30 movies in the public domain

Sometimes movies slip into the public domain, somewhere in the world. The legal frameworks differ from country to country, so what may be in the public domain in one country may not be so in another. Whatever may be the case, the Internet Archive stores a multitude of movies (as well as books and other material) that are in the public domain in the US. Luckily, they are accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

Obviously the cinematic quality varies from entry to entry, but it would be wrong to assume that they’re all crap. No doubt some/many are. However, besides a considerable amount of wonderful silent movies, the Internet Archive offers quite a few top-quality talkies as well, for instance, Rene Clair’s And Then There Were None (1945) based on the classic Agatha Christie novel, Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) featuring Barbara Stanswyck, D.O.A. (1950) featuring Edmond O’Brien, Charade (1963) with Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) featuring the best of the zombies, Horror Express (1972) with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, as well as several of Alfred Hitchcock’s pre-Hollywood titles, such as The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes. It’s an odd feeling seeing such extraordinary titles in the public domain. But there they are.

Here’s a selection of 30 titles, some good, some bad:

The 39 Steps 1935
One of Hitchcock’s best-loved movies. As many of his films, it’s about a man who is falsely accused of murder. He gets caught in a deadly spy game trying to clear himself. It features Robert Donat as a suave hero, and Madeleine Carroll as the woman who inadvertently ens up helping him. This is one of Hitchcock’s absolutely best movies.

The Lady Vanishes 1938
Another Hitchcock classic, featuring Margaret Lockwood and (a somewhat dull) Michael Redgrave. On a long train journey, Lockwood befriends an older woman who later just vanishes into thin air. Curiously, no one on the train can even remember ever having seen her. Suspense and mystery follows. A must-see Hitchcock classic.

His Girl Friday 1940
Classic American screwball comedy featuring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. The Grant plays a newspaper editor bent on keeping his star reporter (Russell) on his staff. She, however, has decided to leave her career and marry an insurance salesman instead. Fast-paced and funny.

The Adventures of Tartu 1943
This is quite a jolly WW2 spy flick featuring Robert Donat as some kind of über-cool proto-James Bond. He plays a British Captain who is sent behind enemy lines into Checzoslovakia on a sabotage mission, with the purpose of blowing up a factory. The version available at the Internet Archive is a US edit of an originally British film known as Sabotage agent. Apparently the US edit is quite different from the original UK one. But as I haven’t seen the original, I don’t know which is better. The US edit is in any event damned entertaining. The production values alone raise this movie to A-list material. And how could any movie featuring Donat as a suave spy be bad!

And Then There Were None 1945
This is the ultimate movie version of Agatha Christie’s classic mystery novel. Ten people are trapped on a remote island, and they are killed off one by one. But who is the murderer? The actors are all stellar, delivering their well-written dialogues impecably. The camera work is exceptional and daring. (For a long time, I was convinced Alfred Hithcock had directed this.) The movie is worthwhile watching even when you know who the murderer is. I’ve seen it several times, and I enjoy it just as much every time. It’s simply a darned good movie.

The Stranger 1946
An almost forgotten Orson Wells classic, featuring the director himself as an escaped Nazi war criminal and Edward G. Robinson as the detective who is hunting him. It develops into a very suspenseful cat-and-mouse game in a small town somewhere in America. This is a great noir film.

Strange Love of Martha Ivers 1946
Another highly enjoyable film noir. This one features Barbara Stanswyck, playing a rich business woman who built her vast empire with the inheritance she got as a young child after accidentally killing her domineering aunt. In her youth, she once tried to run away with a boy she loved, but the humourless aunt put a stop to that, leading to a fight in which the aunt was killed. The boy disappeared, and Stanswyck’s character eventually married another boy instead. Eighteen years later, the boy she once loved returns, now a grown man. Drama, tension, and suspicions follow. Even though the music can be a bit over-bearing sometimes, this is a really good noir film.

D.O.A. 1950
This is classic must-see film noir. It’s one of those movies everyone should see, at least once. It starts with a man stumbling into a police station. He starts to tell the story of how he was murdered. Brilliant set-up! The movie is then told in flashbacks, and it never gets boring.

Rocketship X-M 1950
This one’s about a rocket aimed for the moon, but which inadvertently lands on Mars instead. There the crew stumbles on a savage people intent on killing them. The movie isn’t very good. The story drags endlessly, but at least it lacks the traditional Hollywood ending, making the final scene(s) somewhat tolerable.

Cyrano de Bergerac 1950
Classic dramatisation of a classic novel, featuring Jose Ferrer. The story is set in 17th-century France, and is about a swordsman with a big nose and a poetic mind, who helps an annoying and shallow-minded fellow swordsman to get the girl of his own dreams. The book has been filmed many times, and ought to be familiar to most. This 1950-version is still generally regarded as one of the best. And it certainly is.

Charade 1953
This consists of three separate stories all featuring James and Pamela Mason. The first story is a murder mystery set in Paris involving a murderer and the one witness who can frame him. The second involves an unusual duel between two 19th-century Austrian officers. The third is about a rich man bored with his wealth, so he tries on a variety of nobody-jobs during which he falls madly in love. The stories are all well-acted (it’s James Mason after all), and there’s a pace and charm to the whole proceedings that makes this a very enjoyable watch.

Cat Women of the Moon 1953
In this mind-numbingly dull space adventure, a group of astronauts lands on the moon. There they find a hostile community of telepathic women in tight, black suits. It’s awful. Really, really awful.

Suddenly 1954
This one features Frank Sinatra and Sterling Hayden. It starts with a group of assassins, led by Sinatra’s character, who take hold of a house in a small town, through which the US president is scheduled to pass. They keep several people hostage, including the local sheriff, played by Hayden. It is suspenseful and dramatic all the way through. A very good film.

Hercules 1958
Italian fantasy tale inspired by the ancient myths about Hercules and Jason & the Argonauts. It stars former bodybuilder Steve Reeves as Hercules in what might have been a very dull b-movie indeed. However, it’s surprisingly good. The production values are excellent. The dubbed dialogue is well-written and well-read, and all the actors do a splendid job. The movie spawned nearly 20 other similar fantasy adventures involving Hercules, though only a few of them featured Steve Reeves. This, the first one, is quite likely the best of them all, and well worth watching.

A Bucket of Blood 1959
An awkward young man inadvertently kills a cat. He hides the dead cat by covering it in clay, which immediately becomes hailed as a masterpiece of sculpture (though no one knows there’s a dead cat inside). He becomes the talk of the town, thus rising quickly from a nobody to a somebody. In order to keep his newly-found success, and create further pieces of art, he must also continue killing. The movie was made by Roger Corman. It’s filled with dark humour, great camera work and a splendid musical score by jazz-composer Fred Katz. Even though the movie drags a little bit here and there, it’s well worth the watch.

The Phantom Planet 1961
This one’s about an astronaut who lands on an asteroid. There he encounters a race of very tiny people. He himself becomes minituarised and comes to learn a lot about the little people and their life on the asteroid. There’s also a duel, a little romance, a vicious monster, and a battle with other space aliens. It has good dialogue, and is quite well made, disregading some ruddy special effects a la Classic Dr Who, incl. the obligatory man in a rubber suit. I liked this one a lot.

This Is Not A Test 1962
This feels almost like an early American version of the 1970s Survivors TV series. It’s about a bunch of people who are stopped by a lone police officer at a road block in the middle of nowhere. At first they aren’t told why, and the police officer doesn’t seem to know himself. He simply follows orders he receives over the radio. To their horror, it transpires after a while that there’s an impending nuclear attack. Apparently the US is being attacked by someone, presumably the Soviet. The roadblocked people have to fend for themselves and try to avoid being perished in the forthcoming nuclear blast. It’s very dark and atmospheric. Despite the occasional dull acting, it’s brilliant and has a stellar ending.

Charade 1963
Besides being a delightful romantic comedy, this film is also a solid twist-turning suspense thriller, indeed one of the best. Audrey Hepburn is fantastic in it (as if she could be anything else!) and Cary Grant does a very good "Is he good? Is he bad?" kind of guy. The main villains are funny as well as menacing. The plot and the twists are well played out, as is the climax of the film. There’s also a hilariously funny funeral scene. The movie is a real joy to watch, from beginning to end.

The Strangler 1964
In this, Victor Buono plays a lonely man fascinated by dolls and domineered by his ill mother. In-between visits with his mother, he stalks and strangles random women that anger him, while the police try desperately to catch him. The movie is apparently based on the infamous Boston Strangler. It’s very good, suspenseful and quite creepy (esp. Buono’s portrayal of the strangler). Comes highly recommended.

Bloody Pit of Horror 1965
What can I say. This horrible, horrible movie is about a bunch of people who find themselves stranded in a castle. They get killed off one by one by a crazy man in a mask. One woman is killed in a huge spider web, while others perish in a torture chamber of some sort. It’s not a movie I’ll watch again. Nor would I want to recommend it to anyone. The acting is awful, the dialogue is awful, the whole plot is awful. The sets are nice, though.

Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet 1965
This is about a space mission to Venus. The rocket crash lands, and the crew must be rescued by another rocket already in orbit, but not before they explore the planet during which they encounter various troubles. The movie ends somewhat mysteriously without offering any proper answers, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The movie is actually quite watchable, though hardly a masterpiece. The American voice-overs (the film is dubbed) are monotone and uninspiring, but with the dull colour palette of the whole movie, perhaps this was intentional

(The movie is credited to one Harrington, but he’s only responsible for some parts of the film. It began its life in 1962 already, when a Russian movie maker named Klushantsev filmed a sci-fi adventure titled Planeta Bur. Harrington took/stole the Russian footage, added American voices in place of the Russian ones, and shot some extra scenes featuring, for instance, Basil Rathbone. Thus a "new", American film was created. A few years later, Bogdanovich did to Harrington’s movie what Harrington had done to Klushantsev’s movie. That is, he took Harrington’s version, cut away Harrington’s footage, added his own scenes, edited it a bit, and released it with a new title, Voyage to the planet of the prehistoric women; see next entry below.)

Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women 1968
This is Bogdanovitch’s version of the Russian Planeta Bur, originally filmed in 1962 by Klushantsev (see entry above). Bogdanovich deleted all of Harrington’s footage, and replaced it with some of his own, most/all of which involve a group of tighly-dressed young, beautiful women acting as antagonists to the stranded astronauts. Bogdanovich kept the dull voice-overs, however, so the dubbed lines here are as bad as they are in Harrington’s version. Nonetheless, the plot comes of as slightly better here, and differs considerably from the previous versions. The astronauts crash land on Venus, encountering barren lands, bad weather and monsters. They eventually find a statue and realise there might be a higher civilisation there somewhere, which there also is, and this is where Bogdanovich’s footage comes in. The Venusians turn out to be long-haired mermaids with telepatic powers and both legs intact. It sounds corny, I admit, but it plays out really well. It certainly isn’t as bad as it sounds. It has a dark and somber atmosphere that’s rather appealing in fact.

Night of the Living Dead 1968
This is George Romero’s classic, original zombie movie. Due to some form of cosmic radiation, corpses rise up and start walking the earth as zombies, and they feel peckish for some human flesh. A terrified group of strangers find themselves locked inside a small house, where they fight of the zombie attacks. However, dangers lurk inside the house, too. This is still one of the best zombie movies ever made, and it’s quite amazing to find it in the public domain. It’s a definite must-see.

The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant 1971
This is a horribly boring sci-fi adventure starring Bruce Dern. Not even he could save this fiasco of a film. He plays a scientist who transplants the head of maniacal murderer onto the body of a half-wit, thus creating a two-headed evil creature, which naturally goes on the rampage. It’s terribly dull and boring. Watching this mess is a complete waste of time.

Horror Express 1972
Christopher Lee plays an anthropologist who digs up the remains of what he believes to be the missing link (between man and ape). He takes the excavated creature onto a train, where he is accompanied by Peter Cushing. As could be expected, the creature turns out to be alive, runs loose on the train, and it all becomes very menacing when it also turns out that the creature can kill simply by gazing straight into a victims eyes. There’s very little not to like in this movie. The plot is well paced and consistent. It has great acting and well-delivered dialogue from a variety of charismatic actors. The music score is lovely. The sets are beautiful and the atmosphere is claustrophobic. There’s not a single moment of dullness in the entire movie.

Dead People / Messiah of Evil 1973
This movie starts with a young woman arriving at a distant town in search of her father, who seems to have gone missing. No one in the little town appears to know anything, or else they’re just unwilling to tell. The first 15 minutes feel a bit disjointed, but then it picks up, and becomes a real joy to watch. It turns out to be a zombie movie. Well, sort of. The zombies don’t actually behave like traditional Romero-zombies. Instead they seem to be some sort of werewolf-zombie combinations. They growl, they have teeth and they jump around. There are two really cool death-scenes in it. One occurs in a supermarket, the other in a cinema. Nicely staged, scored, acted and brilliantly shot. These scenes could easily have become classics had they appeared in a more well-known movie. In fact, I’d never heard of this movie before, which surprised me a lot, as it’s quite good (as far as b-movies go).

Invasion of the Bee Girls 1973
The movie starts with some mysterious deaths. It turns out that men die in love-making sessions, and we later find out that the women they make love to hizz and turn into killer bees. Yes, it’s just as bad as it sounds, except we do get to see a lot of naked breasts (if you like that sort of thing). The acting, especially from the female lead, is annoyingly bad, and the dialogue is abysmal.

Lady Frankenstein 1974
Baron Frankenstein (played by Joseph Cotten, no less) is keen to give life to corpses. In fact, he has devoted his entire adult life to that very aim. It turns out he has a daughter who shares his interests, and when the Baron is killed by one of his own creations, his daughter decides to continue her father’s work. It sounds a little dull, to be honest, but for some odd reason I found myself enjoying this quite a bit. There’s a nice atmosphere to it, and the actors are all very charismatic. The dialogue isn’t too dull either.

Naked Massacre / Born in Hell 1976
This is about a war-torn soldier killing a house full of nurses. It has a very eerie atmosphere, and while it’s watchable, it isn’t very good. I don’t think I’ll watch it again.

Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning 2005
This is one of the oddest films ever made. It’s a Finnish sci-fi adventure, parodying both Star Trek and Babylon 5. It centers around a space crew stranded on Earth, led by Capt. Pirk. After a while, they manage to build a new spaceship, the CPP Kickstart, and begin a quest to conquer the Universe. The movie was made with a very small budget, apparently, but that doesn’t show. It looks and feels like a big-budget movie rich with CGI. The dialogue is entirely in Finnish, so unfortunately many of the word plays are lost in the English subtitles. That notwithstanding, it is one of the funniest films I have seen in a long long time, and a definite must-see for all sci-fi fans.

Spielberg’s Munich and Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia

After seeing Spielberg’s Munich, it suddenly struck me that the movie has many parallels with David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia. The character development of the main protagonists, Avner in the former and Lawrence in the latter, is very similar, even near-identical, as are many other aspects of the films.

Both movies are based on books retelling (alleged) true events, though understandably dramatized, as movies tend to be. Avner and Lawrence are both low-ranking military servants who are sent out into the field. There they each lead their own small band of “bandits” in various guerilla attacks against the enemy. Their activities seem successful at start, but things don’t always go according to plan. Group members get killed. Moral doubt grows in the mind of both Avner and Lawrence. They are pulled out of the field before their jobs are finished. Their respective assignments leave them morally devastated, and they both feel manipulated by higher powers. When returning from the field, they are greeted by admiring strangers, but they themselves seem to be in a state of confusion and disillusion. Even though their field assignments are considered to be successes by the higher-ups, both movies end without offering any proper resolution or closure for the main protagonists.

There are indeed many similarities. Both Lawrence and Avner start from inexperience and enthusiasm, go through success and satisfaction, a phase of fanaticism, and they both end up with disappointment, disillusion and paranoia. There’s also the small guerilla group, the sporadic attacks against the enemy, the death of fellow group members, the revenge killings (the “No prisoners!” attack on the Turks, the killing of the Dutch girl), and there’s all the guns and the bombs.

Spielberg is a self-confessed Lean fan. He’s even stated that Lawrence of Arabia probably has the best script ever written for the movies (included in an interview accompanying the Lawrence of Arabia DVD). Perhaps he’s in the habit of making hyperbolic statements. I wouldn’t know. But it wouldn’t seem impossible to imagine that Spielberg did indeed use Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia as a vague blue-print for his own movie. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We all seek our inspirations from somewhere.

Animated logos and other stuff on DVDs

Like most people, I am grateful for all the magnificent DVD releases we have seen over the years. It is absolutely wonderful to have home access to all kinds of great movies, TV shows and music concerts, and most of them in very good quality, too. I have a lot of appreciation for the people and companies involved in the making of those DVDs, which often come with a whole bunch of interesting, high-quality extras.

Having said that, I have one issue with them. It concerns most DVDs on sale, and it’s all those stupid things you have to sit through to get to the good parts. Sometimes the DVD starts with a copyright notice that locks up your DVD player. At other times, it happens when you press “play”. Although I can understand why they think they must include it, in reality it’s utterly pointless. Those who pirate DVDs are already aware of the fact that they are doing something illegal. They don’t need to be told that. It might as well say “Don’t feed this to your cat”.

But my gripe is not with the copyright notice. It’s all the other idiotic crap I have to sit through. Sometimes it can get pretty crowded at the front of a DVD. First there are animated logos for all the production companies involved (usually several). Then there’s a short movie telling me how bad stealing is, followed by trailers for other DVDs*, after which I often get some kind of animation leading to the DVD menue. If you’re really unlucky, you’ll get the DVD from Hell which contains all of them.

OK, so why not just skip them? Unfortunately, very often the useless cannot be skipped or even fast-forwarded. Somewhat luckily, with some DVDs, you can pop it in, go out for a cup of coffee or a beer, have it run all the annoying stuff on its own, and when you return, the menue is nicely displayed on the screen. But not seldom, you cannot do even this. Quite a number of DVDs stop at various locations, forcing you to chose “enter” and “language”, so you’re stuck sitting there after all. On more than one occasion, I’ve actively avoided DVDs I know have these forced stops.

It’s perhaps OK to sit through it once, or even twice, but enough is enough. It’s like I’m being punished for being a paying customer. Indeed, all those forced logos, messages, trailers, and the annoying stops do nothing but create bad blood between the DVD makers and their customers.

(Note * = I have to point out that I actually appreciate the trailers, but only if I can chose to watch them at my own time. I don’t want to be forced to watch them. My living room is not a cinema. Watching movies on a DVD is not the same social event as “going to the movies” where the trailers function more naturally as a warm-up to the main event.)

To catch a predator

I want to draw attention to the TV show Dateline NBC: To Catch a Predator, an awe-inspiring TV show in which adults who solicit sex from minors are caught red-handed (and on a couple occasions literally with their pants down). The show is done in co-operation with a watchdog group called Perverted Justice, and local law enforcement.

In brief, adult volunteers from Perverted Justice create fake IDs on various chat rooms, and pretend to be under-age kids. Almost immediately, they are accosted by adult men, who sooner rather than later start to probe the supposed minors about their sex fantasies and sex habits. It doesn’t take long before they set up a meeting. But instead of a kid home alone, the adult meets Chris Hansen, the host of the TV show, and has to sit through a very discomforting interview. After that, they are usually apprehended by the local police. And it all takes place in front of multiple hidden TV cameras.

Some people adore the show, others despise it. Personally I’m a bit ambivalent, though I tend to lean towards the praisers. There is a clear educational, even samaritan, purpose with the show. Hopefully it scares other potential predators, but one of it’s greatest merits lies in the fact that it shows us (others) what these people look like. Or rather, it shows us that internet predatos look, behave and talk just like anyone else. There’s nothing in their outward appearance or behaviour that makes them stand out as sex predators. They look like you and me.

The part which the show relies most heavily on, the torturing interviews, could be described as a heartless ratings gimmick. It is obvious that while the predators are being interviewed, they experience considerable emotional distress. Normally I would feel sympathy for persons going through the kind of anguish most of them display, but in this case I don’t feel any sympathy at all. I don’t feel sorry for them. I even enjoy it.

The predators are, of course, fully responsible for the situation they are in. They themselves initiated contact with someone who they thought was under-age. Their chats are usually sexually explicit, and sometimes even disturbing. (You can read them on Perverted Justice’s homepage, uncensored, but beware, some of them are very disturbing.)

Many of them sent pictures of themselves fondling their own genitals. They intentionally sought physical contact with the minors. They soemtimes went through considerable trouble to reach the location where they believe a minor was home alone. They brought alcohol, condoms and lubricants. One of them brought ropes and duck tape. One even had a loaded gun in his pocket. One guy started fondling his own genitals as soon as he came the door, and two guys stripped completely naked in preparation for the meeting.

There’s seldom any question about their intentions, even though their initial explanations often indicate quite innocent reasons for them being there:

  • A friend told me to come here.
  • All I wanted to do was probably be like a big brother or something.
  • I didn’t intend to do anything.
  • I don’t know what to tell you.
  • I feel very bad about this.
  • I go to church every Sunday.
  • I got two kids of my own.
  • I gotta 15-year old daughter myself.
  • I guarantee it’ll never happen again.
  • I had no intention of having sex.
  • I just came to hang out.
  • I just wanted to talk. I swear to you.
  • I love my wife.
  • I made a mistake, and I won’t do it again.
  • I needed someone to talk to.
  • I never really was gonna do anything.
  • I swear I’ll never do it again.
  • I was bored.
  • I was curious but I wasn’t going to do anything.
  • I was fully intending on sitting right here till her mother got home.
  • I was just coming here to check on her if she’s ok.
  • I wasn’t gonna do anything.
  • I would never do anything like this.
  • I wouldn’t do that to a 13-year-old, believe me.
  • I wouldn’t have gone all the way.
  • I’m a very good family person.
  • I’m a very lonely guy.
  • I’m a very religious person.
  • I’m here to party.
  • I’m just visiting. That’s all.
  • I’m no pervert.
  • I’m really a good guy.
  • I’m so embarrassed.
  • I’m so sorry.
  • I’m very loyal to my wife.
  • I’ve got a family at home. I love them dearly.
  • I’ve never done this before.
  • This is the first time. It will never happen again.

Apparently they just want to hold the kids company till their mothers get home. They want to warn them about the dangers of the internet. You know, be a mentor for them, a big brother, a good samaritan, a good Christian, the pillar of society. The pictures of their penises were only sent for educational purposes (as one of them said to the police). Well, you can’t fault them for lack of trying.

To date, NBC has produced and aired 12 shows, and they’ve been in cities all over the US. The predators themselves come from all walks of life and include students, truck drivers, businessmen, unemployed, fire fighters, priests, a rabbi, a cancer doctor, a police man, and so on.

In Sweden, the show has been titled "Jakten på nätpedofilerna", which literally means The hunt for the internet pedophiles. The Swedish title is a ridiculous choice. The show is not about pedophiles. The show’s producers are very clear on that issue. They have deliberately chosen to talk about predators, not pedophiles.

Anyhoo, I strongly recommend the show, especially the special editions called "The unseen tapes", which contain complete interviews, virtually unedited.

Cheeta, Tarzan’s mate

Have you ever watched the old classic Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmüller? The ones from the 1930s and 1940s. If so, you’ve seen his mate, Cheeta, the feisty chimpanzee. Apparently Cheeta was played by at least two different chimpanzees. Until just a few days ago, I had no idea that one of them, whose original name was Jiggs, is in fact *still* alive, and residing at a fancy mansion in Palm Springs USA. It is almost too amazing to be true.

Cheeta (Jiggs) was caught in Liberia in 1932, and later trained to appear in Hollywood movies. Chimpanzees normally don’t live past their 40s, but Cheeta is now in his late 70s, and thus the world’s oldest living chimp. He is also the sole surviving cast member from Weissmüller’s Tarzan movies.

During his career he played with an impressive number of Hollywood stars. You can read some details about his career, current life and his recently published autobiography "Me Cheeta" (ghost-written obviously) in this article from the Telegraph, in which it says that he

plays the piano, makes paintings in a style marketed as ‘apestract’ and loves to sit on the sofa in his living-room and watch the old Tarzan films on television, hooting and banging on the table when he sees himself on screen.

I wonder if he realises that it is himself he sees? Or if it’s just another ape to him?

He has also signed a record deal with iTunes and supplied some hooting noises on a remake of the old trucking classic Convoy.

Sounds like the old chimp is having a good time in California. They should give him an Oscar, or something.

The Alien franchise

The first Alien (by Ridley Scott, 1979) was brilliant. It is simply one of the best sci-fi monster movies ever made. Everything (except perhaps the annoying cat) works in this movie. It has a well-written plot, intelligent dialogue, great characters, and good acting. There’s no melodrama. There are no pointless sub-plots. There’s no tacked-on romance. The pacing is perfect. The use (and spotting) of music is as good as it can ever get. In brief, Ridley Scott’s Alien is a true classic, re-watchable many times.

In contrast, I hated the follow-up Aliens (by James Cameron, 1986). When I saw it, it only re-affirmed my prejudices about crappy sequels. I hated the cliched macho characters, the over-sized guns, the wide-eyed cute orphan kid, and most of all the pathetic mock-family — "mommy", "daddy", "girl" — that emerged at the end. It really made me want to stick a few fingers in my throat.

At first, I didn’t even bother to watch Alien3 (David Fincher, 1992), as I had become convinced by Cameron’s crap that the story didn’t have potential for more than one good film. That is, until the DVDs came out and I saw the so-called Assembly Cut of Alien3. I loved it immediately: the down-beat atmosphere, the music, the setting, the dialogue, Ripley being bald, the supporting cast, the supporting cast being bald, virtually everything but the fact all those supporting bald guys were rapists and murderers. (It would have been more tasteful if the setting had been a far-away mining colony, instead.) And I was soo pleased that they killed of Ripley’s mock family already before the story began (good riddance to rubbish characters), made Ripley an interesting character again, and gave her a pitch-perfect arc with that ending.

Alien3 is definitely my second favourite in the whole franchise. The now-famous troubled production is obviously unfortunate for those involved (esp. Fincher, it seems), but for me as a viewer it’s completely irrelevant. Alien3 is a great movie, and a worthy conclusion to the story of Ripley.

That’s also why I put off watching Alien Resurrection (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 1997) for a long time. I, like many others, thought that even the idea of a resurrected Ripley was bad, to say the least. Her story had reached a perfect resolution in Alien3, so what would be the point? Other than cashing in on the franchise, obviously. Anyway, I did see it eventually. While I still agree that bringing back Ripley was a Bad Idea, the movie turned out to be quite good. It’s actually a very good action movie, and has a lot of things working in its favour: the visuals, the cinematography, the story, and the characters were all great, although the acting did seem a bit hammy at times. Still, it’s definitely a film worth watching.

However, I had to convince myself that it wasn’t part of the true Alien continuity. Instead, I told myself that it was all happening in a parallell universe, with a Ripley-like character that just happened to share some superficial similarities to the real Ripley. I brushed aside and repressed from my conciousness any bit of dialogue that tied it in with the original Alien films. It’s much easier to appreciate the good qualities of Alien Resurrection if it’s seen as separate from the Alien franchise.

As for the gawdawful Alien/Predator films, I’d rather not think about them at all. I saw the first one, and roughly an hour of the second. Cinematic rubbish is about the nicest thing I can say about them.

Whose line is it anyway?

I’ve recently been watching many past episodes of Whose line is it anyway? (WLIIA), a game show where four comedians improvise around various themes in a miscellany of simple games. It’s among the funniest things on TV. Or was, as it’s been cancelled by now. Hopefully it comes back some time.

WLIIA started out as a UK radio show, before becoming a show on British television, where it ran for 10 years (1988-1998). It also emigrated to US television, where it ran for 8 years (1999-2006). The UK show was hosted by the always witty Clive Anderson, while the US show was hosted by the merry Drew Carey. With very few exceptions, the comedians who took part in the show were stellar stuff, e.g. Wayne Brady, Josie Lawrence, Paul Merton, Mike McShane, Colin Mochrie, Greg Proops, Caroline Quentin, Brad Sherwood, Tony Slattery, Ryan Stiles, Jim Sweeney, Steve Steen, and several others.

The point with the show was to have comedians improvise their lines and actions around subjects given to them by the show’s host, and occasionally the audience (who was also asked to participate now and then). In theory this sounds like the recipy for comedy disaster, but often it worked out very well. In fact, extremely well. It seldom became boring, much thanks to the many top notch comedians who were on the show. The US show seemed to manage this a little better, as it quickly developed a formula in which the number of regulars were fewer, and the same comedians kept performing the same games over and over again; thus somewhat defeating the whole purpose of an improvisational game. In effect, the US show came to rely less on improvisation than did the UK show. Still, they were both very, very funny. I do hope they bring the show back.

I don’t have any real point here, except that I wanted to rant a little bit about one of television’s funniest shows.