Entirely Too Much Attention To Detail: The Sci-Fi Pets Edition
The aim here is not to nitpick or criticize. It is simply to indulge in affectionate thought experiments and tangents related to movies that I have enjoyed over the years. What are the unspoken motivations, the unexplored avenues, and the seemingly insignificant details that lie outside and between the frames? Oh, and if you have not seen the movies I write about in this column, you are a little behind the times, but I offer a spoiler warning regardless.
Alien / Aliens
Jonesy the cat, where are you?!? Are you o.k.?!?
Ellen Ripley was not the only survivor of the Nostromo in Alien. Jones the cat (or "Jonesy") made it out alive as well. He dodged his own close calls with the acid-blooded intruder and witnessed the death of Harry Dean Stanton's Brett, who unfortunately was only trying to track down the elusive feline when he met his demise. It seemed that this particular alien in the original film had no interest in hurting Jones. Jones was likely acknowledged as too small to be a host.
What did Jones think of the alien and the terror it wrought? Jones hissed at the alien when he first encountered it, so his first instinct was that the creature was dangerous. Beyond that, Jones placidly observed Brett's death. As my wonderful significant other queried, does he experience any actual trauma from the events of Alien? Does he possess that stereotypical feline detached attitude that "humans come and go" with him as mere observer to their drama?
Digression: that poor alien must have been extremely discombobulated. No eggs for the procreation of his species were near, and here he was stuck in this giant metallic coffin. Per the deleted scenes, the alien was trying to squirrel away its victims as potential hosts, but that was a most futile effort. If nature abhors a vacuum (that same vacuum where no one can hear you scream), then that alien's evolutionary instincts had been completely subverted when Ash let Kane and the parasitic face-hugger back on the Nostromo. The alien species might have been as perfectly efficient as Ash admired it to be, but in isolation it was a doomed creature acting futilely in its purpose. (This concludes the digression.)
With the alien lurking in the corridors, Ripley put her own life at risk to go back for Jones before the ship's self-destruct sequence completed. I like to think that as a pet-lover I would do the same, but I recognize her risk as an exceptionally brave thing to do for that cat.
After the completion of that adventure, Jones took a pleasant 57-year cryo-sleep nap with Ripley. I myself would probably wake up with the worst allergic sinus itch in the universe if I took a 57-year nap with a cat inside one of those cryo-tubes, but Ripley seemed to have no difficulties in that department.
Cast out by the corporation for her dubious tale, Ripley found a blue-collar job and took Jones in as a pet in her new inexpensive apartment. Haunted by nightmares, she gave in when the corporation came back to her asking for help on LV-426 with the promise of restoration to her old officer's rank. What of Jonesy the cat?
As Ripley told him before she left with the space marines on the Sulaco: "And you, you little shit, you're staying here." That was the last we saw of Jones.
It was an appropriate precaution; Ripley did not want to be forced to save Jones again if the mission went wrong. (Of course, she later found a new reason to go back via her surrogate daughter Newt.) If Jonesy could speak, he probably would have told us that he did not want to go regardless. I did not distinguish a specific attachment to any member of the Nostromo's crew, so it is not as if he loved Ellen Ripley and would never leave her side, although 57 years of shared sleeping quarters might create at least a subconscious bond.
Ripley, what did you do with him? You did not seem to have any family or friends left in the Aliens universe. Treating the extended version as canon, we in fact find out that your daughter passed away while you were drifting through space. Did you put Jonesy in a futuristic animal shelter? Did the space marines offer to take care of him at their Earth facility? Did you ask a neighbor or one of your new co-workers to look after him? This was probably the universe's oldest cat in light of his extended hyper-sleep; he should be famous!
If a viewer wanted to stop the story at the end of Aliens, that viewer could presume that Ripley and Newt returned home and were reunited with Jones. That is where I would prefer the tale ended. The unfortunate existence of the sequels, however, told us that Ripley never made it back home to see Jonesy. Jonesy the cat lived out his remaining days in mysterious circumstances, and perhaps from time to time his mind drifted to memories of that tough lady that rescued him from the horror of the Nostromo and that slimy, toothy xenomorph that brought about the grisly end of some other people he knew.
The "dog in peril" is one of the most specious of Hollywood movie scenarios in non-rated-R fare. The filmmakers are not going to kill this fictional, innocent dog; too many audience members would be horrified, and the narrative would be overwhelmed by the tragedy.
There are of course exceptions. The noble martyr dog (Turner and Hooch, The Beastmaster, etc.) and the sorry-but-this-story-takes-a-very-sad-turn dog (Old Yeller, Marley & Me, etc.) come to mind first. Neither of those dog types will be discussed further in this column.
Even as we viewers can assure ourselves with the knowledge that the dog is absolutely safe, certain movies still trot out the old "dog in peril" from time to time, and the mere concept of that dog being harmed might manage to sneak up on you and tug at your heartstrings.
Boomer the dog took center stage in Independence Day, as he leapt safely away in an underground traffic tunnel from the gigantic fireball that the aliens dropped on the city of Los Angeles. (Aside: I live in Los Angeles, and I am now wondering where that lengthy tunnel was supposed to be.) It was easy to roll one's eyes at that scene; the dramatic beats, culminating in Boomer's last-second leap with a backdrop of flame, were so beyond melodramatic that Boomer's safety should not have been in doubt. (Of course, in contrast with Boomer, Independence Day had no qualms about depicting the leveling of entire densely populated American cities and the deaths of characters portrayed by lovable Harry Connick, Jr., Mary McDonnell, Brent Spiner, and Randy Quaid.)
Boomer was not my most urgent concern. My question is: where were all the other dogs of America? Aliens are about to destroy your home. What do you save first? Most people would grab the family dog when applicable. However, the ragtag group of American survivors had a noticeable dearth of accompanying dogs. I know not everyone has a pet, but there must have been a few pet owners, right? Boomer was there, but where were Boomer's brethren?
Did the aliens fear the overwhelming loyalty of the canine species as a galvanizing force for human resistance and wipe them out with some sort of dog death ray, perhaps by way of a deadly alien dog whistle? Did every single dog owner go back for their pets, only to find that their pets had panicked at the sight of the alien spacecraft? During the delayed task of catching and calming their dogs, did all the dog owners then perish in the explosion?
Perhaps all the dogs were wiser than their owners. Perhaps they had a precognitive sense of danger that humans lacked, akin to their early awareness of imminent earthquakes. The dogs fled from the city to the country, where they could congregate and form a powerful dog cabal that would serve as a resistance against the alien invaders.
I like that last theory. It seems quite plausible, as we know how seldom a dog in peril is actually in peril.
I realize David Lynch's Dune is not a good movie. I bet many of you have not even seen it. Recently I watched it from start to finish again; I believe that was the first time I had seen the entire film since that first viewing back in 1984. I have a soft spot for it, though. It has its merits: Sting's hamming it up as Feyd Rautha and that Toto soundtrack are among them.
This viewing left me pondering the royal pet of House Atreides, a pug that accompanied them on their interstellar travels. The Atreides pug was not present in Frank Herbert's classic novel. No, this pug that stood out amidst the memorable production design as incongruous yet somehow right at home was a creation for the Lynch version. The pug appeared in a few scenes as a happy lapdog and was left unnamed.
When House Harkonnen launched its attack upon the new Arrakis home of House Atreides, chaos ensued. The Atreides family members fell under direct attack. Thank goodness that loyal Gurney Halleck (Patrick Stewart) thought to save the family pet. Of course, Gurney Halleck knew that every man would be needed in the fight, so he went into battle against the Harkonnen invaders with the pug strapped to his chest in some sort of pug bjorn. I hereby nominate the sight of "Jean-Luc Picard" yelling a battle cry with that pug strapped to his chest as the most ridiculous image ever put to film.
That is the last we see of the pug. Did he die in battle strapped to Gurney Halleck's chest? Did he adapt and find a life in the Arrakis desert? Did a sandworm eat him? Did he return to what was his home after the battle subsided and become a loyal pet to House Harkonnen in order to survive? Pugs are not especially hardy dogs, and that desert air could not be good for a breed that can develop respiration problems.
When Gurney Halleck finally reunited with Paul Atreides, there was no mention of the fate of the family pet. I just want to know what happened to that pug. There was innocence in that pug face that implied to me that the dog was ill-suited for the tumult of Dune.
There is a clear motif in this column: I worry too much about the well-being of fictional animals.
C. Robert Dimitri was too young to remember the first time he saw Alien; it seems like it has always been a part of him. Aliens, however, was his first rated-R movie at the theater. (Thanks, Mom!) Dune was his first PG-13 movie at the theater, courtesy of his older brother. (Thanks, George!) His Independence Day viewing saw the heights of opening night theater madness. A post-movie attempt to humorously drive his car like Will Smith piloted that spacecraft failed to charm the crush that was sitting in the passenger seat. C. ROBERT DIMITRI WILL RETURN IN ENTIRELY TOO MUCH ATTENTION TO DETAIL - THE PERSONAL ASSOCIATION EDITION.