Tag Archives: aliens

Movie Challenge Days 1-10

This is a reply to Northernfool’s posts from a while back, where you work through a 30 day challenge answering various questions about films. Why there are 30 rather than 31 when there are more months with 31 days rather than 30 I’m not sure so I might add an extra bonus question for myself on the end so I can show off even more about how many films I’ve seen. So, here are the first four:

Day 1 – Your favourite film

My favourite film is probably The Shining, and not because I think it holds the answers to conspiracy theories about the moon landing, as exhaustive as the arguments may well be, but because so much atmosphere is generated with little more than a typewriter and a set of twin girls. The film’s driving force is obviously Jack Nicholson in what I think is his finest role as the unhinged Jack Torrance; a man plagued with past demons who is desperately trying to improve life for his family, but who ended up choosing the worst possible place to be.

The Shining is also one of those films where the direction and cinematography is just as The Shiningkey as the acting, and Kubric’s quite minimalist style I think fits the art deco surroundings of the hotel and its faded grandeur. It has been many years since the Overlook Hotel was in its heyday and it has been left to fester, with strange things lurking and drawing Jack in. The book focuses more heavily on the supernatural, with topiary animals from the maze chasing Danny for example, but this is cut back by Kubric, so you’re never sure whether it’s all in Jack’s mind – his alcoholism, calling him back.

Finally, it’s the kind of film where you can watch it again and again and always get creeped out by the sound of the tricycle rolling across the carpet, or the blood pouring out of the elevator, or even the most famous scene where Jack’s smashing his way through the door with the axe. An absolute must see.

Day 2 – Your least favourite film

I’ve seen so many terrible B movies that it’s difficult to come up with an all out winner, The Darkthough Basket Case is something that was so incomprehensible it defied belief and I managed ten minutes before deciding I’d rather go and clean the fridge with a toothbrush than watch it. So, I’m going to choose the worst film I saw in the cinema. Nope, not Catwoman, and not even Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life, it’s a far more obscure film called The Dark where a dead girl takes over the body of Sean Bean’s daughter on a Welsh beach and her mother tries to get her daughter back. It’s pretty much the same plot as Silent Hill, which also has Sean Bean as the father of a girl who goes missing. It was just one of those situations that appear now and again where you’re sat there thinking ‘why am I watching people run off a cliff, and why have those sheep got red eyes?’

Day 3 – A film you watch to make you feel good

Errr. I’ve had a look over my shelves to see if there’s anything that pops out as a feel-good film and after passing over Snakes On A Plane, Alien 4 and Barbarella I had to come to The-Rocky-Horror-Picture-Showterms with the fact that I rarely do normal ‘feel good’ films, and aim more for the ‘so shit it’s hilarious’ genre. However, saying that, I’m going to choose The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which if you’re amenable to basically a musical about alien transvestism is pretty brilliant. It’s peculiar and gory, but it does have some good lines and men running around in fishnets. It’s the kind of film that you watch in college with a group of friends or dress up and go to the theatre to watch it live and join in shouting things at the stage, and it’s definitely the kind of film that people get obsessed about. I know one girl with four different box sets of the thing. Why? Tim Curry’s camp as Christmas Dr Frank-N-Furter is mostly it I imagine, there’s nobody quite like him in film.

Day 4 – A film you watch to feel down

I hate films that make me feel depressed so I never watch them, and I certainly would never watch a miserable film on purpose unless it’s got Viggo Mortensen in it so this is a difficult one. I suppose The Pianist was pretty miserable, but it’s been a good few years house-on-haunted-hillsince I saw it and that’s the kind of unavoidable misery because it’s one of those films that you’re supposed to watch and appreciate how miserable it all was. How about angry? I love shouting at the TV so if I wanted an evening of getting a bit pissed on Pinot Gregio and shouting ‘what the fuck are you doing you complete moron?! Yeah, definitely go down there, that’s exactly what I’d do, no, no need for a torch, love, just go and have a wander. Yep, by yourself, you’ll be fine, definitely no maniacs down there, just go and have a look to see if you can find the generator though if you know what to do with it once you find it I’ll eat my wine glass’, I’d choose House on a Haunted Hill. The remake.

Day 5 – A film that reminds you of someone

AragornI’m going to lump together the LOTR films here because my friend and I way back at the beginning of the 2000s were massive LOTR fan girls. I’ve probably still got scrapbooks of cuttings of LOTR I took from newspapers and magazines somewhere, and we wrote LOTR fanfiction before Fifty Shades of Grey made it mainstream. Yes, we were that cool. So, Louise Langton, these films remind me of you. Specifically us on Wednesday afternoons when we had free periods in college going down to Prestwich’s Warner Brothers cinema, always completely deserted, and having palpitations over Aragorn. Whilst eating a blue slushy.

Day 6 – A film that reminds you of somewhere

Jurassic Park always reminds me of eating mint Matchmakers at what must have been my friend’s 10th birthday party and being scared when the velociraptors chase the kids around the kitchen.

Day 7 – A film that reminds you of your past

Robin HoodThe films I grew up watching on tape were mostly Disney classics so I’m going to go with the double bill of 1959’s Sleeping Beauty and 1973’s Robin Hood, both by Disney. My parents had recorded them on one tape so they always went together and are really good films that I should watch again. Beauty and the Beast was always my favourite Disney film though.

Day 8 – The film you can quote best

monty python holy grailI’m going with Northernfool with this one and saying Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It’s a never ending smorgasbord of absurd comedy, blatantly ridiculous situations and crazy animation. Favourite bits? Far too many to choose from – the Knights Who Say Nee who demand a shrubbery is built before they allow passage, the song of the Knights of the Round Table who dance when e’re they’re able, the black knight who is still up for a fights despite having his arms and legs removed, the holy hand grenade – the list is endless. I’ve always been disappointed by the ending though, it just looks like they ran out of ideas.

Day 9 – A film with your favourite actor (male)

Have I mentioned LOTR? Because they’ve got the double whammy (partly at least) of A History of ViolenceViggo Mortensen and Sean Bean looking grubby, hairy and ready to do some damage with a broadsword. A lot of people think a guitar works wonders for sex appeal, but trust me, try armour and twelve days of stubble. I’m going to have to go with Mortensen as my favourite male actor but rather than Eastern Promises which is what Northernfool chose, I’m going with A History of Violence, because of one scene (SPOILER!) where Mortensen’s character has to shoot a past acquaintance and without saying a word or even moving he changes completely from being a nice small town bloke with a family who works in the diner to a cold blooded killer. It’s incredible, all in one look with his son.

Day 10 – A film with your favourite actor (female)

RipleyWithout a shadow of a doubt it has to be Aliens. And I think it’s more that Ripley is my favourite female character in film rather than I particularly like Sigourney Weaver. If I had to choose a hero, it’d be Ripley. She isn’t particularly attractive, she doesn’t wear great clothes, she doesn’t have super powers, she’s pretty low key in many respects, but she still manages to get herself off the planet, dragging the macho marine and a kid in tow, and then blow the entire place to shit. She’s my kind of woman.

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Rogue Moon

Included in the SF Masterworks series, Rogue Moon, published in 1960 by Russian SF writer Algis Budrys, is considered to be part of the ‘New Wave’ of SF in the 1960s and 1970s, which was more focused on literary experimentation than hard science.

An alien object has been found on the dark side of the moon by America and a transporter built to materialise volunteers on the moon who then go in to explore what it is. Unfortunately, this results in a very quick and painful death, and retrieving any information on what is in there and what killed them is proving to be very difficult.

An extraordinary kind of person is therefore required who can face death again and again without being driven insane by the experience, in order for science and the human obsession for domination over the unknown to continue its inexorable path forward.

There are only a few central characters in Rogue Moon, with the main focus on the relationship between the obsessive and rigidly self-controlled scientist Edward Hawks, and the daredevil risk taker Al Barker, who in his own way is also very self-controlled, defensive, and consumed by the need to find a meaning.

The writing is very different from, for example, Arthur C Clarke’s, with the science not as exact and more fanciful, and the alien object on the moon being more a personification of death rather than a solid place or thing to be explored. The characters’ personalities and reactions to one another and the stress they encounter in facing the up to now impenetrable barrier of death are the driving force of the novel, rather than detailed descriptions of the lunar surface or the alien structure. When Hawks, accompanied by a Director at the company they work for called Vincent Connington, visits Barker and his girlfriend Claire, the situation is very reminiscent of the style of dialogue used in novels such as The Great Gatsby. There is a brittle, fake face put on and each of them, apart from Hawks who refuses to be dragged into these games, and they dance around one another in a series of subtle mind games and affected indifference or machismo.

This is a very different book from what I was expecting. Having read Clarke and Hoyle, who were both scientists, I was expecting most of the action to take place on the moon, with an explanation of what the thing is that is up there. This is merely a tool however for Budrys to explore human psychology in the face of such extreme testing. It explores Barker’s personality, which teeters on the edge of having a death wish and needing to prove something to everybody, particularly himself, and Hawks’ cold ambition to unlock the secrets of the alien artefact that clash with the fact that he has to send to many men up there to die in order for him to do this. This is a study of death and how humans approach it, as well as a study of what being ‘you’ actually means. The transporter used to send people to the moon destroys the original object, and sends a signal to the moon to recreate the object from moon rock by rearranging atoms, as well as forming a second identical object on earth, which means that two versions of the same person with the same memories are alive at once, but neither of them are the original person that went into the machine. The actual deaths that take place within the alien maze or whatever it may be are barely described at all, being irrelevant to the overall objective of overcoming death – but whether it is actually overcome at all is highly subjective.

A central theme of the book is things not being exactly what they seem – so a person transported to the moon isn’t the person that left earth, and the alien object cannot be exactly defined by observers, being described as possibly existing in more dimensions than previously experienced, and remains as unknowable at the end than it was at the beginning. Claire is a character made up by a character, who flirts and pushes people’s buttons in order to get a reaction from them, and who is described by a love-struck Connington, who himself gets ahead by also finding people’s weaknesses, as being ‘an elemental – the rise of the tides, the coming of the seasons, an eclipse of the Sun… Such creatures are not to be thought of as good or bad… Woe to us who would pursue them on their cometary track.’ He wants her because he can’t have her, and elevates her from being human to an unknowable force of nature. There is a constant want for more than life currently gives, yet most people aren’t sure what they actually are looking for.

The idea of memory is also a main theme; the making an impact on another person’s life. Hawks’ heartless experiment where he candidly tells Barker that he will kill him many times in a wide variety of ways is juxtaposed with a gradually blooming and tentative love story between him and a woman who gave him a lift. Barker, who is accused of ‘courting death’ by Hawkes, when killed the first time, is horrified by the impersonality of it: ‘…it didn’t care, I was nothing to it!’ he says. The team on the moon who set the volunteers on the path to the alien object are all copies of identical people who are living their lives down on earth, with their families and friends. Despite having all of these memories, they aren’t really that person, and are mere shadows on a far away moon that have to come to terms with building their own form of existence as a separate version of what once was.

This is a difficult book to get a grasp of, as humanity, love and death and what they mean to each of us can be completely different. It is a book of many layers and no answers. Whether a reader likes the book or not I think depends on what they want from their science fiction, but I think it works well to show that not all SF has to be rigidly scientific in its structure, and based on hardware in space. I think you can read into this novel as much as you wish to, there are numerous little details which can be mused upon. For example, Barker’s house is built on the edge of a sheer drop down to the sea, with the road leading to it a death trap for the unwary driver, yet Barker takes the turns at 50 miles an hour and Connington, despite having to inch his way around the bends with help from Hawks, refuses to walk up to the house which would be easier, but which would mess up his boots.

When Claire eventually leaves with Connington, they smash all of the plate glass windows across the front of the house, which earlier reflected multiple copies of Claire as she lay by the pool manipulating the men around her. A rebellion against the fake faces put on by these people or Claire not being able to stand the sight of herself? Why does the alien structure kill people for facing lunar north, or raising their left hand above their shoulder, or at all? At every turn there’s something to snag the interest of those who wish to read deeper.