Second topic: Suppose that a couple of sequels were made to a highly successful film. Now, for some reason or other, the usual Hollywood mentality of Let's-make-exactly-the-same- film-again-but-with-an-identically- different-plot is forgotten and three quite different films are made. Each film having its own merits, each film a stand alone film, but with a central theme. Surely that is better than the usual We're-back-I'm-black-You're-mad-and- we're-both-telling-the-same-lousy- jokes-as-last-time, or the Oh-no-here- I-am-stuck-in-this-isolated- building-and-my-wife-is-being-held- hostage-by-bad-guys-and-I-have- nothing-but-a-second-hand-Norwegian- toothpick-with-which-to-defend-myself films that we've spent hard earned money on with the same brainless intensity that mice run through mazes?
Assuming that we reach the conclusion that Hitchcock's films weren't just a load of well hyped rubbish, the product of a marketing department genius, and that we like to be treated like intelligent human beings, and not merely potential market shares, then why is it that we hear so many complaints about Alien$^3$?
People who went to see Alien$^3$ expecting to see another Aliens were sure to be disappointed, but by the same measure, people who had seen Alien and went to see Aliens should have been thoroughly disappointed too. Yet we find that this isn't the case.
Alien was a fairly straight forward horror/suspense film set in a science fiction milieu. Naturally, it suffered little from having Ridley Scott as director and names such as Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Tom Skerrit, Jaffet Koto and Harry Dean Stanton in the cast list. However, apart from the setting, it is really your average splatter movie theme: A bunch of adolescents camp out in an abandoned house over a weekend and some unknown, horrid murderer knocks them off one by one, for no apparent reason. They even had the obligatory cheerleader-stripping scene!
Aliens, on the other hand, saw a new director and a new style. Exit the horror movie theme, enter splatter movie effects, an action movie wrapping and the most unlikely platoon of marines the universe has ever seen. Instead of
the agonisingly long, slow close-up shots of people's faces as they walk backwards into dark corners and certain death, we are subjected to loud, noisy, uncoordinated, and confused battle scenes. Automatic weapons blaring, stroboscopic muzzle flash, cries of humans and aliens dying, explosions. Death, destruction, carnage, slaughter and bloodshed (or perhaps acidshed) were shown at a pace that would have made any rock video director delirious. With the lengths of the cuts shaven down to near the limit of human perception, Aliens gives the viewer an adrenaline rush that is felt long after leaving the cinema.
The difference in style between Aliens and Alien$^3$ couldn't, thankfully, be larger. It fully exploits the fact that the audience is familiar with the horrid menace in question. The film makes sure that we are aware of the alien's every intention, that we understand its method of reasoning, which results not only in making it more than a single dimensional killer of exceptional ruthlessness, something we already know, but it becomes a cunning, planning, and shrewd killer. These added qualitites, which were only hinted at in the previous films, transform the alien into an adversary and not merely something to stop bullets.
In pace it is a return to Alien, but it makes very effective use of shifts in tempo to convey the story. The general pace of the film is slow and gentle, interspersed with moments of truly gripping action, or, even more effective, exceptionally tense slow-motion shots. Pace is utilized well, but its truly brilliant use is in the parallel stories; one scene of one pace intermixed with another scene of another pace. The cuts between the two add an entire new dimension to the hopelessness of the characters' situation, it lays a veil of gray despair over the whole film. It is far from a new technique, but it is used very effectively indeed in Alien$^3$, not least during the opening credits.
Which leads me to one of the most annoying traits of Swedish cinema audiences, though unfortunately, not the only one. I can live with people talking during the ads before the film. I do it myself. I can even stand people chatting quietly during the trailers for coming films, a crime
that I have personally committed on occasion, especially when my senses are bombarded with the 2nd Madeleine Stowe film trailer of the evening for the 4th time. What I don't understand is the inane stupidity displayed by the majority of people in Swedish audiences when the main film starts. During what is perhaps the most important phase of a film, when the entire mood of the film is built, when the very foundation upon which the following scenes' atmosphere will layer is constructed, audiences in Sweden, or certainly those which I've had the distinct displeasure of being a member of, lapse into a state of complete mental obstipation. Instead of the all-important opening sequence, my senses are assaulted to the point of impercipience by a cacophony of cans being opened, crisps eaten, comments on the latest film by the actor/actress who's name is currently being shown, discussions about neo-surrealistic art and its effect on environmentalism, reviews of the lasts weekend's alcohol induced stupor, and just about anything else that bears absolutely no relevance what so ever to the film. In severity it ranks in third place, preceded only by inability to queue in an orderly fashion at bus stops and complete ineptitude in the social decency of holding a door for the following person.
Audiences who see Alien$^3$ are fortunate enough to see a film that is made by people who know the secret of the cinema, who understand the art of cinematography. It is an art, that in these days of quick-and-dirty sequels is quickly being forgotten. Cinema is more than a collection of scenes strung together to tell a story, sublimated and accentuated by lighting and music. It is a means of conveying a mood, a feeling, an atmosphere. It is a time- machine designed to take you not only to times and places that you haven't visited, but inside people that you haven't been. It is a new set of spectacles that show the world in a slightly different shade of rose to the one you are used to. Far too many people in the film industry see it as nothing more than a meal ticket and never bother to find out more.
Maybe the question at the beginning of this article can be answered by the hypothesis that cinema audiences have forgotten to appreciate real use of the cinematic media. Are our senses being numbed by the Lethal Weapon 3s, Die Hard 2s, Terminator 2s, Predator 2s, Universal Soldiers, Wayne's Worlds, and similar films of today? Films that stun the audience with spectacular visual effects, larger-than-life sound effects, fast paced action, watered down plots, or in the case of Wayne's World, just braindead adolescent humour that can be improved upon by any 1970's attempt at an artificial intelligence. Surely this can't be the case? Maybe we just don't stop long enough to look for more than just flaws in continuity, lapses in the plot, and just how many arms the T1000 has when it flies helicopters. We are the product of the times we live in and in these times almost everything has to be 99% hype and 1% substance to survive the cut-throat competition that exists in all fields. The fact that something doesn't conform to this standard doesn't necessarily mean that it is bad, just different, and that is a quality in itself.
This is your chance of seeing a real film. If you've seen the film and didn't like it, see it again, only this time let it be more than just a film. Don't just concentrate on the story, or flaws in it, but think about the way in which this story is told. Feel the depressive atmosphere, smell the cold, damp, stale air. Note the use of lighting, music and camera movement to accentuate different moods or aspects of scenes. You're not just going to the pictures. You're going to a grim prison planet; a planet with hostile weather; a planet with no female population; a planet who's native population consists of murderers, rapists, arsonists, pæderasts; a planet where the national pastime is devotion to an apocalyptic religion; a place which is probably your worst nightmare to start off with. And it just got worse ...