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July 26, 2004



I think the ghost story thing is right, though, I'd add, complete with false exorcism. What that suggests to me, though, is that those movies are more horror movies than SciFi, at least up to the (confused) one with Wynona. I guess I'll buy the story about the interfusion of "naturalness" with technology, but, it seems to me, that's more a matter of the particular palette the monster is composed from. It's a pretty paradigmatic instance of Noel Carrol's idea of monster qua transgression of standing conceptual categories. And, which speaks to its horror-ness against it's SciFi-ness, the transgression really isn't elaborated or geared toward reconceiving the relationship between the apparently contrary categories in any detail; or to the extent that this does happen, it is in the interest of intensity first and foremost. The main thing is to ellicit affect, it seems to me. I think the Schopenhauer angle is pretty clever though. Also check out John Carpenter's The Thing (not the original The Thing) on that stuff.

And quit dissing "Alien vs. Predator," you bastard.


er...yeah, those transgressed things are supposed to be either conceptual boundaries or categorical boundaries, and not "conceptual categories."


I like the ghost story thing too. So much of science fiction is old plot with new rationalization -- Case halfway through life's road, with his Dixie Virgil in a cartridge -- but the glitter can be distracting.

Though I kinda wish Henry James wrote about chest bursters.

bob mcmanus

"Alien is a long way from Bringing Up Baby."

But not so far from "Thing From Another World"

(1951, Hawks,Lederer,Hecht)

Hmm, I bet this was an intentional allusion.

Gary Farber

"But not so far from 'Thing From Another World'"

aka "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell.


Damn, now that I think of it, Howard Hawks had a hand in the original The Thing.


...which Bob already picked.


Alien is like a ghost story, specifically a gothic ghost story. Quite a few scholars have written articles about how Alien follows a typical Gothic narrative structure of flight and pursuit. I think Devandra Darma's The Gothic Flame has a chapter on the movie. The Nostromo is like a castle and it is certainly a dark and stormy night (all weather in Alien is bad). You also get the classic Gothic family dynamic (someone in my family is trying to kill me) with Ash and Mother representing authority.

Cryptic Ned

What's a "module"?


An undergraduate course. We call 'em 'modules' for some reason.

Jim Flannery

You might want to take a look at two articles about On Film, and Mulhall's response, from Film-Philosophy last summer (scroll down to August 2003). (Although none of 'em talk about Schopenhauer there either)

Kip Manley

Oh, just some quick comments: Alien as haunted house flick is a pretty popular reading, the only problem with which is that the haunted house, traditionally speaking, is the thing that's bad (what's the line from Haunting of Hill House?), whereas the poor Nostromo is contaminated by the thing that's brought aboard (which would sort of make the planet they stop on the haunted house, and the Nostromo the car they try to flee in, but that's getting silly, and anyway, depending on how you read the monolithic corpse that's sitting on the telescope-thing, the planet maybe was also contaminated, way back when).

Um. Oh, yeah: Alien 3 was always well-liked in my circle. —Maybe because we had not so much a visceral dislike of Aliens (popcorn being popcorn) as a visceral dislike of everyone around us telling us how astounding and cool and brilliant and magnificent Aliens was. Which would make us predisposed to like (and thus always-already liking) Alien 3. But I also tend to like storytellers in massmarket mainstream stuff who get away with things like killing off Newt and the Last Surviving Marine in the opening credits just about, because liking that sort of thing makes me feel cleverer than all the people who rail against it. So there's that.

And you might want to take a look at the troubled production histories of 3 and 4: I understand, for instance, that the attempt to retroactively do a "director's cut" of 3 results in a very different and improved movie, and a reading of Joss Whedon's original screenplay for 4 might give you some further raw matter to mull over on the whole sub-creation aspect. Which is the angle I like best, but I'm just egging you on to get more! more! more! on the topic.

AVP? Dracula v. Frankenstein. (Or maybe the Wolfman; I've never seen any of the Predator flicks.) —I wonder who's playing Abbott..?

Backword Dave

I go along with Alien as a haunted house/slasher movie. But I disagree with Kip (above) about 'the poor Nostromo'. While the ship is not exactly evil, it is supposed to be a trap. The Ian Holm character tells them, after they knock his head off, that they can't kill the alien: they were diverted to pick it up deliberately by the company. Like a Greek tragedy, the ending is supposed to be foretold - they all die. (So Ripley and the cat survive. It's Hollywood.) The backstory is this very nasty avaricious corporation which will sacrifice employees in the interests of acquiring this invincible weapon.

Into that backstory, I've managed to read two further things. One, Ian Holm was supposed to survive and pilot the ship back to earth with its cargo (now the crew have done whatever they did on their mission, they're superfluous) and the Alien which is to be investigated. Two, the success of the Alien as a killer wiped out whatever was on the planet (whether they were its creators or those creators' adversaries is unclear). From two, it seems to me, that one is capitalist hubris. The Alien destroys everything. As it continues to do in the rest of the series.


First Freddy v. Jason, now Alien v. Predator. What is it about this cultural moment that makes people think we want to see not people fighting monsters, but monsters fighting monsters?


Thanks, everyone. I didn't know half this stuff. Thanks for the gothic fiction reference, Laura. And thanks for cluing me in that Hawks was an (uncredited) director on The Thing, bob. That's really funny. And thanks for backstory about Josh Whedon's script getting wrecked, Kip, which I can believe. (You don't happen to have a copy of the original screenplay, do you? Ah, well. Can't have everything.) And first prize goes to Jim for the link to the useful exchange that Mulhall had with Baggini. Baggini's argument is one that I mean to discuss, and it's nice to have a clear statement of it. I think I take Mulhall's side of the argument. (With Schopenhauer on top.)

Kip Manley

No, you can't have everything. But some stuff you can.


Thanks! Now will one of you also volunteer to give a guest lecture? You are all being so darn helpful. Warms my heart.

Nicole Wyatt

Nothing useful to add philosophically, just wanted to chime in and say that yes, imo the directors cut of Alien3 was indeed a much better movie -- and I didn't hate the release version as much as some.


A fine study in the nature of subcreation lies within Robert Radriguez’s El Mariachi trilogy (El mariachi, Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico) Most of the people I talked to who didn’t like Once Upon a Time in Mexico didn’t understand that the movie wasn’t so much a sequel as it was a remix. It takes the same basic premis and spins it in a new direction. The Ur story is present in each of the three films, but has added dimension and meaning by the various tellings. Sort of how the Robin Hood of the thirties is still Robin Hood even though it’s nothing like Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Theives or Disney’s Robin Hood, in which all the characters are animals. The ur story is the same but the text is unique, as it is based on the aesthetic of the various storytellers. That each film in the El Mariachi trilogy is so wildly different, yet has the same cast (mostly) and writer/director is where the real study lies.


First Freddy v. Jason, now Alien v. Predator. What is it about this cultural moment that makes people think we want to see not people fighting monsters, but monsters fighting monsters?

Bush Vs. The Terrorists. Art imitating Life.

Matt McGrattan

Re: the indistinguishable shaven headed guys in Alien 3.

They're not indistinguishable to me. Most of them are well known minor British character actors who a British audience will have seen time and again in small movies and TV shows. They might not be able to put a name to them but the faces will be familiar.

It would be like if they had filmed it with a bunch of guys who'd done decent but undistinguised work in NYPD Blue, the Sopranos and E.R. (to pick 3 random US tv shows with fairly big casts). They'd no longer have been anonymous shaven headed guys. It'd have been "why is that guy who plays the security guard on E.R. got a shaved head?"

Still doesn't solve some of the problems with the film (although I still like it).


Quick response to Bryan. How odd! I myself would never use the word 'humanoid' as a synonym for android. Ah, well. As to your point about how there is some logic to what Morpheus and co. do. Well, yes, that's why the movie is good. My mocking tone no doubt made it sound as though I think infolock is a sin. But it obviously isn't - not necessarily; no more so than infodump is, so long as its done in a plausible way. (There are some wonderfully well-managed infodumps in the world of s-f.) Those scenes with Morpheus are great; they are now some of the classic moments of sci-fi cinema. And they are dramatically necessary. The movie certainly wouldn't be better if Morpheus just pulled Neo aside and said, 'look, kid ...' And as you say: sometimes it's true to tell people that they have to see for themselves. Nevertheless, it's strained to keep doing so, or so extremely. The movie pretends that it is necessary to withhold info from Neo longer, and in more theatrically elaborate manner, than is really plausible. And the pattern repeats precisely in lots of movies. It turns out to be a major control for regulating the narrative flow.

Stephen Frug

Just a minor point about the Alien(s) movies. I've always thought it was an interesting example of this fact in American culture, that people will accept The Corporation (big, nameless) as a villan -- ready to do anything to make money, controlling everything, and generally Source of All Evil -- more or less instantly. There's no disbelief that The Corporation would act this way.

So why isn't it easier to get people to see that corporations do nasty things -- not up to the 'try to implant woman with Alien monster embryo' level, but nasty things -- in the real world, as a political point? I admit this is getting a bit better recently (e.g. Haliburton), but for the most part there isn't much suspicion of corporations as entities at all. Yet we all believe, at once, that they'd act villanously in movies. Now, of course we believe thing in movies that we don't in real life -- in aliens, say. But it stil does seem to indicate there's some untapped cultural suspicion there.

Incidentally, since so many people are praising it, I thought Alien3 sucked. A dull retread of the first film. Haven't seen the director's cut, though.



I wouldn't say Alien is a ghost story; it's a slasher movie. Just as Aliens is really a creature feature.
And therefore Alien is Thatcherite-conservative, like all slasher films, while Aliens is old-school big-government liberal, like all creature features.
I have an elegant discussion of this subject, but this comments box is too small to contain it:

Is there really so much of a contrast between humans and aliens? Basically the first three films are all about things emerging from pods, killing, dying, and metamorphosing - think of the changes that Ripley goes through in the course of the three films; the visual similarity (intentional, I'm sure) between the opening scene of Ripley's shuttle being scanned and cautiously explored in Aliens, and the scene of Kane making his way into the hold in Alien.

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