Thursday, March 15, 2012

Best Movie Ever?

by Allison Pang

 Well, like Jeffe, I have a very hard time deciding what is my favorite anything. Usually it's my favorite thing, right NOW. Ask me again in five months or a year or ten years, and chances are my tastes will have changed.

I mean, I wouldn't exactly put Dirty Dancing at the top of the list of "best movie ever," but you know what? I watch it every single time I come across it on TV. (It was probably one of those defining movies of my youth or something.)

 And yet oddly enough, most of the movies that have stuck with me over the years have turned out to be on the grittier side - Terminator, The Silence of the Lambs (seriously - the one-liners alone are probably a daily occurance at my house. "Ready when you are, Sgt. Pembry.") -  and Alien.

I'm not sure I get it either - I generally like fluffier movies for my everyday sort of watching, but for whatever reason the Alien/Aliens movies just resonated. (Scared me shitless too, but that's really kind of the point, isn't it?)  When I was in college I actually went to a back-to-back screening of all three Alien movies with a couple of friends. Which is an awful lot of Alien, if you think about it. And they've all got their pluses and minuses as far as storytelling goes, but Alien is still the classic.

Part sci-fi, part thriller/horror - most of its appeal lies in the fact that it relies on your own inner fears to pull off the scary. It had its fair share of special effects, but they've held up remarkably well, simply because they were done "old-school." No real green-screen type of cut outs to jar you from the story. We don't even really see the alien for most of the movie, except in bits and pieces. (We get to see where it's been, but in some ways that's far worse - imagining just what's lurking around the corner when you haven't gotten a real look at it is pretty awful. As it should be.)

But even aside from that, the story is what made it real. Unlike so many of the sci-fi/fantasy "adventure" type movies that are so prevalent these days, Alien didn't have a cast of young, nubile starletts or beefcake. (You know, the ones who die simply because they have sex, of course.) They weren't bad-ass marines with super-powers or weapons.

They were just people. Older, tired, doing their jobs (bringing a payload back to Earth for the "company"). So it becomes that much easier for us to self-insert with what the characters are going through. It's not about retrieving some mystical element to save the universe - it's about doing the job and getting paid and drinking your coffee and well, shit, it's Monday again. So in a lot of ways, it's that much more shocking when some unknown beastie is suddenly trying to kill you.

Now there's an underlying theme here that I don't have plan to delve into too deeply - specifically some of the more "horrific" elements deal with what is essentially male rape. And if you look at it - yeah - the face hugger orally shoves his way into Kane's throat and deposits an egg there...which Kane gives birth to via his chest a short time later. It's the scene the movie is probably know best for and you could argue that one of the reasons people get so squicked out about it is because it's putting a male character into that of the sexual assault victim, which is something that doesn't happen much in mainstream media. (Or that it is basically taking man's subconscious fears of a woman's role (i.e. childbirth) and throwing it on the table, so to speak.)

I suspect you could probably write a thesis on it, so I'll just leave that here for now.

And I can't really end the post without mentioning the heroine - Ripley. Considering the movie was made in 1979, the fact that the main character is 1) a woman 2) a woman who isn't a victim or naked during any part of the movie 3) a woman who uses her brains and not her body to get out of her situation  - is nothing short of amazing. (I'll argue that The Terminator comes in a close second here, though.)

But what I love the most is that there's nothing inherently sympathetic about her - i.e. we don't take her character for granted simply because she's female. She holds her own with the crew. She does her job. She has some amount of power on the ship and she's just doing her thing.

In short? There's nothing special about her. I can identify with that.

When the shit hits the fan, she doesn't just cower in the corner and cry. And I can identify with that too, because it's how *I'd* like to react.

But I do want to mention that end scene - yes she's in her underwear, but it has nothing to do with audience titillation. It's all about vulnerability now.

She thinks she's safe. Getting undressed to get ready for hypersleep. She's blown up her ship. Saved her cat.

And then she discovers the monster escaped into the shuttle with her. So now she's stuck in a tiny room with something that wants to kill her. She has no weapons, no backup...and she's nearly naked.

There's something very visceral about that - to be stripped away of all your defenses physically is a fairly humbling thing. There's a certain dignity about clothing that we take for granted, and horrific situations seem to be that much worse when we don't even have that much.

So it's gratifying on so many levels when she not only manages to survive, but she blows the thing out of the airlock. Not with a gun, but by using her intelligence to outmaneuver the thing that's hunting her. (And there's definitely some luck in there too, but I daresay she earned it.)


  1. Definitely one of my favorite movies!!!

  2. This is a really interesting analysis. I like this!

  3. I *loved* that first movie. Love it still. Superb storytelling. It proves that you don't have to spray the audience with blood to scare the ever-living daylights out of them.

  4. "Aliens" is actually my all time favorite...but it wouldn't have existed without "Alien"!