Tag Archives: Aliens

Movie Review: Prometheus

When I was younger, I was absolutely obsessed with the Aliens movies. Well, correction: I was obsessed with Alien and Aliens. The other two movies were of such questionable quality that I’d rather pretend that they never happened.

It was one of the first bits of horror I watched growing up and it had a deep and affecting impact on what I consider scary. The alien in these movies is not something to be reasoned with. It’s not evil. It’s just a very well-designed killing machine; incapable of remorse or mercy. It has no back-story, no motivation, no explanation; it does what it does and the protagonist has no recourse but to simply deal with it. It’s shadowy and elusive and brutal.

So when I heard about Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s prequel to Alien, I was concerned. The Alien creature lost a lot of its mystique because of mindless and pointless repetition. The boogeyman is not scary when it’s dragged into the light, kicking and screaming. In the latter sequels, the Alien is put onto the dissection table and pointlessly and needlessly over-analyzed. There was no more fear; it just became a part of pop culture, something that used to scare us.

And now, Scott was once again returning to the well. Except, instead of revisiting the alien and telling that same damn story all over again with a pointless origin story, he showed another aspect to the story. Instead of a direct prequel, he created a story that took place in the same universe and, while it does shed some light on the story in Alien, it is not directly about those later movies.

And in some ways, this is the best kind of prequel. It’s not like the Star Wars prequels, where Lucas shoehorns in pointless contrivances just to work in familiar characters and uses needless and tedious exposition to elaborate on parts of the back story that no-one cares about. Scott attempts to tell a new story that just happens to take place in the Alien universe. By the time it was over, I had re-examined the events in Alien and re-contextualized them, but in a way that didn’t cheapen or lessen the fear or impact of that movie.

Even better, he avoids explaining everything fully. By the time the movie is done, you’re still left wondering and that, I believe, is for the best. For horror, it’s always better if the audience is guessing at the end, at least just a little bit. There should be an element of doubt and curiosity. It is the unknown that people, in general, fear the most. And by leaving questions unanswered at the end of Prometheus, Scott has left a lot unknown. He fleshes out the universe without taking anything away from the fear and the unknown terrors of the original movie.

And so while Prometheus is not a great movie, it is a great prequel. It has its problems and its “the hell?” moments, but it doesn’t detract from its predecessors.

If you’re a fan of the series, check it out.

-D

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Book Review: Area 51 by Annie Jacobsen

I’ve never been a fan of the idea that the government is hiding space aliens from us. Partly it’s because the people who espouse this particular brand of paranoia always strike me as two hairs away from batshit insane. Mostly though it’s because I’ve never seen any good evidence for it. I haven’t seen good evidence that any U.F.O. is alien in origin. The locus of most of these theories is the mythical military base Area 51, a place I’ve wanted to know more about, but without having to wade through five-hundred pages of paranoid rambling.

So when I heard that Area 51 was less a book about alien ships and cigarette smoking government agents hording alien corpses in the basement of the White House and more about the actual history of the base, I decided to give it a chance. I was hoping for a grounded, well researched book based on history and not just baseless conjecture and that’s exactly what I got.

Jacobsen does a great job of tying together the multiple points in history that led to the creation of Area 51 and following its role in the American government throughout the years. It’s where the Blackbird and drones were developed. It’s where they reverse engineered the MiG and finally figured out how to beat the Ruskies’ plane. During the later half of the 20th century, Area 51 lurked in the background of history, quietly doing its part. It’s a very levelheaded book. It’s as if Jacobsen wanted to counteract the hysterical paranoid tone that usually surrounds Area 51. She manages to strip a top secret military base of most of its mystique and does it methodically, piece by piece.

Throughout the book, Jacobsen raises several points about the scariness of the lack of government accountability for black ops projects, such as when government scientists nearly blew a hole in our atmosphere with nuclear tests that accomplished nothing scientifically. She acknowledges that the government most certainly does not need to tell the public everything, but that there’s a problem when even the president doesn’t have access to records.

My one problem with the book is toward the very end. After teasing the reader for the entire book with the secret about what really happened at Roswell, she reveals what happened with a flourish of melodramatic camp that is better suited for The X-Files than for what was a very reasoned and grounded book. She talks about secret Soviet plans to undermine the United States, which involves a devil’s pact between Mengele and Stalin. She talks of an anonymous man who speaks in cryptic comments and refuses to reveal everything he knows. It’s such an abrupt departure from the rest of the book that I have trouble believing what she’s saying. The whole chapter feels like she’s inserted herself into a Tom Clancy novel.

Aside from that one brief departure, Area 51 is a great history of the most talked about secret in modern U.S. history and I recommend it to any modern history buffs.

Dylan Charles

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Horror Movie Primer: Monsters

For the uninitiated, finding the proper horror movie can be a difficult and daunting task. You’re feeling a dire need to get into a Halloween mood, but you don’t know which movie to get and your weird friend that watched too many horror movies and who talked about them way too much went crazy and is now in the local asylum.

Luckily I can be your weird friend this season. I’ll be cobbling together a couple of primers for those of you that don’t know any better and are thinking about renting the latest Saw movie as a way of getting your scare on. The first up in the series will be Monster Flicks.

Monsters were a lot more popular in the ’40s and ’50s, but they’ll still pop up now and then. With monster flicks, you’ve got your unnaturally giant giants (Them!, Beginning of the End, King Kong), you’ve got aliens (Alien, The Blob, The Crawling Eye), you’ve got your swarms (The Birds, Piranha, Bats) and you’ve got your werewolves (Wolfman, An American Werewolf in London, Ginger Snaps).

Monster movies are usually the more special effects intensive of the horror movies, which is problematical. For a movie to be scary, it really needs to avoid reminding the audience every five seconds that it’s a movie. And with monster movies, that’s sometimes unavoidable.

If you scare easy, you’re better off with the earlier monster movies. The ones from the 1950’s where a group of teenagers find a sinister menace and they try to alert the police but the sheriff doesn’t believe them because they’re just a bunch of kids.

Or you can start the old Universal Monster movies, like The Wolfman, Frankenstein and Dracula. These are movies that heavily informed pop culture about these monsters. When someone thinks of Dracula or Frankenstein, they’re thinking of the old Universal versions. Starting there is the best way to start your horror movie education.

The old 1950’s aliens are either incredibly goofy or classics or both. The Blob features a giant…blob that menaces a small town. There’s the slightly more disturbing aliens in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, who imitate people perfectly. For that one, you might be better going with the 1970’s remake.

If you’re of sterner stuff, you’re going to want to move up a few decades. For your alien needs, you can do worse than watch Alien and Aliens. There’s also John Carpenter’s The Thing, which is a great, gory movie that’s filled to the brim with tense paranoia and awesome effects. If you want dark comedy served up with your aliens, you need to check out Slither.

The werewolf genre is one that is absolutely filled with complete shit. Start with The Wolfman or An American Werewolf in London. Then check out Ginger Snaps, an independent Canadian offering that’s a little grimmer and creepier than its predecessors. There’s also The Howling, an early 1980’s offering that’s creepy and effective.

And so ends a very basic introduction to the monster sub-genre. If you have any suggestions of your own, be sure to post them in the comments section. I’ll be doing more of these entries, especially as we get closer to Halloween. Because, damn it, you need to watch at least ONE horror movie during the Halloween season.

Dylan Charles

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