I see a lot of movies every year. A
ton. But this year I’ve decided I don’t see enough movies, so one of my
New Year Resolutions was to simply see more. And to write about them.
See, that’s the other half of the equation: I see a ton of movies, but
I write about comparatively few of them. There are a lot of reasons,
but they mainly boil down to the fact that I feel the  need to do long
form reviews, and sometimes – like in the midst of Sundance – I just
don’t have the time.

so was born this new blog! I aim to make an entry for every single
movie I see in 2010. Some entries may be very short, some may be
lengthy. Entries may take a couple of days to be posted. Let’s see how
long this lasts.

last  thing: one of my main objectives this year is to rewatch more
movies. I know this sounds like a strange goal, but there are films I
haven’t seen since high school, which means it’s been almost a lifetime
since I saw them. Recently I rewatched Black Christmas for the first
time since the 1980s, and I might as well have been seeing the movie
for the first time. I’m interested in getting a look at some movies I
loved or hated twenty or even ten years ago and seeing how I feel about
them now.

Let’s begin…

#49 Aliens (Theatrical Cut)
d. James Cameron

Despite being an action nut, Lindsay had never seen Aliens, and hot off her rewatching Alien we decided to fill that gap in her film history. At first we intended to watch the ‘Special Edition’ on the Alien Quadrilogy set, but as soon as the opening caveat by James Cameron came on, we opted for the original version.

Thank God. I think the only Cameron film whose ‘Special’ or ‘Director’s Cut’ edition improves on the theatrical is The Abyss. The idea of bringing us to LV 426 before the Xenomorphs attack is hare brained at best, as is making Ripley’s mother/daughter connection to Newt so on the nose by introducing the concept of Ripley’s own dead daughter. The sentry gun scene is interesting, but I don’t think it really adds that much to anything but the running time, which is already long.

What’s interesting about Aliens is how dated it is, and how sort of stodgy it feels. I think action films age worse than almost any genre – the state of the art FX that created carnage 20 years ago are quaint now, and our expectations of action scenes have changed drastically over the years. What works best in Aliens today are the scenes building up to the Xenomorph attacks; atmosphere and tension are never going to age poorly, and the classic moment of Hudson freaking out when the motion detector indicates the aliens are in the room still really, really holds up.

One thing that bugged me about Aliens is how useless the Xenomorphs become. The concept of ‘If one is scary, imagine a hundred’ is great, but requires the aliens to get dumbed down in a big way. The molecular acid blood doesn’t seem as powerful – when the truck runs over an alien, squishing its head, the wheels should have been done for – and the creatures themselves have been completely nerfed. Of course that’s the complaint of an old nerd who has found he appreciates the quiet terror of Alien infinitely to the action heroics of Aliens. As a kid the film just worked on me.

And it still does work, by virtue of being so masterful. Even though I remain disappointed by the Xenomorphs in their adult stage, the facehuggers have never been better. Having them as a threat on their own is one of the many ways that Aliens respectfully expands upon the mythology created in the first film. The camera pulls back and we learn more about the Xenomorphs, but not too much. The modern need to overexplain everything isn’t there yet, and so the aliens remain a great mystery.

Watching Aliens for the first time since seeing Avatar it’s remarkable how much of this film was lifted whole. But what works in Aliens simply doesn’t work in Avatar. The Marines in Aliens are, admittedly, a bunch of thinly sketched stereotypes, but they all have more going on than almost anybody in Avatar. And the power suit battle is better in Aliens because it’s a real power suit hitting a real Alien Queen. Well, not real but physical. Watching modern CGI movies I want to hit the X button to execute the next move; watching a great practical film like Aliens I feel like what I’m seeing is real. That’s a huge difference.

At the end of the film I was left with one nagging question that perhaps one of you can help clear up: who the hell called the elevator back to the top after Ripley went hunting for Newt in the Xenomorph nest? That moment ups the tension, but I couldn’t figure out why the elevator would head back up to the top on its own.

I’m really looking forward to getting this film on Blu-Ray; I’ve been a doubter about the difference between DVD and Blu, but the film as viewed on my HDTV was kind of muddy and at times really ugly (and not in the way the film, which is all barren landscapes and cold wet corridors, is meant to be ugly). The long red alert sequence looked especially nasty when upconverted.

That said, I think I’ll wait for the new Blu-Ray set to hazard a revisit of Alien 3.