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5 problems for Resident Evil 5 (the movie).

This is a mission movie. Alice wakes up in an Umbrella facility the prisoner of past heroine and video-game avatar Jill Valentine. As Jill tortures her noisily in between asking somewhat inane questions like “Who do you work for?” there are secret forces at work. That being Ada Wong, another game character here introduced into the series for what might be the first time. Ada is working for — excuse me, with — Albert Whiskers, who releases the super-powered invincible zombie fighter Alice and also sends a crack team to retrieve her. The two parties fight their way through, meeting familiar faces along the way.

Problem #1. Retribution could have easily not have happened in this series. At no point does it offer a sense of self-worth or place in the storyline. I may not be the fairest judge of things, as I missed the last two in the mega-franchise, but I’m led to believe that perhaps the storyline itself may not be so valued. I wonder if somebody at the beginning, or around Apocalypse, decided to create a bare bones, rough rough outline — a plan for future installments to create a decent through-line. If they did, surely Retribution wouldn’t be on it, because it doesn’t advance the story. Or, it doesn’t do what fifteen minutes from another movie couldn’t.

It starts and Milla Jovovich is being shot off a boat that’s getting hit by Umbrella I assume, and she falls in the water. She wakes up in a facility, and needs to be rescued. The conflict is setup in the film — she could have easily not have woken up in the facility, and continued on her merry — with only a minor connection to the previous movie.

Problem #2. This is a lot like the original Resident Evil, which saw trained commandoes roving through creepy corridors and exploring biomedical facilities. It’s kind of like Aliens — and this would make Retribution the Resurrection. Only, instead of the more heterogeneous squad fighting aliens in inventive ways and everything’s an extremely bloody cartoon, Retribution is zombies and severely displaced game villains. Zombies with guns is gonna be your chief antagonist, among the axe dude more familiar in an African setting, and a giant Licker that once again reminds us of the original.

Zombies with guns? Come on. They’re the worst. They have the worst qualities of people and monsters, combined into a moorish alchemy blah that’s just very boring to watch. I didn’t even like the zombies with guns in Resident Evil 5, and that’s one of the great co-op games of recent memory. I want more monsters. Zombies feel cheap. They’re also rather unimaginative, especially in the context of a series with no shortage of interesting creatures to blast with acid rounds. Oh wait, you don’t do those either, Mr. WS.

Problem #3. They try something interesting here. I’m sure that the clone thing was born out of “How the fuck do we get M-Rod back in here?” but it might be the most recent example of my favorite phenomenon in movie series that have gone on too long — they have to come up with weird shit to keep it fresh. Back when we had so many horror franchises, even the weird shit went on too long, when everyone from Jason to Pinhead went to space with the Leprechauns. Here, we get clones that the artificial intelligence controlling Umbrella (the Red Queen from the first movie) uses in preposterously over-the-top experiments that test… something, I’m sure.

We have clones running around in artificial environments, not quite knowing what’s going on. How could you explain it to them, especially when one is a four year old girl? It’s an interesting premise, but it shouldn’t be here, and should be actually fleshed out. When the clone daughter of Alice asks if she is indeed her mother — upon facing a room of blank Alice clones — Alice says, “I am now.” What? I am now? Jesus, WS, you came really close to actual sci-fi drama. All she needed to say is — nothing. Just looked sad because in that moment, she was powerless.

But wait…

Problem #4. Alice is the most powerful thing in the universe. She’s always got an answer, and unfortunately in that moment it was a dumbass one-liner. I am now. Yeah, that helps. Also, when Leon Kennedy (yes) tells her to not go Ripley-style back for the clone girl because she isn’t as important Alice, Alice says, “That’s where you’re wrong.” Actually, no. He’s absolutely right. But you could’ve said, “I’m the most powerful thing in the universe,” and strode off. Why justify something that’s so wrong? Yeah it’s sad that this girl has to die, but you’re the one who’s supposed to save the last twelve humans on Earth. I think they need your help, because everyone else in this movie is shit, unless the plot requires them to be something else for the moment.

And about the clone thing one more time, it’s interesting for sure, but it means literally nothing. The AI that runs the place is like malfunctioning or something. These tests play out for no reason, or at least, to the whim of a computer. Take the zombies out, and you’d have like a poor man’s Eagle Eye. Make it a bit better? Poor man’s I, Robot, perhaps. I haven’t seen Colossus: The Forbin Project yet. I know you can’t reference Eagle Eye without that and expect to be taken seriously.

Problem #5. The Underworld moment. As if the connections between the two franchises weren’t many and varied as is, now we have to have Ada Wong doing the one thing we thought was cool from the entire Underworld series, that time Kate Beckinsale shot through the floor and went to, you know, like a different floor. Seriously, to close this out, let’s list all the weird fucking connections between Resident Evil and Underworld

– They’re the two biggest and only sci-fi horror franchises of the day
– “Strong” female characters (but they’re both tabula rasas)
– The leads are married to the directors (Anderson, Wiseman)
– Genre-challenged genre mashups (The Matrix meets… Hammer horror)
– Title etymology (Evolution, Extinction, Afterlife, Awakening, Apocalypse — can you tell me which are which?)
– Wentworth Miller (Speedman’s co-worker in the first Underworld)
– They’re both poor substitutes for Blade

And how could you not? As much as I know I’ll enjoy the film when it hits theatres in October, I know it won’t last long or be well-recieved or good. It’s just not a movie that needed to be made, but I look forward to it anyway as a fan of the John Carpenter original, a fan of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and a guy who saw and enjoyed somwhat the Howard Hawks original original. The Who Goes There? story template is great, and even without that key casting I’d still look forward to it, even if it is seemingly just another in the line of horror remakes following the Wes Craven reboots of recent times and Friday the 13th and all that.

Horror is such a shitty genre nowadays that remakes don’t faze me. If original material turns out to be garbage like The Strangers, then I welcome familiar faces and ideas. I’ve come to peace with the fact that The Mist is the product of a brilliant filmmaker who probably won’t continue to dabble in horror (unless it’s Stephen King), and that M. Night Shyamalan is making some terrible, terrible choices years after his incredible Signs. Maybe it’s just fine by me because horror isn’t one of the genres I look for. I like horror/comedy, but I haven’t seen too many of those I’ve disliked. From Return of the Living Dead to Slither, the horror/comedy has been good throughout the ages, but I didn’t even like a horror classic like The Exorcist so how am I supposed to like its inevitable remake?

It’s a difficult genre, and I guess that’s why these filmmakers do it. Nothing is sacred, as people are bound to say, but I really don’t care about that. They’re not actively working to ‘ruin’ the original film, and the constant theory against the naysayers is that maybe attention will be brought to the old one with the release of the new one. Who knows? And that’s right – on some level John Carpenter’s The Thing was a remake, and it’s a classic, as is The Fly remake. Who’s to say that this new one won’t be? Aside from history and the formula it seems to be following…

In fact there are other things that concern me about this new movie. A long time ago I got into some farcical argument with a ’30 year old woman’ on YouTube.com, and it was on the video for The Thing 1982 trailer. Maybe you can still find it, I don’t know – I’m HeroOfCanton99, like Jayne and 1999 combined, the year I wanted people to think I was born in. Basically this lady’s stance was that she was uncomfortable with a girl being cast in the movie, because some seriously horrific things tend to happen to people in The Thing. I said “Damn it, I’m agreeing with you, you freaking moron,” but she didn’t really realize and continued to argue out loud to herself. It was surreal. Wonder what’ll happen when she finds out about the women in Gears of War “Curb Stomp Downed Enemies” 3?

I don’t feel entirely comfortable with it because I’m aware of Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s history – three horror flicks, one where she gets killed, probably gruesomely. She’s assumedly not afraid of it, but I am. I don’t want to see that. I wouldn’t want to see it if it was anybody else, not just Mary Elizabeth Winstead, though that certainly doesn’t help. In The Thing, it’s not the character deaths that are actually gruesome: people die when they burn by flamethrowers. The terror comes out of the creature’s mutations, where faces split open and heads tear off slowly and painstakingly while tongues lash around and it’s the most horrible thing you’ve ever seen done to a human body. So awesome. God just typing that makes me want to watch the movie again. Really ingenious horror, and really cool sci-fi – the perfect blend captured here in this totally underrated flick.

If Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s head falls off and turns into a spider I might just vomit, but I’ve made a speculation as to what happens in this new movie:

The Swedish guy at the beginning of The Thing was a guy, not a girl. That means that she either dies in the helicopter explosion, dies earlier, or escapes to the mainland. I think that she’ll escape and leave the male hero to chase the dog and magically become non-foreign. Maybe that’ll pave the way for sequels… which is an odd thought. Hm, if they made a Thing remake trilogy, that would mark one of the strangest movie series ever.

That’s only a guess. Chances are she gets killed by a massive Thing monster, because I hear that we’ll see different forms of the creature, which is a good change of pace. Maybe one form will be Frankenstein’s monster, like the 1951 movie. HRRRNGGG

Another issue I have is an idea resulting from a filmmaker’s passion for the original movie. When McG, a big fan of the Terminator movies, made a Terminator movie, he had a lot of visual call-outs to the earlier films, particularly the first. I didn’t mind; I thought it was cool because I share his sentiment that those two movies are totally sweet. But if the director of The Thing (I’m not going to try to spell his name) also does this visual homage deal and has similar things happen, for some reason I don’t see it as working, perhaps because of the proximity to this story to the 1982 one.

In other words, won’t it be silly if the crew of the 2011 had a blood test scene if only days later a different crew did? Eh it’s a nerdy complaint, but that’s why it’s an issue and not a problem, I guess. Also, will this movie take place in 1982? Or will it be like Casino Royale (2006) and take place in the future of the 60’s Bond films, despite its chronology as first in the series?

So that’s it. If Avatar and Machete were the most anticipated movies of years previous, well, that’s not a good track record, so The Thing better work out because I definitely look forward to it more than… Captain America? If they do things similar to the 1982 movie I don’t see much margin for error, but that’s probably what was said about The Phantom Menace. Well, that’s definitely what was said.

Not only has the original movie’s tagline become quite the cliche, such that it’s near impossible to riff on it because all the variants have been said, nearly everything else about it has been equally recycled into other, later pieces of popular media. Even to the day we see the influence of Alien and Aliens, in video-games from DOOM (originally supposed to be an Aliens game) to Dead Space (2008), and in movies like Sunshine and Pandorum and countless others. It’s a historical milestone in the genre of science-fiction, single-handedly lifting sci-fi/horror from dreck fiction to a level not seen since the classic Frankenstein films. Alien is a classic, Aliens is a classic. Alien 3 is one of the most underrated science-fiction films, or possibly films, of all time. Alien Resurrection is a story that can’t be approximated briefly in a cute sentence here.

The four Alien movies make up what is undoubtedly the greatest sci-fi movie series, and it’s about what scares us the most.

That was the origin in fact, that very question; Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett got together and asked. They came up with one word, an r-word that you’ll probably guess at with ease. What if that happened to you? What if the thing on the other end was a goddamn alien creature with a big old alien penis? What if you were in space, and no one could hear you scream? What if you discovered that there was in the end, no hope, but in your own will to survive?

Thus Alien was born, but first, perhaps we should take a moment to recall Alien 0.5 – John Carpenter’s very first film, Dark Star. This movie starred Dan O’Bannon as a hippie astronaut among hippie astronaut, and his assignment was to chase an alien through the various corridors of the ship. That sounds familiar, only the alien in question is a beachball with rubber monster feet attached to it. I don’t think HR Giger had his hands on that one.

What’s interesting about Dark Star is not necessarily that it’s a great movie, but that it silently impacted science-fiction and nobody but nerds knows about it. Nerds and Danny Boyle I guess, who paid homage to the 70’s flick by naming one of his astronauts in Sunshine after a character in Dark Star, Pinbacker.

O’Bannon’s next project would be a bit more popular; Alien went on to be quite the commercial success, which really set Ridley Scott up for a sophomore slump in Blade Runner. It’s a shame that the Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? adaptation grossed so little, because it put the director off of science-fiction for thirty years. Blade Runner and Alien truly stand out in Scott’s filmography because of it, and because so much attention and craftsmanship was put into the film’s look. Matchstick Men looks nice, but it doesn’t have the classic lighting composition and atmosphere that heighten the tension or create a sense of apocalyptic decay.

The production design in Alien indeed is legendary, as you’ll see it repeated several times over in sequels and in pieces of media that bear a resemblance. The movie, intitially entitled Star Beast, was just as cool to rip off as Star Wars and the later Blade Runner – it was fashionable. All of a sudden science-fiction had a sense of range to it, and this is all thanks to the visuals. Star Trek and Star Wars told us that we could see the great heighs of man as imagined by creative masters like Roddenbery and Lucas, while Alien and Blade Runner told us we could shove all of that. The two movies have the classic ‘used future,’ look, and it makes sense in either context.

Alien finds its seven crewmembers on the Nostromo, a Conrad reference that seems fitting after The Duelists, which was Scott’s debut. As we discover from an initial conversation over grubby food, they are blue-collar workers. They aren’t talking about saving the world from space vampires – they’re talking about shares and getting paid. These are the characters who are established at the front of the film, and we get to know them by the time they reach LV-426, which I don’t think is named in the first movie, but will be revisited later.

The movie moves incredibly slowly, but it has to. There is narrative progression, and this happens on many levels. Because it’s a movie about what scares us the most, it’s also a movie about reaching out and touching that fear, as one would expect on the frontier of space. Thus we see our heroes experimenting with the alien facehugger, noting that it has acid blood and tightens around Kane’s neck when threatened, and then rallying together to try to find a cat-sized alien which is now loose in the ship after the film’s most iconic scene – the chestburster.

We assume that it’s cat-sized because that’s how it left Kane’s dead body, skittering off the table and into the depths of the Nostromo. When we find that it’s not, that it’s a rather large creature, we can’t be sure of anything. And that’s when the movie begins to really take off.

First, we’re frightened of the creature. It becomes a ubiquitous threat, always hiding somewhere on the ship, ready to pounce with its terrible tongue-jaws-dick. Then, we’re frightened of the Company. We discover that they’re so goddamn cold they consider the crew to be expendable, something that would repeat in every other movie about aliens, from Predator to Alien Lockdown. Then we’re afraid of each other – Ash turns out to be a robot, which is very phildickian. This provides for one of the most intense scenes in the movie, as Ash is bleeding and vomiting this horrible white ‘blood.’

Finally, we become frightened of the ship itself, our surroundings. It’s always been creepy, as the description of Alien as a haunted house movie in space is fair, but towards the end of the movie, it becomes hostile. Fog is blowing everywhere, emergency lights are flashing, alarms are ringing and Mother, the ship’s computer, is counting down until an explosion. Caught in the middle is Ripley, who’s had to experience the fears of all of the above, and is now struggling against the last.

We can only overcome these fears by being reborn, which is why the ship is the final thing to be feared, other than the fact that it makes for some great hallway-running sequences, which is also iconic. Ripley is reborn when she takes the shuttle out from the Nostromo, essentially breaking away from Mother. That’s not the end of the movie however, although we do get a sequence akin to Metroid‘s perfect clear ending.

If that was the end of the movie, the victory over her many fears would not have a measure, and the movie would be about nothing. The alien returns, and Ripley is able to defeat it by being calm and a badass. She harpoons it and sends it flying out the airlock, and she’s the only survivor, save one lucky cat. She is able to have this victory because of her will to survive, which is the only thing that can save you from your worst fears.

This is the point of the movie because we have to explore our worst fears to get to that point. That’s how we have one of the most excellent horror films ever crafted, filled with glorious set pieces and surprisingly intense moments that hold up thirty years later.

There is however one point of contention I have. It has to do with Ripley, who is played by Sigourney Weaver, the one recurring character (well, besides the titular alien) across all four movies. Considering that Ripley has at this point become at archetype, such that even to the day she has characters modelled after her – Mary Elizabeth Winstead in The Thing prequel is taking on that role, which I look forward to – as she is the most famous heroine in science-fiction film, it’s disappointing to realize that her origin in Alien is born out of horror than feminism.

Indeed she is the Final Girl, and this is because she is a female, and because we assumed Tom Skerrit, who gets top billing, was going to be the last one out to shut Nostromo‘s lights. Once he dies, we can’t be sure who it’s going to be, thus creating more horror for the viewer because the Alien could jump out and kill anyone. She is the hero to take away audience comfort, not because ‘wouldn’t it be cool if it was a girl kicking ass?’ I’m sure there was some of that, but it’s certainly expanded upon more in the James Cameron (naturally) sequel, Aliens from seven years later.

For a more in depth look at Alien and the Alien series, be sure to check out Roz Kaveney’s From Alien to The Matrix: Reading Science-fiction Film

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