Blu-ray Review: “Aliens: 30th Anniversary Edition” and “John Carpenter’s The Thing: Collector’s Edition”
Just in time for Halloween, two of the 80s greatest sci-fi/horror films have spectacular new Blu-ray releases.
Just in time for Halloween, two of the 80s greatest sci-fi/horror films have spectacular new Blu-ray releases.
This week, director James Cameron laid claim to mountains coming out of the sky and standing there. Anyone who has a thing for 70's prog rock and science fiction probably wondered if Cameron did too when they saw 2009's Avatar, with its alien territories and sky-borne
Even if it doesn't save summer, Ridley Scott's latest has brought back responsible marketing.
So many things didn’t sound right. For one, the original film’s director Ridley Scott had nothing to do with it. Secondly, the plot would involve the sole survivor of Alien, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), to be somehow convinced to return to the alien planet. Still, my butt was in the seat opening day 25 years ago on July 18, 1986, when Aliens opened — a rare sequel that in many ways (though it may be sacrilege to say) surpasses the original.
It was in 1983 when James Cameron met with Alien producer David Giler to discuss possibilities for a sequel. Giler had been impressed with Cameron’s screenplay for The Terminator, which had come across his desk. Cameron, about to complete pre-production on The Terminator, began writing a treatment for Alien II. A scheduling conflict with Terminator star Arnold Schwarzenegger caused a production delay, affording Cameron the time to begin writing his screenplay. Although he wasn’t able to complete the script, it was enough to impress the heads at 20th Century Fox — so much so that they actually waited until Cameron was available again and told him he could direct the Alien sequel if The Terminator (1984) turned out well.
When Ripley is rescued after 57 years of hypersleep, her account of events on the Nostromo is met with extreme skepticism and she looses her space flight status as a result. She is also informed that colonization has already begun on LV-426, the very planet where her ship’s crew had first encountered the face huggers, only one of which managed to wipe out everyone on board.
Cameron’s got more than a little bit of an issue with H2O. Aside from producing Sanctum, he’s helmed The Abyss and Titanic and produced films about deep-sea dives to the real shipwreck, including the bet-hedging Ghosts of the Abyss. He’s not the only one though. You still have to reckon with Joe Dante’s Piranha, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, and if you’re really a masochist, Barry Levinson’s Sphere. Then there were the knockoffs like Leviathan and DeepStar Six starring Greg Evigan (sans Bear or another Dad).
Here are some of the Popdose Staff’s favorite moments thrashing about in those dangerous cinematic waters.
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the $65 million Broadway musical featuring songs by U2’s Bono and the Edge, may have finally made its way into previews late last month, but due to cast injuries and technical difficulties its opening has been pushed back once again, this time from January 11 to February 7. In the meantime, theatergoers in Chicago are encouraged to embrace another pop-culture mash-up of nontraditional source material, albeit one with a considerably smaller budget that’s being staged in a nightclub a few blocks from Wrigley Field: Alien Queen, a “sci-fi rock parodyssey,” combines the story lines of Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron’s sequel, Aliens, with the music of Queen for an ultraclever, laugh-out-loud evening of gender-bending theater.
Describing Alien Queen to the Chicago Sun-Times in November, creator-director Scott Bradley said, “The aliens in ‘Alien’ are androgynous and Queen’s Freddie Mercury made the transformation from hyperfeminine to butch and back again through his career. It all just seemed to work.” Bradley and executive producer Jonny Stax are partners in the Scooty & JoJo Show, a theatrical outfit that previously hammered the soft rock of the Carpenters into the plot of John Carpenter’s 1978 horror film Halloween to create Carpenters Halloween. (They’re also responsible for Tran: The Atari Musical, which will be due for a revival if Tron: Legacy is a hit in movie theaters this Christmas.)
Without giving away too many details about Alien Queen‘s song score, which is performed by a four-piece band that accompanies the cast, suffice to say that “Killer Queen” and “Another One Bites the Dust” have made the cut, and “Don’t Stop Me Now” pops up, so to speak, in an unexpected place. But this isn’t a “jukebox musical” revue of Mercury and company’s greatest hits: album tracks like “Get Down, Make Love,” from 1977’s News of the World, are given equal time alongside the Top 40 smashes.
In pop culture, lists are everything. They lend a sense of order to an otherwise orderless world. From film and literature to music, critics and readers alike love to put things in tidy rows. It is with this in mind that Popdose presents Listmania, a weekly series counting down the staff’s favorite things.
Be it zombies, vampires, ghosts, goblins or ghouls, everyone has specific fear triggers. For some of us it’s murderous dolls; others prefer the supernatural, either way most of us love a good scare. It was with this in mind that we asked the staff to list the twenty films that scared the living daylights out of them. We chopped, sliced and diced the results and came up with the twenty most terrifying moments in cinematic history, at least according to frightened masses at Popdose.
And if that isn’t scary enough, the good folks at Warner Bros. have a treat for one lucky reader: a free iTunes download of the Director’s Cut of The Exorcist, featuring never seen before behind the scenes footage and interviews with director William Friedkin, actress Linda Blair and author/screenwriter/producer William Peter Blatt. All you have to do to enter is send an e-mail to Jason with the subject “My Best Recipe for Pea Soup!” All entries must be received before midnight, October 29. The winner will be selected randomly and notified by e-mail.
So if you’ll just walk this way, because they’re coming to get you…
On Tuesday CNN’s Larry King announced that he’ll end his 25-year-old talk show this fall, having been beaten consistently in the ratings the past year by his 9 PM cable-news competitors, Fox News’s Sean Hannity and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. King’s announcement came eight days after he hosted a telethon edition of Larry King Live with guests Cameron Diaz, Robert Redford, and Sting — no, not to raise funds for the alimony he owes his half-dozen ex-wives, but to aid victims of another disaster, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
He’s not the only King lending a hand in the Gulf. Earlier in June, the self-proclaimed King of the World, Titanic director James Cameron, who’s considered an expert on underwater filming technology, held a meeting with other deep-sea experts and the Environmental Protection Agency to discuss the oil spill. A week later, actor-environmentalist Kevin Costner testified before Congress about machines his scientist brother has developed that can separate oil from polluted water; the Waterworld star has invested $24 million of his own money in the technology. There’s also D-list actor and born-again Christian Stephen Baldwin, who’s making a documentary about the spill tentatively titled “The Will to Drill,” and the band Korn has joined forces with Creed and the Backstreet Boys and agreed not to buy BP fuel while on tour this year.
That’s all well and good, but do these fuel-boycotting fossils from the late ’90s realize that concertgoers made a silent agreement to boycott their tours almost a decade ago? As for Cameron, his meeting with the EPA quickly turned into the most expensive meeting of all time — granted, the Avatar director’s PowerPoint presentation was hailed as “a riveting 3-D display of words, arrows, and rectangles” — and Costner later revealed that he’s sunk an additional $24 million of his money into more movies in which he’ll play washed-up former athletes.
It took me a while to get around to seeing Avatar. One reason for that, also coincidentally one of the reasons I have been a pretty lazy contributor to Popdose lately, is because I have been trying to finish my own film project for well
Poor McG. He thought he was hired to direct a badass, rock ’em-sock ’em movie about evil death robots from the future (not Michael Bublé), and that’s what he delivered with Terminator Salvation. But what he didn’t understand was that the Terminator franchise isn’t about robots anymore — it’s really about canon-quibbling nerds who spend their downtime between new installments sharpening their knives for the next poor sap who dares to walk the hallowed path James Cameron cleared. No movie enraged its target audience more thoroughly this year, and since few things are funnier than grown men and women losing their shit when movies about evil death robots let them down, I had to see Terminator Salvation for myself.
Like every other red-blooded American male, I watched and enjoyed the first two Terminator chapters, but I skipped 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (and both Transformers movies), so I figured I was overdue for some heavy-duty robot action. On that front, Terminator Salvation delivers beautifully: You get big robots, human-sized robots, freaky-looking water robots, robot-controlled motorcycles, and Christian Bale as a robot actor with its voice button stuck on “shout.” You also get a plot that, like all the best science fiction, is both needlessly complicated and unintentionally hilarious; I’m giving nothing away when I tell you it includes a character leading an anti-robot resistance army that includes a boy who will grow up to be his own father, or that one of its more allegedly touching moments revolves around a cyborg giving up its heart for the good of all mankind.
“Hey, roll it, ’cause I’ll tell ya, you know, you’re listening to a guy who learned a lot about ripping off movies from watching laserdiscs with director commentary.” —Paul Thomas Anderson, from the Boogie Nights audio commentary
Okay, so I’m an audio commentary junkie. Sometimes I’ll buy a movie I don’t particularly like all that much just because it has a commentary track or other cool extras. It seems like I’m always repurchasing some movie I already own simply because the new version has extra features.
In the laserdisc days there was Criterion. The very first audio commentary track was done by film historian Ronald Haver on the 1984 Criterion laserdisc of King Kong (1933). Unfortunately, many of those Criterion tracks still haven’t made it to DVD, including Martin Scorsese’s commentaries for Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, and Terry Gilliam’s for The Fisher King (all worth checking out, provided you can find a working laserdisc player).
Boogie Nights (1997; director Paul Thomas Anderson). This is pretty much everything I look for in a commentary track, so it’s really too bad Anderson doesn’t seem to want to record them anymore (to date, this is the last one he’s done). There’s a lot of cool information here, including many anecdotes about the production of the film, but the real fun for me is hearing Anderson talk excitedly about how much he loves to write material for certain actors.
ANDERSON (on actor William H. Macy): And you know, everything you write, you better know what you’ve written, because he is going to say every single word exactly as you’ve written it. And he’ll sort of look at the punctuation, find out what it means. A dash means this, an ellipses means that. You know, this is in quotes, this has been underlined, this has been italicized … He’s all about finding out what the writer means, you know, and he studies the script clearly so well that as a director you don’t really have to do shit. You just have to watch him, because I feel like I did my job as a writer, so being a director was just being a fan.
If you’re like me, when you see a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger in shades, a certain five-note rhythm comes to mind. There’s no denying composer Brad Fiedel kicks things off in James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984) with a great main title, letting us know we’re building to something awesome here.
In the late ’70s and early ’80s, there was a wave of low-budget films hitting theaters, but they didn’t feel low-budget — they all had the aura of expensive blockbusters. I’m talking about flicks like The Howling, Scanners, and Escape From New York (all 1981), and directors like Joe Dante, David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, and of course Cameron — directors who knew enough about the craft of filmmaking to stretch their shoestring budgets and create cool-looking movies.
Carpenter’s Escape From New York is a good example. The dilemma: how to make New York City look like a maximum-security prison in the near future with very little money? The early establishing shot of the Manhattan skyline is a matte painting. But more important is the way Carpenter pans up from the set — created in Sepulveda Basin, California — to the night sky, then cuts from blackness to the matte shot, perfectly matching the lighting and camera movement so it appears to be one continuous shot.
Cameron served as a matte painter and special-effects cameraman on Escape From New York, but before that, he was a model builder who was quickly promoted to art director on Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), produced by Roger Corman. Cameron literally stapled empty egg cartons to the back wall of one of his alien-spaceship sets because it was cheap and he thought it would look cool. It was around this time that he met Gale Anne Hurd, who served as an assistant production manager on the film. A few years later, when Cameron started developing his idea about a cyborg assassin from the future, he brought Hurd on board to cowrite and produce.