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Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Aliens: Special Edition

Written by:James Cameron|Directed by:James Cameron|Release Date:1986

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm going to go through James Cameron's legendary sci-fi action thriller sequel Aliens! Because 20th Century Fox have decided that the 26th of April is now 'Alien Day', and that's enough of an excuse for me to give it a rewatch. I suppose it would've made more sense to watch Alien today and save Aliens for its 30th anniversary in July, but that idea occurred to me a little too late unfortunately. Maybe I'll watch Alien later and sneakily swap the post dates around... no one will ever notice.

I already watched the movie last April as research for my 'Aliens: Colonial Marines' review on Super Adventures, so I was thinking I'd put the theatrical cut on instead this time and save myself some work. But that doesn't seem right when the Special Edition is considered the definitive version by basically everyone, especially James Cameron and Sigourney Weaver who weren't that happy when 14 minutes of their movie got sliced out. Sometimes a 'director's cut' is just a re-edit purely for the sake of selling the same movie twice, but Fox had the theatrical version of Aliens cut down so that cinemas could fit more screening in each day, so this is a restoration of its true form. All two and a half hours of it.

Like always I'll be going through the whole damn movie, writing my thoughts underneath DVD screencaps and throwing out massive SPOILERS all over the place, for this film and the original Alien. I won't spoil a thing about Alien3 onwards though, no matter how tempted I am to go into a rant.

The movie begins by demonstrating that whoever revealed what happens when you shine a laser into a smoky room was doing science fiction a big favour. The first Alien used a similar effect for the egg chamber aboard the alien derelict using a laser borrowed from rock band The Who. James Cameron on the other hand apparently had to pay for this thing out of his own pocket because he didn't have cash spare in the budget.

You know I probably should've started with a shot of the Narcissus life pod from Alien getting pulled in by a mysterious ship, or perhaps even a GIF of the title slowly forming on screen, but there's a lot of film here so I need to skip through quickly.

This robotic scanning laser belongs to a salvage crew who just cut a hole into the shuttle's hull. They're apparently better at finding derelict ships than they are at finding door handles. Inside they discover that the ship is actually occupied by one frozen woman and a cat. Actually I don't think the hypersleep chambers technically freeze people, but then they don't come with a blanket either and this shuttle is downright frosty right now.

Nice dissolve, Ripley nearly went full 'star child' for a moment there.

This is the first shot of Earth in the Alien franchise, and it's not actually looking so bad, for a matte painting. The camera slowly pans across our blue marble to reveal a space station in orbit. It also reveals that the film's in no hurry right now; it might be more of an action movie than its predecessor but there's no exciting introductory action sequence to wake audiences up. Though if Neill Blomkamp and Ridley Scott decide they want add James Bond style pre-credit action scenes to the new Alien movies, I'm totally down for that.

This is Ellen Ripley by the way, sole survivor of the first movie. She was a warrant officer aboard the commercial hauling vessel USCSS Nostromo until she blew it up and escaped in a shuttle.

And this is Gateway Station, which I'm going to assume is basically an orbital colony. A really weird one that looks like a matte painting attached to a model by struts.

I stitched a few frames of the panning shot together to get a better look at it, so that's why it's a bit thinner than the other screencaps. Weirdly it looks more like the other Alien films this way. James Cameron's never been a fan of using anamorphic lenses to squeeze wider images on to the negative, so the movie ended up with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio instead of 2.35:1 like the rest of the series. Which means you get a nice circular lens flare up there instead of an oval shaped one.

A smarmy man from 'the company' comes by Ripley's hospital bed to drop off her cat and a bombshell that she's in here recovering because she overslept for 57 years. That's nothing to a cat though, so the creature's fine.

You know you're in a dystopia when there's only the one company left, but I'm sure he just meant he's from the company she works for, Weyland-Yutani. He introduces himself as Carter Burke, and claims he's "really an okay guy", just like he'd probably claim that he knew his collar was up all along and he totally meant it to look like that. He continues trying to be endearing and it's not long before Ripley starts having chest pains.

Oh it's just a baby alien trying to burst through her skin! In proper non-choppy slow motion as well.

Actually this whole scene in the hospital turns out to be a fakeout dream, though it must have an element of truth as she's still got the cat (which they've let her keep in her hospital room for some reason). Apparently meeting Burke was so traumatic it's given her recurring nightmares about it.

Then we get the only real scene of nature I can think of in the first four Alien movies, and it's not even real. She uses a remote to switch it off, revealing that she's actually sitting in front of a rear projection screen designed to give people on this space station a tiny bit of Earth to look at. Possibly not a smart move to train the audience to recognise the technique seeing how much use the filmmakers will get out of it later.

Sigourney Weaver was a little annoyed when this scene got cut for time because it sets up that she had a 10 year old daughter called Amanda Ripley-McClaren, who died as an old woman during her 57 year absence. Wow the movie just totally spoiled the game 'Alien: Isolation'!

The trouble with surviving a horror or action movie is that you have to justify all the crap you pulled afterwards, and these suits aren't too impressed with Ripley's story of a xenomorph wiping out her crew, especially as she blew up the evidence. They can't be that bothered about it though as most these folks hadn't even been born when the ship went missing.

She escapes without having the cost of the Nostromo and cargo deducted from her salary, but she's also fired, and loses her licence as a commercial flight officer. Ripley implores them to check out LV-426 if they want to see what happened, but they reveal they don't have to... there's been terraformers living there for over 20 years!

By the way, all while this is happening we get to see images and information about her former crew flash up on the screen behind her.

It's mostly obscured (and hard to read on my ancient DVD copy), but there's some interesting facts in there. Like Lambert having her sex changed to female at birth.


The original theatrical cut sticks with Ripley here, but the Special Edition takes a trip to the Hadley's Hope colony on LV-426 to reveal that the 158 colonists there (led by Captain Hollister from Red Dwarf) are actually doing alright. Well they haven't been cocooned by xenomorphs at least, and they've got some very nice corridors.

Just to ruin the effect for you, part of the walls are apparently built from the back of CRT televisions. Even here you can't escape the 80s screens. This wasn't a hugely expensive movie and they had to save money wherever they could.

In fact I always thought the film's overly grainy look was due to budget issues, but it seems it was actually due to problems with the new high-speed negative they were using, combined with the lower resolution from shooting without anamorphic lenses. I think it suits it though.

Anyway a family of surveyors are sent out on company orders to check out a location and come across the alien derelict from the first movie! Can't be a coincidence that it's with driving distance of the colony. It's looking a bit worse for wear though, seems like the right prong has collapsed. They got hold of the original model from Alien for this sequence and half a decade spent lying in a collector's driveway had left it suitably pre-damaged.

The filmmakers couldn't afford to do all these scenes with blue screen composites, so a lot of the movie's visual effects were done in-camera with miniatures moving at double speed. Well I say miniature, but they actually filled entire stages with these sets.

Hey it's Newt, looking all tidy and non-traumatised.

This entire section of the movie, starting with the introduction of Hadley's Hope and ending with Newt's parents coming back with a facehugger wrapped around the dad's face, was cut for the theatrical version of the movie and I don't think that was actually a bad decision. Sure it's nice to get a glimpse of the colony as a functioning place, but we don't need to see it and all it really adds are more minutes the movie's got enough of already. It's better to let the audience discover the place alongside Ripley in my opinion.

Sometime later Ripley's doing alright for herself, with a new haircut and a job driving power loaders in the docks. But Burke drops by with Lieutenant Gorman from the US Colonial Marines to see if she'd like to be reinstated as a flight officer... in exchange for going with them to see why the colony on LV-426 has gone silent

She's a sane person so of course she declines their invitation to go back to the hell planet populated by the greatest killing machines in the galaxy, but he leaves her his transparent plastic business card in case she changes her mind. Seems like a goofy 'remember, we're in the future' kind of prop, but then it occurs to me that we don't see a lot of paper or wood in this film. Her apartment has light panels in place of windows so it could be that she's still on the space station, where trees are scarce.

The movie could've just ended here, but another nightmare convinces her she has to deal with this. Maybe to get some closure, maybe for revenge, or maybe because she can't stand the idea of letting others suffer like her crew did. The cat's staying home this time though.


Cut to the USMC starship USS Sulaco on its way to LV-426 through the blue region of deep space. It's introduced the same way as the Nostromo, with lots of slow shots of the empty ship while the crew rests in hypersleep to conserve food (and their time). Someone forgot to turn the artificial gravity off though.

The Sulaco is a big spiky space submarine almost opposite in design to the USS Enterprise from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The refitted Enterprise is a beautiful demonstration of form over function, covered in spotlights to show off the pearlescent hull plating, but the hardware requires a crew of engineers working their asses off to keep the thing running. The Sulaco on the other hand is all function and no frills, without even a window for the crew to look out of, but it can be piloted by a skeleton crew in their sleep. Literally.

Also there's no flashy warp/hyperspace effects here. The thing barely even looks like it's moving.

They've used a clever trick here I never noticed until now. Only five hypersleep chambers were built due to the aforementioned 'not having enough money' problems, so they put a mirror at the end of the room to multiply them.

The pods eventually open to reveal a whole lot of Space Marines. I had a fighting chance to remember all the Nostromo crew but there's so many of these guys I've got no chance. I've already met Ripley, Burke and Gorman though, and Vasquez and Sgt. Apone make an immediate impression (because one's made up to look Hispanic and the other eats cigars).

But the two that really stand out are Bishop and Hudson, partly due to Bishop nearly taking Hudson's fingers off with his inhumanly fast knife trick. Also they're played by Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton!

Ripley's not that keen on Bishop though, when she learns he bleeds white. He seems like a nice guy, but the last android she met turned out to be a company agent who nearly killed her. Bishop assures her these days artificial people are (finally) programmed with Asimov's three laws, so he's considerably less likely to try to murder the crew. Though he did just manage to cut himself by overestimating his skill, so violent accidents will happen!

There's a definite difference in style between the naturalistic dialogue of the first film and the words coming out of the Marines here, but it works. I'd much prefer their scripted camaraderie than the trite banter dubbed onto the space mannequins in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.

I went crazy and stitched together this hangar bay panning shot as well. I realise it's tiny, but you can click the image for a better look. That's a model shot that transitions to live action with a kind of obvious seam near the middle. I've no idea how they pulled this off, but I bet whatever they did was clever.

Lieutenant Gorman tries to brief his Marines, but they don't have a whole lot of respect for him. Turns out that US Marines in 2179 aren't all that disciplined, possibly because they're based on regular grunts in the Vietnam War. The film barely even hints at what kinds of conflicts these guys have been in, but they've apparently been on 'bug hunts', which might mean they've fought aliens before. I mean aliens in general, not alien aliens. See this is why H.R. Giger's creations are called Xenomorphs these days, so people know you're not referring to E.T., Chewbacca or Mr. Spock.

So the Marines start preparing for the mission, and that apparently means moving a lot of crates from one bay to another. Ripley even helps out by carrying boxes in a power loader. It's funny that they don't play up her being 60 years out of time at all; she's entirely comfortable with all the tech she comes across.

I love their APC by the way, even if it's clearly too small to match the interior set. It's built on an air towing tractor designed to pull 747 jets, so it's incredibly powerful and it weighs a ton. Well it weighed 72 tons actually, until they removed some of the ballast. It also has four-wheel steering, which is something I'm going to have to keep an eye out for.

They all get in their APC, which is driven into the dropship, which is then loaded into the airlock. Then they just open the outer doors and the dropship drops out of the Sulaco like a brick... somehow. I dunno, maybe the ship's artificial gravity works by pushing downwards from the ceilings. Still a great scene.

There's another one of those reinserted scenes here, as Hudson gets out of his chair after the dropship stops shaking, and goes into a full monologue:
"I'm ready, man. Check it out. I am the ultimate badass! State of the badass art! You do not wanna fuck with me.

Check it out. Hey Ripley, don't worry. Me and my squad of ultimate badasses will protect you.

Check it out. Independently targeting particle-beam phalanx. Whap! Fry half a city with this puppy! We got tactical smart missiles, phase plasma pulse rifles, RPGs... we got sonic electronic ballbreakers! We got nukes. We got knives, sharp sticks..."
And that's as far as he gets before Sgt. Apone has had enough. I really think there's something up with Hudson; either he's taking something, he's been drinking something, or he's just really psyched to go out and shoot something, because he makes everyone else seem professional and reserved just by being in the same scene as them.

It must be so weird to watch Edge of Tomorrow immediately after this and see Paxton playing the tough sergeant who isn't taking anyone's shit. 

I love their dropship too. The thing is like someone took an F-4 Phantom II, combined it with a SuperCobra gunship helicopter, stuck some Harrier jump jets onto it and turned it into a space shuttle... with fold open wings!

Those wings always used to mystify me though, as they overlap when folding out. I just couldn't make it work in my head. Turns out the pods are more or less symmetrical, one wing just fits under the other.

It flies past a gigantic atmosphere processor to set it up for later, then drops the APC off at Hadley's Hope in a fantastic model shot. No motion control shots here, they used cables and a remote controlled car.


Hudson runs a bypass on the door and they get inside to discover it's a little bit abandoned (also damp). They find signs of explosion damage and holes burned through with acid, seems the colonists made their last stand here but the barricades didn't hold. There's no bodies though, and a noticeable lack of xenomorphs. We're a third of the way into the film now and they're still playing up the tension.

The best bit of playing 'Aliens: Colonial Marines' was walking around here and the Sulaco, looking at all the famous locations I recognised from the movie. But now I'm watching the movie again I'm getting it in reverse, remembering things I did here in the game. I still haven't got a clue about the layout of this place though.

Oh great, they've found some facehuggers, and two of them are still alive. Bishop immediately shows a strange interest in them, which is creepy because how android Ash acted in Alien. There's a tradition to the android names in Alien movies by the way, going from Ash, Bishop, to the fourth synthetic David in Prometheus. I'll be very disappointed if they don't stick with the pattern all the way to Xavier, Yves and Zack in Alien 26.

Suddenly the Marines pick something up on their motion trackers and it's not them. After a couple of minutes of tension the movie pulls off the cat jump scare from the first film again, except this time it's a harmless little girl! At first I thought Hicks fired at her, spraying wildly and missing with every shot, but with a frame-by-frame analysis I've determined that it's actually Drake who fires, and Hicks shoves his gun aside.

Either way it's the first time we hear the pulse rifle sound effect and the thing sounds awesome.

Ripley manages to calm the little girl down and discovers that everyone calls her Newt, or at least they did before they all died. The girl's very eager to get away from the Marines and back into the vents, so she's not killed with them when the aliens come back and their heroic last stand fails as badly as the colonists' did.

Meanwhile Bishop's being creepy with a facehugger autopsy, and Hudson's doing tech work again, scanning for the colonists' implants colonists to figure out where they went. Seems they're all hanging out in the nearby atmosphere processor facility! So the Marines get into their APC and drive down there to see how they're doing.


When they reach the facility the Marines all head inside led by Apone, while Gorman stays behind in his APC control centre with the civilians. It's like they're watching a found footage horror movie live!

Oh, I just remembered something else I've always liked about this movie: giant numbers everywhere. It's nothing unique to the movie, the Star Trek films did the same thing, and the 'Mass Effect' games took it to the next level, but I've always liked the style.

Well that should be a big warning sign right there. Seems that the aliens have been busy H.R. Gigerfying the atmosphere processor to look like their old ship using a sculpted secreted resin.

This shot annoys me, because I know the ceiling is actually a foreground miniature placed in front of the camera, but I can't find the seam! To make it harder on me they even made the model look like it's being lit up by the Marines' backpack flashlights. A lot of movies have clever effects shots, but the things they pulled off in-camera for this movie are incredible.

One thing I like about the shot though is that it secretly features an alternate Hicks from a parallel universe where James Remar played the character. He was the original actor cast for the role and was around long enough to film this scene before being fired (apparently for possessing drugs). This effects shot would've been a pain in the ass to recreate but fortunately he was facing away from the camera for most of it, so it worked out.

The Marines still can't find any xenomorphs, but they're definitely entering the hive now. Thing is, if they start firing their pulse rifles in here they'll risk causing a coolant leak which will lead to the fusion reactor exploding with the force of a nuclear bomb. I imagine that Weyland-Yutani understand the concept of safety features, they just haven't found room in the budget for them.

So Apone actually confiscates their magazines, as that's how much he trusts his squad. And he's right not to trust them, as Vasquez secretly stashed away some spares in order to not be entirely defenceless against the aliens. Bet they wish they'd brought the sharp sticks now.

Further in they find empty eggs and people cocooned to the walls, some dead, one not so dead. In a surprise twist it turns out the aliens haven't been killing the colonists, they've been capturing them and sticking facehugger eggs in front of them. Suddenly a chestburster bursts out of her chest and Apone has to cook it with a flamethrower. The aliens in the hive were all lying dormant until now, but they don't much like this.

The thing is, the sculpted resin gives them the perfect hiding space. You can see one over on the right of this screencap blending into the wall until it's time to strike. And once they pounce everything goes to crap in seconds.

The tense build up is finally over, and now their TVs are filling up with static and heartbeat monitors flat-lining. Gorman's kind of freaking out, but he tries calmly whispering orders to Sgt. Apone, who can't make out a word he's saying in the chaos. The sergeant's soon dragged away by an alien anyway, leaving the Marines running around like an elite military squad with its head cut off.

Ripley sees where this is going and heads to the driver's seat to rescue the survivors. Gorman tries to stop her, but Burke actually does something useful and drags the guy away!

This scene of Ripley driving the APC through the atmosphere processor is a lot more interesting in motion. It also reminds me a lot of the scene in the 1989 Batman movie where the Batmobile's racing though Axis Chemicals, and I was happy to discover there's a good reason for that. Both scenes were created with a mix of model shots... and live action filming in Acton Lane Power Station in London.

Batman (1989)
It's funny, films like Aliens and Batman used to define Hollywood blockbusters to me as a kid, with a scale and style that only an American film set could produce. So when I learned they were actually filmed in England it blew my mind.

And now I want to see a version of the movie where Batman shows up instead of Ripley. Not that Ripley fails to get the job done; she smashes through into the hive, gives Hudson, Hicks and Vasquez a chance to get inside the car, and then gets them back out again. Burke also proves his usefulness again by putting a fire out. They make a good team!


And then a couple of minutes later we get the most meta scene in the film, as the characters find themselves in the audience to their own movie, running away from the flaming dropship crashing into the screen behind them! I don't know if they used front projection or rear projection here, but whatever they did, it came out far too faded to convincingly blend in with the live action.

Well the survivors were thinking about leaving the planet and nuking the site from orbit, but unknown to them a sneaky alien got on board their unguarded dropship and ruined that plan. Plus the dropship wreckage rolled into their APC, and smashed into the atmosphere processor! All they can do now is hike back to Hadley's Hope before it gets too dark, as Newt warns them that "they mostly come at night, mostly."


The aliens have themselves a fort and now the Marines have one too, so they're stuck in a classic sci-fi 'base under siege' situation. It's only a matter of time before the creatures attack, but that's not actually their biggest concern. Their attack on the alien lair (and the crash) really fucked up the atmosphere processor, and when it blows all the barricades and sentry guns in the world aren't going to save them.

Speaking of sentry guns, there's some extra scenes added here of the group setting up automatic machine gun turrets to block off the service tunnel the aliens will likely crawl in through. So I'm going to blame this movie for every video game turret I've ever been shot at by. Not many films have inspired video game developers quite as much as this one did.

Bishop volunteers to crawl all the way to the colony's transmitter to remote pilot the other dropship down. The audience isn't supposed to know whether to trust the guy at this point, but allowing himself to be welded into a tiny pipe has to score him points. I'm not claustrophobic in the slightest, but there's no way you'd get me to crawl for 40 minutes in a pipe with no guarantee there's a way out at the end. Especially when there's definitely no way out back where I came in.

Gratuitous pulse rifle shot! The pulse rifles are one of the most believable looking sci-fi guns I've ever seen, mostly because they were constructed out of an M1A1 Thompson submachine gun and two shotguns. All they're missing are some accessory rails and they'd fit right into a modern military sci-fi movie.

Gorman was knocked out during the APC escape so Corporal Hicks is technically in charge, but Ripley's pretty much calling the shots at this point and she'd like Hicks to teach her about all the weapons. And thus she's put on the path to becoming the closest thing the 80s had to a female Rambo.

Sigourney Weaver herself is very anti-gun, but she kind of skipped the stage directions when reading the script, and didn't realise that every desk, wall and human being in this movie would be covered in them at all times. Weaver would've preferred Ripley not to carry a gun at all in the movie. She also apparently wanted her to die in the end and to make love to the alien... and suddenly the next two movies make a lot more sense to me.

Then some stuff happens and Ripley and Newt are sealed in Med-Lab with a facehugger! Oh sorry, two facehuggers. Ripley managed to piece together that Burke was the one who sent the message that pointed Newt's parents towards the derelict, and he apparently figured that an alien wrapped around her face would be a good way to keep her from telling anyone (plus it lets him sneak the implanted embryo past quarantine on the way back). I have to give the guy credit, it must have taken some real nerve to carry two jars of live facehugger into a room and open them up.

Alien didn't really do much with its facehugger, but in this we get to see one leaping around and scurrying across the floor like an evil mouse. They built a practical facehugger that can actually move its legs like it's walking and it's surprisingly convincing.

Fortunately Ripley has the idea of setting off the sprinklers to bring the Marines to put out the fire. When they realise what's going on they shoot the window and Hicks does an action hero dive through the weakened glass to save Ripley, while Hudson rushes over to rescue Newt.

There's been a bit of doubt about Hudson up to this point as he spends the start of the movie bragging and the rest of it whining, but he really steps up here. All the Marines prove themselves in fact, even Gorman, making them sufficiently sympathetic in time for the shit to really hit the fan.

So they get together in Operations for one last group scene as they decide what to do with Burke. Man this movie loves its group scenes. The slimy traitor escapes their judgement though as the aliens pick this moment to set off their motion trackers.

They're getting a ridiculous amount of blips and Ripley quite rightly points out that 6 meters puts them inside the room. The trouble with the motion tracker is that it only seems to tell you a lifeform's horizontal position, no matter how much you tilt it, so they don't know whether the aliens are above or below them.

Hicks decides to lift a ceiling panel and go have a look up there, even though he knows full well what he's going to see.

Yep, turns out that the ceiling is full of aliens, and they drop down so fast it's almost subliminal. The editing goes crazy at this point, cutting between Marines firing rifles and aliens getting shot up without ever really putting them together in the same frame. It was probably the best that could do with what they had, but it always annoys me in gun fights when I can't see where a character and their target are in relation to each other.

Unfortunately for Hudson the aliens are also coming from the floor and one of them pops up and grabs him while he's being an ultimate badass. Shame, I was starting to like the guy.

The others manage to cut their way through a locked door and get out, but Newt drags them into the gigantic vents instead. Between this and Die Hard it was a good time for air vents.

Newt should be really annoying with how she keeps telling the grownups what to do, but the character works because all she really wants to do is get back to her hiding place. When they need an exit it makes sense to follow her, because she knows her way around her own playground. That said, she seems to be telling Ripley to take a right every time they reach a junction.

By the time they get though the vents only Hicks, Ripley and Newt are left, and Newt goes and falls down a slide. Fortunately Ripley put a location tracker on her, which Hicks somehow knows about despite not being around when it happened.

Oh man that's gross, they've got an open sewer under the corridor floor grating! Or maybe this is what happened to their basement after the water pipes got shot up, the rain got in through the broken roof and Ripley decided to set off the sprinklers. Either way it's probably not all that healthy to wade in it, even without the alien sneaking up from behind.

Hey we're finally getting a semi-decent look at one of the aliens in this Aliens movie! They're pretty much the same design as in the first film, except without the shiny dome covering the head ridges. Cameron thought it'd look better this way in his lighting and it's hard to argue with the results.

Newt is carried off to the hive, but Ripley and a wounded Hicks make it outside to meet up with Bishop just as he's bringing the second dropship down. Ripley gets a bit hypocritical here, saying that they're going to rescue Newt after talking them out of rescuing the captured Marines earlier, but to be fair the situation has changed. They've killed a lot of the aliens and the surviving horde are still roaming Hadley's Hope looking for them, so things will be quieter in the hive. Plus she can use her guns now, as the processor's already going to explode!


So Ripley goes in alone following the location tracker, grabs Newt from a cocoon just before she gets facehugged, and together they run straight into a 14 foot tall marionette. Xenomorphs appear to block the entrances, so Ripley shoots her flamethrower near the eggs to make them think twice. And the alien queen actually gets the hint, silently indicating to her drones that they should give Ripley some space. Turns out that she's as protective of her kids as Ripley is of Newt.

Ripley starts backing away and everything seems to be working out, but then an egg starts opening up. That poor clueless facehugger broke their fragile truce and now Ripley has to take steps to defend herself... frying all the eggs. Then she uses the rest of her ammo to kill the remaining aliens, and starts firing grenades into the queen's egg sac. Then she throws a whole belt of grenades in there to finish the job! I know this is supposed to be a cathartic alien massacre but I'm starting to feel sorry for the poor queen right now.

Ripley and Newt take one of the elevators to get up to their parked dropship, and the alien queen does the same. It's all Ripley's fault for calling both lifts in her panic. But the dropship isn't there! That evil android went and abandoned... oh never mind, he was just hovering around to make a surprise entrance at the last moment.

And they fly up to the Sulaco as the atmosphere processor blows up behind them. Happy ending!


Or not.

Turns out the alien queen was hiding inside the landing gear, waiting to stab Bishop with her tail, then tear the android in two with her bare hands! That's a really shitty thing to do!

So now they've got an alien queen prowling around the Sulaco's hangar bay. Newt follows her instincts and crawls under the floor while Ripley gets herself elsewhere. Last time this happened she blew up the ship...

... this time she comes back with a power loader to kick the alien queen's ass in hand to hand combat! 

This got me thinking how interesting it could be if Cameron made another alien movie, except told from the aliens' point of view, as they struggled to fight off evil humans in mech suits trying to invade their hive. But then I realised I was basically imagining Avatar.

The power loader was realised using a combination of techniques. This shot is actually of a scale model with a little Ripley figure in it, but what Sigourney Weaver was driving was basically a suit with a stuntman inside, held up by cables disguised as antennas. She was standing on his feet as he walked around and operated the arms. It's amazing that worked, and even moreso that the effect is still pretty convincing.

And Ripley drops another alien out of an airlock. Well she's trying to anyway, but the thing's gotten a firm grip of one of those Reebok shoes she's wearing. You know, the ones the camera's been fascinated by all movie. Fortunately the shoe comes off and the queen goes flying off into space, symbolising Ripley's freedom from product placement. Or something.

It seems kind of weird that Ripley could hold on to the ladder for so long while an alien queen hangs off her leg with all that air rushing out, but they're hanging over open space so it's possible there's no gravity acting on them at this point. So that might help a little.

Incidentally Bishop's future Reeboks were actually available to buy for a while back in 1987, and limited runs of both Ripley and Bishop's footwear are on sale right now for Alien Day! Really limited runs.

And then we get one of the best goofs in movie history, as Lance Henriksen obviously pops out of a hole to grab Newt before she disappears off into space. Actually it can't be that obvious as I didn't notice it myself until it was pointed out to me.

Well that all worked out about as well as anyone could've hoped. Ripley's got a new daughter and has likely gotten over her unresolved alien issues, Bishop's probably fixable, and Hicks is just about holding on as well. And they all go into hypersleep for the trip home, the end.

Then to immediately spoil the mood there's a really downbeat credits theme followed by the sound of a facehugger scurrying around. It's like they knew that Alien3 was coming.


Aliens has never really been one of my movies. I mean I've always liked it well enough, but not to the level that my brother or my friends did. They'd be buying the model kits and studying the Colonial Marines Technical Manual, while I couldn't even remember which one Hudson was. Monster movies don't generally have a whole lot of appeal for me.

But it's really been growing on me the more I watch it. Or the more distance I put between myself and the 80s perhaps. Time has not dated this film, if anything it's made the anachronisms feel more idiosyncratic, which is something that games like 'Alien: Isolation' have used to great effect. Plus it's easier to appreciate the cold steel blue action thriller palette in an era when everyone's digitally turning up the teal and orange. I'm not going to say the visuals look better than modern CGI, but the world they've built here really does feels tangible, and the effects get more impressive the more I learn about how they were made. The film's got so many shots of puppets and models hanging off wires that it's secretly the best Thunderbirds movie we'll ever get.

Storywise the film hits a lot of the same points as Alien: it starts with Ripley in hypersleep, the company sends people out to check out the derelict, there's lots of creeping around in the dark with flamethrowers and motion trackers, everyone gets picked off one by one, a surprise traitor tries to kill Ripley, the base gets nuked, there's surprise final confrontation afterwards, Ripley suits up and blasts the alien out an airlock, and then it ends with her going into hypersleep. Plus all the others I missed. But it feels like a proper sequel instead of just a remake, as it expands the world, continues Ripley's arc, and brings in the Marines.

Turns out that Space Marines have a different acting style to space refinery haulers, so this feels a lot more like a typical movie than the original. Hudson in particular seems to think he's the film's Jar Jar Binks and is always either totally hyped up or absolutely terrified, but that's easy to forgive when he gets most of the quotable lines. Plus he helps make it easier to buy the other actors as being actual soldiers.

The poster said 'this time it's war' but it doesn't specify that it's actually inspired by the Vietnam War, where a well trained force with advanced weaponry goes up against an enemy they don't fully understand and ends up suffering for it. That said, they wouldn't have done so bad if they'd been a little better prepared. They entirely abandon their ship in orbit. They bring four auto sentry turrets, but leave the dropship unguarded. They only discover they can't use their guns in the atmosphere processor when they're already well inside it, and they keep going regardless! Though no one could've planned for the amazing 'dropship, APC, atmosphere processor' combo takedown that the suicidal alien pulls off. That one alien nearly wiped out both sides in a single move!

I wouldn't really call this an action film though as the movie spends more time building tension than paying it off, especially in the Special Edition. It's nice to be able to spend more time in this world James Cameron's put together, but two and a half hours is a long time and the extra scenes aren't exactly crucial. I get why Sigourney Weaver was dismayed to find some of her character's motivation on the cutting room floor, but she doesn't need to have lost a daughter to feel maternal towards Newt. We already know she's lost literally everyone in her life but her cat due to those meddling aliens, there's enough there to set up her arc so she can face her trauma and come out the other side with a new family in the form of Hicks, Newt and Bishop the weird android uncle.

That's the big difference between this and the first movie: Alien ends with Ripley surviving, Aliens ends with her winning. Well, provided they all manage to get home safely afterwards... and according to Alien 5 director Neill Blomkamp they do! Seems a bit cruel of him to completely disregard David Fincher's movie like that, but then Fincher disregarded James Cameron's happy ending first so it's only fair.

So yeah it's a good movie, I like this one.

I likely won't be writing about another Alien movie for a while, sorry. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'll be watching... oh crap, it's Babylon 5 episode 2, Soul Hunter. I probably deserve this somehow.

This would be an excellent time to leave me some feedback and opinions about Aliens in the comment box below. Not that there's ever a bad time for it really, I mean Aliens isn't getting any less popular.

1 comment:

  1. I've seen this film a million times and that chestburster dream sequence at the beginning freaks me out every time. There's a 50/50 chance each time that I'll skip past it or go and make a cup of tea or something, rather than watch it.

    The trouble with surviving a horror or action movie is that you have to justify all the crap you pulled afterwards

    It's interesting that Cameron does the same thing with Sarah Connor in T2.

    Ripley starts backing away and everything seems to be working out, but then an egg starts opening up. That poor clueless facehugger broke their fragile truce and now Ripley has to take steps to defend herself...

    The look Ripley gives the Queen at this point, that "look what you've gone and done", is my favourite bit of the film. I love it.