Saturdays and summer vacations are often the best times to have movie marathons. I rarely have time to sit down and have a back-to-back-to-back marathon of films, so I'll usually spread the movies out across several days. For example, in anticipation of Marvel's The Avengers, I watched each of the five films - Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger - in the days leading up to the premiere. Last year, I prepared myself for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides by watching each of the previous three films every Friday before the fourth film hit theatres. These marathons usually help to get me in a summer blockbuster mood, in which I'll be inundated with splashy effects and loud noises more often than anyone should be.
There's something exciting about just letting yourself get absorbed into a series of movies. You become a part of that world, and you enjoy moments and situations that generally don't occur in real life. People sing and dance. Fight scenes are elaborate and choreographed. Explosions are thrilling and only marginally life-threatening. To celebrate summer movie marathons, Saturday Matinee will devote the whole summer to a very special movie marathon. Each week, we'll take a look at one or two films represented in Disney Hollywood Studios' The Great Movie Ride, along with an accompanying Disney short that fits thematically for viewing. This week's film is the chilling film Alien, paired up with 2002's tongue-in-cheek Disney short, "A Stitch In Time: Follow Stitch Through The Disney Years."
The crew of the Nostromo are awakened from stasis in order to investigate a transmission on a small planet. Dallas, Kane, and Lambert head to the planet's surface, with Ripley, Ash, Brett, & Parker monitoring on the ship. The three on the planet find an abandoned spaceship, with Kane exploring further when he finds a series of eggs sitting underneath a barrier of mist. Kane gets closer to investigate, and a facehugger alien shoots out into him. The crew bring Kane back to the ship - though Ripley initially refused due to quarantine protocol - and attempt to remove the alien. When cutting a limb, they discover that the alien bleeds acid. Soon after, the facehugger is found dead and Kane awakens, relatively normal. However, over breakfast, Kane begins convulsing and has to be restrained. An alien bursts from his chest, effectively killing him in its own birth. Before anyone can react, the alien scurries away. Immediately, the crew knows they must find and kill the alien. However, in the hours ahead, the alien grows. It cocoons or kills the crew, one by one, until there is just Ripley.
"A Stitch in Time"
David Ogden Stiers narrates this tongue-in-cheek featurette that looks at Stitch's career at Disney throughout the years. Apparently, our fluffy blue friend has actually been a part of Disney history for decades, before finally getting his own movie. Stitch nearly became one of the Seven Dwarfs, and even tried his hand at being a Dalmatian. He did have minor roles as one of Maleficent's minions. The entire thing is not meant to be taken seriously, and generally is done in the same vein as the teaser trailers for "Lilo & Stitch." Those trailers - which are also included on the DVD - features Stitch invading four of Disney's Renaissance films: "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin," and "The Lion King."
For me, Alien is neither a science-fiction nor horror film. At its heart, it is pure suspense. True, we get a space environment and futuristic setting, as well as gory deaths for the Nostromo crew. But they are not the focus of the film at all. If anything, these elements are just window dressing when compared to the story at hand. It's about survival, and whether or not the crew - or the Alien - succeeds. As Ash tells the remaining crew, "I admire its purity. A survivor... unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality. I can't lie to you about your chances, but you have my sympathies." That becomes the running theme throughout the second half of the film. Who will survive, and how? As humans, we naturally would root for the crew. They are our surrogates, we could potentially be placed in such a situation. Granted, we thankfully haven't, but that's what storytelling is for. To make us think about how we'd react if we were in a character's shoes. Whether or not they follow what we'd do, that's the joy in seeing a story unfold.
There is an amazing build-up in the first half of the film. It is a bit slow-paced at times, but it mirrors the routine and mundane lives that the crew have. This is a job, they are not a family. But when faced against the Alien in the second half, they all realize that they must become one. They have to look out for each other, otherwise they'll all die. Generally, I find it a task to sit through the first half of the film. But once John Hurt (Kane) has his immortal moment in cinema history, I can't keep my eyes off the screen. The film has an about-face in which the curiosity and the distrust we had just seen turn into betrayals and struggles to survive. The story may be set in space, the Alien may be some nameless terror, but they come together to form a wonderfully-made suspense film.
"A Stitch in Time" probably shouldn't really count as a Disney "cartoon," at least not in the sense of made-for-DVD animated shorts like Home on the Range's "A Dairy Tale.� However, it's still a cute and fun featurette to watch. The feature plays into the belief that these animated characters are actually jobbing actors. It harkens back to the "House of Mouse" days, which is no surprise since "House of Mouse" was still in production when Lilo and Stitch was in theatres. We, as an audience, would naturally know that such a "history" presented here is fictional, but it's fun indulging in it once in awhile.
Stitch's integration into Disney's history after the fact has been done elsewhere, as well. Starting in 2004, Stitch "invaded" the Magic Kingdom thanks to the opening of his attraction, "Stitch's Great Escape." In addition to the attraction, decals of Stitch were added to the monorail, and watching Disney's channels in hotels featured videos showing the blue terror wreaking havoc in the parks. I still remember hearing Stitch interrupt the monorail spiel to announce, "Welcome to Stitch Kingdom. Mahalo, and have a magical day!" I can't remember when the Stitch invasion ended, although "Stitch's Great Escape" is still running in Tomorrowland. Personally, I'd prefer if it were replaced with something less obnoxious and more terrifying, but kids seem to enjoy it. Chili dogs for everyone!
20th Century Fox has released Alien several times, either as single-disc editions (1999 DVD, 2010 Blu-Ray), a two-disc Director's Cut (2003, DVD), or in box sets: The Alien Legacy (1999, DVD), The Alien Quadrilogy (2003, DVD), and The Alien Anthology (2010, Blu-Ray). Needless to say, any version offers bountiful extras, although the most extensive is 2010's "Alien Anthology" Blu-Ray. There are also rumblings going about that suggest we might see an "Evolution: From Alien to Prometheus" box set that includes the Anthology and 2012's prequel Prometheus.
"A Stitch in Time" is featured as a bonus feature in both of Lilo & Stitch's DVD releases: a single-disc set produced in 2002, and the two-disc "Big Wave Edition," originally prepared for release in 2002, but delayed until March 2009. There's no word yet on a Blu-Ray release for the film. I'm personally hoping that one comes next year, so that Disney can celebrate the film's 11th Anniversary by mislabeling it on the banner as "10th Anniversary Edition."