Monday, June 2, 2014

Ask Me a (Hero Complex) Question: Alien(s) w/ Sigourney Weaver

Closing night at the Hero Complex Film Festival was a double feature of seminal science fiction cinema:  1979's Alien and 1986's Aliens with star Sigourney Weaver appearing for Q&A.  Both looked beautiful up on the big screen even though the sound on Alien was a little washed out.  Ridley Scott and Fox's sideways answer to Star Wars is a tense, atmospheric horror flick while James Cameron's follow up is more of an action movie roller coaster.  Both employ outstanding casts playing memorable characters, impressive set design, pulse pounding music and their own style of thrills and chills. 

Alien is more or less truckers in space, blue collar rough necks who complain about their jobs and wages on The Nostromo, a cargo vessel coasting through deep space.  The crew is awoken from hyper sleep by a mysterious beacon and land on uncharted planet LV-426 where they find a crashed vessel that contains a long dead pilot but hundreds of still alive eggs filled with nasty creatures known as "face huggers".  They attach to a host, impregnate them with an embryo which then bursts out of their chest in the form of a terrifying baby alien.  Then it's basically slasher time as the crew try to find the alien before they're all killed off.  I can honestly say I've only seen Alien maybe one time all the way through and watching it on the big screen the first thing that struck me was the absolutely amazing use of miniatures and models for the space ships and exteriors.  How anyone would want to go from the craftsmanship, scope, attention to detail and believability of Star Wars and Alien to the fake looking, shiny cartoons of today's CGI is beyond me.  Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton's grumbling mechanics are funny and relatable while Weaver's Ripley starts off as semi cold and stand offish before having to fight for survival and plant the seed for the iconic heroine she would become in the sequel.

Whereas James Cameron received many technology related questions by individuals probably hoping for some enlightening morsel of what the future holds, between films Sigourney Weaver took the stage for a breezy, fun and informative Q&A with a surprising amount of gushing fanboy/girl love that focused mainly on the Alien franchise.  I wanted to ask about Galaxy Quest but didn't want to upset the mood.

- Alien was her first real movie coming from working in theater and had no clue how they were made or how to behave on a set.  Ridley Scott had to tell her to stop looking at the camera while Ian Holm was a gracious mentor and helped her through.
- Weaver just finished working with Ridley Scott again and he's still the same guy having fun on set, not giving a shit about rehearsals and a true visual artist.
- In theater, actors go out after performances for a few pints but in film, people go back to their daily lives, wives and boyfriends. 

- Runs into Tom Skerritt and reunited with Aliens cast at Calgary Expo.
- Describes her relationship with James Cameron as a "pair of old shoes", she admires him greatly and even though he can do everyone's job, still insecure about actors which gives them plenty of freedom, limitless takes and plenty of support.
- Hasn't thought of doing Alien 5 but going to Conventions for the first time shows her how passionate fans are and wishes to give them a proper send off.
- Would want James Cameron involved in a new chapter but a young, hungry, crazy guy should be at the helm as that's how Alien movies are made.
- Wasn't expecting a sequel to Alien but was told there was a great script by Cameron, she read it and was amazed at his take and furthering ideas introduced in first film.
- Alien was a beautiful set but actors couldn't touch anything and of course, nothing actually worked.
- Original space suits were flashier with pastels and Scott said she looked like Jackie Onasis in space.
- Scott had multiple outfits from NASA brought in to keep authenticity of space travel.
- F/X crew on Alien were brilliant but so low key, always playing pranks like giving her rum instead of water.  Was left dangling one day by accident towards end of production during lunch.
- Chest burster scene was only thing to survive Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett's original script which was whittled down and firmed up by David Giler and Walter Hill.
- On the page was OH MY GOAAAWWWRRR!  So cast knew something crazy was going to happen.  Arrived on set to crew members wearing ponchos to protect them from the fountains of blood that would be splattered.
- Has each of her original outfits from the Alien movies and had to break a fan's heart when he thought he had the real deal in his collection.
- Movie was featured on cover of Newsweek so she knew it was something special along with the critical and financial success.
- Working with producers on Gorillas in the Mist when Oscar nomination for Aliens was announced, instantly giving her more clout as she didn't think some of the preparation they suggested was necessary.
- Gives credit to the cast and crew of each film being responsible for it's enduring legacy with special mention of Bill Paxton and Carrie Henn for Aliens.
- Surprised they trusted her to fire blanks, a real flame thrower and "bazooka" during Aliens finale and not injure stuntmen or burn down the set.
- Parts of Ripley based on a real friend who works for lobbyist group for the environment, admires non-profit workers as they always get rejected and have no money but keep going.
- Originally wanted to be a journalist, to be in the middle of the action and give reader a taste of what's happening.

Then it was time to settle down and watch one of my favorite movies of all time, Aliens.  It was a little rough this time out as I'd just seen it on the big screen a couple months ago, it was getting late, it was my 3rd movie of the day and my big lunch seemed like a distant memory to my growling stomach.  Picking up 50 some years after Alien, Ripley has drifted through space and randomly run into a deep salvage crew and awoken from hyper sleep.  The Weyland-Yutani company doesn't believe her story as LV-426 has been colonized for decades but when contact with the station goes down, it's time to send in the Colonial Space Marines!  Ripley, the ragtag marines and "artificial person" Bishop head to the colony where they find the aftermath of a last stand and no survivors save for Newt, a young girl who has been living in the air duct system while the rest of her family and colonists have been taken prisoner by the aliens for impregnating.

From the start, Aliens goes for it, not in an "in your face" kind of way but the story starts chugging along, dealing with Ripley post traumatic stress from the first film's events to being thrown into a new nightmare where not even heavily armed, trained soldiers can protect her.  Like a great roller coaster the anticipation is killer and when we finally get to the top of the ride, the exciting plunge is harrowing in a scene where most of the Marines are wiped out while entering the hive.  On this viewing I realized how nuanced Cameron's writing of core characters Ripley and Corporal Hicks was as they both start off low key then rise to the occasion and threat in front of them.  That was especially on display with Michael Biehn's portrayal of Hicks who comes off quiet and bored in early scenes then snaps into action when his superior is killed in the attack.  Barking orders and keeping the Marines together, Biehn gets to take command while spouting out random favorite line delivery  "Drake, we are leaving!" and blasts an alien in the mouth with a shotgun.  Bill Paxton's hilariously stressed out Private Hudson squawks and complains for much of his screen time but somehow never gets annoying.  Lance Henriksen's turn as android Bishop is equal parts creepy and comforting while Jeanette Goldstein and Mark Rolston are tough-cool as lifers Vasquez and Drake. 

Upon repeat viewings The Terminator has taken firm lead as my favorite James Cameron film, with it's taunt pace, Arnold's unrelenting threat, love story between Reese and Sarah, solid performances from all involved, down and dirty action sequences and driving score.  With Aliens and Terminator 2, the core, primal emotions and relationships are still present but somewhat weighed down with additional spectacle and action.  It would be interesting to see him do a small scale, non-special f/x requiring drama someday.

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