 to reviews that were just lukewarm; they praised its visual effects while dumping on the film's melodramatic plot and bad dialogue. One thing was certain: if Titanic failed, Cameron, the notoriously temperamental director who was always at odds with his cast, crew, and the studios, would never work in Hollywood again.

Ultimately, the gamble paid off better than anyone could have dreamed. Titanic went on to become the highest grossing picture in history, taking in 1.8 billion worldwide. It swept the Academy Awards in every category it was nominated except makeup and acting (notably, it is also one of the few Best Picture nominees to not have its screenplay nominated in the writing awards.)

Ever since Titanic, James "The King of the World" Cameron has been in exile for the crimes of courting the lucrative market of teenage girls and their allowances by casting Leonardo Dicaprio, and making Celine Dion's diabetes inducing "My Heart Will Go On" inescapable on the radio for nearly a year. Fans of Cameron's earlier, action-oriented output tend to look at Titanic as a black stain on his filmography.

I personally think some of the backlash against Titanic is overstated. While the romance is deeply hackneyed, the sinking of the ship with screaming passengers banging off rudders as they fall to their deaths *almost* makes up for it. You do get a brief flash of Kate Winslet's titty, and Leonardo Dicaprio is killed in the end (that said, I hate Dicaprio's teen girl following more than the actor himself.) No matter what its few virtues are, Titanic is a bloated and indulgent mess of a story, which is strange because one of the strengths of James Cameron's films has always been their relentless attention to pacing. I present as evidence of this a comparison between the theatrical and special editions of Aliens, The Abyss, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

The differences between the theatrical cuts and the special editions of these three movies are striking. Thick swaths of exposition and special effects scenes are left on the cutting room floor to trim the least bit of slack from the reels. Sometimes the cuts are befuddling, removing some incredibly awesome stuff that wouldn't have slowed the movie down a bit. Other cuts wisely rein in some of Cameron's more didactic tendencies. Still, all of these movies (and their pricey special edition laserdisc boxsets) came out long before the DVD craze hit critical mass, so we cannot attribute the edits as a crass plot to double dip buyers.

Aliens was Cameron's follow-up to his sleeper hit The Terminator. Tasked with creating a sequel to the sci-fi horror classic, Aliens  takes a different, more action-oriented track by pitting Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and a group of gung-ho space marines against an entire planet of the acid-spitting creatures. Despite being a complete left-turn to its slow and atmospheric predecessor,  Aliens works as a non-stop, gut-wrenching thrill ride which has spawned legions of imitators (see Doom or the movie version of Starship Troopers) in the twenty years since its release.

Aliens  wisely reigns in Cameron's worst impulses. The Vietnam metaphor (with the Marines' superior firepower ultimately failing against the aliens sheer numbers and ferocity) is mostly an afterthought. When Hicks (Cameron regular Michael Biehn) suggests using a nuclear weapon on the facility, it actually sounds like a good idea. And while I typically think that the inclusion of cute little kids into R-rated action films is an unwise decision, Newt (Carrie Henn) stays fairly un-annoying throughout. Making her character a deeply traumatized and not particularly loquacious little girl is certainly preferable to the "cowabunga, dude!" attitude of John Connor in Terminator 2.

Kudos to Aliens for also developing its supporting cast so well. Most of them inhabit the usual war movie cliches: the cowardly blowhard, the cigar-chomping sergeant, the slimy corporate guy etc. but they get enough small character moments to make them memorable. Who hasn't thrown their Playstation controller in a rage screaming "Game over, man! Game over!" like Hudson does after the dropship crash?

I guess we can also trace back to Aliens  the now science-fiction convention of women being allowed into combat positions in the armies of the future without anyone blinking. Hell, the super-butch chicana Vasquez even gets the biggest gun. I guess "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" also doesn't apply in the future...

Ultimately the whole film is anchored by Sigourney Weaver's incredible performance as Ripley, which earned her a nomination for Best Actress. Though she battled the ultimate penis metaphor in skimpy underwear in the first film, Aliens  wisely doesn't try to play Ripley as an ass-kicking sex bomb with a bare-midriff. Her duel with the Alien Queen in the end is played out as the ultimate Battle of the Mommies. While we root for our own species, one can almost identify with the Queen's freak out while Ripley blows apart her eggs with a grenade launcher. Aliens  is probably one of the most feminist sci-fi movies ever made, but doesn't have a "check your testicles at the door" feel that would alienate most of its male audience.

The special edition, which adds 17-minutes to the running time, is unquestionably the superior version of Aliens . The scenes were removed to bring the running time down closer to two hours (with the extra scenes, Aliens  still comes in at a not unwieldly two and a half hours.) Besides adding a few snippets of dialogue here and there, there are three crucial additions to special edition:

1) The scene before the inquest with Ripley on the park bench. In this, we learn that her daughter (who was never mentioned in Alien) had died an old woman during her 57-years in hypersleep. While it's plain in the theatrical cut that Ripley has mommy issues due to her fierce bonding with Newt, this scene clearly defines and deepens her maternal motivations.

2) A scene of the colonists making their first contact with the aliens. In the theatrical version, we only see the aftermath of the aliens assault on the colony. The special edition is made starker by contrasting it with this scene of the alive and bustling colony, not to mention making more explicit the fact that Burke uses the information Ripley gave at the inquest to try and find the alien. While some have chafed at the conceit that it's Newt's parents who are first infected, I do not find it distracting at all.

3) The sentry guns. Why 'oh why were these ever removed from any cut of the film? Not only is the idea of sentry guns simply cool, the scene is well executed, with the marines grimly staring at their rapidly depleting ammo counters. It also gives a greater sense of the aliens intelligence, as well as adding tension to one of the films few slow spots.

The only addition that detracts from the theatrical version is Hudson's "I am the ultimate badass..." speech on the dropship, which suffers from clumsy writing. Overall though the deleted scenes are gold and do not bloat what is one of the best and most intense sci-fi action films ever made. The same cannot be said, however, of special edition for The Abyss.

 The Abyss has been called one of the hardest film shoots in history (if you're looking to buy this disc, I'd highly suggest shelling out for the two-disc version. The documentary on disc two is excellent, and worth it alone just to see Ed Harris biting his tongue to keep himself from calling Cameron a dick during his interview.) Filmed in an abandoned nuclear reactor, the underwater photography is simply amazing. Compared to the generic outer space settings of most sci-fi films, the bottom-of-the-ocean setting feels rich and claustrophobic.

Aliens also make an appearance in this movie, though they are markedly different from the slimy nasties of Aliens . Opening unwisely with the most recognized quote of Nietzsche (you know, "look in to the abyss...abyss looks into you..." yadda-yadda) The Abyss  starts with an Ohio-class submarine tracking an NTI (Non-terrestrial Intelligence) through a trench, thinking it's a Russian "bogey". The alien watercraft gets too close to the sub, shutting down it's electronics and causing it to crash into a cliff, which sinks the sub in a well executed and chilling opening. It does however bring up the point, if the aliens are so peace-loving, why don't they save the submarine crew like they do the surviving drillers in the end?

The sinking of the sub sets off an international incident between the US and Russia in a bout of Cold War saber-rattling that would become antiquated just a few years later. The military requisitions a nearby underwater oil rig to search the sub for survivors, and more importantly, the nuclear weapons aboard it. Difficulties pile up as the Navy SEAL sent to command the operation begins to suffer from "pressure sickness" dementia and the oil rig gets damaged and cut off from the surface because of a storm.

The main characters' performances are all good. Ed Harris (in a rare turn as a leading man) is effective as Bud, the everyman working guy trying to do what's right in a desperate situation. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio's Lindsey teeters on being shrill before ultimately becoming sympathetic. And Michael Biehn, in a switch from his usual stoic good-guy role, is menacing enough as the Navy SEAL Lt. Coffey, though he doesn't quite get to the core of the character, who is the antagonist more by accident than by malice. The supporting cast feels less fleshed out in The Abyss than it did in Aliens. While Bill Paxton was able to make Hudson's cowardly bluster endearing, The Abyss's version of him (the mouse loving Hippy) comes off as annoying and shrill.

 The Abyss tries to be Close Encounters of the Third Kind meets Das Boot, but only really succeeds at being the latter. As a thriller, The Abyss is top notch. The scenes of both the submarine sinking and the crane collapsing on the oil rig hit all the right disaster film notes. There are several scenes, particularly the one where Bud and Lindsey are trapped in a slowly flooding submersible, that are certain to be too much for anyone with a serious fear of drowning.

Where The Abyss stumbles when it shifts its attention to the aliens. Besides lengthened exchanges between characters, the main difference between the theatrical version and the special edition has to do with the motivations of the Non-Terrestrial Intelligence. In the theatrical version, the ending has Bud being rescued by the aliens after disarming the nuclear warhead. He and the Deepcore crew are delivered safely to the surface as a sort of "thank-you" for not blowing them up. The shift in tone is jarring. After being put through the wringer by the film's thriller mechanics, we are suddenly expected to feel awed by pink and blue aliens that look like a toy out of Spencer's. In the theatrical version, the aliens exist only to provide a few crucial plot points rather than serve the larger theme of the film.

The alien's motivations are clarified in the special edition. As the humans are attempting to attack them with a nuclear weapon, the aliens are preparing to counterattack using one hundred foot high tsunamis to eradicate the world's coastlines (a scenario that has added chill factor after last year's Indian Ocean tragedy.) The aliens scroll through a slide show of man's inhumanity to man to prove their point, and confirming my opinion that if our species is judged by what we watch on television, we are fucking doomed. However, moved by Bud's sacrifice and his emotional exchanges with his ex-wife, the aliens decide to spare humanity by stopping the tsunamis mid-wave via their unexplained ability to manipulate water.

While this explanation does give the ending of The Abyss special edition more of a point, it raises three problems. 1) It still fails to make the aliens (who are designed to look like harmless neon-jellyfish) sufficiently threatening. 2) Assumes that mankind will be thrilled with the prospect of having a species on the planet that can destroy humanity. I doubt the sense of whimsy that Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio feels at the end would be shared by the rest of the world. They would likely respond by sending them another nuke. 3) Really only serves the message of Nuclear Weapons = Bad that was obvious even in the theatrical version. While it's a feelgood, humanitarian sentiment, by 1989 I think that very few people believed that a nuclear holocaust would be a good thing.

James Cameron's films preach peace, while being paradoxically fascinated with weapons and hardware and bloodshed (to be fair, Cameron is not alone in this sentiment.) This contradiction is even more apparent in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

I guess we can blame a lot of this on Arnold Schwarzenegger. In an attempt to soften his image into something more family friendly (a horrible misstep which begat shite like Kindergarten Cop) Schwarzenegger insisted that his character in the sequel be the hero and not kill anybody. Considering that his character in the first film slaughtered people at will, this neutering of the Terminator (who is called the T-800 in the sequel, since now we are into model numbers...) could have been fatal to the film. Indeed, the body count for Terminator 2 is roughly half of what the first film's was. This is offset by the fact that while the confrontations are less bloody, they are bigger and more over the top than  The Terminator's were. Terminator 2  also had about twenty times the budget of the first movie.

Terminator 2 does boast a villain that is on par with what Schwarzenegger did before he was wussified. Robert Patrick's T-1000 is the perfect foil for the T-800. Perfecting the CGI techniques that he introduced in The Abyss, the T-1000's liquid metal assassin is less a hammer than he is a scythe. If the terminators are meant to be "infiltration units", it would seem that one that can change its form at will would be better than bulky old Arnold, who you could spot a mile away. Though the Rodney King beating occurred just four months before the film's release, (and well after the movie was in principal photography) disguising the villian as an LAPD officer ends up being a sublime synergy of early nineties zeitgeist.

The premise of Terminator 2 is roughly the same as the first film's: Skynet, an artificial intelligence defense network, comes to the conclusion that human beings are the enemy and starts a nuclear war between the US and Russia. Building a huge army of machines to wipe out the survivors, the humans begin fighting back. Before the machines officially lose, they send a Terminator back in time to kill the leader of the resistance, John Connor. Okay, a few sentences of voice-over narration in the beginning explain that it's actually *two* Terminators. By 2003 when the second sequel was released it ended up being three Terminators, and we are waiting to see if it will actually end up being four, should Schwarzenegger need a payday after he's done playing governor.

In each instance, the resistance is able to send back a protector. The first one, Kyle Reese, ends up fucking John's mom, Sarah Connor, and turns out to be John's father. What we did not learn in the first Terminator (the scene containing this crucial little nugget of information was deleted from the final version) is that the technology used to create Skynet is all based on the processor chip found in the first destroyed Terminator. It is this clever plot symmetry that raised The Terminator above the level of just another late-night cable thriller and turned it into a classic. And it is these plot points that Terminator 2 will throw into a paradox in order to give the sequel a) a reason to exist and b) a feel-good ending.

Perhaps I carp unnecessarily; after all, the Terminator movies never aspire to be "hard" sci-fi. Sure, they could have gone the philosophical route and explored the symbiosis between man and machine, but as the Matrix sequels have now proven, that wouldn't have been the wise choice. Terminator 2 adds layers of schmaltz and message to the formula of its icy cold predecessor. Even when I was 14, I always found stuff like the "Why do you cry?" scene and the thumbs up the T-800 gives as he's being lowered into the molten steel cringe worthy.

The source of most of Terminator 2's stupid and sappy moments is the character of John Connor. While I'm sure that many great leaders have evolved from punk kids, John Connor is pretty annoying throughout. I can forgive the scenes where he teaches the T-800 Bart Simpson-esque catchphrases. I mean at age ten, who didn't try to teach their pet parakeets curse words? But what exactly is the point of trying to teach a machine about human emotions besides throwing a rebuttal at the moral censors of the time who were outraged at the film's violence (and in their narrow worldview, could be justified since while Terminator 2 is R-rated, it was certainly designed to rope in the kiddies.) In Sarah Connor's voice-overs, she describes the Terminator as the father-figure that John never had. Somehow, I think having a father-figure that follows your every command without question would make a piss-poor male role model. Still, while you want to slap Edward Furlong from time-to-time, but he doesn't derail the movie ala Jake Lloyd in the Phantom Menace.

Faring much better is Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. Extending James Cameron's obsession with militant mother figures, Hamilton (now buffed up, weapons trained, and suffering from an all-too-real Cassandra Complex) delivers a performance that is more compelling than the shrinking violet she played in the first movie. You are tempted to cheer when she bashes in the face of the creepy face-licking guard with a broom handle. Though she is cut from the same cloth, Sarah Connor is ultimately less of an iconic figure than Ripley, but just barely. Between her and Robert Patrick's T-1000, the conflict at the core of Terminator 2 stays focused and intense.

Most of the extra scenes in the special edition are welcome additions. The most notable change is in the gas station, when the T-800 has its processor reset so he can learn. Not only does it make sense in terms of overall plot, but in a movie that was noted for its groundbreaking computer effects (which still look good, if a bit dated) the scene has one the most clever practical effects shots that I've ever seen involving mirrored sets and Linda Hamilton's twin. Also good are the scenes where Miles Dyson explains all the practical (read: peaceful) applications of his Skynet processor and a short clip of the T-1000 glitching after being frozen in nitrogen, which should have been left in the theatrical version since it's so short it wouldn't have hampered the film's pacing in the least.

Others were rightfully left on the cutting room floor. Sarah's mental hospital dream sequence with Reese feels like something out of Ghost. The part where John Connor tries to teach the Terminator how to "smile" is mostly stupid slapstick that deserved to be deleted. Even the special edition leaves out the atrocious alternate ending, where an elderly Sarah Connor sits on a park bench in Judgement Day-less future. However, if you're really into torture, it can still be integrated using easter eggs on Ultimate Edition DVD.

Watching these special editions, you can see the arc in James Cameron's filmmaking. Running from lean and low-budget to slick and increasingly concerned about message, one can only postulate where on that spectrum his next film will sit. According to Imdb.com, Avatar is in production and should hit the screen in 2007. The preceeding ten-year break, with everything from the Star Wars prequels to The Matrix to The Lord of the Rings, has dramatically changed the stakes of what special effects and science fiction is capable of. We can only hope that Avatar contains the best of these changes in technology, and not their rampant excesses.

Read more "reviews" at my DVD Shelf.


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The DVD Shelf--Aliens (1986) The Abyss (1989) Terminator 2 (1991) | 110 comments (48 topical, 62 editorial, 0 hidden)
Aliens in the Abyss (none / 1) (#5)
by rpresser on Mon Mar 27, 2006 at 09:38:37 AM EST

It does however bring up the point, if the aliens are so peace-loving, why don't they save the submarine crew like they do the surviving drillers in the end?

Orson Scott Card's very good novelization of The Abyss, which BTW was written at the same time as filming, had a good explanation for this.  He develops the story from the aliens' POV throughout the story, showing how the aliens gradually move from considering humans to be, um, inhuman, to seeing beyond our faults.  One passage Card wrote for the submarine scene is particularly moving, both to me and to the aliens. It recounts how a particular sailor on the boat, when he was near death, spent his last moments ignoring his outer surroundings and reliving time with his family.
"In terms of both hyperbolic overreaching and eventual wrongness, the Permanent [Republican] Majority has set a new, and truly difficult to beat, standard." --rusty

how could you do a retrospective on James Cameron (3.00 / 6) (#8)
by circletimessquare on Mon Mar 27, 2006 at 11:01:51 AM EST

without mentioning Piranha Part Two: The Spawning

i'm joking of course, but what i'm not joking about is from that first movie of his, through the Abyss, through Titanic, to his latest, Aliens of the Deep, to his announced project, The Dive...

this guy has some massive farking issues with deep water!

i mean it's not all of us who are given billions of dollars to explore our phobias and create art with them, but hey, what works for him should be a signifier for the rest of us: explore your fears to propel your art

heh, by that measure, if you look at my sig, i must be hardup for asian vampires... or i better be, for the sake of making something worth watching ;-P

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

I don't think he's afraid of water... (3.00 / 2) (#41)
by Psycho Dave on Tue Mar 28, 2006 at 03:36:20 AM EST

After all, he's practically the Jacques Cousteau of underwater filmmaking. The idea of watching dailies while decompressing from being underwater for twelve hours doesn't sound like my idea of fun, and I'm far from skittish about water.

I've never seen Piranha 2. I don't think that Cameron's involvement probably raised the quality of that one though. My least favorite of his films is probably True Lies. I'd rate it below even Titanic. Not that it was horrible or anything, but after watching it on cable the other night, it doesn't really hold up on repeat viewings.

Perhaps I'm just bitter because of the ugly clothing they made the otherwise hot Eliza Dushku wear. Then again, she was playing a not-legal teenage girl, making this a slightly sick "Natalie Portman in the Professional" feeling. Oh well.

[ Parent ]

ok, not phobia of deep water (none / 0) (#50)
by circletimessquare on Tue Mar 28, 2006 at 12:40:24 PM EST

but definitely an obsession

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]
one of the things I love about k5 (3.00 / 2) (#62)
by Linux or Mac OS X on Tue Mar 28, 2006 at 06:55:07 PM EST

other people attaching names to otherwise anonymous yet hot actresses so I can image-search 4 them.


"Ugh, my stomach is full of tequila and semen." - LilDebbie

[ Parent ]

The philosophical route wouldn't be a bad idea (none / 1) (#26)
by Mathemagician on Mon Mar 27, 2006 at 08:30:50 PM EST

assuming they didn't sledgehammer us over the head with it like the Matrix did. Ghost in the Shell was pretty philosophical, and it was well-received.

Yeah, but (none / 0) (#78)
by gidds on Wed Mar 29, 2006 at 03:12:45 PM EST

...so were films like The Butterfly Effect, and The Truman Show, and Being John Malkovich, and they did far worse than they deserved.

[ Parent ]

True, but it isn't necessarily the philosophy that (none / 0) (#82)
by Mathemagician on Wed Mar 29, 2006 at 09:44:27 PM EST

thwarted those films. It could've been other stuff, like people having trouble taking Jim Carrey seriously, or getting caught up on the bizarre plot of Being John Malkovich.

[ Parent ]
The Butterfly Effect did bad... (none / 0) (#99)
by Insoc on Fri Mar 31, 2006 at 10:00:10 PM EST

because it was a bad film. Yeesh.

[ Parent ]
-1, feature films, opiate of the masses (1.50 / 2) (#47)
by Enlarged to Show Texture on Tue Mar 28, 2006 at 09:23:48 AM EST

Just kidding...but only about the -1. I'll give it a zero because of my inherent bias against movies - the writing looks solid, if unspectacular.

"Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do." -- Isaac Asimov
Small nit... (none / 0) (#57)
by Lord Snott on Tue Mar 28, 2006 at 05:17:29 PM EST

Sorry to be pedantic, but Arnie did not play the T-800 in the Terminator movies. He was of the 800 Series, Model T-101.

This was made clear in the first two Terminator movies. What alway got me was the way they'd spell it out - "tee one oh one". Made me think it was supposed to be in binary (Arnie being of the fifth model of the 800 series infiltration units).

Saying "tee one thousand" in the second movie kinda killed that idea, though I guess Patrick could have been playing the eighth model.

Yeah, I was a nerdy kid :-)

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Bummer :-(

I've always heard T-800 (3.00 / 2) (#60)
by Psycho Dave on Tue Mar 28, 2006 at 05:44:19 PM EST

...or just being referred to as "Terminator" in relation to that character.

Wikipedia seems to back both of us up.

[ Parent ]

Bugger me... (none / 0) (#63)
by Lord Snott on Tue Mar 28, 2006 at 07:17:29 PM EST

...you're right.

Damn, I should've checked Wikipedia (or at least Googled). I was just remembering what I'd heard in the movies, I forget there's often a very rich universe carried on in comics etc that give more detail.

At least I now know I didn't imagine it!
This sig in violation of U.S. trademark
registration number 2,347,676.
Bummer :-(

[ Parent ]

It's really cool when (none / 0) (#106)
by Egil Skallagrimson on Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 09:15:31 AM EST

people are so nit-picky over model types that don't exist.


Enterobacteria phage T2 is a virulent bacteriophage of the T4-like viruses genus, in the family Myoviridae. It infects E. coli and is the best known of the T-even phages. Its virion contains linear double-stranded DNA, terminally redundant and circularly permuted.
[ Parent ]

shut up (1.50 / 2) (#64)
by balsamic vinigga on Tue Mar 28, 2006 at 07:42:46 PM EST

titanic was a good movie, at least it was the first time i saw it, way before it became forever known as the film that got teenybopper girls to go see it 11 times, making it the most profitable film of all time...

Went in without that image tarnishing it and found it to be thoroughly enjoyable..

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I agree (none / 1) (#80)
by p3d0 on Wed Mar 29, 2006 at 06:57:12 PM EST

I saw the thin romance story line as an excuse to show the audience all the facets of the ship, and I thought it worked really well. To me, the story was so thin that it was ignorable, and I wouldn't be surprised if that was the intent.
Patrick Doyle
My comments do not reflect the opinions of my employer.
[ Parent ]
Vasquez (3.00 / 10) (#65)
by cibby on Tue Mar 28, 2006 at 08:33:27 PM EST

The latin girl from Aliens, Vasquez, was fiery. Choice dialogue:

Hudson: Hey, Vasquez, do you ever get mistaken for a man?

Vasquez: No. Do you?

I disagree. (none / 0) (#96)
by Comrade Wonderful on Fri Mar 31, 2006 at 10:25:53 AM EST

"Guess she didn't like the cornbread either."

[ Parent ]
A knee jerks in the forest (none / 0) (#69)
by khallow on Wed Mar 29, 2006 at 12:13:47 AM EST

The Vietnam metaphor (with the Marines' superior firepower ultimately failing against the aliens sheer numbers and ferocity) is mostly an afterthought.

That isn't the Vietnam metaphor. France and the US ultimately got kicked out because (not intended to be all inclusive list BTW): a) there was no compelling reason to be there (this resulted in huge morale and discipline problems), b) because one side could take huge defeats while the other could not (eg, the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, versus the Viet Cong in the Tet Offensive of 1968), c) there never were strong local leaders helping France or the US, and d) the insurgency and North Korea won the psychological war which turned out to be more effective.

I'm sure there's been decades of armchair generaling by now, but my take is that the insurgency and it's supporters learned early on to avoid the strengths of the foe. In particular, challenging the US forces heads up just didn't work. The zerg strategy of the aliens of Aliens just wouldn't work for poorly armed soldiers no matter how numerous they were. Back in the late 90's much was made of "asymmetric warfare", ie, how to win against a more powerful foe. Vietnam when it was in war was a prime example of this doctrine in action. The obvious first point is that you don't challenge the foe in a way that allows them to use their strengths.

The aliens complete violate this rule by swarming marines head on. The marines on the other hand attempted to negate the numbers advantage of the aliens by setting up choke points (eg, the automated machine guns on one end of the long corridor) where the aliens would have to pass through bottlenecks to reach the marines. It wasn't enough, but the strategy was better.

Stating the obvious since 1969.

The "Vietnam" metaphor... (2.66 / 6) (#75)
by Psycho Dave on Wed Mar 29, 2006 at 03:50:33 AM EST

That is not my invention. Rather, James Cameron mentions it in (I think) the commentary and in an interview regarding Aliens. It might have just been heavily on his mind since he had just written the screenplay for Rambo: First Blood Part Two.

As for the accuracy of calling Aliens a metaphor for Vietnam, I'd say it's rather loose. The aliens don't use guerilla tactics, mainly just relying on their numeric superiority. Then again, how practical would it be for them to strike and then blend back in with the population? I'm sure in that world, there is no distinction between an alien "civilian" and an alien combatant.

So while the metaphor doesn't work on all levels, I think the one Cameron was going for was related to his other obsession: technology. The US had superior weaponery to the Vietcong (well, I guess the M-16 was crappy compared to the AK-47, which is still the iconic assault rifle of the third world...but we had the bombs!) yet that didn't matter since they would just set up ambushes, then collect whatever weapons we left behind to use against us.

Of course, the aliens don't use the marines weapons against them. I think I'd probably cry foul if they were running around brandishing pulse rifles.

So, removing that, I guess we can say the Vietnam metaphor is more about how America in the 80's *interpreted* the war. Really, how much of the cultural significance we as a society give to WWII has much basis in fact? Stopping the Holocaust was a nifty by-product of the Allies winning the war, but it certainly wasn't the reason we were there. While opening up a second front with helped hasten the collapse of the Third Reich, it was Russia that endured most of the meat-grinder fighting on the eastern front. For all the Saving Private Ryan hoo-hah regarding D-Day, there's little mention that most of the Germans they were facing were old men, fifteen year old boys, and prisoners of war fighting primarily because there was a German officer with a Luger pointed at their backs (not to mention that Hitler was getting to be a piss-poor strategist and didn't listen to his underlings like Rommel, who had a better understanding of the situation on the ground.) I won't even start on stuff like the fire-bombing of Dresden...

But is that the stuff we think about when we think of World War II? No, it's all Greatest Generation this and Band of Brothers that. So if Aliens wants to use Vietnam as it's "metaphor", I say that it's done with a light enough touch to not devolve into ham-fisted allegory.

[ Parent ]

I buy that (none / 0) (#81)
by khallow on Wed Mar 29, 2006 at 08:22:21 PM EST

Ok, that makes sense.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

I disagree about the lack of tactics for aliens (none / 0) (#93)
by duffolonious on Thu Mar 30, 2006 at 08:48:16 PM EST

When everyone holes up in the room about halfway through the movie - the Aliens come in through the ceiling - I'd call that a good move. It eliminates the bottleneck of doorways and allows the ability to fall on the prey. This tactic would probably be the best - motion trackers or not. And in fact, swarming creates a fear facter with those motion trackers - seeing a ton of those things coming at me would make me want to relocate unless I had some heavy artillery. You could make other arguments that the aliens could try to starve them and just hole them up. But with the proximity to the queen - elimination would probably be the best course of action. Perhaps even causing the aliens to make irrational decisions. But whatever... Complex strategy isn't always the best (case in point Admiral Nelson - who just went point blank line to line against the Dutch in Copenhagen putting faith in his crews superior training). I'll have to watch that movie again - I think there are better arguments that the Marines were dumb. But I forget...

[ Parent ]
fighting aliens (none / 0) (#98)
by khallow on Fri Mar 31, 2006 at 07:48:41 PM EST

The marines definitely did some pretty dumb stuff. For example, they sent in most of their fighting force into an ambush with an enemy they didn't understand and didn't properly protect the dropship. Ripley should have killed the queen when she had the drop on her, etc.

The aliens did seem to do some things right. They snuck up on the marines through the ceiling and had one or two come at the surviving marines from behind (eg, the one that grabbed Newt).

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Aliens was a mediocre follow-up to Alien (2.00 / 2) (#74)
by itsbruce on Wed Mar 29, 2006 at 02:17:36 AM EST

One half-glimpsed alien lurking in the dark is scary. A legion of them throwing themselves against automatic weapons is just a boring teenage gun fantasy. Rambo in space.

-- It is impolite to tell a man who is carrying you on his shoulders that his head smells.
So very wrong (3.00 / 2) (#84)
by daveybaby on Thu Mar 30, 2006 at 08:00:15 AM EST

Theyre completely different films in every way, which is why both of the first two movies are classics, whereas film #3 is merely a vastly inferior remake of alien, as (it could be argued) #4 is of #2.

Did you just want more of the same? How dull for the rest of us that would be.

[ Parent ]

Nitrogen Narcosis.. (none / 0) (#77)
by spyderfx on Wed Mar 29, 2006 at 12:21:16 PM EST

Nitrogen Narcosis is the "pressure sickness dementia" in The Abyss you where refering to (yes along with most of the diving related stuff its a real thing), although paranoia is rare it does happen (most people just get confused... its kinda similar to being drunk).

Thats one of the cool things about the abyss for diving geeks, its almost a hundred percent accurate except the voices (Commercial divers working at those depths usually breathe trimix (oxygen,nitrogen and helium) giving them squeaky voices...) yeah I guess that would have been really annoying so we'll let that one slide...

Aliens don't spit acid. nt (none / 1) (#79)
by sudog on Wed Mar 29, 2006 at 03:25:38 PM EST

Correct. (none / 0) (#90)
by Psycho Dave on Thu Mar 30, 2006 at 12:00:13 PM EST

"Acid-spitting" just sounded better than "acid-bleeding" there. The alien DID spit acid in Alien3, but that doesn't count in the context of this review.

[ Parent ]
There was no Alien 3. (3.00 / 3) (#91)
by sudog on Thu Mar 30, 2006 at 01:28:43 PM EST

There was no Alien: Resurrection either.

Pretending those movies were never made is the easiest way to keep liking the Alien movie franchise.

Anyway, even in Alien:Resurrection, the only way they could break out of the little cell was to tear one of their own apart and use its blood to escape.

Stupid breaks in continuity like that annoy me because they're a sign of incompetent writing. The last two movies were bad except for Sigourney. If she hadn't been in them, they would've had no redeeming qualities at all.

[ Parent ]

I'd rather believe in Alien3 (none / 0) (#100)
by Insoc on Fri Mar 31, 2006 at 10:11:39 PM EST

than Alien versus Predator.

[ Parent ]
Alien 3 (none / 0) (#107)
by Pxtl on Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 09:13:35 PM EST

Alien 3 was a good movie.  The problem was that it was a sad movie - nobody wants to see everybody die.  Still, it was well done, scary, and nicely closed the series.

"Resurrection" was a glorified comic book.  It was much more fun, but didn't really fit with the first three films.  AvsP was like an Uwe Boll flick.

The Alien series is a trilogy - everything since then is spinoffs.

[ Parent ]

I thought it was 4 (none / 0) (#108)
by Pxtl on Fri Apr 07, 2006 at 09:14:20 PM EST

I'm pretty sure the only acid-spitting was in the fourth flick.

[ Parent ]
JESUS CHRIST! (none / 0) (#83)
by yaksox on Thu Mar 30, 2006 at 07:20:33 AM EST

Hi Psycho Dave,
Nice review. I'm a tad surprised that you didn't mention the heavy allusions to the 2nd coming that T2 made. I'm no expert on such matters, it'[s just what I've heard. And I heard they did it pretty good.

You totally reminded me about The Abyss - I'd totally forgotten about that movie. Since I have enough trouble coming up with something to write a diary about - I might do my anecdoatl story of going to see the abysee and link back on here.
zom·bie n. 3. One who looks or behaves like an automaton.

T-800 learning... (none / 1) (#85)
by porkchop_d_clown on Thu Mar 30, 2006 at 09:00:01 AM EST

Hrm. You implied that the processor reset wasn't in the theatrical release, but I know that I already knew that scene. I only saw T2 in the theater, so it had to have been there originally.

Otherwise, nice article.

People who think "clown" is an insult have never met any.

There is a difference. (none / 0) (#89)
by Psycho Dave on Thu Mar 30, 2006 at 11:58:30 AM EST

In the theatrical version, he simply says "My CPU is a neural net processor, a learning computer. The more contact I have with humans, the more I learn." To which Sarah says, "I'm sure. It probably makes you a more efficient killer..."

The special edition changes that to "My CPU is a neural net processor, a learning computer. But Skynet sets the switch to read-only..." which segues into the chip-reset scene.

To be honest, I knew about the scene before I saw the movie too. My parents were skittish about letting me watch R-rated films at the time, but I had a loophole I could exploit. If I read the book first, they would give up and let me see the movie anyway since I already knew what was going to happen. I used this same exploit with The Silence of the Lambs. The novelization had the chip removal scene in it, and I was struck by it's abscence in the film.

You can find what was cut out of a movie easily by reading the novelizations. They took a bunch of stuff out of Batman. The Alien3 novelization had most of the stuff from the "workprint" version already in it.

[ Parent ]

I remember Connor actually resetting the chip (none / 1) (#95)
by porkchop_d_clown on Fri Mar 31, 2006 at 09:10:59 AM EST

but you might be right - I read constantly and it's entirely possible I read the book either before or after seeing the movie and I just don't remember the book itself.

People who think "clown" is an insult have never met any.
[ Parent ]
Watch me miss the point. (none / 1) (#86)
by creature on Thu Mar 30, 2006 at 09:01:50 AM EST

I mean at age ten, who didn't try to teach their pet parakeets curse words?

Who, at age ten, had pet parakeets? Not even just one parakeet, but multiple ones?

I had two parakeets... (3.00 / 4) (#88)
by Psycho Dave on Thu Mar 30, 2006 at 11:51:36 AM EST

They were named Bow and Arrow. Bow was fat and blue and was the nice one. He got to the point where he could barely fly he got so far. Arrow was more anti-social. I tried to hold him in my hands once and he chewed a chunk of my index finger out with his beak.

I inherited them from my friend Kevin who had asthma and couldn't be around them any more. But I had adopted two seriously abused birds. Kevin's little brother was a cruel little shit. He would take little plastic toy katanas and armour and tape them to the birds' wings and try to get them to play "Teenage Mutant Ninja Parakeets" or something. When they wouldn't fight each other in a sort of avian Battle Royale, he'd SIT on the birds (and how that didn't kill them, I don't know...)

I didn't do such things to them, but they were certainly more defensive because of it. I tried to teach them how to talk, but they were too old and stubborn by that point.

After a couple years, they died off. I remember their passing by the TV shows I was watching when it happened. Arrow died during LA Law. We buried him the in the garden next to the pear tree. Bow died during Twin Peaks (I was thrilled my parents let me watch it, though I didn't understand it.) He got buried next to the cilantro plants. I have never had pets since them.

So yes, children do own parakeets.

[ Parent ]

more bird confirmation (none / 1) (#104)
by uncoolcentral on Mon Apr 03, 2006 at 03:18:27 PM EST

That's a sad bird story.

I grew up with parakeets. One at a time. They were always named Mickey. I didn't think that was strange. Now I do. My parents weren't pleased when my sister and I taught a Mickey how to talk like a sailor.

I recently adopted a conure. (READ: BIG parakeet) He hadn't been abused, per se... but by the time I got him at the age of six, his poor attitude was set in stone and feathers... that, and I'd forgotten than birds crap EVERYWHERE. I put him up for adoption on petfinder.org. He's now living with an empty-nester who loves him dearly.

[ Parent ]

Obligatory quote (none / 0) (#87)
by bithead on Thu Mar 30, 2006 at 11:27:01 AM EST

"Game over man!"
I had that as a beep sound on my computer for awhile. Always worked.

Talking of alien remakes (none / 0) (#92)
by Lacero on Thu Mar 30, 2006 at 02:14:39 PM EST

I liked Deep Rising.

I just thought I'd share that.

You mention Doom (3.00 / 2) (#94)
by nebbish on Fri Mar 31, 2006 at 06:06:39 AM EST

But I think Aliens' influence on video games goes further - there'd be no FPSs without it.

Kicking someone in the head is like punching them in the foot - Bruce Lee

Total Alien Conversion (none / 0) (#101)
by mordemur on Sun Apr 02, 2006 at 09:43:25 AM EST

While I can't agree with you, I must thank you for reminding me of the Aliens-themed Total Alien Conversion mod for the original Doom.

It saddens me to find only scant Googly references to it as it was the first major FPS mod and was very well done indeed. I believe the author was invited to work with id (or is that apocryphal?)

[ Parent ]
Aliens Total Conversion (none / 0) (#103)
by des on Mon Apr 03, 2006 at 07:01:28 AM EST

Try googling the correct title...

[ Parent ]
great comments... i disagree on one point (3.00 / 3) (#97)
by joshsisk on Fri Mar 31, 2006 at 12:30:50 PM EST

In regards to the Aliens special edition, I think the scenes at the colony were a good thing to cut. Partially because the acting in those scenes is fairly bad, as is the dialogue... but also because:
  1. These are the only scenes were we aren't following Ripley, and thus sort of stand out oddly.
  2. If you have seen Alien, you know this stuff... if you haven't seen it, it's implied later.
  3. It's better to go into the colony sequences with no knowledge of what the colony is like - like the characters.
  4. The scenes reveal that the Company made it happen, thus making the reveal that Burke is an asshole to be less jarring.

logjamming.com : web hosting for weblogs, NOT gay lumberjack porn
Also (none / 0) (#105)
by Pxtl on Wed Apr 05, 2006 at 11:20:32 PM EST

Cameron is spectacular at knowing the limits of the technology of the time in all of his movies except the final scene of the abyss... and the cut scene from Aliens.  You never see that the vehicles are a meter long, or that the aliens are made of rubber, or that the lightning is just drawn on... except here.  From the cheap 20th century bigwheel to the plasticky rovers, Cameron was smart to cut that jarring piece of antiquarian film.

[ Parent ]
Agreed, better off without the scene (none / 0) (#109)
by cburke on Sat Apr 08, 2006 at 11:56:23 AM EST

I wish the Aliens DVD had a feature to let you select which scenes you wanted to add back in.  The colony scene and that unfortunate "ultimate bad-ass" spiel would be left on the floor where they belong (but please give me the sentry gun goodness).

The tension created by entering the complex with no knowledge of what has transpired is gone when you've already had it explained to you.  Even having watched the movie several times before, there is more tension without the scene than with.

In line with your comment about the viewer sharing the viewpoint of the characters, it is more dramatic to learn about the fate of the colony from the brief descriptions of a traumatized little girl who survived it.

Speaking of which, I'm a little dissapointed that Psycho Dave isn't willing to give Newt any more credit than "not annoying".  She was in many ways the linchpin of the story -- the marines' (and our) connection to the colonists, and the fundamental cause of the climactic battle.  While not flawless, I think the actress' perfomance went way above "not annoying" in a fairly difficult role.

[ Parent ]

You're right... (none / 0) (#110)
by Psycho Dave on Sat Apr 08, 2006 at 01:45:47 PM EST

Newt does a good job, and deserves more than just a "not annoying" under compliment. The "not annoying" comment is mostly because I find the presence of children in movies to be a detriment. There are few problems with movies that can't be solved by removing the children.

I would say that John Connor is even more of a plot catalyst than the character of Newt (the marines never need to find Newt for there to be an Aliens) yet he still finds ways to grate on the nerves.

I still enjoy the initial colony scenes, though the parent comment has given compelling reasons why it's not good. They increase the importance of Newt to the story by giving her some early character moments. Also, giving shots of the alive and bustling colony makes the contrast of when the marines find it desolate and destroyed that much more stark, at least to me.

[ Parent ]

The DVD Shelf--Aliens (1986) The Abyss (1989) Terminator 2 (1991) | 110 comments (48 topical, 62 editorial, 0 hidden)
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