In response to someone telling me (during a discussion about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and my rejection of the genre-based flying fight scenes) that fantasy movies didn't have to make sense, and that they could freely disregard logic to invent conflict and etc etc...
...so just because something is fictional, it doesn't have to make sense? No, that disregards the first rule of writing fiction. Which is that it has to make more sense than reality in order to be believable. When we watch movies, we use a method called Willing Suspension of Disbelief that allows us to enjoy the fictive elements without rebelling at what our experience tells us is nonsense. It's nonsensical that a little boy would have magical powers and go to wizard school. We've been told our whole lives what a bunch of hooey that is. But Rowling is a good enough writer that she makes us believe in it, if only for the duration of the book or the movie. This doesn't excuse the plot or the characters from having to make sense. If she wants us to believe one thing, she needs to make sure we can believe everything else. Movie reviews don't start with, "Harry Potter sucks because magic isn't real and there's no Hogwart's." That's assumed, and unimportant.
The big reason Lord of the Rings is so successful is that it's sensitive to this issue. It goes to extreme lengths to make itself believable, and mostly succeeds (at least with western audiences, as that other guy mentioned). The method of the special effects is an example. Very, very little computer tomfoolery was used, because modern audiences know what it looks like and will immediately identify it as fake, which deflates our WSoD a little. They also were painstaking about making the costumes not only look good stylistically, but also wore them down and made them dirty and lived-in before filming. Gandalf's cloak REALLY looks like he's been wearing it for years of hardscrabble adventuring.
This stuff is important.
It was important, in the Alien movies, that Ripley wasn't wearing mascara and sexy underwear. It's important because she needs to be taken seriously as a real person, and as a real warrior. She's a magnificent character partly because of how she's written, and partly because of how she's presented. Not once do Cameron or Scot make her out to be the kind of "heroine" we have come to expect from science fiction movies. She's not a sex kitten (Leeloo), she's not a bitch (Princess Leia, although that wasn't really sci-fi), she's not stupid or hysterical (countless other films). She's just a regular person who got into the most nightmarish situations imaginable and managed to deal with it, but not without extreme sacrifice (conflict) and extreme damage to her person (character development). There are no long, lingering shots of her lithe body, or hackneyed shipboard romances. Because even though these devices are integral to the sci-fi genre, where women are classically ignored or marginalized, they're still stupid devices. And most importantly (and this is absolutely key), they're completely unnecesary. Just as flyropes were stupid and unnecessary in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Would Aliens have been more popular with the sixpack crowd (IE, the American Majority) if they had put Ms. Weaver through a complete glamour makeup prior to filming? Fuck yes. It would have been far and away more immediately and superficially popular than it was. The studio would have made a quick, large buck. The movie Galaxy Quest addresses the popularity of the female science fiction stereotype wonderfully, and with the same actress even. But it would have faded into the collective movie graveyard where the stupid, hackneyed, and empty movies go to await their DVD releases. Because such care was taken with crafting a frightening, smart, funny, and above all -real- situation in both movies, Alien and Aliens will always be appreciated as classic, influential, and meaningful; movies that we will gladly watch dozens of times and appreciate more each time. Aliens, especially. Pretty may draw a bigger crowd, but smart is what gets you immortality.
And that's not to say that Ripley and Vasquez (and Sarah from T2, while we're at it) aren't sexy as fuck. They are. But they don't know it (or at least don't think about it), and neither does the movie. In all these movies, these people are human beings before they're women, or men, or supermen. And that's the difference, right there. Scot and Cameron know that real is what we connect with, even when the characters are essentially fake, as with the replicants. Scott makes the replicants -truly- More Human Than Human, and that's what makes them so heartbreaking.
The people in CTHD were totally believable, and heartbreaking, and real and beautiful. Except when they were swinging around on their flyropes. Cool and stupid are not mutually exclusive, but for this particular film they just couldn't live in harmony in my head.