Friday, 5 April 2019

Alien: Containment

Regular readers (lol) will remember a while back I started fantasising about whether or not the franchise would start to follow the branded anthology model rather than toiling with prequels and reboots and the like. The underwhelming Covenant appears for the moment to have put paid to a third prequel, with a sort of half-hearted extra explanatory scene released on youtube called ‘Engineers’ providing a plausible link to the first alien film now for those that are interested enough to bother to make it. On the other hand, Blomkamp seems to be getting allowed no closer to Alien 5 thank god, so for a moment, while Disney (Disney!) recently pledged to continuing the franchise, these short filmlets are the best indication of how things are progressing.

On the whole I think it’s a good idea. Having a series of short films lets a bit of fresh blood into the organism without leaving another Covenant-sized hostage to fortune. Ultimately it was the only sensible way to open up the universe. Just at the point where it seemed as though Fox was willing to make an Alien film that wasn’t in some way a continuation of the Ripley saga, Prometheus happened and shackled another series of films to exactly the same narrative cycle, with many fixated on the idea of precisely how the derelict was going to be left abandoned on LV-426 to suture prequel to sequel. I doubt that was ever really going to happen that obviously, but it was a symptom of the way that once again the potential for a wider mythos was sacrificed in favour of the narrative literalism of the Ripley story arc. What I pointed out, and I think I was right, was that a galaxy-wide struggle of discovery and war against the alien species could open up a really diverse spectrum of narrative possibilities, and provide some sort of imaginative release, but to do so the stories and scenarios would have to stand on their own rather than utilise tried and trusted characters (Alien Isolation performed this opening-up exceptionally well, but even then they had to make it Ripley’s daughter).

I don’t know whether the short films are test-cases for a tv series (which I assume will eventually happen), but they are a welcome addition nonetheless. I’ll be watching and providing my thoughts on each of these films as they appear. If ‘Containment’ is anything to go by, the tendency is perhaps for the new offerings to formalise a regression to the films at their most cliched and predictable, but there are some reasons for that as I’ll explain.

It’s ten minutes long and looks pretty classy, particularly the exteriors and spacebound cgi. Not bad for 30 grand. The opening shot, with a large ship breaking up before exploding and a smaller escape craft emerging from it, looks gorgeous and is an evocative piece of narrative shorthand. As you would expect for something so short, the story is fairly simple. Somehow the aliens have broken loose onboard the host ship, necessitating a hasty evacuation. The chosen source of dramatic tension revolves around the differing levels of the awareness about the creatures held by each character. There are three: Ward, who knows nothing, Nass, who has indistinct impressions of the alien, but doesn’t really know what they are, and Albrecht, who knows everything but is presumably one of the scientists that have been meddling with the creature and remains tight-lipped about any specifics.

It’s fairly predictable as things go, even without acknowledging, as others have, the scenario’s debt to the medbay sequence in Covenant, which also involves contamination failsafes being incompetently executed. Part of the suspense is meant to be provided by the decoy it sets up, namely the unconscious character with an oxygen mask lying on a bed. No-one is going to be fooled that the real host is actually Nass, and the beast emerges, again, predictably, at the moment that he is most exercised in his accusations, waving his knife at Albrecht. Albrecht is then conveniently knocked unconscious when the ship judders while docking after attempting to quarantine Ward in the main part of the shuttle with the ex-parasite. This allows Ward safe passage out towards the airlock, whereupon, mindful of the catalogue of previous failures of containment, she instead scrawls a warning in blood on the window that the ship isn’t to be opened. There is then a puerile post-credit sequence designed to raise a smile (I think?) when the unconscious crewman awakens, observes the carnage around him, and opts to blackout again rather than face the horror. This is an extremely odd decision for anyone even with a rudimentary appreciation of the mechanics of the franchise to go with, completely tonally at odds with anything in the films except for Resurrection at its most annoying.  

The weird thing about Containment is that is that it’s the opposite of what a low-budget short film should be. It looks really high-end but it doesn’t have an interesting story or any new ideas, whereas by rights it should look awful but be brimming with originality and fresh perspectives.   

The characters are recycled stock figures of the series: the doughty heroine, craven scientist/corporate type/ and the aggressive and suspicious male hysteric. The dénouement is pitched at the nastier end of the scope, decidedly more Covenant than Alien. Once again a female protagonist escapes the clutches of the alien, except this instalment effectively begins at the end point of the original film, with survivors jetting away from an exploding ship, only for the final character to realise that her fate is foreclosed upon. Here she chooses sacrifice, and is therefore closer to the Ripley of Alien 3 than the Ripley of Alien or Daniels in Covenant. In reality I think the backwards writing of the blood on the glass is probably the film’s only really effective moment. It’s sort of a payoff of an earlier setup, with Ward getting clonked in the mouth earlier but being able to use the blood as something to improvise and write her message with. With the appearance of the larger ship, the notion that deliverance must be renounced is quite impactful, and while it remains an open question as to whether this particular failsafe will be successful, this at least sustains the thematic premise of containment promised at the outset. It isn’t clear to me why Ward couldn’t just blow the airlock a la Ripley in Alien if she is dead-set on her sacrifice, but the implication that the vast ship might be next to go adds a sense of drama to the ending, not unlike the ironic twist reminiscent of the end of Twilight Zone episodes.

For all this, the short film grapples with the now age-old problem (probably since Alien 3) of having to keep the creature fresh when the screengoing public has seen it before but those inside the world of the drama haven’t. Containment’s drawbacks are laid bare by this particular issue, not able to make up its mind between characters knowing that a chestburster is about to emerge from someone or not. In part, that’s what gives the scenario its dynamism and spark – whatever the contaminant is isn’t fully apprehended by the main character. It’s not that exciting for the audience, however because by this point all you have to do is guess correctly who it’s going to burst out of, and that’s not difficult to do. This is a problem which will have to definitively be resolved sooner or later in the Alien universe. Not every instalment can be first contact.  

Monday, 30 October 2017

Chris Thorpe's Victory Condition at the Royal Court

Chris Thorpe’s Victory Condition is a triumph of form over content and a triumph of content over form, both form and content triumphing over the other, and both triumphing at exactly the same time. This is not the form being or carrying the content, as in Beckett, but form and content working against each other, disconnected, trying to push each other off a cliff. The spoken words grate uncomfortably against the stage spectacle, disconnected. The stage spectacle crawls along, does what it does, remains moored throughout to the stubbornly quotidian.

No-one really knows what it means

Though typically they tend not to be very helpful, I can’t really describe VC without collapsing everything into binaries. It is at the same time brilliantly simple and fiendishly complex. It is unashamedly political and yet remarkably coy about the specifics of the political commentary it offers (if indeed it is offering a commentary). More importantly perhaps, it is resolutely negative about its capacity (as theatre) to stimulate or provoke any kind of political change. The latter point is unabashedly driven home in the final passages of the written text which is a series of caveats designed to foreclose on any simplistic assumptions about the play’s message, both denying any contemporary political salience and deliberately undermining any lingering illusions of its putative political efficacy. This final section was not staged in the version that I saw, with Vicky Featherstone’s direction giving Thorpe’s text the slip and dispensing with the final ten pages of reasonably naturalistic dialogue, choosing to end (anticlimactically) on the exact instant where the characters begin to treat each other as characters. It was a functional way to engineer a punctual point to bring the lights down and not make you cheated of an ending, but I felt it badly shortchanged the text.   

On the face of it, the setup is straightforward enough. We see a conventional ‘fourth wall’ mimetic simulacrum of a comfortable and stylish middle-class living area. This space itself is housed inside about three feet of bare scaffolding. So we have a perfectly realised piece of realistic stage illusion framed on all sides (mounted inside a frame, as it were), by something that exposes its constructedness and artificiality. So far so good.

At this point a man and a woman enter the space as if coming back from holiday, with suitcases and so on. Throughout, they speak not to each other, but directly outwards to the audience (Thorpe’s plays don’t pretend that the audience isn’t there). Each speaks a monologue, passages of which intercut and interleave throughout. At all times they continue to perform their actions in entirely conventional and habituated ways. They do a variety of domestic tasks: they pick up the post, pour wine, use some kind of app to order takeaway, play a computer game, take a shower (the shower is offstage so they probably don’t actually take a shower but the steam comes through). At no time is any action out of place. It’s probably no accident that the mise en scène replicates the domestic living arrangements of 90% of the people in the audience of this posh theatre in a rich part of London. The comfortable class context cannot be ignored. Here is a play that shows the RC audience something superficially indistinguishable from their everyday, domestic lives which then takes away everything they might say to each other in that context and replaces it with abstracted, quasi-poetic, overlapping monologue (the correct terminology for this might be duologue, but it’s late and I’m too tired to look it up).

As each monologue progresses, it becomes clear that the actors are not speaking as the dramatis personae that the audience see in front of them. They are not soliloquising the thoughts of the individuals that amble around their living space, nor are describing their past experiences. I feel this is worth pointing out because most things I’ve read on the topic assume that they are. And indeed, as the play opens, this might seem superficially plausible: the male character describes being a dug-in sniper overlooking a revolutionary scenario being undertaken in defiance of a some unnamed autocrat or unidentified dictatorship (Ukraine, if the music at the beginning is anything to go by?), while the female character describes her witness of entering her company’s office in the morning to find that the whole world is frozen in time, and that everyone she encounters is suspended in that instant – everyone except her. So we have at once the world of the mise en scène and an apparently different world being described. I think that this offers the possibility of reading these worlds as conjunctive, mutually informing, or linked by cause and effect, and I think that reading is very probably wrong. But it is a very seductive reading, because it’s the one that allows a left-liberal spectator to indulge their political reflexes. And I think that possibly the point of the play – or at least the zero level of its productive political potential - is to make you want to commit to that reading and then reconsider it as simplistic and reductive (if that was your reading, then sorry not sorry). It we grant that, it’s the (self)reflection that comes out of examining that instinct that gives the play its political heft.

So, here comes the cavalry to explain.

I think it is crucial to note the way that Thorpe’s play is disallowing any simplistic assumptions about the relationship between the monologues we hear and the middle-class scenario we see. It is the sniper’s monologue that appears to encourage a reading which has a corollary to the coming-home-from-holiday scenario. The knee-jerk assumption that Western imperialist adventurism - in both sponsoring foreign despots and capitalising on the instability created by the overthrow of those depots – enables the comfortable, easy vacuity of Western existence, is teasingly dangled, but I think ought to be resisted. First of all, this character is not that sniper (where are the children he talks about having? Where have they been while he has been on holiday? Why are there no traces of them around the flat? How many Irish military snipers are there? Why does the woman discuss having a brain hemorrhage if she is walking around right as rain?). It would be nice if it was as simple as a juxtaposition of the hypocrisy of imperialist aggression coming home to enjoy the material benefits enabled by the subjugation of the global south. But the text of the play explicitly disallows this assumption (I am sorry for privileging the text of the play over the performance – I am thrashing myself with a branch as I write this). In the printed text the play’s final coda contains a moment where the female character uses a remote control to ‘switch off’ the fires blazing in the stage backdrop of the city outside their flat, saying: ‘Implied total collapse of the social fabric?... Really?... A city on fire… Come on. Really? Would have been convenient, wouldn’t it?’ So the implication is fairly obvious. What this statement is meant to do is falsify everything that comes before it, abrogating any easy assumptions about a linkage between cause and effect, or between what we are seeing and how we construe meaning from it. This is a play that knows it is in danger of serving up a simplistic message intended to play well to the assumptions of the metropolitan playgoing elite. As with the sniper monologue, the idea of the pair of characters cosseted in a middle-class indifference as their city burns outside would be too on-the-nose. This is emphatically not the ‘seed and the tree’ conflation of violence on Sarah Kane’s Blasted. But, as I said, it is a seductive reading, for obvious reasons. I could write reams on it. Yes, it is true that the affluence of the developed world depends on keeping the global south in check, and often that repression is enacted militarily. Yes, this play deliberately sutures western middle class comfort and complacency together with the knowingly obscene perspective of perpetuating that lifestyle by propping up dictators and crushing popular resistance movements. The title is perhaps the biggest clue to a critique of this type: what the audience see unfolding in front of them is what it looks like to win. If you live a life that resembles what unfolds in the stage action, as banal as it is, you have ‘won’. But my point is that you have to live a life like the one depicted on stage for the play to mean anything (at least politically). In other words, the play is calibrated only to have meaning for those privileged and rich enough to be recipients of the benefits of western imperialism and to jump to the link that makes them feel guilty about it. Yes, this is the play’s temptation to its consumers. Imperialism is bad and western capitalism has done well for the affluent middle classes. But how do we write that play now, especially now?
Isn’t Chris Thorpe too clever to let the RC crowd give themselves brownie points for picking up on the collapsing together of the developed world and global south? Haven’t we already seen this done in an earnest and sophomoric way when Polly Stenham cakked out Hotel?  Equally, how likely is Thorpe to find satisfaction in a simplistic hypocrisy-o-gram of the middle-classes and their liberal pieties? Surely there is nothing wrong in coming home from holiday, playing a computer game and opening a bottle of wine (I don't know what Andrew Haydon means when he says that being nice to each other in this context means the rest of the world falls to shit - I would need more depth to be persuaded of that).

As far as I am aware so far this reading has been fairly satisfactory, but I don’t think it pays enough attention to the density of the text in conceptual range and imaginary scope. To settle on the collapsing together of the developed world and the parts of the world subject to proxy wars and drone bombing reading is to ignore the other monologue. And to ignore the imagery about space aliens, flocking creatures, synaptic connections, brain haemorrhages, dogs, China and so much else.  It is about the terrifying order of interconnectedness in the world, but not in a schematic or an overdetermined way. Thorpe’s play are generally about interconnectedness. Mobile phones and their fetters (I Wish I Was Lonely); the instant of death that will unite us all (Am I Dead Yet); the urge to communicate across political divides (Confirmation). His plays are generally affirmative. They tend not to hector. In this play the sniper follows a dissident through his scope, reflecting, considering, ruminating about their life, and through these speculations forms a weird bond with them. Though the voice is, as you would expect, one of an appalling reactionary, they nonetheless admire the solidarity they observe within the revolutionary movement. They themselves are not inoculated against the realities of imperialist repression. The shot through the heart that they choose to take is an assertion of connectedness, of being together in the same instant, and this killing, it is implied, will make a revolutionary martyr of the protester which will ensure political victory for the dissidents. The second monologue is harder to understand. The female character speculates that she may have suffered a brain haemorrhage, but concentrates on relaying a narrative about experiencing a moment in the world where everyone around her has stopped and she alone is capable of movement. Moreover, it isn’t merely that everyone around her has frozen, but almost as if they have crashed like a computer glitch. She is able to push her hands through their bodies as if they are a projection or simulation. This is apparently the final instant of human civilisation and it is not one of inferno, nuclear conflagration or apocalyptic panic. Everything has just stopped. She feels a connection with every person on earth at that moment. Some are mundane, many are painful, all are glimpses into a grand slice of the narrative of the earth in that moment. And in one narrative, we home in to be introduced to a young girl cowering in an unbuilt bathroom, who, for reasons unexplained, has conjured, between her hands, an image of the woman in her office. So the woman’s monologue introduces within it a character that somehow created or was responsible for the monologue itself. It is this girl that has stopped time and created this crystalline moment where the woman is faced with a choice on her office computer. The woman’s monologue ends on an odd speculation. Is the world a computer simulation being run for the benefit of another society (the aliens of the first monologue?) to analyse to analyse to buy time for their own failing society? Did they die out and leave the program running? Is our stupid and futile and suffering-suffused world the result of this side-project? Is the world inside the world of the play such a simulation? Is our world?

There is an element of the end of P.K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle about all this, a book about an alternate future in which in the Axis powers won World War Two in which someone writes a novel that imagines an alternate future in which the Allies win World War Two (unfortunately the dead hand of Ridley Scott got his hands on it). Towards the end of the novel’s metafiction, one of the characters somehow slips out the counterfactual history that he inhabits and momentarily ends up inside the reality of our world, a world which, of course, is necessary to exist if all the other alternate histories are to exist also. In VC I was struck by this technique of narrative enveloping, where the fractal worldspan narrated by the female character turns out to be the nucleus of a vanishingly small aspect of its own creation.

Both monologues end on a moment when their speakers are faced with a choice to destroy something, and through that destruction, create and engender something anew; the sniper will perform a kill-shot that will energise a liberation movement, the office worker will wipe away the world and its suffering by cancelling the computer program and start again. Could we start again? Is it worth it? Is it too late? Can we be bothered if we’re too tired from our holiday to Greece?

In earlier times the proper philosophical question was ‘is God dead’? Now there is no more God. In our time, after the Hitchenses, Dawkinses and Harrises have killed off the idea of a supreme being for the chattering classes, creationism is in the dustbin, and they tell us that the really intelligent and plausible question is: ‘what if we are all living in a giant computer simulation?’ This is a play that offers a gentle and provocative answer to that fathomlessly stupid and fatuous question.   

Sunday, 1 May 2016

David Thomson’s Bizarre Alien Resurrection

I don’t really have any expertise or special insight when it comes to film criticism, but my understanding is that David Thomson is probably the most esteemed mainstream film critic in the world. Any time people are compared to Pauline Kael they must be getting somewhere, and he’s long past that.

He is probably best known for his Biographical Dictionary of Film, through which a literally encyclopaedic knowledge of the medium is filtered through his idiosyncratic interpretation of it. It’s a project where the entire history of film is conjoined to his own personal and inimitable appreciation. At times it can be a compelling read - Stanley Kubrick comes out of it incredibly badly; Sharon Stone is contrasted with Frances Farmer because of the way that photos were lying across Thomson’s desk when he came to write her entry, and so on. My dad, also a huge cinephile, first put me onto Thomson’s writings when I was about seventeen and Thomson had written a pretty sober and sour takedown of Independence Day that was in one of the broadsheets. It read as a fairly routine critique of the new breed of turbo-blockbuster bullshit, contrasting the shallowness of the total farce concocted by Emmerich with the rather more worthy movies of Thomson’s youth like Red River (when films worked by offering a dramatic situation as a distillation of character and plot). A familiar lament for a nobler, less calculating, more austere era, the review told the story of Thomson taking his young son to see the film and closing with something like the words, ‘he doesn’t understand why he has to cheer his father up on the way home from the latest blockbuster.’ I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea. Every so often my dad will give me one of Thomson’s books for a birthday or Christmas, but I’ve never really done more than leaf through them (I’m safe from him finding out because he doesn’t have the internet, which, hilariously, he sees no benefit to having. So he won’t be reading this).

So how does this fit into a blog on the Alien series of movies?

In 1998 Thomson wrote a book on the Alien films that followed on the heels of Alien: Resurrection called The Alien Quartet as part of a pocket movie guide series. It is very a strange book and one which, quite frankly, has an unusual amount of shortcomings. For the Alien series aficionado it makes for a fairly tortured read: it is cursorily researched; it is maddeningly superficial for anyone with anything more than a rudimentary knowledge of the films; it is, in common with much of Thomson’s metier, oddly flippant with some strange points of focus and superficial musings. Easily its most striking quality is its dogged, repetitious, and yet painstakingly forensic recapitulation of the plots of the films. Why anyone thought a book that simply gave very detailed synopses of the films would appeal to anyone, with barely any exploratory commentary to accompany them at all, is truly baffling. It is literally a case of Thomson watching the films and writing down what he sees, with the occasional banal observation (an example: Ian Holm is English. Appended footnote: Hollywood films favour English villains). I don’t know what could account for this. Perhaps Thomson was tired, or pressed for time, and just phoned it in. Perhaps the format of the Pocket Movie Guide was weirdly inflexible, and they all read like this.

Nonetheless the book does contain some passably interesting material, particularly towards the end. As I’ve said, each of the chapters is little more than a blow-by-blow description of the plot of each of the films, unleavened by anything resembling critique or useful insight. However, the fourth chapter departs from this so-far familiar course and instead narrates two films – the Alien: Resurrection that was actually made, and the Alien: Resurrection that Thomson both wishes and proposes had been made.

In effect, the world’s greatest film critic effectively wrote a treatment for Alien 4. It doesn’t sound quite as good a thing when you realise that it is out of pure whimsy. But it remains a fact.

Here’s how Thomson sets out his vision for the fourth instalment:

Suppose, instead of what we have, that we are on a vast, streamlined spaceship – something with design pretensions, with pizazz, with décor by Travis Banton or Fernandino Scarfiotti, not one of those clunky, turreted dinosaurs with the air of an old blacking factory. As this ship (let’s call it the Narcissus) surges through space, we are in a magnificent enormous room – somewhere between a boudoir and a salon – with high windows, as large as movie screens, through which we can see the aqua infinity of space.

Here, again, Ripley exists as a clone, number 8, except in this iteration she is recumbent in a gigantic canopied bed, ‘like Sleeping Beauty… a fresh-sewn scar between her breasts’. She is watched by Bishop, ‘the great inventor, master of the ship’ who is captivated by the woman he has reclaimed from death. A nurse assures Bishop that the Ripley clone bears ‘no trace of memory, of her past, her personality’. Except, that is, in a codicil so contrived it could have come straight from a fairytale, Ripley should catch sight of herself. Not to worry, says the Nurse, they’ve taken all the mirrors out of the room. 

To the strains of Sinatra singing ‘I’ve got you under my skin’, Thomson’s envisioning then treats us to a topless Ripley eating figs while Bishop parades around in attire resembling an ‘Existentialist adventurer in the Peterman catalogue’ (I am not making this up). Then, watched by a nurse and a lab-technician through a monitor, Ripley and Bishop embark on the latest part of the torrid sexual marathon that has apparently been taking place for the last ten million light years, with Thomson elaborating on the hybridity and multifariousness of the newly cloned Ripley. She is inexpert, learning, and part uninitiated child, yet at the same time is a mother, sexually mature, and also, of course, part alien/beast: certainly not a purestrain human. There is then a dissolve to a nest of aliens on the ship that also watch the lovemaking between Ripley and Bishop. Presently, Ripley the ‘space nymph, a sexual performer capable of breaking her own records at every outing’ succeeds in fucking Bishop into a state of exhaustion, and wanders to the windows to look at the stars. Here she sees her reflection (it is not clear why this wasn’t thought of when the mirrors were being removed). Something like a memory is stirred, and when she returns to the fatigued Bishop, he seems to resemble the ‘disconnected’ android on the garbage tip form the previous film. Saying his name startles Bishop from his sleep:
       ‘Where do I come from?’ Ripley asks Bishop. She is not so fond now. ‘What am I?’
       ‘You’re a woman,’ he says. ‘A prize among woman.’
       What do women do?’
       Bishop smiles, in a world-weary way: ‘Whatever they want to do.'
       Now she roars at him – there should be flashing teeth and more force in the sound than is entirely        human: ‘But what do they do.
       'Do?’ Bishop is rattled by the signs of the beast in her. ‘Women carry children to birth. That is            the tradition.’
       ‘So the human race can go on.’
       ‘What are children?’
       ‘They are the very young, the very small ones.’

Thoroughly confused by the fact she is menstruating, the Ripley clone collects a smudge of her acid-blood on her hand and holds it up to Bishop. Demanding they reproduce, a horrified Bishop helplessly submits as Ripley ‘smears her own blood on her face like war-paint’ and forces herself upon him. Bishop expires, but, as Thomson says, ‘there’s no fitter way for a connoisseur cocksman to go.’ Inkeeping with the fairy-tale narrative logic, Ripley finds a key in Bishop’s pocket and explores the ship, whereupon she encounters the original Bishop android in his customary state of disrepair that we recognise from Alien 3. When Ripley reveals that she has dispatched Bishop, the android responds: ‘Good. I never could. I was programmed to see him as my father’ (there is an echo of this in the Weyland/David relationship in Prometheus). Bishop directs Ripley towards screens which display where the clutch of aliens is being held, which ‘roar their greetings’.

At this point either time or space constraints prevent Thomson from elaborating on his alternate version of the film, and he cashes out: ‘as events aspire to a climax, I am more than willing to have my Ripley fall in line with the one in Alien Resurrection.’ Thomson sets the tracks of his story in line with the halfway point of Jeunet’s film and merges them together. In closing, he proffers a single alteration: instead of giving birth to the Newborn of Alien Resurrection, the queen instead uses her human/alien hybrid womb to produce a ‘crop-haired, wild-eyed, naked and slimy’ Winona Ryder. The film closes on the Ripley clone in Death Valley teaching her ‘pristine grandchild’ to stand erect.  

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane and the Implications of the Branded Anthology Model

10 Cloverfield Lane was an interesting film to see particularly as it clarified some thoughts that I’d been having about the Alien series since well before Prometheus arrived. I went to see it because of a throwaway comment made by Kim Newman in a bit of exposition to his review of the film made on his blog:

Artistically, Halloween III Season of the Witch was the right choice … but audiences didn’t warm to the notion of a branded anthology series of films, so John Carpenter quit and other hands turned the franchise back into an endless exercise in the Same Exact Thing Again.  Fuck you, 1983 film fans for screwing things up for the rest of time.

I don’t know the Halloween series of movies, but my understanding is that John Carpenter decided that instead of a routine sequel to Halloween II, there was scope to expand the franchise beyond the perimeters of the familiar characters, plot, storyline and setting, and instead make a completely independent story that would take place in the same ‘world’ as its precursors but be a completely original entity. 10 Cloverfield Lane, as Newman points out, is derived from this interesting notion – that a film with a strong enough brand identity isn’t necessarily constrained to reproduce itself ad infinitum with sequels that feature minor variations on one existing theme or that are slavishly compelled to recycle the same characters.  

It’s well known that the Alien Series succumbed to these problems, particularly over iterations three and four, where during early preproduction various dilemmas were navigated over whether the franchise could survive without the character of Ripley. There are a number of unsuccessful drafts of Alien 3 scripts that declined to continue Ripley’s story, most notably amongst them David Twohy’s iffy prison-ship caper and Eric Red’s simplistic, execrable cosmic barnyard romp. Both were stupid and would have made rubbish films, each failing in their own distinctive way to capture the essential properties of the Alien series; but in a weird way, both would actually have represented an advance for the franchise (I am not saying Alien 3 is no good, just that it is a sequel in the most conventional sense). Even William Gibson’s fairly passable script for Alien 3 was felt too dicey to constitute a credible continuation of the series, featuring a comatose Ripley who does not awake for the entire film having being injured in a fire whilst in her cryotube during the prologue. And then, even after Ripley died in Alien 3, Fox exec Jorge Saralegui decided that the way to resurrect the franchise was to resurrect Ripley, consigning Joss Whedon to the task of contriving a way to bring her back. So let’s admit that the people in charge of the Alien franchise can hardly be said to be at the cutting edge of this field.

What am I driving at? Well, 10 Cloverfield Lane has no straightforward connection to the original Cloverfield film. Indeed in many respects it is remarkably different. It shares little other than a dispensation, certain thematic concerns, and, of course, brand recognition. I am not going to elaborate the various qualities, both aesthetic and in terms of marketing, that were characteristic of the original Cloverfield movie, as they are already well known. Nonetheless, it’s important to grasp that its approach to the medium was what marked it out as distinctive. It eschewed well-worn conventions of representation and thereby created a new logic by which it could operate. Granted, the found-footage lark was still clichéd, and the execution was rebarbative, but that is not the point. The genius of Cloverfield was not the hacks that reinvented Godzilla by having some asshole with a camcorder film it, but that it could lead to its sister film (not sequel) 10 Cloverfield Lane.

There is much more to like about 10 Cloverfield Lane than Cloverfield. It’s a better film. Why? Because it doesn’t need to follow any rules. What do you get? A taut, claustrophobic thriller, well-plotted, well-paced, well-executed; in fact, up until the last five minutes, something so cleanly and economically written it could practically be staged as a play. The vast majority of the film plays out in a home-made nuclear bunker constructed by survivalist lunatic and apocalypse fantasist John Goodman. He plays the taciturn and rather unaccommodating host to kidnappee Mary Elizabeth Winsted, who he claims he has rescued from a road accident and then an unspecified Armageddon scenario, an ‘attack’ that has contaminated the air and made it suicidal to go outside. However, unexpectedly, this desperately flimsy and patently ludicrous explanation is corroborated by local lad John Gallagher Jr, and then by a neat reversal wherein Winsted gets to the brink of escaping only to discover that horrifyingly mutated people are in fact trying to get into the shelter. So it looks like Goodman’s zany moontalk is actually legit.

I haven’t read a lot about 10 Cloverfield Lane, but I’m willing to bet it’s most commonly compared to Xavier Gens’ 2011 movie The Divide, where the inhabitants of a New York apartment block escape a nuclear attack by bunking up in the basement with survivalist lunatic and apocalypse fantasist Michael Beihn. Thereafter the situation deteriorates into a Lord of the Flies scenario as cliques form and characters seek to exert dominance over others in the absence of any supervisory presence. With the sizeable Goodman in the lead role, 10 Cloverfield Lane is more Lord of the Pies than Lord of the Flies, but in fact it reminded me most of Luis Buñuel’s 1962 masterpiece The Exterminating Angel, where a group of tiresome middle-class assholes aren’t able to leave the room after a dinner party and no-one can work out why. Here, throughout 10 Cloverfield Lane, Winsted would love to leave the bunker, but she can’t and she doesn’t know why. Here’s the neat twist: when she finally does escape the bunker, Winsted discovers that there has indeed been a large scale attack, and it’s been perpetuated by biomechanical aliens that are combing the countryside in the aftermath picking off stragglers of the initial assault. At this point the movie reminded me of M. Night Shyamalam’s Signs, a film which also features much cowering prior to an imminent alien attack, but which is most notable for Mel Gibson delivering the line ‘everyone in this family needs to calm down and eat some fruit.’

It is of course the alien attack which is the umbilical between 10 Cloverfield Lane and Cloverfield.  Both films focus on a specific individual’s plight in the context of a wider disaster scenario engendered by the unexpected attack of a vast, mysterious agent. In Cloverfield it was implied that the beast that attacked New York came from the sea, but this is never fully delineated, just as here the strong hint is that the invaders come from off-planet. There isn’t an intrinsic relationship between the sea beast and the aliens, and there doesn’t have to be. The situations don’t need to match up or be co-ordinated in any conventional way. Here we see the benefits of the branded anthology structure: flexibility, opportunity for innovation, lack of necessity for adherence to templates and formula. And the result: how nice to have ninety minutes of well-crafted character, exposition, plot, and tension as the benchmark for this iteration of the franchise. No tiresome exposition that has to be laboriously delivered to keep newbies on the same page as adherents to a prior movie. Those bemoaning that the last five minutes are a betrayal of the film’s patient, principled setup miss the point. The denouement is a clever structural contrivance that collapses into the naturalism in an intentionally jarring way, and is in fact is meant to undercut it.

The implications of this model for the Alien series is clear. Perhaps more than any other film property, the Alien movies have been the vehicle for a plethora of non-canonical activity. This has been explored in a variety of mediums, some of which have cleaved quite closely to the scenarios described in the Alien series, some of which share literally nothing other than the titular creature itself. We’ve all read the novels and comics, and none of us have ever bridled about the fact that these spinoffs deviate from the primary material. In fact, on the odd occasion that (say) Ripley does show up (I’m looking at you, The Female War), the usage of the characters seems forced and fraudulent.

Where I wish Fox had grasped the nettle was in taking a cue from the profusion of non-canonical versions of the Alien series and adopting the branded anthology. Instead they made a reprehensibly bad Alien 4 and frittered away what goodwill they had left on the Alien vs Predator spin-off. But if they’d done it properly they wouldn’t have to rely on low-quality spinoffs and had to tediously rebirth the series through Prometheus: they could have been ahead of the game in what is now a commonplace in the methodology of generating thematically related movies (all these Marvel films, as I understand it, but I won’t be able to comment on them because I don’t watch them). Hey, Fox, are you hard up at the moment? Make a low-budget Alien film with three characters in one location. Get someone that isn’t an idiot to write it and scale it back so you can work in things like tension, characterisation, and a proper dramatic structure. Make it about some attempt to stop a flood of contagion or introduce a new species of the creature. Feeling rich? Make a standalone trilogy about the battle for earth. Not every spin-off has to be inferior. And why are we looking at a three-film version of Prometheus? Because despite everything that was said about it at the time, it is a retread, as everyone who knows anything about the series knows – it’s honouring Ridley Scott’s own original idea about ‘going back to the planet where they came from’ that he’s been prattling on about since making the original movie. An idea nearly thirty years in the making that ended up precisely as ill-defined and nebulous as the first time it was enunciated.  

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Alien 3: Anonymous crew member speaks from Empire magazine, 1992

Here’s something I’ve been in possession of for a long time and have wanted to share for quite a bit.

For reasons that may already be apparent (the wallpaper) but will probably become clearer over time, I have a great fondness for Alien³. On its release, Empire magazine (then a readable publication) did the obligatory feature on the movie in its September 1992 edition. Unusually, amidst the interview with Sigourney, fire-fighting her way through it (‘we did not reshoot… that is a misnomer’), part of the issue features a feat of admirable investigative zeal, the full-page feature below, an interview with an anonymised ‘highly experienced special effects technician from London’. I think this as close to an unexpurgated account of the behind-the-scenes of the production as I’ve ever seen, as whoever it is (I have no wish to speculate) doesn’t pull their punches.

I’ve never seen this on the internet anywhere, on any blogs or whatever, so enjoy. 

'I Was There!', Empire, September 1992

Incidentally, in the same issue, the great Kim Newman review the film and gives it two stars. Robbed!

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Jurassic World Review

Here are my thoughts on Jurassic World, look:

After the global financial crash, it became quite well known that the dominant neoclassical school of economics does not have an explanation for why slumps and depressions (which are euphemistically called ‘business cycles’) occur. Capitalism is a perfectly functioning system and a perfectly functioning system should run perfectly, so when the system stops running perfectly the cause can’t, by definition, be part of the system. Keynesians meanwhile, cleave to the view that slumps are actually endogenous to capitalism, and can be understood, at least in part, as an interruption to what Keynes called ‘animal spirits’: unpredictable changes in the mood of investors and entrepreneurs. When this occurs, the system stops functioning as it should.

Jurassic Park (or Jurassic World, as it is called in the most recent movie), is a little bit like this. The idea is that the theme park is so well designed and operated that nothing can possibly go wrong: it is a perfectly running system that runs perfectly well until the ‘animal spirits’ kick in. Of course, the thesis advance by both the first and fourth films in the franchise (both films that feature a functioning theme park, rather than an overgrown one trampled into desuetude as in the second and third films) is that it isn’t the ‘animal spirits’ (the dinosaurs) that prevent the park from running effectively, it is the park itself. Yes, the dinosaurs are the jokers in the pack, but they are emphatically not the reason everything goes haywire in the first place. Like capitalism, the fault is endemic to the system, inscribed in its functioning. Something, somewhere, has to go wrong. The dinosaurs just exploit the flaw when it does.

Michael Crichton’s original book pursued this argument using the new minted-chaos theory fashionable at the time, a mathematical theory of unpredictability predicated on the idea that tiny events potentially have ripple effects that can drastically cascade, and the accumulation of malfunctions leads to the total collapse of vast systems: perhaps environmental, perhaps ecological, perhaps economic. In the first film this came across more as a ‘for the want of a nail, the armour wasn’t made, for the want of the armour, the knight didn’t fight, for the want of a knight, the battle was lost’ kind of thing, rather than about the radical unknowability of systems with too many unknown and interpenetrating variables, but it worked very well dramatically. 

The book is less about the ethical quandaries of de-extinction and ‘playing God’ than it is about the hubris of believing oneself to have transcended something as mundane as elementary human fallibility. Many Crichton stories are orchestrated around scenarios that require rules, protocols, and then showing what happens when those protocols break down (I read The Andromeda Strain recently and couldn’t put the little sucker down).

The idea with Jurassic World is that in some unspecified time in the near future, the Jurassic Park franchise has been expanded from a glorified safari to a huge dinosaur-centric theme park and the whole island is an enormous tropical holiday resort. Things are different: de-extinction has been underway for so long that everyone has got used to it and dinosaurs are now a commonplace. The Jurassic Park brand has changed. It is no longer thought of as the place you got to get eaten and don’t ever come back. It is now the place where you go to have a drink by the pool while your kids go to stroke a baby brontosaurus and then you go back home after a week or two. In this iteration, dinosaurs share the same fate as many an expensive toy on Boxing Day, and now that the initial sense of childish wonder at the walking biological impossibilities has evaporated, the park constantly needs to up the stakes to keep its jaded clientele coming through the door. Their solution to this is to up the ante and play fast and loose with the genetic constitution of the new dinosaurs they create in order to deliver progressively bigger thrills.  

In one sense, the film is refreshingly candid about the reality of theme parks: they are lame. The concepts behind them are trite and tiresome (American Adventure?), most of the day is spent in long queues for short rides, and everything is overpriced. Of course it’s ridiculous to suggest that people would become so inured so quickly to the charms of resurrected dinosaurs, but for literally anything other than dinosaurs the point is fairly well made – these days the more astounding entertainments that people have at their fingertips the less impressed they appear to be with them, when all the Lumière brothers had to do to hold an audience captive was to film… well, anything.

So even though Jurassic World is like Chessington World of Adventures to the power of ten million, it is still depicted as lame, and the film plays with this conceit in various ways. We are introduced to two kids who are sent by their parents to get them out of their hair and into their aunt’s, who manages the park’s day to day operations and is therefore well placed to give them the VIP treatment. One, who is about ten or eleven, is absolutely potty about dinosaurs. His brother, who is about fifteen, could not care less about dinosaurs. He is interested in fifteen year old girls, not dinosaurs. And he can’t think of anything worse than being on an island full of dinosaurs, because dinosaurs are for babies, not cool hormonal guys. The film makes a lot of the fact that his major preoccupation is perving at teenage girls and studiously ignoring the dinosaurs. True, he likes the mosasaur, but in reality he gets a bigger kick from trying to take the weird, transparent viewing vehicle he gets to drive in the herbivore paddock ‘off road’ than from looking at the actual reptiles.  The film then exploits the notion that both the bored, daiquiri-sipping, teenage girl admiring holidaymakers and the cynical, complacent staff who are stultified by the efficiency of the systems they control, will provide a pleasing contrast to the set of clever dicks in the first film who all predicted things would go tits-up from the word go.

There is, however, a further comparison between the films and their chosen tropes. Just like Jurassic World the theme park has to generate bigger and bigger thrills to keep the punters coming, Jurassic World the movie also has to trump its predecessor to be similarly profitable. And as is widely understood, the way that the contemporary blockbuster achieves this is not to craft something that is aesthetically superior, more daring, more complex and so on, but to simply pile on spectacle, because while it’s acceptable for the film to be less pleasing than its forerunner a piece of art (and its generally accepted that sequels suffer from a deficit of imagination to begin with, except in rare cases), it absolutely must surpass it as an ‘event’. This tendency is illustrated in the film with a showdown between the executive CEO that owns the park and the scientist that creates the dinosaurs. The executive deplores the genetic tinkering that has called into being a super-predator called the Indomitus Rex that can camouflage itself, mask its heat signature, and generally play silly buggers with anything that might actually stop it. The scientist replies that that was exactly what he was asked to create. This is exactly the condition of the contemporary blockbuster, and not only the ‘soft reboot’ that Jurassic World in fact is. Since the imperative for bigger spectacle rescinds all other priorities, all other consequences can just go hang. So Jurassic World is a slave to logic it ostensibly deplores, and it actually complicit with what it is superficially criticising. This disposition where the film wants to have its cake and eat it is reinforced by its constant referencing of people’s compulsion to check their phones rather than interact with the people immediately around them or even look at dinosaurs: any attempt by Hollywood to critique an over-mediatised culture always leaves a bit of a sour taste, as does the heavy-handed exposition here that makes it clear that the park is beholden to the whims of corporate sponsors and advertisers while simultaneously shoving as many brands as possible down your throat (Starbucks and those fucking headphones that Dr Dre thinks he invented feature heavily).

The thing is, once things go to pot, the film then has to operate under typical Spielbergian constraints. There are annoying, precocious children with recondite skill sets that end up saving the day (in past films, teenage girls have been both adept computer hackers (!) and gymnasts, which have allowed then to avoid velociraptors in all kinds of ridiculous ways – here the two boys fix a jeep that has been mouldering in a garage for twenty years on the basis of ‘remember when we spent summer fixing up that car?’). There is the exhausting, monochromatic moral universe where only evil characters can be eaten and good characters are merely allowed superficial wounds. In the film, this is typified by the demise of the incompetent, arch, Brit PA who spends the entire film flapping her lip on the phone about the various ways in which she intends to sabotage her fiancée’s happiness, and Vincent D’Orofrio (more on whom later), who is guzzled when trying to pal up with a velociraptor. The film also continues one of the series’ more asinine traditions of killing off all the English characters in it, for reasons that are not quite clear (in the first film Hammond is Scottish, a nationality that people in the US, for no reason, consider honourary Americans).

The director of this film – some guy – is a hack incapable of generating tension, and this is perhaps the movie’s most irritating technical feature. It’s so pat from beginning to end. The dinosaurs turn up on time and leave on time. At one point, thousands of pterosaurs fly the coop and terrorise the island in a sequence that references Hitchcock’s The Birds (right down to the shots through the windows of the café, which I presume was Spielberg’s idea). Some are taken down by about a dozen sharpshooters, and after that scene there are no more pterosaurs in the movie. They are all gone. The Indomitus Rex appears when it needs to for the plot, chases people when it needs to chase then, and gives up when it needs to give up. Perhaps it had a copy of the script? The velociraptors change their allegiances for a (reasonably effective) plot twist and then change them back for no apparent reason. The Tyrannosaurus is exactly there when it needs to be, as is the Mosasaur, the deux ex machina of the movie. For a film which is essentially about grit getting in the oil, there’s a distinct lack of grit in the oil. Do I really have to point out that a fluent and engaging dramatic structure isn’t achieved by having a succession of things go conveniently for the main characters but by having things go inconveniently for them?

De-extinction is a particularly capitalist distillation: it fulfils a want rather than a need. It probably won’t happen (though I wouldn’t mind a woolly Mammoth or two), and if it does it will either be motivated by pure profit or by scientific bloody mindedness (‘we made it because we could’). In the Jurassic Park films, it’s both of these things. The idea that the parks in the first and fourth films operate unashamedly for profit is never solidly questioned, although it’s implied that the first one is too exclusive (and therefore the dinos will only be seen by the very rich) and the second is too inclusive (the hoi polloi are portrayed unsympathetically as unthinking consumers). The representations of the main capitalist figures in the films are intriguing, since the schizoid Hollywood position is that while capitalism is the omnipresent background that can never be questioned, individual greed is often sanctimoniously condemned. In the original book, Hammond was a ruthless, cynical autocrat which the first film softened into a cuddly visionary, likeable but misguided. Attenborough’s character in Jurassic Park had got where his was through a combination of bootstraps, horse-sense and hard knocks, and therefore on balance deserved both his success and his humbling nemesis. Cranky, dictatorial ‘Book’ Hammond is deservedly eaten by a flock of compsognothi; avuncular ‘film’ Hammond is airlifted to safety.

In this film, the CEO, Misrati, is played with rococo flourishes by Irfan Khan very much in the mould of the blue-sky noughties pioneer that companies like apple and google want you to think runs them. He is introduced to us gamely learning to fly a helicopter while admonishing his corporate staff to think beyond the bottom line, focus groups and consumer surveys, and concentrate instead on instilling a sense of wonder into their customers. The patter, though vacuous, is clearly meant to distinguish Khan’s character as a likeable, empathic human being rather than a cynical hollow suit (the kind of bullshit that Richard Branson wishes he could do), authentically passionate about what he does and keen to deliver a quality product. For reasons that have nothing to do with sensitive, creative scriptwriting, Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, firmly straightjacketed in the brittle career-woman role, has to sit in the chopper being lectured by the amiable goofball CEO as if she literally has no conception of what he is talking about when he explains the importance of customers actually enjoying the experience of the park. Later on, to undermine their contempt for our intelligence, the filmmakers include a scene where Dallas Howard bridles at being told what to do by the only person on the world that can save her when she is lost in a tropical jungle being chased by a forty-foot beast. It’s intended (I think) to show her wilfulness, but here it’s a hamfisted attempt at character continuity that rings clunkingly hollow. What kind of human being could reasonably be expected to behave like that? In that situation I’d do everything Chris Pratt told me to and give him a blowjob afterwards. In any case, the Indomitus Rex seizes on its opportunity to escape as a direct result of Misrati expressing concerns about the security of its paddock rather than as a consequence of any negligence, malfeasance, or complacency (save perhaps a corpulent security guard taking his eye off the ball, more lazy shorthand than anything else). So overall it’s a sympathetic portrait, and he gets a pretty sympathetic death (noisy and colourful while trying to do the right thing for the good of all). What’s interesting, however, is that quite a lot is made of Khan’s character’s investment in the dinosaurs first and foremost as repositories of wonder and delight rather than as profitable entities (again, nauseatingly, the mind flits to instantly to branding strategies favoured by apple). When introducing Misrati, the film is punctilious to depict him as a worthwhile custodian of the dinosaurs who eschews treating them as commodities, instead understanding that their true value is not monetary. Not twenty minutes later, with the Indomitus Rex stoating freely around the island and consuming everything in sight, Misrati completely disregards this passionately held ethical conviction and turns down the chance to liquidate it with an airborne chaingun, citing its substantial multi-million dollar value as the reason. The total contradiction between these two positions isn’t highlighted as being significant in any way, neither mined for irony or illustrative of hypocrisy (it’s very obviously an example of the filmmakers doing the most expeditious thing for the script even if it means having characters behave in an inconsistent way); nonetheless it can be interpreted as the film’s unconscious articulation that, all blue-sky bullshit aside, capitalism is just capitalism and capitalists should be expected to behave like capitalists when it comes down to it.

The film’s subplot references the one that runs through the Alien series, namely that a venal company seeks to acquire and exploit dangerous and unpredictable creatures palpably beyond their control for military applications. Vincent D’Orofrio plays a military contractor who harbours ludicrous, Alan Partridge-style fantasies about training velociraptors as a kind of special forces US infantry contingent and deploying them in warfare, where they will consume the enemy ‘belt buckle and all’. Chris Pratt is an honest, ex-navy type who is appalled by D’Orofrio’s proposal, but who still has a job where he apparently trains four velociraptors to move in unison, hunt things and basically obey all his commands, so it isn’t clear why he is spending his time doing that unless it is for some creepy form of prehistoric dressage. At one crucial point the plot hinges on a confrontation between D’Orofino and Pratt, where the former tries to persuade the latter to use the velociraptors to hunt and dispatch the Indomitus Rex as both an end to the carnage and a demonstration of their military potential. D’Orofrio’s character makes the most hollow and nonsensical threat of all time, facing down literally the only person on the face of the planet that can prevent the velociraptors from killing everything that moves when they are turned loose (he is imprinted on them at birth as the alpha male), by looking stern and saying ‘this is going to happen with or without you.’ There is then a jump cut to Pratt releasing his scaly charges, presumably because the screenwriters (all four of them) couldn’t think of any plausible way to make it appear that Pratt’s character wasn’t a total douche for agreeing to do something that he had no reason to. It’s worth noting, in consideration of the film’s politics, that D’Orofrio’s character is not actually from the US military per se but actually represents some ill-defined military contractor, which is again illustrative of the way that Hollywood carefully shields its audience from anything that could be potentially critical of US moral purity. Yes after all the worldwide invasions, occupations, militancy and imperialism, the idea that the US military would be dastardly enough not just to kill, but to kill and eat its enemies, is considered unthinkable.

Quite often in Hollywood films, the disaster is a proxy for sorting out family issues. In the first film, Dr Grant hates kids at the outset and enjoys toying with a corpulent young kid about how a velociraptor would fillet and then ingest him. (The film casts a somewhat portly and unathletic kid in the role so that the audience conspires in the teasing.) After having to look after Hammond’s grandchildren throughout the film, by the end Grant appears to recognise that he is ready for fatherhood. In Jurassic World the boys’ parents are poised to divorce and are both sent to their aunt as a way of reconnecting etiolated branches of the family tree. Dallas Howard, being a woman, is not allowed to be good at her job and a normal human being capable of maintaining meaningful relationships at the same time, so when the kids arrive she gives them short shift and keeps supervising the park like she is paid to. Here the dinosaur attack serves a threefold purpose. First it brings the older sisters closer together as Dallas Howard successfully protects her nephews and cements the family previously atomised by distance and the pressures of high-profile jobs (it’s highlighted that the mother has to take time out of an important meeting to make a phone call to check up on her kids). Second, it pairs the prim, repressed career-woman with a down-to-earth hunk that can finally help her enjoy life and not be so uptight all the time. Third, it brings the parents back together as they collect their errant children and, it’s implied, prevents their divorce. So once again monogamy and the nuclear family are reasserted. That the film’s treatment of gender politics can be aptly described as Palaeolithic is no surprise, but really conservatism seeps from every conceivable pore (to the point where the relatively new but completely incontrovertible fact of feathered dinosaurs is totally ignored, an open goal I’m astounded that the filmmakers miss).

I love dinosaurs and always have. But I don’t love Jurassic World, because like the park itself it traduces their transcendent wonder for money. In fact it sucked. Except for the mosasaur. I’m a bit like the teenage boy character in that regard. It all sucked except for the mosasaur.  


Welcome to my blog. As the title suggests, this blog will mainly feature thoughts and ideas on the Alien franchise, but I will also use it to ventilate some guff about other bits and bobs of culture I experience. Guilty pleasures, that sort of thing.