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Skin Flick

'Alien vs. Predator' vs. Dr. Reese, cinema dermatologist

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In its ongoing quest for the ultimate postfilm conversation, Talking Pictures takes interesting people to interesting movies.

In Alien vs. Predator, Paul W. S. Anderson's preposterously bad melding of the two once-popular horror franchises, a group of Antarctic explorers discover a city under ice. Unfortunately, it's an incubator for those nasty chest-bursting aliens, being bred by the scores so that young trophy-obsessed predators will have a nice, safe place to practice their lethal hunting skills. It is a horrible movie, but there is one man, and one man alone, who feels that Alien vs. Predator nevertheless serves as an excellent illustration of a long misunderstood dermatological condition.

That condition--are you ready for this?--is juvenile and adult acne, and that man is Dr. Vail Reese, a San Francisco dermatologist and the founder of Skinema.com, a queasily addictive website devoted to analyzing the skin conditions that pop up in Hollywood's best and worst movies. The site routinely offers short, hilarious essays, backed up with photographic evidence, bearing such titles as "Celebrity Skin of the Moment" and "The Hogwart's Textbook of Dermatology."

"With Alien vs. Predator," says Reese, "you've got two different monstrous creatures, each with its own skin issues. The alien, of course, has this incredibly sleek and greasy-appearing skin, while the predator is just studded with abnormal pores." Acne, Reese explains, is often brought about by a combination of excessive facial oils ("This is also called sebum," Reese politely informs) and skin pores that tend to close down and become plugged with material. "So now," he says, "you've got this oil trapped under these plugs, and certain kinds of bacteria thrive in that setting, and that's when you get these really inflamed outbreaks.

"Stress also plays a big role with acne," the good doctor continues, "because we've found that hormonal balances are thrown off by things like stress, reduction in exercise, lack of sleep, all of that, which can trigger a hormonal imbalance that basically sets the pores up for problems. So if, like these creatures, you suddenly found yourself on some foreign planet, engaged in a pitched battle against this other species--that's pretty stressful stuff. And yet in none of the Predator or Alien movies, including this one, have we actually ever seen an alien or a predator with the appearance of an acne condition."

"Why not?" I ask. "Is it just genetic predisposition? Do some creatures just not get acne?"

"Genetics plays a part," he agrees, adding that because each creature exhibits only one of the two symptoms that combine to produce acne, they are somewhat disinclined to suffer from it. And therein, Reese has determined, lies a clever way to rid the universe of aliens and predators once and for all.

"If you were to combine the genetics of these two creatures," he suggests, "if you were to create a combination of the alien's excess oil production--that's one of the stimulants for human acne--and the predators' problem with their pores, you might actually produce an acne condition in both creatures. So if you mix those two species in some bizarre intergalactic breeding experiment, you could potentially provoke acne in these creatures, who might then become so preoccupied with their skin that they'd stop the battle and the aggressive behavior."

"But couldn't giving bad acne to an alien just piss it off?" I ask. "Possibly," Reese acknowledges. "Maybe that's in the sequel."

On Skinema.com recently, Reese discussed many of these issues, suggesting a process called microdermabrasion as a solution to the predator's individual skin issues.

"Microdermabrasion," he now elaborates, "is the use of either fine crystals or a vacuumlike device to manually clean out the pores. It's a nice, relatively noninvasive way to address the issue of plugged pores."

"So if the predator came to you asking for help, there are things you could do?" I ask.

"I would do whatever I could, because, you know, I'd want this guy to leave my office happy at all costs," Reese laughs. "I'd pull out all the stops. It wouldn't matter to me whether he had HMO insurance, or PPA, or paying out of pocket, we wouldn't hold anything back."

"What about the alien?" I ask. "Anything you can do for him and his chronic facial grease?"

"No," Reese replies. "The alien is beyond my help. On that one I think I'd just have to give up."

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From the September 1-7, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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