Sunday, 14 May 2017

The best way get over ALIEN3 and ALIEN RESURRECTION is to accept them in all their grim ugliness

Best way to get over depressing experiences is to accept them and learn from them.

Prompted by next weeks release of Alien : Covenant,  my A L I E N 1-4 binge revealed a lot and improved them all.

I was not alone in disliking Alien3 and Alien : Resurrection at the time of release. They were, and remain, grim experiences but for different reasons.

Alien3 Assembly Cut

There is perhaps no movie sequel with a worse reputation for following the narrative of the previous movie. After investing ourselves in the survival of beloved characters through the nerve shredding final hour of Aliens, moviegoers all over the world were astonished to find Hicks, Newt and Bishop butchered off screen at the start of Alien3. It was perhaps the most infamous piece of movie franchise suicide in history.

From the outset Alien3 has everything against it


  • The worst premise of any movie sequel in history
  • Lousy effects
  • 3rd hand script (who are those characters at the end?)
  • Stupid pacing and development
  • Only character worth identifying with, Charles Dance's Clemens, dies in first half
  • Needlessly Sadistic tone - Autopsy on Newt?
  • Abuse of a great director to be in David Fincher
And yet, despite all that, the Assembly cut of this butchered movie is not bad at all. The stunning  opening shots of Fury 161 hint at the level of bleakness you should be expecting.

This is a funereal movie, because it hints heavily that THIS IS THE LAST ALIEN FILM. There is obviously a real determination to finish the franchise on a particular tone. (Completely undermined by the cynicism of A4 but we'll get to that)

Fincher really created an atmosphere comparable to Scott's film, and like Alien it is immeasurably better on a big HD screen. Suddenly we can appreciate breathtaking set design, a great setting and some riveting performances.

We still can't escape the flawed concept and the production hell which resulted but separated from the two previous movies this would be a cult classic. A London Shakespearean version of Outland?
If you picked a scene at random someone who didn't know and turned off the audio it does look like an extremely radical Shakespeare adaptation - but what play?
Macbeth
The Tempest​​
Titus Andromicus
Midsummer Nights Tale
As You Like It (???!)

(We can safely say it's not Hamlet unless the  dog/cow alien variant is Hamlet)

This comparison falls apart quickly. Shakespeare's plays stand out because they are the vision of one man from conception to execution. Part of the magic of Elizabethan theatre, is that the artist produced  work directly for mass audience with no filter.

Whereas

The average Hollywood script which reaches the screen is more like a monstrous hybrid of committee ideas that have absorbed and corrupted the world of many talented contributors into a series of experiments until something accidentally stumbles onto the screen.
Let us bow our heads briefly to
Vincent Ward's Alien3
William Gibson Alien3

In fact the best 'Assembley Cut' of this movie was only put together by someone else, Charles de Lauzirika, as David Fincher absolutely refused to return to the project - so actually my Shakespeare comparison could not be farther off, Elizabethan theater is the complete opposite of Alien3, and it's similarly compromised sequel.

Assembly Cut?
A vast improvement over the original release, which makes the most of a great setting and provides a reasonably coherent storyline from one of cinema histories great production car crashes.

Alien Resurrection Special Edition

In 1996, still heavily within the shock and anger of reaction to A3, Alien Resurrection somehow appeared, again with Sigourey Weaver with a big producers paycheck, this time shot in LA.. because.."..decision to film outside of England was influenced by Weaver, who believed that the previous films' travel schedules exhausted the crew".
In tone it tries to recapture the action and emotion of the James Cameron sequel, without unfortunately any unconvincing action or emotion.

Unlike Fincher's doomed movie it seems to have a lot going for it from the credits


  • Soon to be great screenwriter Joss Whedon (I am another priest of the church of Whedon)
  • Great experienced director Jeunet  (go and see Delicatessen and City of Lost Children immediately if you have not already)
  • Great cast
  • Not terrible concept - the human alien hybrid is even worse than the aliens.


But, and here is the main issue, Jeunet's great gallic sense of humour might have transfered to Pinewood but it sure doesn't fit in LA. Right from the off the 'bug opening' gives it a definite Abbot and Costello tone, which was a slur ironically applied the first Alien vs Predator film,  and I think we can now comfortably say that was a real step up on virtually every level from this.

The LA shoot obviously killed this movie right off the drawing board. Looked at now the movie functions like a two hour ad for Pinewood Studious and British effects crews. Whole production screams cheapo exploitative LA knockoff, Roger Corman's Alien - but without anything like AIPs panache, featuring fake looking firearms and occasional model shots that would look unconvincing in Blakes 7.

Not that the script is without blame. I've not read the original and I'm a massive fan of Whedon so I'll go easy but this is even less satisfying than the butchered schizo tale in Alien3. I'be heard  Whedon defenders its best seen as a dark episode of Firefly but it wouldn't even be a good episode of Firefly. We get the least convincing 200 year time jump ever, with only slight changes in costumes and hair style over centuries. Bare hints that Earth is a hellhole are never explored.

Perhaps most irritating, if you are directly comparing with previous installments, the Alien's acidic blood, a major plot point from the first movie,  is selectively forgotten about.

At worst this produces a jokey self referential fan film tht shouldn't be seen outside a scifi convention. Most obvious in jokey self referential dialog which I just don't have the enthusiasm even to repeat.

but

like Alien3, we just have to accept it, on some level, to get over it. and we can. Alien Resurrection is a far better a horror film about great concepts and characters exploited by a cynical movie corporations than it is about fictitious characters exploited by fictional aliens and corporations.


Like '8' herself Alien Resurrection is a abortive experiment which should probably never happened but did. The self referential quote we should be referencing a quote from Aliens
"You don't see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage"

When the Newborn butchers the Alien Queen we are forced to conclude human cynicism is even more powerful than the Aliens themselves, but by then the existence of the movie itself has made that obvious. It appears the only way to go after undermining the honest desolation of Alien3 is jokey cynicism on very level, and the jokes aren't even funny.

Ironically the best scene, when '8' finds her predecessors in room 1-7, hints at the creative waste and loss behind the scenes. You can almost see ruined sequel concepts and great ideas suffering in the background and perhaps Ripley/Weavers realisation of how much she has exploited and tortured a character that built her acting career. It's the best  scene in the movie by a light year, perhaps because it is the only scene with Weaver seeming to care.

Special Edition?
I'm obviously not a fan of this movie but the changes made in this version at least make it more Jeunet, so it is at least more honest. Apparently the painfully un-amusing 'bug' opening scene got Jeunet the job. "Jean-Pierre Jeunet allegedly secured his position as director by explaining the "bug opening" he planned to incorporate to 20th Century Fox executives. Ironically, the sequence was ultimately cut from the theatrical release of the film due to budget constraints"


Jeunet at least gives us Earth - and Paris! I bet they can see the Luc Besson museum from there

The other meta movie industry story here is all about Hollywood Star Power.

Surviving actress from classic movie is granted greater and greater creative control over subsequent installments allowing some bizarre selfish creative decisions (Alien3) and some selfish production mistakes (Alien : Resurrection badly shot in a murky LA shed because transatlantic travel deemed an inconvenience).
Haggling over money before committing to Alien3 killed at least two promising scripts (William Gibson's Alien3, featuring Newt and Hicks without Ripley was a casualty) and her subsequent commitment to Alien4, for a bigger paycheck, undermines most of the final funereal intent of Alien3.


Alien 'Directors Cut' and Aliens Special Edition


Ripley dooms Hicks, Newt and Bishop by momentarily losing control in ALIENS

Prompted by next weeks release of Alien : Covenant,  my A L I E N 1-4 binge revealed a lot and improved them all.

Alien 'Directors Cut'

Ridley Scott's Alien 1979 is still a Rolls Royce of a horror film and is a stone cold cinema classic on any level, comfortably head on shoulders above the other movies in this series. Acting. dialog, set design, soundtrack, direction - you name it.



It wasn't quite so appreciated in the year of it's release. The 51st Academy awards, the year it was released, only recognised Ridley Scott's Alien for Best Art Direction and Best Visual Effects.

In a year when  the Vietnam experience finally broke through into Hollywood cinema I can see how The Deer Hunter and Coming Home would clean up the actual awards, but here are the 1979 movies nominated for Oscars instead of Alien in various categories
I must watch An Unmarried Woman - it must be a hell of a movie.

and
The Swarm (Best costume design)*

Directors Cut?
Changes are minimal, even the inclusion of the Dallas cocoon scene is truncated and explains little.

Aliens Special Edition

In 1986, in the immediate aftermath of it's release, James Cameron's classic sequel, often name checked as the best ever sequel, was considered the equal, if not an improvement on Scott's first film. Now I have to say it's growing old fast. and increasingly relies on some great comedic performances. And they are great, one classic line after another performed with engaging conviction. Even those of us who know the dialog well enough to see it coming still laugh at the sames scenes, surely is a tribute to magnificent comic delivery and commitment of the actors and their director.

But even even the fantastic model work is looking creaky, and the stars on stripes the 'US Colonial Marines' looks very out of place. It looks like very conventional 80s  action film.

Some of this must be down to the medium on which we now what these films. In the 80s and 90s, seen on VHS and DVD usually on small screens, Aliens is comfortably a better movie than the original. Today, on HD full size screens, Alien looks like the grand gothic space opera that it is, and Aliens looks like a fun tv show in comparison, even when it has perhaps the greatest pacing and character interaction in movie history.

It's a shame Cameron's classic looks so flat and conventional compared to Scott's film but ironically it may be enhanced long term by way it set's up the once much reviled Alien3. Seen between two restrained atmospheric suspense films, Aliens is a cathartic monument to thoughtless uncontrolled violence. This is  ironically is the downfall of the characters, setting up the tragic events which begin the next installment.

I am positive that James Cameron did not intend this ....but when watched and accepted as a long narrative Ripley Newt, Bishop and Hicks are effectively doomed in Aliens, in the first confrontation with the Alien Queen.  Ripley has rescued Newt, and should hurry back to the Dropship knowing the imminent destruction of everything around her is about to happen in a nuclear explosion. This would obviously destroy the nest and dormant Queen she leaves behind.



Instead, when backing out of the egg chamber, this most controlled of female characters loses control of her emotions and stops to open fire on the egg chamber with flame and gunfire. The Queen survives this of course, and by provoking it and turning it into an enemy that pursues her into the Sulaco she almost certainly sets up the tragedy at the start of Alien3.

I explained my theory of Ripley's tragic loss of control to a friend of mine in the pub the other day - his response was "That's easy for you to say, you weren't there"

Special Edition?
Before James Cameron's Aliens it was naturally assumed that any movie sequel would be inferior to the original, Four years later the Special Edition of this movie also proved that a later release with added scenes could also improve on the original (notably the Special Edition of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind had not been been an improvement).
This version includes several scenes which enhance the original release, we get to see the fate of the world Ripley left behind, 60 years in the past, and a mini introductory battle featuring drone sentry weapons which really puts the scale of the threat in perspective.


* The Swarm is a notorious stinker but I love it



Alien3 Assembly Cut and Alien Resurrection Special Edition

A L I E N 1-4 watched back-to-back revealed a lot

Prompted by next weeks release of Alien : Covenant,  my A L I E N 1-4 binge improved them all.

Alien 'Directors Cut' and Aliens Special Edition

Alien3 Assembly Cut and Alien Resurrection Special Edition

In an attempt to distance myself from this I watched the alternate versions of these films rather than the original releases which I knew well. They are all longer than the originals, and I think improvements, even when the directors (Jeunet and Scott) still prefer the original release.

An example, above. This is a brief shot of the Royal FaceHugger Alien (and actor Christopher Fairbank, recently seen in Guardians of The Galaxy) cut from the butchered cinema release of Alien3, but restored for the Assembly Cut. It effectively covers one of the many plotholes in the original version of the movie.


These movies are so familiar to me it is very difficult to sit outside the effect they had on my life at various times. My first exposure to Alien 1979 was through books and Jerry Goldsmiths incredible soundtrack, I was too young to see it at the cinema. I saw Aliens in Leicester Sq with a raucous group of college friends. Alien3 I watched in disbelief with everyone else but knew what was coming as I'd heard the rumours at work at Forbidden Planet. Resurrection was a sad end to a film series and for me a post college life about to change.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Republicans of 2017 (and Russians) should beware the Republicans of the 2020s

When the dust settles on the Trump administration a new McCarthyism could be next.

As I mentioned in an earlier blogpost there appears to be no limit to the opportunistic treason of the current Rep party, particularly in the wake of the sacking of the head of the FBI.

I feel sorry for the historians that will have to explain this Comey business,

HISTORY STUDENT FROM 2025 : "so.. just before an election Comey announced to the press that thousands of security risk emails had been forwarded to a private account.. 
.. but didn't announce to the press that the Russians were attacking the election..
...then it turned out that the emails weren't a security risk and there weren't thousands of them...
WWWHHHAATTT?!?
What was everyone on in 2016?"

The very least you would expect this to do to would be to call into question the fairness of the last election. Even for Republicans. Even if there was no Russian interference (see below) the FBI has obviously disastrously undermined the voting system.

But no
the current Republican thinking seems to be
"lets move on"

And since the Democrats have allowed them to control all branches of US government it would appear they will be able to do that, at least until next years mid term elections.

HISTORY STUDENT FROM 2025 : ".. so yeah...Trump fired the man who made him president...
 the head of the FBI...
to cover up the evidence of it ever happening 
WHHAATT?!"

Rather than ask current Republicans and supporters to be non partisan and consider the long term health of their own democracy
which, on current form, is laughable
I would ask them to consider their own self interest, because there is no way this is going down well in the long term for you.

I imagine the Democrats in the next few decades will be pretty much what they are now, trying to be non-partisan, trying to do the right thing and failing miserably at both.

In the bitter aftermath of Trump I see most of the serious reaction to be from future Republicans, who I'm sure will have been convinced by then that Trump and his fellow travelers, like Bush II, were never a real Republicans anyway. That way of thinking would insulate the future GOP from contagion with the current generation.
History won't paint you as Republicans - you will be
 'Trump supporters'
something else entirely.

Who should really be worried though, in the long term, are the Russians. A country economically the size of Italy who it would appear are earning the long lasting enmity of a scientific and economic super power​.

I have a lot of personal goodwill towards Russia and Russians. I studied their history intensely at school. It's my favourite classical music. Some of my favourite movies are Russian.
My grandfather served on Arctic convoys in WW2.

Putin might have looked like a political chessmaster last year, now he's starting to look like a midget cheating at cards with a powerful drunken paranoiac who is too focused on his drinking - right now - to realise what is happening.

Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto   said this much more eloquently after December 7th 1941
"I fear we have awoken a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve"

Americans are lousy at getting over history - some of them even like to imagine the Revolutionary War was somehow equivalent to the Eastern Front 1941-45.

Even allowing for the fact that the United States has attempted to do similar (as has my own country)
I think we will all be long dead before the US gets over the history of 2016. The reaction in next couple of decades could make McCarthyism look mild. Intelligent Russians must be horrified as to where this could eventually go. They are going to be the conspiratorial boogeymen of the next 2 or 3 generations - even the Chinese might find dealing with them toxic.

One intelligence analyst on CNN suggested the Russians had only intended to empower Trump, not get him elected, making this one overly successful intelligence op that has run way out of control. Of the two Russian intelligence agencies that helped Trump into office "Fancy Bear" and "Cozy Bear" - which one was the Sorcerer and which one was the Sorcerers Apprentice?

Monday, 10 April 2017

Relax, James Burke says everything will turn out fine -- if humanity can manage the introduction of the Nano Fabricator

"These major problems ... will be utterly irrelevant with 50 years" - James Burke

Dan Carlin's Hardcore History is finally getting the attention it deserves as the best history podcast. His other series Common Sense is also good for provocative political comment. A recent episode featured legendary BBC mind blower James Burke, really I think just to get Burke's take on Brexit and Trump. Burke talks about using AI gestalts for everyday voting, dereliction of the press, and his new Connections app.

But his response to a question about oncoming doom has stuck with me and I've tried to use it to lighten up every gloomy pub conversation since.

About 33 mins in responding to a question about climate change denial
http://www.dancarlin.com/common-sense-home-landing-page/#1489641597761-6eb3932e-085a

"These major problems of .. things like climate change and pollution and over population and so on
these will be utterly irrelevant with 50 years and yet we are busting a gut in some cases doing serious harm socially and economically to our societies in order to solve these problems when the problems will be gone in 50 years time when the Nano Fabricator arrives and blows them all away.... and everything else in the present day economy"

Dan Carlin responds somewhat skeptically that he'd heard his uncle predict the end of cancer, only to die of cancer, but Burke thinks is possible and is worth researching right now.

"If the United States decided to run a project with all the intensity and involvement that it ran the Apollo project on bringing the Nano Fabricator into existence sooner than 50s years.. putting money into nano technological resource then we would know fairly rapidly if it is going to happen, and if it is we could start planning socially for what we'll do when it turns up.. because it's going to cause, like all technological advance, massive social ripples....What do we do when the Nano Fabricator gives you everything you need using dirt air and water and a minor amount of other things that most people can get hold of for nothing?"

He talks about this here on New Mexico in Focus, with correspondent Gwyneth Doland
at 17.17


And again on Eddie Mair's droll PM show on Radio 4


and this article by James Evans in the New Statesmen
http://www.newstatesman.com/business/2013/09/forty-years-until-we-get-personal-nanofactories




When I try and explain this optimistic future
(in the pub)
the next thing mentioned, with regard to the Nano Fabricator is this..




Crazy eh? that'll never happen









Saturday, 8 April 2017

Fusion Reactors are now a thing - and they will fit in a van apparently

So
Princeton Field-Reversed Configuration experiment (PFRC-2) magnetic confinement fusion team

PRINCETON FUSION ENGINE














is bench testing a fusion engine which works. It's small, only a few metres in length and apparently cannot be scaled up but it sounds like you could fit it in typical American van.


TYPICAL AMERICAN VAN


It runs on Helium 3. I'm not sure if that counts as unleaded. I would imagine so.
Cleaner than the Tocamak reactors being developed at huge cost in France and I'm sure cleaner than diesel.
I certainly trust Princeton on mileage more than Volkswagen right now.


Here is the engaging Dr Steph from Princeton Satellite Systems talking in full about her fusion rocket. The fusion specifics start at about 6.48.



You might enjoy how they spend about 5 seconds on the real world implications of actual fusion power on Earth...

And then 15 minutes  explaining how to on strap it to a space probe and send it to Pluto

Colour shade on electromagnetic spectrum indicates proximity to genuine Mad Science






















ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

​​This post is a horrifyingly dumbed down version of this post by Zain Husain
https://brownspaceman.com/direct-fusion-drive/


PintofScience is a thing
I'm more Pint than Science myself but I like to be supportive

https://pintofscience.com/


Princeton are obviously awesome (is that scientific?)