Inaugural podcast: Alien (1979)

After a rather lengthy hiatus, I’m back talking about film, and this time I’ve brought some help.

I think this is the format my future discussions about film will probably take for the foreseeable future, if only for convenience and simplicity. (I’ve been hard-pressed to find the time to write about film, especially at the expense of my dissertation.)

As our first podcast, our format undoubtedly has room for improvement. I’m eager to learn what others think of the style and content and what changes you’d like to hear.

We’ve already recorded a three-part podcast series giving a once-over to the Harry Potter franchise, and plans for many more conversations to come. Be sure to leave comments and if you like what you’re hearing, offer suggestions about other films you’d like for us to cover, and subscribe to our channel on SoundCloud.

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On the Narrative Excess of Alien: Isolation

Amanda Ripley from Alien: Isolation

(Note: This analysis of the narrative of Creative Assembly’s ambitious game does not feature any spoilers until the final few paragraphs. I note in the piece at which point these spoilers begin, so those who have yet to play the game and don’t want to have the story ruined can still follow along until then. Bear in mind that I do speak obliquely about events in both Alien and Aliens, but then if you haven’t seen those films already then you should unplug your internet until you’ve done so.)

There is a moment, towards the finale of Ridley Scott’s Alien, as Ripley is making a last-ditch effort to escape the impending destruction of her ship, that she rounds a corner to find the titular creature blocking her only means of reaching the lifeboat. Frantic, Ripley abandons her plan, returns to the command deck and attempts to override the auto-destruct sequence. A moment too late, Ripley realizes in a furious panic that she must risk the corridor or die. The moment is one of utter terror and dread, complemented by the dazzling mise-en-scene of the spaceship in its turbulent death throes. Now imagine if Ripley had gone back to the lifeboat to discover its door sealed, and imagine also that she improvises a new plan, one that takes her down an elevator shaft, which leads to a new section of the ship, in which a maintenance android patrols the grounds, and she must run around turning off switches and logging into terminals to override doors, before getting into a spacesuit and walking along the outside of the hull to manually force her way into the lifeboat, which is carrying an alien that she then has to defeat. The scenario would be absurd, overdone, and would exchange the viewer’s panic and terror for tedium and frustration. Nonetheless, this contrived scenario roughly approximates the exercise in excessive paces that Alien: Isolation puts the player through.

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Picking Apart Prometheus: Part 2—Fleshing Out the Characters

The previous entry in this series addressed problems with the plot of Prometheus, but there are numerous other problems that remain unaddressed by the time the credits roll. This section addresses the problem with the film’s characterisation. There have been other videos that examined the problem of poor characterisation, like Dr. Shaw and Meredith Vickers only being able to run in straight lines from falling objects, or a wildly inconsistent geologist sticking his face into a cobra penis. This video exists beyond simply pointing out that these characters behave like idiots despite being billed as scientists (because maybe scientists in Ridley Scott’s fictional future are all idiots). Even provided we write all the characters off as idiots, the script and plot of Prometheus fails to adequately develop the characters. The film introduces its major characters sufficiently enough, skillfully shifting gears to devote enough time to render Shaw, Vickers and David especially before the rising action, the problem is that after the second act, when all hell is breaking loose on the planet, the film abandons these characters in favour of driving the plot forward, when a stronger script could have managed both, as this part demonstrates. Continue reading

Picking Apart Prometheus: Part 1 — Missing pieces

Released in the summer of 2012, Prometheus is director Ridley Scott’s long-awaited return to sci-fi and to one of the most intriguing and enduring film legacies. One of the most common problems levied against Scott’s film is that its events don’t connect with the derelict spacecraft from the first Alien film. Everyone just naturally assumed the Engineer was going to get impregnated, waddle into this chair and give birth, cut to 70 years later and the Nostromo is setting down. While the connection would have been ideally suited to the plot of Prometheus, Scott has certainly earned the right to chart his own territory in the universe he helped create. And besides, there’s nothing suggesting he won’t make such a connection with a later film in this new series. The problems with Prometheus that this video will discuss exist solely within the realm of narrative technique and structure. This is not going to be fan-fic speculation. There are great sources for that material if that’s what you’re looking for, but this will not be one.

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One-Shot Rant: Why the signature shot of Alien 3 doesn’t work

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

William Blake, “The Tyger” (1794)

Ok, picture this: The lone survivor of two terrifying encounters with a hostile alien race finds herself stranded on a prison planet surrounded by ruthless inmates only to discover something even more dangerous is in the prison with her. And at this moment, it’s staring her right in the face. It’s not just any face, this face is a mask of true terror, the kind that is so terrifying since it disregards all expectations. It’s is an unsettling Rorschach test, the black creative space that allows our minds to fill it with all the terrible sights we can imagine. It is the pinnacle moment of the franchise, when Ripley at last faces her own mortality in a manner heretofore unseen. Literally face to face with the spectre of death, she is at last defeated. But although she is entirely broken, unable to combat the alien any longer, submitting in helpless terror with a final gasp, the alien spares her life. With that comes the key turn of the scene, and the alien takes on a whole new level of meaning. Even after it has broken her utterly, the alien extends her anguish by allowing her to live, only to face a new horror as she comes to terms with the alien embryo gestating inside her, and what was once so frightening and foreign becomes uncannily familiar. Continue reading