“What are you gonna do, talk the alien to death?” — James Cameron

It’s James Cameron’s birthday today, and I haven’t written all that much about him, but I did devote an entire column at Film Comment to the sexual/romantic tension between Ripley and Hicks in Aliens – and how crucial it is to the film’s emotional resonance – it’s so much a part of it – it’s SUCH a satisfying relationship.

Present Tense: Almost Like Falling in Love

I had fun writing about it and I had fun including a favorite Liz Phair lyric, which I thought summed it up perfectly.

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4 Responses to “What are you gonna do, talk the alien to death?” — James Cameron

  1. I really admire James Cameron, for many reasons, even if I don’t like everything he’s done…but that proviso really only applies to one movie, ALIENS, which I dislike for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with the Ripley-Hicks relationship. In fact, the relationships in general in that movie are by far its biggest strength. Relationships tend to fare pretty well in his movies, I think; THE ABYSS, an underrated favorite of mine, is utterly convincing in its depiction of a group of people who work together in a very remote and difficult environment. Even TITANIC’s melodrama works, relationship-wise.

    • sheila says:

      Have you written about Aliens? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

      The difference between Alien and Aliens is STARK and my heart will always be with the first one – its moody grimy working-class look and feel. It’s so GRIM. truly sinister.

      Aliens gets into all the military GEAR and … suddenly aliens CAN be killed? wait I thought they couldn’t be killed? lol

      But yeah – Ripley and Hicks is just such a pleasing pairing. Both actors bring so much to it!

      I love The Abyss! and yeah, Titanic – a classic. It doesn’t “date” either – there are two or three moments I don’t like, mostly having to do with Billy Zane but everything else is aces. and he treats this real life tragedy with the respect and gravitas it deserves.

      • I don’t think I’ve written about any of these movies at length, because I don’t really like writing at length about things I don’t like. I’m not a fan of the ALIEN franchise in general. The first one is mildly interesting until the horror stuff starts, but once I’ve seen it, watching it again feels like riding “Space Mountain” with the lights turned on. I honestly have a lot of trouble connecting with the characters in the first one, which is a common issue I have with Ridley Scott’s movies; I can really only think of one, KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, where I genuinely find myself invested in the characters. (The Director’s Cut, by the way. Do NOT watch that movie’s studio-butchery hack job of a theatrical release.) Given ALIEN’s classic status, I totally grant that this is just a cinematic blind-spot for me, but in the absence of ever really caring about the characters, ALIEN becomes an exercise in gross-outs and jump-scares. All well-done, but when you know what’s coming and you don’t care about the people to whom it’s happening, well….

        Now ALIENS is a different kettle of fish: Here I end up caring a LOT about the characters, but I always feel the mechanics of the plot grinding away in the story. I chalk this up to Cameron’s general lack of subtlety; for all his strengths, nuance isn’t generally one of them. He has improved in this area, but he’ll never be thought of as a particularly subtle storyteller. Every plot twist is foreshadowed heavily, like the early scene that establishes that Ripley is a certified expert on the fork-lift mech-suit gizmo: you can’t watch that scene and not immediately realize that machine is going to play a big part at SOME point in the movie, likely in the climax. Plus, pacing-wise, the movie is just too much for me. Roger Ebert put this perfectly in his review when he wrote something like, “This movie made me feel bad and wrung-out, like I’d been stuck on an amusement park ride that just kept whipping me around for two hours.” Once ALIENS really gets going, for me it’s all flow and no ebb.

        ALIEN 3, I only watched one time, twenty years ago or more, and I hated it within minutes (it starts off basically saying, “Hey, the kid and Hicks from the last movie, that Ripley saved? They died anyway!”) and never recovered. I haven’t bothered with the franchise since then.

        I’ll close by noting that these opinions aren’t new opinions, and nothing I say here is informed by any recent viewings of any of these movies, so it’s entirely possible I could approach them again now and see them differently. I’m not sure I want to try, though!

        • sheila says:

          Interesting!! I love hearing different opinions.

          I see your point about Alien – about not connecting with those people. I think the main point of Alien – the central focus – was HR Giger’s design – it’s the real star: IT is bigger than any one character.

          This was then reversed in Aliens (imo) – where Ripley took focus as a singular character, a real person – and it became this personal revenge story.

          I watched them back to back a while back and they really could not be more different in mood and tone! Suddenly Cameron brings in the GEAR – it’s a very 1980s militaristic GEAR movie. It fucks with the canon of the first one – like, oh so now aliens CAN be killed as long as you have the right US-made weapons-grade GEAR?

          On the flip side, the characters are definitely more grasp-able, more distinct, even if they’re broadly drawn.

          as much as I adore Ripley and Hicks, I think Alien is the superior movie – just because it’s basically a dark bleak TONE POEM and you don’t really get that anymore, even though all these “serious” superhero movies, trying to be gritty and gloomy, TRY.

          I totally share your revulsion for Alien 3. I also hated it within minutes.

          It’s a weird franchise – and for me the first was the best, mainly because of the dominance of Giger’s design.

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