Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Aliens

This blog post is brought to you by The Film Experience's Hit Me With Your Best Shot and the number 2.

Watch a movie enough times - and there are few films I've watched as often as Aliens - and certain details start to stand out, and take on more significance - even start to seem like a motif. Watching Aliens over the years, I can't help noticing all the hands reaching out - alien hands reaching out to drag their soldier victims into the smoky air, the pilot's hand going for her gun, Bishop's synthetic hands stretching out to grab Newt during the climax, mechanical claws extending as Ripley goes to war with the queen: hands reaching out in desperation or menace have started to seem central to the film's push and pull between possessive and protective motherhoods...

... particularly in this shot, my favourite. In a film of perfect 'behind you!' moments, this simple, indelible shot is what I think about when I think about Aliens. The emergency lighting and sprinklers turn the clinical, stark interiors into something almost organic in its dampness and its redness. But what makes it for me is the transformation of the face-hugger from it's typical form as a nightmare bug into a spindly hand, creeping over the equipment in the way my childhood self used to imagine spectral fingers inching their way over the end of my bed, ready to reach out and grab my vulnerable ankle. The Other Mother wants to steal Newt away from bereft mother Ripley.

Thank god for the other hand in the movie - the reassuring, parental hand of Ripley, reaching out to reassure and protect Newt. The shot above is the inverse of the last one - this time, all the audience wants is for the hand to reach out and grab Newt, and for one cruel second, the film toys with us. It all works out in the end, of course - until the sequel. Alien3's ruthless kicking of this film's happy ending has always rubbed me up the wrong way, but it makes this fleeting moment of contact all the more acute, representative of all Ripley's brief moments of human feeling and comfort before the inevitable loss, as someone else is irrevocably torn away by the monsters.

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