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Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Alien, Aliens, mothers, Alien 3 vs. William Gibson's script (spoilers galore)

Apparently, a new Alien movie is coming out along with a new Blade Runner, with Ridley Scott at the helm. Sounds promising.

This is my belated follow-up to this earlier post about the William Gibson script.

So Alien, the first movie in the franchise, gets a solid 8.4 on IMDB while the sequel Aliens gets an 8.3.

They are not without flaw. The biology of the species has a gaping hole and seems improbable although that doesn't interfere with the story. Namely, how is that creature growing bigger?

One pleasure, outside the obvious plot tension, is the mother motif. In the first, the seemingly benevolent mother is in the ship's computer  helping make their lives easier, but later we learn that "mother" is an amorphous authority running the ship from the outside, steering them into danger for its own benefit. A stand-in for authoritative governments that lack regard for its citizens and only use them as pawns to whatever that larger goal might be. The only other "mother" present (the alien) is meant to be seen as a visual metaphor for how destructive their government is.

In the second, we get an expanded metaphor of a positive mother where Ripley plays a surrogate mother to an orphaned child. The metaphor is now a contrast of mothers. The original metaphor has to be understood within the context of someone naming their native country their mother or father. The metaphor in the second loses bad government metaphor, but explores mother in a new fascinating way.

The followup, Alien3, got a 6.5 on IMDB. Why? This website lists ten possible reasons why.

It also explains why Gibson minimized Sigourney Weaver's role, which seemed a strange choice since she was the main player in the first two.

My first impression of the audio script was that it was too similar, which was why I needed to rewatch the first films as the audio drama was catching listeners up to speed.

Now Gibson's strength is teasing out an intriguing threat made in the first two that somehow never really made it into the series: namely weaponizing this alien species. This isn't settled here in his script but it leaves the door to be discovered in a further sequel. In retrospect, Gibson's choice is the most logical expansion of the series. 

Instead, the movie that got made was more creative in the sense of setting it on a former prison colony where a religion sprung up around their conditions--in theory. Granted, whoever created the religion could have tried harder, but it was still fascinating. Part of it may have been the necessity due to eliminating weapons. Nonetheless, the original concept feels fresh and should have breathed some life into it.

But it didn't build on what we knew. Ripley's character isn't expanded (apart from sex which isn't explained), and characters get killed off, probably to simplify the narrative. You certainly want a child visiting this colony. Also, we get no closer to understanding the species in the way that Gibson's makes us feel like we are approaching.

Finally, it didn't expand the motherhood metaphor except now Ripley is carrying a mother-alien child within her. Yet she doesn't follow the same lifecycle as the aliens did before. So again, biology problems. No explanation for why this creature the size of a baby isn't detected by the mother. And the metaphor isn't clear. Perhaps she's like the opposite of the Virgin Mary--with a kind immaculate conception. And she does sacrifice herself as a savior, falling in the shape of a cross, but to kill the infant this time. But there'd need to be more clues throughout to draw this conclusion. Perhaps I need to give it another viewing to see how well it built toward this view of "mother."

The real problem of Alien3 is the idiot plot. Sure, they kill off the one intelligent guy, so that it really is an idiot plot. But even that doesn't make sense. Why was she drawn to the guy where she didn't seem drawn before? Why develop his character then kill him off?

Now the brilliance of the first movie was that it explained why people didn't do the intelligent thing. The least powerful guys had the best advice, but it went unheeded. Why? "Mother" computer/government.

Alien3 was an decent movie with some fascinating premises that could conceivably have paid off. Perhaps, had it not had its predecessors, it'd have been seen as a stronger movie with less to live up to.

Would Gibson's script have been better? Hard to say. Certainly it would have at least expanded the series and moved it toward a long-term goal. It probably needed some revision to bring in some of the brilliance of the first and second films, which could have happened had the right director sculpted the script toward what the series had been building. Still, while not as powerful as the first two, both have something to add for fans of the series. It's good that it saw the light of day.

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