Saturday, 26 April 2014

"In space, no one can hear you..."

Movie trailers. The little teasers. 

At least that's what they're meant to do. But as we all know, they mostly show all the good parts, give away all the big plot twists and leave you knowing exactly how it's going to end. And then you still pay to see these movies, and have the audacity to grumble about how you'd seen the highlights in the trailer.

Which is why my all-time favourite trailers are for 'Alien', and even more so - 'Aliens'.

One of these people is not like the others. Actually, two.
I was recently watching a cast reunion Q&A with some of the 'Aliens' cast. (I loved Michael Biehn's response when asked his opinion of 'Alien 3' - and I LIKE 'Alien 3'! I hate it as a sequel to 'Aliens', but as an individual film it has a lot going for it.) Fond memories evoked, it made me realise again why that movie is so good - not only entertaining, but it served up new ideas - all fresh. (At least until repeatedly copied by umpteen wannabe movies that followed.)

****SPOILERS. But c'mon, this film did come out in 1986.*******

For most part, the character development and the interchange/conflict between them is what makes 'Aliens' really tick. For example: Hudson - the loudmouth who becomes an emotional wreck, finally going out in a blaze of glory in the final showdown with the beasties. Bishop: Do we trust him? Ripley doesn't: for one good Ash-shaped reason. He seems nice. But then...Burke. He makes lots of promises, seems to believe Ripley, but hey - he's willing to kill everyone! Frost - the likeable trooper who is the first to bite the big one. Heck, we liked that guy! (Thus telling the audience that NO ONE IS SAFE.) Gorman - aloof, anally-retentive leader whose lack of experience brings him back down to earth with a bump - and learns what it is to be part of a unit. Vasquez and Drake - the company's loved-up,  hard-nosed gun-nuts who have the honeymoon cut short by a well-intentioned shot and a gallon and alien acid blood. Hicks - seemingly the handsome hero who becomes the leader, only to be rescued by Ripley.

Or, to give a visual example:

Hudson: We're on an express elevator to hell!
Hudson: Game over, man!!!!
Hudson: DIE MOTHER*&£"#$*
Also, there's a lot to be said about the casting - in particular, using Paul Reiser (a stand-up comedian) to play the squirmy, under-handed Company Rep Burke. There's a whole bunch of playing against type in this movie, and that's what keeps it on its toes. That, and a plotline which leaps from jeopardy to another to 'oh my goodness,  how are they going to get out of that one?!' The tension and layers keep a-comin'.

Ripley accidentally treads on Hicks's foot for the 32nd time.
As an eleven year old in 1986, what really fired me up about this movie was the trailer. Whilst it uses the same 'format' as the original 'Alien' trailer i.e. No dialogue, an intriguing collection of images and scary alien wailing, all increasing in intensity - it goes one better. Rather than just being an alien trailer (by which I mean something chilling, pulsating, confusing and incomprehensible), it's more of a ticking time-bomb (much like the movie itself), it shows a lot without giving anything away - and it REALLY makes you want to see it. To understand what you've just seen, to find out what on earth is going on.

Even the posters give nothing away.



What's Ripley looking at?!

I've previously harped on about the good ol' days before t'internet - with most films these days wanting the audience to know EVERYTHING about the movie before they've even seen it. The 'Aliens' trailer is a master class of letting the visuals do the talking. And that to me isn't just great advertising, but great story-telling too.

*Side-note. The teaser trailer for Alien 3 is just mis-leading: Implying that the story will take place on Earth was just uncool. Which, again, is another good lesson for writing - especially when it comes to loglines and pitching - make sure the idea you are pitching IS actually the story you are selling!

The bug hunters; in happier times. Before it all went wrong, like.
**Side-note part 2: The trailer for Prometheus. I was so hyped about this trailer. It had been a long while since I'd seen a trailer that made me go 'WOOOOAH.' "They've even emulated the style and sound design from the original 'Alien' trailer! "But it's not an Alien film! Sort of!" cried the producers. "Then why are you trying to fall-back on those movies by copying the Alien trailers?" cried, erm, me. "But it's even bigger 'n shinier! They're paying attention to these little fanboy details! It MUST be good..." replied the internet. Flash-forward to movie theatre: "Oh dear Lord." Another writing lesson there - don't hype your story. Deliver. The. Goods.
"A day in the marine corp is like a day on the farm."
The boys suspect Apone may have been lying.
***Side-note part 3: The final side-note. I recently re-discovered THIS in my loft.

This time it's your turn.
Yes, the based-on-the-1986-movie-of-the-same-name board game ALIENS. Haven't played it in years, but I recall that all the main characters are present and correct. You roll the dice, move, fight aliens etc... but it also throws up some interesting ideas, as there's no way of guaranteeing who will survive. So what would 'Aliens' have been like had Hicks, Hudson and Vasquez perished, but Apone, Crowe and Dietrich made it out of the initial skirmish? What if Vasquez got face-hugged? Would Drake go all-out-nutso? How would that mix of characters affect the storyline? Which brings me back to my final question to writers:

Have you got the right mix of characters and conflict in your story?