The special features on Fox's nine disc Alien Quadrilogy box set are so copious that I hadn't actually gotten through them all, despite the fact that I've had it for some time.
One of the features found on the ninth disc is a documentary called Alien Evolution, which is an overview of the production. Most of the information in it is replicated elsewhere in the set, but what is interesting about it is the personal reflections included, which adds a very diverting element, making it one of the more concise yet reflective overviews of the production of the movie.
Then, on something of a whim, I watched Alien itself. It should be noted that I haven't watched the film proper since the director's cut theatrical release last year (although I did watch the commentary), and the version I selected from the DVD is the 1979 theatrical release.
I will avoid raving about the picture quality of the new set, or the improvements the DTS track gives the sound. Suffice it to say that this is can excellent presentation of the film, and the seamless branching allows you to watch either version of it.
Since I hadn't actually sat and watched the film in October, I had an opportunity to distance myself from it, and concentrate on one of the things that was most interesting about Alien Evolution and the main reason why younger generations don't appreciate this movie the way that those who saw it on its first run do... the audience reaction.
A film is not made in a vacuum. The 1933 King Kong looks dated today, but it had women fainting in the aisles when it came out. It is imperative when one watches a film of any significant age to put oneself in the mindset of a viewer of the time, essentially who the film was made for.
The Alien franchise and its own influence on genre cinema has, in some ways, ruined much of the effectiveness of the film. The chestburster scene is one that anybody who saw the film in 1979, or at least before they saw Aliens, will mark as one of the most shocking in film history. It struck chords both in terms of surprise, but also through performance and concept.
John Hurt writhes in such convincing agony, and the reactions of the other members of the cast - who had no idea what they were about to see, despite having read the script - sell the terror in the scene in a way few horror films can. Furthermore, the idea is so disturbing... how do you escape something that is within you? How much like a perversion of a birth is this (an idea that would return in one of Fincher's more creative moments in the troubled Alien3), and how much like a rape, as the phallic beast bursts forth.
Of course, the monster itself is just as disturbing, with its erotic lines and adolescent behavior. The sexuality of the alien is one of those elements that makes it so memorable, and terrifying - whether or not it is raping Lambert when it kills her is up to the viewer to decide as her death occurs off-screen, but it sure sounds like it. The sleepy sensuality that it displays in the shuttle is exacerbated by the first full reveal of its shooting jaw, which is, essentially, a phallus coming out of a vagina dentata coming out of a larger phallus that is the creature's head. This essential element was abandoned in the film series until Alien Resurrection, by which point it was treated as just part of the gross-out freak show that was that movie. The original, however, has a sexual element to the menace that is part of what made the film so successful.
Some excellent images of the details of H.R. Giger's costume for Bolaji Badejo can be found here.
The extended version of Cinema Paradiso has sparked quite a lively debate about the merits of the newly restored third act of the film.
Many have felt that Toto finding Elena at the end of the film and finding out the truth about what happened all those years ago takes away from the nostalgia element of the film. I believe that it tempers the sentimentality inherent in the film, and because it was one of the few films in which sentimentality is done well, it bothered people.
I have to say that I am quite glad that the current DVD of the film offers both versions, as I do indeed appreciate the innocence of the short cut, but I have to say that I found the extended version to be much more effective.
I think most people don't appreciate the point of the final act, which is that if Toto had met Elena, he would have stayed and not become what he became. He has become a world-famous filmmaker, and while Elena has been a regret all of his life, it is implied that it has fed his creativity. Their encounter is the closure that he has always sought, and Alfredo's intervention, while it is something that he will always have mixed feelings about, is something he recognizes for what it is.
Alfredo knows Toto better than he knows himself, and he knows that in order for Toto to fulfull his potential, he has to get the hell out of Sicily. If Toto has any questions as to why Alfredo has, in fact, meddled, they are put to rest with the reel left for him at the end.
That reel, which always turned audiences into Niagara Falls, is perhaps the best illustration of what that film is all about: the great love between Toto and Alfredo arising from their mutual adoration of movies. This is certainly something critics and movie-loving audiences can get behind (composer John Barry mentioned that he would loved to have scored this film, not because Ennio Morricone's music was in any way innappropriate - quite the opposite - but rather because he related to Toto so completely). This reel in the extended version is not only a memory of Alfredo for Toto, but an explanation of why Alfredo did what he did with Elena.
The extended version of Cinema Paradiso is the deeper one, but much of the appeal of the original version was how bright-eyed it was about so many things. It makes sense that it is the less popular of the two that have been made available in the United States. Nevertheless, the longer edition is the film that Giusseppe Tornatore made.
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A little while ago, I had to explain to somebody why Alien was one of my favorite movies. My answers were pretty simple: it was a combination of two genres, one of which is one of my favorite genres; the perforances are superb; the alien itself is fascinating; the photography and design work is brilliant... my list went on.
The person then asked if I didn't think other movies weren't better or also had those elements. I agreed. I didn't ever say that Alien is one of the best films, I said it was one of my favorite films. I feel that such lists as the AFI "100 Best Films" is arbitrary. I mean, what is the criteria?
I would think a better list for the AFI would be "most influential films," but then again, they wouldn't be able to sell as many copies of those, which is pretty much all the AFI is really about.
Aerolyndt has a new iSight and is playing with it right now. She has a brilliant idea. She can make self portraits her icons, and then change her icons to fit her mood. Personalized emoticons.
The first time I ever came across the term "emoticon," I thought it was a type of evil Transformer. I'm serious.
Waystone has taken me off of her friends list because I post too many pictures of naked people on my journal. Maybe she's right, and I should lock such posts, lest children be corrupted by the sight of a pair of bare breasts. Therefore, she has said she will put me back on her friends list if I can keep away from posting gratutitous nudity for a month.
I wonder if this will count against me...
Tomorrow I'm off to see Suit, as well as his antecedents. Should be interesting.
Seven or eight hour drive, though. That lobster better be worth it.