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It’s Terrible, It Really Is (Ghostbusters, 2016)

Intolerably loud and garish. The original was set in a semi-real world, the support characters were played straight, while the leads were unique characters in a unique situation and the comedy came naturally from this. This is set in a full-on comedy world, or more accurately, a full-on ‘bad’ comedy world. OTT characters spout nonstop cringe-inducing jokes, utterly brain-numbing compared to the dry wit and sarcasm of their forebears and relentless in their awfulness; the only interruption coming from the even more dire cameo appearances. The most embarrassing material is given to Chris Hemsworth as Kevin, the Ghostbusters’ dim-witted secretary, who confusingly has a dog named Mike Hat. Yes, it sounds like ‘my cat’, that’s the joke! The bombardment of awful visuals is almost as sickening as the verbal diarrhoea spewing from the characters’ mouths. The bright, shiny, CGI ghosts look pathetic compared to the graphic and, in some cases, genuinely horrific creatures from the original, and the cartoony action sequences again rob the world and characters of any realism.

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Stuff of nightmares vs. puff the magic dragon.

As well as brainless comedy, there’s also plenty of brainless morality on display. Okay, the morality of the original is questionable, with Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman coming across as a bit of a sex pest, but this is just mean-spirited in the extreme. The ‘Big Bads’ from the first two films were mythical demigods, creatures that thought themselves above ordinary humans but who were defeated by heroic underdogs. In this film, the underdog’s the bad guy. A recluse, an outsider, a loner, driven to take revenge on society because he doesn’t fit in (judging by their disrespectful comments against fandom, perhaps he’s intended to represent the kind of person the filmmakers think will dislike their awful movie). I was waiting for an acceptable payoff for this, hoping the Ghostbusters, characterised in some ways as outsiders themselves, would help or embrace their familiar. But no, instead they offered a cruel joke about his assumed virginity and then blasted the poor bastard to hell. The final line of the film is “that’s not terrible, not terrible at all”. Sorry, but it is, it really is.

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E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Happy Halloween! Today I’m posting about that terrifying Halloween classic, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (dir. Speilberg, 1982). E.T. is the tale of a parasitic alien from the darkest depths of space, who infiltrates a family home and attaches itself to a small boy, forming a symbiotic relationship that drains the boy’s life-force. A brave group of government agents must battle to save the boy and defeat the monster; before it’s too late! Okay, that might be the story told from an adult character’s point of view, but E.T. is not a story told from an adult’s point of view. E.T. is a story about empathy, an attribute we see facilitated through childhood innocence and impeded by adult ignorance and misplaced authority that must be rebelled against. Immediately upon being stranded, E.T. is hounded by a group of adult hunters, viewing his otherness as dangerous to their way of life and something to be extinguished. E.T. is able to find refuge with a child, Elliot (Henry Thomas), who hides him from adult persecution. Elliot does not see E.T. as a monster, but as a person in need of help who has been separated from their home and family. Elliot is able to empathise with E.T., having recently had a split in his family, with his father leaving his mother (Dee Wallace). Before the arrival of E.T., Elliot is insecure and lonely, being picked on and excluded by his older brother Michael (Robert Mac Naughton) and his friends. He is also immature and inconsiderate, bringing up the fact that his father has run off with another woman in front of his younger sister, Gertie (Drew Barrymore). This upsets his mother and angers Michael (“Damn it. Why don’t you grow up, think how other people feel for a change?”). The arrival of E.T. sees Elliot take Michael’s advice, as having to care for someone in a similar position, sees him mature and gain confidence and purpose.

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E.T. does indeed form a symbiotic relationship with Elliot, but there is nothing sinister about it. Instead, it is used to emphasise the importance of empathy. E.T. and Elliot share emotional and physical experiences; getting hungry, scared and ill together. Seeing them share these experiences reminds us that although E.T. is different to us, he still feels the same and should be treated equally. E.T. and Elliot’s empathy goes beyond consideration for intelligent life, as an affinity with all of nature, including animal and plant life, is displayed. E.T. is able to live in harmony with all living things, caring for them as though they were part of him. This is shown through his ability to heal, as he mends a cut on Elliot’s finger and brings a flower back to life. Thanks to his relationship with E.T., Elliot develops empathy for other life, freeing the frogs that are about to be dissected in science class and starting a youth revolt against the ruling adult teacher (Richard Swingler). The teacher is another example of adult cruelty and detachment. He treats the frogs as just things to be experimented on; just as Elliot fears the ‘adult’ authorities will treat E.T. (“they’ll give it a lobotomy or do experiments on it”).

Freeing the frogs.

The film expresses the importance of family. Separated from his family, E.T. grows ill but recovers upon their return. The family home is used to symbolise an ideal empathetic environment; there E.T. is safe and cared for by those who treat him as kin. Childhood is used as a symbol of virtue, as E.T. is taught about the world through the use of toys, watching kids TV shows and reading children’s books, and his idea to “phone home” is inspired by a children’s comic. He is also, at one point, mistaken for a soft-toy, an item that is the focus of childhood love and care, but that is later abandoned by adults. This shows the importance of carrying childhood empathy into adulthood and bringing the love and care shared within a family into the outside world. When the government agents track down E.T. to Elliot’s home, we see the devastating effect a cold-hearted ‘adult’ view of the world has. They transform the warm, empathetic environment into a sterile laboratory; intending to experiment on E.T. just like the frogs in science class. They believe they want to understand E.T., but unlike Elliot, they do not try and communicate with him; their lack of empathy means they only know how to take apart and destroy. Again, a youth revolt saves the day, as Elliot, Michael and his friends rescue E.T. from the government agents and return him to his people.

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E.T. is a messianic figure. He comes from the heavens, heals the sick, dies and is resurrected. Upon his resurrection, we see him dressed in white robes, and finally, he ascends back into the heavens. Unlike most messianic figures, his message is simple, as simple as his last words to Gertie, “be good“. A message of empathy. Spielberg has described E.T. as “a minority story“. E.T. is a minority on Earth, Elliot is also a minority, beginning the story as a loner. Through empathy, they are able to ignore their surface distinctions and join together to overcome adversity. That is the film’s message to the world – to put aside our difference, embrace our commonality and have compassion for one another. As E.T.’s spaceship departs, it leaves a rainbow in the sky; a symbol of universal harmony, unity and hope.

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Additional Points

  • Elliot has rainbow curtains in his bedroom – symbolising his empathetic outlook.
  • I don’t like that the girl Elliot kisses in class (Erika Eleniak) is seen standing on a chair, screaming when the frogs are freed. It’s a sexist stereotype (girls are fragile little things, afraid of creepy critters). It would make much more thematic sense if the large boy who struggles with Elliot to keep his frog in his jar was scared of the frogs – cruelty comes through fear and ignorance.
  • Gertie is read Peter Pan. Specifically, the scene where Tinker Bell is brought back to life by children’s belief in fairies. This fits with the film’s theme of the virtue of maintaining childhood innocence. Later, the children fly on their bicycles and are silhouetted in front of the moon; another nod to Peter Pan.

 

Dark Star

A film that may provide some explanation for the similarities between Alien (dir. Scott, 1979) and The Ark In Space (1975) is Dark Star (dir. Carpenter, 1974). Released a year before The Ark in Space, it is a possible influence, and also happens to be written by Dan O’ Bannon, who wrote Alien.

Dark Star is also critical of conformism, featuring an irritable crew who are repressed by the conformism and regimentation of their work. The crew must address each other by their surnames, and this reaches such extremes that at one point a crew member confesses he has forgotten his first name. The crew talk wistfully of the individual hobbies they had back on Earth. Lt. Doolittle (Brian Narelle) talks endlessly of his love for surfing. While the deceased Commander Powell (Joe Saunders), who is kept in stasis by being merged with the ship’s computer, once revived, talks of his love for football, but forgets important facts about his favourite team, as the ships systems rob him of his identity. The Ark in Space also uses man’s merger with technology as a metaphor for conformity, and Alien uses the idea to suggest possible dangers of gender-equalityThe ship’s computer in Dark Star is also named Mother, an obvious influence on Alien, and a possible inspiration for the artificial family unit in The Ark in Space. The end of the film sees the ship’s destruction, but Lt. Doolittle rides to safety on a surfboard he forms from the wreckage. This represents him rejecting the mechanical conformity that the ship symbolised, as he creates a symbol of his individuality from its remains and rides it to freedom

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Dark Star also features a destructive alien creature, but it is mostly used for comic relief, presented as a mischievous gremlin rather than a deadly menace. It is possible that both Alien and Ark merely developed the themes of Dark Star, choosing to enlarge the role of the monster and have it symbolise their chosen thematic evil. However, this does not explain the technical similarities between each work’s alien creature, such as their gestation inside a human host and their multiple life cycles. Although I have not seen the films, I have heard that the Alien creature was also inspired by parasitical monsters from the B-movies, It! The Terror From Beyond Space (Dir. Cahn, 1958) and Planet of the Vampires (Dir. Bava, 1965). Perhaps the Wirrn was also inspired by these creatures? If not, the similarities between The Ark in Space and Alien are either a massive coincidence or the creators of Alien owe the creators of The Ark in Space a huge debt, which, as of yet, has not been expressed.

Alien Equality (The Alien Franchise)

My adaptation, being my first work to feature a female protagonist, has got me thinking recently about gender equality within films. Searching for a focus for this topic, a presentation I held, analysing Aliens (dir. Cameron, 1986) using the theoretical framework of Christopher Vogler’s The Hero’s Journey, led me to examine the entire Alien franchise, considering notions of gender equality. Note that I will be analysing the extended cuts of all the films.

The ‘Alien’ franchise is renowned for its portrayal of gender equality due to its central female protagonist, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). Ripley is as intelligent and physically capable as your standard male action-movie hero, an anomaly in a genre littered with women who are nothing more than child-like, screaming incompetents. Although this characterisation has undoubtedly been positive, proving female action heroes can give as good as any man, analysing the films further shows that they are far from entirely positive portraits of gender equality.

The original film, Alien (dir. Scott, 1979), although depicting a society in which there is no longer a divide between gender roles, is strewn with male anxiety over the possibility of this future. At the start of the film, the characters emerge into a technological world in which it is suggested the traditional mother role has been abandoned. They are figuratively born into the world, blinkingly emerging half-naked from their cryogenic chambers; an unnatural birth rather than one born of innate sexual interaction. They are cared for by the ship’s computer, titled Mother, suggesting technology has now superseded female ownership of this role. The crew consists of both men and women working side by side as equals, and the extended duration of the mission suggests the role of housewife and mother has long been forgotten.

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At first, it seems there are no problems with this sexless society, but when the crew enter the world of the Alien, the film’s fears of what the natural progression of such a society may result in are revealed. The Alien is discovered on a ship that like the crew’s own sees the technological superseding the biological but to such a great extent that they have merged. The ship’s only inhabitant, besides the Alien, referred to by the film’s crew as the Jockey, is found dead, seemingly growing out of the ship, fully merged with the technology. Its chest has burst open from the inside, the results of the Alien’s aberrant birth. This suggests that the Alien monstrosity was born of a society devoid of gender division, in which technology has replaced the need for heterosexual sex. This assumption is confirmed in the film’s prequel, Prometheus (dir. Scott, 2012), in which the Jockey is revealed to be part of a society consisting entirely of males that genetically engineered the Alien species, only for it to turn against them. In this horrific world, where there is no divide between sexes, the Alien and its habitat, visualised as a perverse mesh of male and female genitalia, are the embodiment of this horror.

Alien Sexual imagery

Prime examples of male anxiety over a genderless society are the Alien’s rape and impregnation of Kane (John Hurt) and its offspring’s resultant birth. These instances present male fear of loss of sexual dominance; the fear of becoming vulnerable and/or victims if they become woman’s equal. Another of the film’s much-praised scenes is Ash’s (Ian Holm) attempt to kill/symbolically rape Ripley. Ash attempts to rape Ripley by suffocating her with a rolled up pornographic magazine, acting as a phallic symbol. The use of the magazine is significant as it suggests disapproval of women being seen as purely sexual objects. This scene has been used to support claims of the film’s feminist outlook, but these theories are easily dismissed. At the start of the scene, it is revealed Ash is not a man but an android. He represents a proto-Alien, a perverse blend of the biological and the technological, also inclined to unnatural and violent sexual attacks. He is another step on the ladder in the transition from a safe male-dominated world to the horror of the genderless Alien nightmare. Furthermore, for all this scene’s supposed criticism of females being seen as purely sexual objects, at the climax of the film, we see Ripley, for no logical reason, strip down to her skimpy underwear as she strolls around the escape ship, the camera lingering on her buttocks. Here we see Ripley reduced to the role of sex object, which evidence suggests, the film’s makers, consciously or subconsciously, believe is her rightful place.

Alien

Applying Vogler’s theory to Aliens provides further evidence suggesting the franchise’s creators are determined that females remain in their traditional roles. At the start of the film, Ripley is awoken from her cryogenic chamber 57 years after the events of Alien. We discover, although it is not alluded to in Alien in any way, that she was, in fact, mother to a young daughter, who has long since passed away. Vogler describes this loss as ‘the hero’s lack’.

CHRISTOPHER VOGLER: “They are lacking something, or something is taken away from them. Often they have just lost a family member.”

Ripley’s dreams are haunted by terrifying visions of the Alien. Vogler identifies this as a ‘tragic flaw’, a weakness the hero must overcome to gain their rewards. Upon discovering that contact has been lost with a colony that was built on the planet where the Alien was discovered, Ripley reluctantly joins a group of marines travelling to the planet to annihilate the Alien threat. Once there, she takes charge of the mission after its original leader proves incompetent, and again proves she’s as physically capable and resourceful as any man. She takes charge of an orphaned child, Newt (Carrie Henn), and forms a close bond with a handsome marine, Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn). At the film’s climax, Newt is taken by the Aliens to the Alien Queen’s nest. Upon rescuing Newt and defeating the Alien Queen, Newt verbally acknowledges Ripley as her mother and Ripley’s relationship with Hicks moves on from mere friendship to romance. Furthermore, upon entering their cryogenic chambers to return home, Ripley informs Newt it is now safe for them both to dream, showing that by overcoming the Aliens she has overcome her ‘tragic flaw’ and received her reward of a surrogate family, fulfilling her ‘lack’. Vogler’s theory shows that the entire film is structured to return Ripley, a strong independent woman, to the traditional female role of loving wife and mother. A most anti-feminist message.

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I have chosen not to give serious consideration to Alien Resurrection (dir. Jeunet, 1997), being as it features a female character who seems to exist solely to show off her bum whilst having a sexy massage, and Ripley, with the line, “so who have I got to fuck to get off this boat?“, offers to whore herself out to anyone who can take her to safety. Therefore, I’m concluding my examination with Alien 3 (dir. Fincher, 1992). Although disowned by its director and the recipient of poor reviews from fans and critics, Alien 3 presents a positive depiction of gender equality unlike anything else in the franchise.

Ripley’s ship crash lands on a prison planet, her surrogate family does not survive, and an Alien is set loose on the prison. The prison is inhabited by male convicts who have found religion. The convicts are immediately hostile towards Ripley. Unwilling to accept a female into their society, they believe Ripley should be locked up and segregated from the rest of the inhabitants. They consider her mere presence an incentive to rape, firmly establishing their belief that women are inferiors, who can be nothing but victims of a male dominated society.

Only upon the death of the society’s patriarch is Ripley accepted as an equal, which after the death and chaos of the first part of the film results in productivity, as the inhabitants begin successfully working together to defeat the Alien menace. Upon capturing the Alien, there are extended shots of the convicts walking in slow motion under the sprinklers. In keeping with the film’s religious themes, this is symbolic of a rebirth for the convicts as they are cleansed of their past misogynistic sins. Here the film clearly approves the incorporation of women into society as equals. After the Alien’s initial capture, it is again set loose by Golic (Paul McGann). Golic did not participate in the democratic capture of Alien as he was locked up after becoming fanatical after first encountering it. Earlier in the film, Golic gives this speech to Ripley:

GOLIC: “You married? You should get married, have kids. Pretty girl. I used to know lots of ’em, back home. They used to like me…for awhile. You’re gonna die too.”

This shows that Golic supports traditional gender-based roles for women. It also reveals that he sees women as objects, as it is implied that once girls resisted his sexual advances, he would murder them. Golic empathises with the Alien, both being sexual predators. He also worships it as a satanic figure that symbolises his wicked temptation, referring to it as ‘the beast’, claiming it ‘eats minds’, talks to him, and tells him what to do. Golic eventually succumbs to this temptation, releasing the sexually predatory Alien back into the newly formed egalitarian society.

During the course of the film, Ripley discovers she was impregnated by the Alien during her cryogenic stasis and decides to take her life rather than let the creature inside her live. Dillon (Charles S. Dutton) pleads with her, “you can still have a life, children”, but in opposition to the message of Aliens, Ripley rejects motherhood. Ripley sacrifices herself by throwing herself into the ironworks, her arms outstretched in a Christ-like pose. We have seen via its relationship with Golic that the Alien of Alien 3 is representative of male abuse and dominance of women. This is supported by the fact that the creature is born from an animal in this instalment, a merging of man and beast rather than man and woman. Ripley, therefore, dies for the sins of a male dominated society, sacrificing herself rather than letting the Alien that embodies these sins live.

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