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Xenomorphs (Aliens) and Film Franchises – FIRE & WATER #122

Fire and Water PodcastThe 122nd episode of THE FIRE AND WATER PODCAST is now available for your listening pleasure! THE FIRE AND WATER PODCAST is the official podcast of FIRESTORM FAN and THE AQUAMAN SHRINE.

Aquaman, Firestorm, AND Shag have the week off, so Rob is joined by RADIO VS. THE MARTIANS host Mike Gillis to discuss the ALIENS films and when movie franchises ignore previous installments.

You can find the 122nd episode of THE FIRE AND WATER PODCAST on iTunes. While you’re there, please drop us a review on the iTunes page. Every comment helps! Alternatively, you may play the podcast using the player below or by right-clicking “download”, choosing “Save Target/Link As”, and selecting a location on your computer to save the file (61 MB).

As always, thanks to my co-host Rob Kelly, Sea King of THE AQUAMAN SHRINE, for doing all the post-production on these episodes! Closing music by James Horner.

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  1. I found it interesting that Mike said maybe ALIENS shouldn’t have been a series, that it should have just been two amazing movies. That is exactly the point I made about THE TERMINATOR to a friend recently. The first two films were great and they told a complete story; I never needed more stories set in that world.

    Aliens, on the other hand, has enormous potential to be a terrific action-horror series. The problem was handcuffing the franchise to Ellen Ripley. Her story, as Rob and Mike point out, is wrapped up by the end of Aliens. Forcing her struggle against the xenomorph to continue betrays how great Alien and Aliens were.

    Having said that, I don’t hate Alien 3 or Alien: Resurrection. I’m not saying they’re good, but they have cool elements that could have been salvaged to make good movies. If you take Ripley out of Alien 3, you still have a story of religious monks being terrorized by a devil that strikes from the shadows. There are a lot of themes and symbols in that film that are worth exploring; it just sucks that it spit acid in the face of Aliens. Oh, and I wouldn’t put too much blame on David Fincher. Alien 3 was his first feature after directing some amazing music videos, but he had little control over the story which changed several times during the filming. I think Weaver and the producers pushed him around a lot.

    As for Alien: Resurrection, written by Joss Whedon, well, the most interesting part of the film was the band of space pirates. Proto-FIREFLY. Everything with the aliens and the weird Ripley-Alien-hybrid baby thing at the end was unpleasant on countless levels.

  2. Oh, and I have a friend who absolutely loved CHAPPIE and said the reason people were disappointed was because the marketing and advertising gave people a false sense of what the movie is. The movie is not RoboCop, as the commercials made it look like, but rather a sentimental boy-and-his-robot picture.

  3. Frank says:

    I tried to watch Alien on broadcast television at some point in the early-to-mid ’80s and fell asleep. I saw Aliens at the movie theater in the summer of 1986, and it was my favorite film for several years thereafter. I saw Alien3 at the theater in, what, 1991 or ’92? I’d read an issue of Premiere or Movieline featuring an article on the production troubles that film faced, so I was prepared to be disappointed, but gave it underdog effort benefit. I was still deeply disappointed by the choices made with regard to the fates of the carryover characters and my disinterest in the new additions. There were a number of factors that caused Aliens to fade down my list of preferred films, including fatigue from the extended director’s cut becoming the default viewing experience, but my dissatisfaction with 3 didn’t help.

    Sometime between the second and fourth movies, I watched Alien all the way through. I understand why it’s revered intellectually, and I may appreciate it more today after doing time in the same sort of trenches as the Nostromo crew, but I didn’t particularly like it the last time I tried it. I found the original plodding and felt detached from the characters and events. I also rewatched Alien3, and having set aside my initial negative emotional reaction to the choices it made, I found that I liked it a lot better. It’s a grim, defeatist film that unquestionably crushes the good will from Aliens, but in retrospect I think that was the point. Ellen Ripley had her trilogy, and while I could have done without the messianic pretensions, the ending was true to the spirit of the first film. Ripley may have been equally responsible as Lorie Strode for creating the “final girl” archetype, but in many horror franchises that employ that type, the victory at the end of one film turns to ashes in follow-ups. For instance, Ripley and Lorie. Horror can be terrifyingly honest, and in the end, every one of us only survives until we don’t.

    A major reason Aliens slipped down my favorites list was the ascension of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. The two films have a lot in common, but one is about the inevitability of death, while the other is about bravado and denial masking that same conclusion. Ellen Ripley was a sole survivor, and the only part of her life that survived with her was Jonesy. She may have latched onto Hicks and Newt as reasons to continue living in the short term, but the nature of the first film indicated that was a simplistic, ultimately doomed “fix” in the face of the existential threat of the xenomorphs. As she pointed out early in Aliens, it only takes one misstep, one hatched egg, and you could potentially kiss all of human civilization goodbye. It doesn’t make thematic sense that she get a happy ending or an extended life within the context of this series.

    The Dark Horse comics were smart enough to move past Ripley on to a larger universe in crisis early on, and the films were right to complete her story in an appropriate genre setting, the prison movie. Unfortunately, I saw Alien: Resurrection whenever that thing came out and then Alien vs. Predator, and with that I finally kicked the habit of seeing these things in theaters or at all. Resurrection could have been an okay movie without the Ripley element, and even that offered some then-intriguing exploration of cloning, but by the end the Ripley character had been rendered dumb and false. As much as I respect her as a trailblazer for empowered heroines in popular fiction, Ripley was freaking done by that point, and her continued existence only reflected poorly on her legacy. I saw the first Alien vs. Predator movie at the theater, and actually harbored hopes for the Paul W.S. Anderson effort. Even as a shameless fan of the Resident Evil franchise, it was below my interest to ever revisit, plus a total rip-off of Cube (and this even after Anderson had already stolen the best part of Cube for a highlight scene in the first RE flick.) I’ve yet to bother with the sequel in any capacity.

    I have to say that I respect the Alien franchise for at least seeking out respectable filmmakers who had made or would go on to make very interesting, boundary pushing cinema. As cold as Resurrection left me, that film tried to do something different and accomplished more than I can give it credit for because I can’t get past its overreach to include Ripley and freaking Winona Ryder. It wasn’t until AvP that the producers clearly gave up and started churning out strictly commercial junk.

    I didn’t hate Prometheus as much as most people, and am willing to accept it as part of the Alien canon, but I seriously do not need to spend any more time in that era. I very much enjoyed Scott calling back to predecessors of Alien through the bright blue skintight uniforms and other retro elements, but the story was garbage, logic was universally absent, and I too was rooting solely for Charlize Theron’s character.

    I enjoyed District 9, but have steered clear of the director’s other efforts, which for all I hear is a wise course. The decision to pull a Superman Returns on the franchise just tells me this guy has no new or valuable ideas. As a comic book fan who once drank the Post-Crisis Kool-Aid at every meal, I now resent retcons as lazy, disrespectful to previous creators, and ignorant of the gold to be mined out of hoary old lore if you simply take the time to explore it. Philosophically, I now find denying history, how we got to where we are, as shortsightedness bordering on outright delusion. You can ignore material that you don’t care to address, and even contradict particularly objectionable elements, but to completely disregard large segments of a property that hundreds of people labored over and millions shelled out their hard earned money to experience is at the very least terribly rude. That only applies to creators, though. I firmly agree with the theory of stopping hitting oneself, as evidenced by my never having seen Kingdom of the Crystal Skull after not being particularly fond of Last Crusade (Temple of Doom is underrated, though.)

    Planet of the Apes is without a doubt the best acted, best directed and overall highest quality installment of the first POTA franchise, but without being a part of same, it’s ultimately an overwrought episode of The Twilight Zone. It’s not that it wouldn’t still be a great sci-fi flick, but much of the weight of the first film comes from its place in a larger lore. By competing with the initial shock ending, bowing to behind the scenes demands, the ever shrinking budgets, and sheer blindness over how to create a tightly linked film franchise before there was really any such a thing made it the most daring property of its type. On the other hand, the best thing for the mental health of fans of films like Highlander and The Matrix is to doggedly deny that there was any other media beyond the first movies.

    The Empire Strikes Back is overrated, and you have to watch A New Hope for it to work. I can’t imagine enjoying that whole long Hoth sequence without having previously establishing an investment in the characters and universe.

    Really enjoyed guest co-host Mike Gillis on this episode. It would be very welcome for him to serve as Rob’s partner on Film & Water Podcasts. Thanks to all the thinking this episode inspired, I probably listened to it more times than any other FWPodcast save perhaps #50. Also, my brain has now written a one-off movie pitch to bookend with Prometheus to encapsulate and conclude the Aliens/Predator cycle/themes taking place in three time periods including Elizabeth Shaw, the Ripley/Alien hybrid clone, and a further future marine played by Gina Carano in a battle mech fighting the Space Gods, the xenomorphs, and especially an android human centipede consisting of leftover parts from David, Ash, Bishop, and others which basically steals most of its premise from a Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend.” So now I, and only I, have that for closure.

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