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The role of heroes in American Science Fiction movies in the 1970’s and 1980’s. E.T. and Alien in comparison

Seminar Paper 2010 25 Pages

Communications - Movies and Television

Excerpt

Outline (with page references)

A An Introduction to the modern ‘Blockbuster’ and what is special about this new genre (p. 4)

B The question of how a hero is defined, whether the new heroes in the‘Blockbuster’ are real heroes or anti-heroes and the adoption of other charactersthan men in a leading role (p. 5)
I. Adoption of a woman as actor in a leading role in the movie ‘Alien’ by Ridley Scott (p. 5)
1. Sigourney Weaver as the first action heroine in film history (p. 6)
2. The women’s role in Hollywood from the 1970’s on (p. 8)
II. Adoption of children as actors in the leading roles in the movie ‘E.T. – The Extraterrestrial’ by Steven Spielberg (p. 8)
1. How fun and sympathy are created for E.T. and Elliott (p. 9)
2. The children’s empathetic and amicable acting as a role model for the whole mankind (p. 10)
III. Novel usage of extraterrestrials as main characters (p. 12)
1. The alien as an enemy and antagonist (p. 13)
2. The alien as a friend and protagonist (p. 14)
3. Popular aliens? The coming of new merchandise articles and sales strategies based on the popularity of the extraterrestrials (p. 16)
4. The symbolic, religious meaning of ‘Alien’ and ‘E.T. – The Extraterrestrial’ (p.17)
IV. New kind of producing films (p. 20)
1. The creature design (p. 21)
2. Critical praise for the movies ‘Alien’ and ‘E.T. – The Extraterrestrial’ (p.22)

C Science fiction needs heroes but heroes are not only needed by Science Fiction (p.24)

D List of literature (p. 25)
I. Filmography
II. Bibliography and quotations
III. Images

An Introduction to the modern ‘Blockbuster’ and what is special about this new genre

In the late seventies a number of films with a particular appeal for the audience and a certain touch in storytelling, art and iconography have begun to change the international cinema. This kind of movies was not only a reinvention of the film but also a reinvention of the audience. A ‘Blockbuster’ is meant to be a commercial successful film but this does not mean that a ‘Blockbuster’ is always like that. The success is calculated in advance which means that the filmmakers have a (mostly commercial) goal which they want to accomplish but not always achieve. The ‘Blockbuster’ turns the greatest possible number of cinema viewers, at least temporarily, in “fans”: “in a virtual world community, in an army of glowing eyes”[1]. ‘Blockbusters’ are genre-mixes, to allow technological and design innovations combine with a cultural reduction and a showcase of technology. It was possible to create unbelievable, nostalgic and amazing moments via movie, also a new kind of producing films could help to attract people of every age. Basically, we could reduce the plot of the blockbuster on three elements: the war between humans and machines, the hope of social advancement and the conflict with the destructive elements of human-created technology. But most important, the person or group of people who protrude from their fellow men and stand up against a major threat; such people, we call heroes. However, just as ‘Blockbusters’ exceed the limits of the genre, they link the different media like television, comics, computer games, pop music and popular literature and it is crucial that they even enroll in the semiotics of everyday life.[2] The movies ‘Alien’ by Ridley Scott and ‘E.T. - The Extraterrestrial’ by Steven Spielberg are two classic example movies which are included in this research paper and that show women, children and aliens as main characters. Although these two types ‘Blockbusters’ are totally different from each other they provide the typical features of that genre. This research paper works on these two example movies concerning the new heroes of the ‘Blockbuster’ genre and their importance for Hollywood and especially for the mind of every single viewer.

The question of how a hero is defined, whether the new heroes in the ‘Blockbuster’ are real heroes or anti-heroes and the adoption of other characters than men in a leading role

To be able to call somebody a hero it is necessary to define the word ‘hero’ and how to become one. To include my opinion: heroes are people who rescue other people while finding themselves in precarious and dangerous situations with their own life at stake, too. Therefore, every kind of hero can be called brave even if the rescue shall not be successful. “One becomes a hero through the approval from third parties”.[3] However, a person has not to be famous or any kind of special to be called a hero because every person can save a life which means that every person can be a hero. Of course this is not an indisputable topic because every person has to decide for himself whether he thinks a person who risks his life can be called a hero or not. A question like that often refers to the moral concepts of a community. But there can be guidelines actuated which define the word ‘hero’: Usually, a person becomes a hero after doing an extraordinary and praiseworthy deed. Such acts include the killing of monsters and saving lives. A hero normally corresponds to the definition of what is seen as good and noble in a culture.[4] In the American ‘Blockbuster’ new heroes and heroines are introduced to the viewers. Here in this case, it is about children as heroes and a smart woman as the only survivor after an expedition in space. The following concentrates on the fact that even children and women can be heroes/heroines, on the novelty of protagonists and antagonists like children, women and extraterrestrial creatures animated and designed by computer and on facts which make them heroes.

Adoption of a woman as actor in a leading role in the movie ‘Alien’ by Ridley Scott

The movie ‘Alien’ by Ridley Scott is starring Sigourney Weaver, a female actor from Manhattan, New York (USA) in a leading role. Her mistrustful but determined character, Ellen Ripley, is a decisive member of the research crew of the spaceship “Nostromo” on a mission in space and the only survivor in the end of the film because her team mates are being killed brutally by a dangerous, sinister alien creature which she fortunately can outwit to stay alive. What separates ‘Alien’ from the other science-fiction movies in the 1970’s is the fact that a woman appears in the leading role and makes wise decisions which are mainly ignored but might have altered the crew’s destiny. To explain the importance of her decisions and opinions we have to concentrate on scenes of ‘Alien’ which show crucial turning points.

Sigourney Weaver as the first action heroine in film history

Some might say, it is revolutionary, some might not even care, but it is definitely a novelty in Hollywood which should not be overlooked. The main character of ‘Alien’, Ripley, played by the American female actor, Sigourney Weaver, embodies the voice of reason and plays an important and decisive role in that movie. Ripley and her fellow members get attacked by an extraterrestrial, unknown creature which managed to gain access to the space freighter “Nostromo” and Ripley is the only survivor (together with the board cat). Some people would tend to claim that her sole survival does not make a heroine out of her but actually that is not even the point.

Ripley finds herself in a compulsive fellowship because it is dominated by contretemps between the members. They do not really like each other. Because of this character set-up the viewer does not really know who the main character is or whether there is any main character at all. This is cleared up after roughly an hour of movie time when her superior, Dallas, is falling victim to the alien:[5] Ripley is the protagonist. But the question of whether she is a heroine or not remains unanswered and therefore we have to look at the probably most important scene of the movie: the scene, where the alien gains access to the spacecraft.[6] Ripley keeps calm and explains to her captain with a conceived voice: “Wait a minute, if we let it in, the ship could be infected.”[7] Ripley does not want to open the hatch until 24 hours of quarantine are not over, yet. Dallas, her superior is very impatient at that time because an alien organism is attached to the astronaut, Kane’s helmet. This multiple armed creature stems from a yet unexplored planet and has rammed its long tentacle into Kane’s throat so that the man seems to choke. Ripley is ready to sacrifice her fellow’s life in order to keep the other space travellers save and she is not impressed by the angry orders of her captain. “Listen to me. We break quarantine, we could all die. […] No, I can’t, and if you were in my position you’d do the same.”[8] The viewer gets used to this intense situation through extreme close-ups to Ripley’s face. She wants to prevent the alien from getting aboard, at any cost.[9] Without regard to Ripley’s instruction, Ash, the crew member whose competent authority concerns science – whose secret of him being an android, is revealed, later on – opens the hatch and lets the others in. This infringement can be seen as a foreshadowing of what is to come and a turning point because at that time, the alien finds itself inside the “Nostromo”. That this violation of the quarantine law bears tremendous consequences for the crew is revealed when the grown up alien kills almost every single member of the spaceship. By that time, Ripley’s controversial heroism stands at twilight because the viewer knows that her decision of not letting the others in until 24 hours of quarantine are over might have been their sole retrieval. However, this does not happen and the others get killed anyway although it is not Ripley’s fault. That is where two opinions collide: Ripley is a heroine; Ripley is not a heroine. She indeed can be seen as one because she is the only one who keeps a clear head in a decisive situation, she knows the method which will keep her fellow’s (probably instead of Kane) alive and can not be persuaded by anyone. But that is why she has not to be called a heroine, necessarily because she can not save her fellow members. She can not assert herself completely and that is why the alien gets the chance to make progress and become invincible. She is not an obvious heroine but in my opinion, she still can be seen as one. She makes clear decisions and takes the situation one step at a time. Apart from that, she takes on the alien and finds a way to divest herself of the creature to save her and the cat’s (Jonesy) lives. Therefore she might be an alleged heroine, but she definitely is one. “Ripley is a heroine like no other. She thrills you. Her powerful presence and unstoppable soul will always live on in the minds of movie-goers.”[10]

The women’s role in Hollywood from the 1970’s on

There is a plain difference between being a hero or a heroine, in Hollywood. Heroes do not have to be handsome. They can have broken teeth, weird accents or simply be ugly because that is not what makes men heroes. However, women have to be young and beautiful to even get an opportunity to become famous in the film industry. That is why it has not often been easy for women to become the main character of a movie. From the beginning of Hollywood, this industry has been a domain for males. Moreover, men got the leading roles in films because these actors were well-paid. In the past, it was so seldom that women could do such jobs; it simply was not their business and therefore they generally cast minor roles. Besides, they often played female characters which only had to be seen as sex symbols.

In the 1970’s, women did get access to film genres which usually were male-dominated, like action, science fiction, western, war, martial arts and revenge. These types of movies were no longer destined for men only. Women made it to major roles, their characters were hyped like only male characters have been before and they did unexpected things like going to war or acting as judge. Of course, there must have been someone who turned the tables, someone from whom this sudden change must have proceeded. The afro-American actress Pam Grier can be seen as such a person. She attracted attention by playing a prisoner and a prison guard, respectively in so called “woman-in-prison” movies. It can be seen as a starting point for the success of women in the film industry which was well on the way to develop and become more important for both genders.[11]

This turnaround in Hollywood probably can be called a revolution; a female revolution. It made female actors confident, respectable and allowed them to get much more money due to their occupational advancement.

Adoption of children as actors in the leading roles in the movie ‘E.T. – The Extraterrestrial’ by Steven Spielberg

The movie ‘E.T. - The Extraterrestrial’ by Steven Spielberg (Universal Studios) is starring Henry Ryan Thomas and Steven Spielberg's godchild Drew Barrymore[12] and other children who appear as the main characters. Henry Thomas’ role is a ten year old boy called Elliott Taylor who is involved in a chance meeting with a rather harmless extraterrestrial creature which is given shelter by Elliott until he can return home. A friendship between the boy and the alien develops and with Elliott’s and the other children’s help E.T. finds his way back home to his comrades. The difference between ‘E.T. – The Extraterrestrial’ and other Science-Fiction movies in the 1970’s and 1980’s is not only the unique and rousing plot but the appearance of children as main characters and empathetic heroes.

How fun and sympathy are created for E.T. and Elliott

What make the movie special are scenes which evoke feelings of sympathy, empathy and fun. The relationship between Elliott and E.T. creates some of those feelings. Generally, if the audience gets to know the protagonist better through scenes which amuse the viewer the protagonist is more recognized as a hero respectively as a character who stands for the good. This also supports the definiteness of the role of the hero in a movie.

The following scene described shows the relationship between Elliott and E.T. in a humorous and amusing way to introduce the viewer to what the connection between these two protagonists is about and what is special about it. Elliott is at school where he and his classmates have to dissect frogs in an experiment. He has left E.T. at home alone, only with their dog with him. The two locations change via jump shots to show what is happening at that time in two different places with two different characters.[13] E.T. walks downstairs which looks funny for the viewer since he shambles like a penguin because of his short legs and his flatfeet. The walk is supported by some fitting music which underlines that E.T. is exploring an unknown area. This music also makes the viewer expect something to come. E.T. opens the refrigerator and helps himself to some cans of beer which make him drunk after a while. Slowly, the viewer realizes the deep connection between Elliott and E.T. because Elliott also behaves like he is drunk although he has not had any beer. The connection between these two characters underlies one of E.T.’s abilities: he can read Elliott’s mind[14].They even burp at the same time and when E.T. falls to the ground, Elliott falls down, too; when E.T. watches a kissing scene between a man and a woman, Elliott kisses a girl from his class. This shows the link between those two in a humorous way. Some close-ups on the facial expressions of Elliott and E.T. support the humor of this scene. The following part of the same scene also shows that Elliott is a boy who listens to his heart when he saves all the frogs in the classroom which create a chaotic situation by jumping around, though.[15] Elliott’s decision supports the fact that everybody can be a hero because by saving the frogs he indeed can be called one. This happening at school foreshadows that Elliott is going to be leading an even more important rescue later on in the movie. At that time E.T. watches a spaceship on TV and looks at space adventures in a comic which reminds him of his origin. His yells of “Home”[16] support that.

All these things evoke feelings of both sympathy and empathy for Elliott and E.T. and show their relationship.

The children’s empathetic and amicable acting as a role model for the whole mankind

To realize how dangerous E.T.’s situation on earth is and to show that therefore, the children’s actions are more than brave we have to look at the surrounding of E.T.. The environment he finds himself in after he landed on earth is the scene of a small town in the USA and a society with the social fabric of a village. The viewer gets used to the landscape via establishing shots.[17] “The mist, smoke, smog and night which envelop much of the film lend an air of both mystery and beauty as flashlights and other light cut through the gloom.”[18] Usually, a stranger has problems with finding shelter and allies in a place where he has never been before. But E.T. gets to know Elliott, the boy who cares about him and builds up an unusual friendship. Unusual, because it is a human being and an alien who become friends but even more unusual and important, because it is a child who is presented as the only person with enough heart and empathy to be able to help a small, helpless seeming extraterrestrial creature to find his way back home. What is special about Elliott is the fact that for his age, he is a very uncommon boy because he knows responsibility and wants to carry it deliberately, especially when he shouts: “He came to me!”[19] He is very determined to save his extraterrestrial friend. He can even cope with his father not being with his family anymore and most importantly he grows with his assignment. He is involved in the “hero’s journey” which is typical for Hollywood.[20] A striking scene of ‘E.T. - The Extraterrestrial’ shows what children can be capable of when they want to help a friend. It also makes clear that such young people indeed can be heroes and that they are acting as role models for the human kind, especially for the adults appearing in this movie. Those adults are opposed to E.T. and even lie to the children when they claim not to hurt E.T..[21] Also, the viewer does not get to see the faces of the adult men when they arrive at Elliott’s home which intensifies the danger coming from them.[22] They just want to cut his body open to explore and analyse his organism. In that scene, a wild chase between children and adults takes place in which Elliott and the other kids try to transport E.T. to the forest where he is about to meet the spaceship with his congeners in it which will take him home.[23] Almost the whole scene is supported by quick changing camera operations, from close-ups to long shots and with many tracking shots during the chase which make it intense and create a hectic feeling. It is also supported by dramatic, loud and fast music which escalates after E.T. used his magical ability to let the children fly with their bicycles.[24] The music in this scene underlines the fantastic happening and creates a highlight of the film. This scene takes one’s breath away when the viewer watches the children fly through an extreme long shot whereas the adult men’s unhappy expressions are shown through eye-level close-ups. By these suspenseful cinematic devices the viewer gets to know the risk in this scene. Other incentives for the hectic atmosphere in that scene are the fast driving cars and bikes, the shouting of the children and some men and the people running around the streets.[25] When the children take over the van the viewer watches Elliott and his brother Michael as heroes as a result of their brave and determined actions; to hijack the car. Michael, who does not own a driver’s licence,[26] yet drives the van in this precarious situation with the aim in his mind to save E.T. from the adults.

This scene is the final evidence for the determination and the empathy of the children who rather save a life than make a friendly creature to be the victim of science.

Symbolically, children are also correspondent with purity, innocence and with no sense of shame. They are not questioning the presence of good and evil and they are acting by listening to their heart which can be seen in that scene, too.[27]

In other words, this scene seems to try to make the adults think of what is really important in life, especially what makes other creatures happy and satisfied and not only to look straight in one direction, mostly the way of curiosity. That is what makes the children in the movie ‘E.T. – The Extraterrestrial’ role models for everyone.

[...]


[1] Seeßlen, Georg (German author, columnist and film critic), (2004).

[2] Reposes on: “Georg Seeßlen. Blockbuster!”, <http://www.filmzentrale.com/essays/blockbustergs.htm>, (18.10.2010).

[3] Meyer, Marion (German classical archaeologist), (2008).

[4] Reposes on: "Held", <http://www.uni-protokolle.de/Lexikon/Held.html>, (15.10.2010).

[5] (1:12:36) of ‘Alien’ by Ridley Scott

[6] (34:00) of ‘Alien’ by Ridley Scott

[7] (34:15) of ‘Alien’ by Ridley Scott

[8] (34:23) of ‘Alien’ by Ridley Scott

[9] Chapter reposes on: Krützen, Michaela: "E.T. und Alien - Zwei Außerirdische auf der Leinwand", in: Weber, Thomas P. (ed.): Science & Fiction II - Leben auf anderen Sternen. Frankfurt am Main 2004, p. 181 & p. 192 ff.

[10] Schubart, Rikke: Super bitches and action babes: the female hero in popular cinema, 1970-2006. North Carolina 2007.

[11] Chapter reposes on: Schubart, Rikke: Super bitches and action babes: the female hero in popular cinema, 1970-2006. North Carolina 2007.

[12] Krützen, Michaela: "E.T. und Alien - Zwei Außerirdische auf der Leinwand", in: Weber, Thomas P. (ed.): Science & Fiction II - Leben auf anderen Sternen. Frankfurt am Main 2004, p. 184.

[13] (43:00) of ‘E.T. – The Extraterrestrial’ by Steven Spielberg

[14] For some remarks about the connection between ET and Elliot also s. Krützen, Michaela: "E.T. und Alien - Zwei Außerirdische auf der Leinwand", in: Weber, Thomas P. (ed.): Science & Fiction II - Leben auf anderen Sternen. Frankfurt am Main 2004, p. 191.

[15] (49:35) of ‘E.T. – The Extraterrestrial’ by Steven Spielberg

[16] (1:18:50) of ‘E.T. – The Extraterrestrial’ by Steven Spielberg

[17] (2:00) of ‘E.T. – The Extraterrestrial’ by Steven Spielberg

[18] Mathison, Melissa: “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial (1982) – How do you explain school to higher intelligence?”, in: Westfahl, Gary (ed.): The Greenwood encyclopedia of science fiction and fantasy: themes, works, and wonders. Westport, Connecticut 2005, p. 1023.

[19] (1:26:49) of ‘E.T. – The Extraterrestrial’ by Steven Spielberg

[20] Krützen, Michaela: "E.T. und Alien - Zwei Außerirdische auf der Leinwand", in: Weber, Thomas P. (ed.): Science & Fiction II - Leben auf anderen Sternen. Frankfurt am Main 2004, p. 195.

[21] (1:22:53) of ‘E.T. – The Extraterrestrial’ by Steven Spielberg

[22] (1:18:10) of ‘E.T. – The Extraterrestrial’ by Steven Spielberg

[23] (1:36:30) of ‘E.T. – The Extraterrestrial’ by Steven Spielberg

[24] (1:41:48) of ‘E.T. – The Extraterrestrial’ by Steven Spielberg

[25] (1:41:30) of ‘E.T. – The Extraterrestrial’ by Steven Spielberg

[26] (1:37:02) of ‘E.T. – The Extraterrestrial’ by Steven Spielberg

[27] "Symbol Kind – Was bedeutet es?", <http://www.geistigenahrung.org/ftopic13108.html>, (17.10.2010).

Details

Pages
25
Year
2010
ISBN (eBook)
9783656701804
ISBN (Book)
9783656702238
File size
671 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v277351
Institution / College
LMU Munich
Grade
2,0
Tags
Alien E.T. Steven Spielberg movie american history american hollywood science fiction Ridley Scott america hero heroes comparison work film film history history 20th 20th century

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Title: The role of heroes in American Science Fiction movies in the 1970’s and 1980’s. E.T. and Alien in comparison